Why I'm Not Going to CFP 2003

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Visiting Professor, Baker & McKenzie Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre, University of N.S.W.

Version of 13 March 2003, with an editorial change on 6 Apr 2003, and Postscripts on 29 Dec 2003 and 12 Jan, 23 Feb 2004, and 14 Jan 2005

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2003-05

This document is at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/NotesCFP03.html

I've been to the annual Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference 7 times in the 10 years from 1993 to 2002. I've served on the Committee several times, and been on the program more often than not.

There's a host of reasons to go again this year. My long term commitment to CFP is evidenced by my personal notes on the conferences in 2002, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994 and 1993. This year, I agreed to present part of a Tutorial on enum. (That's the hopelessly naive and seriously threatening proposal to tie the telephone and Internet id schemes together). The people who gather at CFP are critical players in the vital game of protecting privacy and freedom, and the organisers (half of whom I know personally) are putting a lot of work in, once again, to prepare a deep and worthwhile program.

So why won't I be there??

These AREN'T The Reasons I'm Not Going

My mum is worried about my safety. (That's true. But sorry Mum, my decisions don't take too much account of that).

I'm a chicken, and don't want to fly when rumours of terrorist strikes are around. (I'm too fatalistic to worry much about that. I walk across roads, and drive a sporty car. I'd be safer in the air in March-April 03 than I will be on the street. I flew to Washington a couple of weeks after 11 Sep 01. I flew to CFP in SFO in April 02. I flew from Heathrow to Hong Kong on 11 Sep 02).

I support Saddam Hussain. (I certainly do not. His is clearly a seriously nasty regime, and he is clearly a seriously nasty person. Like Mugabe, and a distressingly large number of other leaders of countries around the world in the last 20-30 years).

I'm an anti-war nutter who wants to make a gesture against war being waged against Iraq. (That's not true either. I'm not a pacifist. I performed voluntary commissioned service in the Australian Military Forces. I support pre-emptive action by an international force against a nation-state, if that country is clearly a genuine and serious threat beyond its own borders, if it's abundantly clear that appeasement will not work, and if it's sanctioned by the relevant international organisation. I had reservations about aspects of the invasion of Afghanistan, but did not oppose it, and would have actively supported it if I'd been satisfied that the parameters were appropriate).

[The above has been slightly edited on 6 April 2003, because the statement about Sadam Hussain was read out of context by some people, resulting in the interpretation that I support him. I was horrified that anyone might think I support such a butcher. So I've changed the text to make my position clear].

THESE Are The Reasons I'm Not Going

The starting-point is that the conditions for pre-emptive action by an international force against the Iraqi regime are not satisfied. The evidence that's been offered is so utterly inadequate that it's hard to believe that the US Administration and its two accomplices can keep a straight face when they present their case.

The U.S. Cabinet can find no weapons of mass destruction, and no 'smoking gun'. The suggestion that we should trust them, and accept that they really do have evidence that can't be published, lacks any vestige of credibility. We're being asked to believe that lying and prevarication by the Iraqi regime are evidence of the possession of weapons of mass destruction, and the intention to use them outside their borders, 'real soon now'. On that basis, both the U.S.A. and the U.K. are also rogue states that should be brought to heel.

The U.S. is already seriously in breach of international law, in that its enforcement of the southern no-fly zone has involved many unjustified attacks on locations within Iraq. Despite the lack of clarity about the real authority for the no-fly zone, I can countenance the flights by the U.S.A.F., and retaliation against sites housing anti-aircraft weaponry that has been used against those flights. But that justifies only a fraction of the destruction that has been wrought over the last months.

The U.S. Administration is entirely justified in seeking to spur the U.N. to increase the pressure on Iraq. But its bellicose utterances, sustained over an extended period, have gone far, far beyond the behaviour justified by that motive. The rhetoric has been vicious. And pressure has been brought to bear on its two accomplices to use language nearly as bad. The puppet Australian Prime Minister recently went so far as to voice support for extradition of bin Laden to the U.S. in order to execute him - a statement that flagrantly disregards international law, and flies quite grossly in the face of well-established public policy in this country. (The death penalty has been extinct in Australian jurisdictions for two generations).

The U.S. Administration has utilised the terrorist strikes of 11 September 2001 to implement a wide array of extremist anti-freedom measures. One that I've been spending time analysing is the imposition of biometric technologies. Half-baked trials of defective technologies have been implemented, without the slightest protections for the individual, for their highly-sensitive biometrics, or for the data associated with their biometrics. The U.S. has threatened to require biometrics from all foreigners entering the country after October 2003 (which would mean that I, for one, would be removing the country from my visitor's list). At the U.S.'s bidding, the Australian Government is conducting a trial of facial recognition technology at Sydney airport, with outcomes that would be hilarious if we weren't talking about fundamental human freedoms.

The aggression of the U.S. anti-freedom initiatives, coupled with the authoritarian trappings (such as the implied threat that what's being done illegally in Guantanamo Bay can be done illegally within the U.S. as well), and draped with the flags of American nationalism and fundamentalist Christianity, has cowed the citizens of what was once 'the land of the free'. At CFP 2002, I was appalled at the fear demonstrated by lawyers in particular, who were not prepared to speak openly about the new laws and their relationship to the country's democratic traditions. It's astonishing to realise that Americans have lost the right to criticise the Germans of the 1930s, because Americans have fallen into line with a government intent on making war more quickly than any other democratic society I'm aware of. Small numbers of extremists, who have executed a single successful project on American soil, have encouraged American society to eat itself.

Yet another huge disappointment is that a nation that was built from the offcasts of a hundred cultures could be so utterly intolerant of difference. Across the world, Muslims exhibit differences as much as Christians do. There is no more a pan-Muslim conspiracy than there is a pan-Christian conspiracy. There are violent Christians as there are violent Muslims. Such people are all criminals, and should be subjected to the law. But the simple-minded politics being applied by the U.S. Administration is driving moderate Muslims into the arms of the extremists. We're all in this together. Appealing to the base, salute-the-flag-and-kill-the-enemy instincts of Americans is primitive. And it's also primitive to project your own nation as the common enemy that 'the others' 'love to hate'. Didn't any of the U.S. Cabinet ever read 'Animal Farm' and '1984'?

If those concerns sound too lofty, consider the simple, personal ones. The U.S. border, in my experience as a frequent international traveller over the last 25 years, has never been a pleasant place to cross. But the new laws have extended the powers of border officials enormously, and greatly reduced the already inadequate controls over the use of those powers.

I don't look like a Muslim, or an Arab, or indeed like any other minority. But I'm liable to ask a border official why he's asking me a question. And my copious publications on dataveillance and privacy, and my frequent and direct criticism of inappropriate government initiatives (which, in Australia, are frequently direct derivations of recent American projects), make it quite likely that some indicator or other will appear on the border official's screen when my passport details are keyed in. So I can readily be subjected to the kinds of intrusions and inconveniences that the border officials are empowered to impose.

12 September 2001 was the date on which the ideal of the free country died, as the 'smart right' grasped its opportunity, and launched its agenda. Since then, I've pondered whether I would be prepared to set foot in the U.S.A. again. I've done so, twice. Once was as an invited speaker at a National Academy of Science event in Washington DC (on identity authentication). The other was for CFP last year. I don't think I'm prepared to run the gauntlet again. My experiences at the Czechoslovak borders in 1980 were daunting; but that is the kind of suspicious-of-everyone, mysterious and threatening atmosphere that now pervades U.S. borders.

I can't be a party to the appalling behaviour of the U.S. Administration. I come from a Christian culture, but I deplore what was done in the name of Christ by the Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Conquistadors. The behaviour of the U.S. Administration is as huge an insult to Christ as those movements were.


I haven't spent any time monitoring what the U.S. Administration and bureaucracies have been doing, although the anecdotes are legion. But here are media reports from December 2003 and January 2004:


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Created: 9 March 2003

Last Amended: 13 March 2003, with an editorial change on 6 April 2003, and Postscripts on 29 December 2003, and 12 January, 23 February 2004, and 14 January 2005

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