A 6 month anniversary mix

I recorded this tech, latin, and deep jazzy house mix live at the 6 month anniversary of RECON, the monthly party I throw with my housemate every third Wednesday. It starts out with tech house, grows a bit groovier, and slides through some afrobeat, latin and jazzy house, before settling back into tech house for a solid half hour and then mellowing out at the end.

This party was special to me because my musical mentor DJ Meegs came out from the east coast to play with us. Somehow, nearly half our crowd was comprised of old homies of mine from DC, which ain’t easy when you’re playing in SF on a Wednesday night!

Defending encryption: a tool enabling privacy, security, and democracy

When the FBI appeared before a magistrate judge in Southern California and demanded unprecedented powers to reach into your pocket to hack your prosthetic brain, I’d been working at EFF for about six months. One rarely knows in the moment which ones will prove to be momentous, or particularly memorable, but the controversy sparked by Apple’s powerful resistance to the FBI’s latest power grab thrust our work into the center of public attention for weeks.

I felt lucky to write one of EFF’s first posts responding to the order, explaining on February 20 why the FBI’s demands placed it against Apple, Americans, and Security:

[T]he FBI’s demands reflect a familiar pattern of security agencies leveraging the most seemingly compelling situations—usually the aftermath of terror attacks—to create powers that are later used more widely and eventually abused. The government programs monitoring the telephone system and Internet, for example, were created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Those programs came to undermine the rights of billions of people, doing more damage to our security than the tragic events that prompted their creation.

The power to force a company to undermine security protections for its customers…has very significant implications both for technology and the law….The next time an intelligence agency tries to undermine consumer device security by forcing a company to develop new flaws in its own security protocols, the government will find a supportive case to cite where before there were none.

After publishing that piece on a Saturday, we helped organize a rally three days later that prompted this update, Bay Area Rallies Against FBI Threats to Privacy and Security on Tuesday, February 23. The piece includes a series of photograph from the rally, including one in which I briefly spoke to reporters wielding more cameras than I’d ever seen at once. Hoodline, which covered the rally, wrote:

“We’ve seen this before,” said Shahid Buttar, director of grassroots advocacy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is based near Civic Center. “Intelligence agencies have a habit of construing their powers as synonymous with national security. But we know that national security includes device security. It includes security of the ways that we track our information, the ways that we communicate with our friends, and neighbors and lovers, our political allies. These issues, for some people in the world, are quite literally matters of life and death.” Buttar told us many in the San Francisco LGBT and ally community are concerned about device encryption, because it is often the safest means of communication for LGBT people in repressive countries.

I published a third piece that Friday, Apple to Court: FBI’s Failure Should Not Force Apple to Undermine Global Security, reporting on Apple’s legal brief responding to the FBI’s demands and the magistrate’s hasty order:

On Thursday, Apple filed its motion to vacate last week’s controversial judicial order requiring it to undermine device security for its iOS operating system. The company’s filing explains in compelling and forceful terms not only how the government demands to which it responds would undermine national security and place millions of people at risk, but also why the FBI has chosen an inappropriate process through which to seek a groundbreaking new power that Congress has sensibly never granted.


Apple is far from alone in recognizing the value of encryption in protecting security, privacy, and by extension, freedom of expression for people whose speech might otherwise be chilled. Last year, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression released a report recommending that states embrace strong encryption and refrain from seeking to mandate backdoors, explaining that:

[D]iscussions of encryption and anonymity have all too often focused only on their potential use for criminal purposes in times of terrorism. But emergency situations do not relieve States of the obligation to ensure respect for international human rights law….

States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression…. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows.

Calling out corruption from coast-to-coast

We’ve published two of my pieces at EFF so far this month, one addressing executive secrecy and denial at the federal level among national security officials and the Obama administration, and another concerning executive secrecy at the county level.

The first, White House Executive Order on Privacy Falls Short, observed that:

If the Obama administration wants to support privacy, it can start by finally offering straight answers to Congress on surveillance and intelligence practices that offend privacy. Instead, Congress has legislated surveillance policy in the dark while enduring a long series of executive misrepresentations.

Last week, mere days after an independent panel (notably including current U.S. intelligence officials) refuted recent FBI claims about encryption tools, Congress began examining surveillance powers set to expire next year in a closed hearing, enabling a familiar pattern of executive obfuscation and congressional confusion.

As we wrote over two years ago, “It’s time for Congress to reassert its oversight role and begin a full-scale investigation into the [government’s] surveillance and analytic activities….Congress cannot rely solely on mandating more reports from [intelligence agencies] as a solution.”

The second piece, Santa Clara County Weighs Surveillance Reforms to Enhance Transparency and Oversight, presents my comments at a meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. The Board considered a groundbreaking proposal to increase transparency over the procurement and deployment of electronic surveillance technology by local law enforcement agencies such as the county sherrif, and my comments expressed support for the proposal and a few suggestions to help strengthen it:


Catching a Break (January 2016)

Most people
When finding
A moment
Worth embracing

May pause
For a moment
To consider

The doers
Swimming in
The Way

We glide
The Universe
Calls us

To struggle
To celebration

So blessed
To others
Like us

Spiritual Asteroid Field

One night back in 2010, I was working on music with my current housemate while visiting SF when a spontaneous attempt to circumvent a creative roadblock launched us raging into the street on an epic escapade. It ultimately entailed wrangling a pair of software engineers (who had long noticed each other but never hung out before) back to his home studio, where we wrote and recorded this track in a memorable fit of sustained delirium.

The lyrics riff on Star Wars, Burning Man, and the Mission district in San Francisco, which I’ve long considered my vibrational home. After we recorded the lyrics, the song gestated for five years until I moved back to SF and then, today, hatched as this:

I’m kinda amped about the name that Adam & I came up with to describe our collaboration: ¡PuhJAMA! It stands for “the Jewish and Muslim Alliance,” inspired by a video we’d posted over the holidays of an ecumenical moonwalk home wielding a Christmas tree.

And, just to stick with the theme of ecumenical music, I spun this meandering two hour set for an activist awards ceremony at a Unitarian Universalist church near my office:


Getting back on the mic after a hiatus

Among the many aspects of working at EFF that I adore is the opportunity to help represent the public interest on so many issues within the digital rights arena.  For much of 2015, I took a break from talking to journalists about policy issues, but I got back on the mic over the holidays and have tried to wield it well in the new year.

While most of my writing and press appearances in January addressed various dimensions of surveillance and the constitutional crisis it has unleashed, this discussion offered a chance to explore some concerns about social media undermining civil society:

Read on for links to another dozen articles, quotes, and interviews from early 2016….

  • My January 17 Deeplinks blog post explored the 65th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s historic warningthat the military-industrial (congressional) complex would come to threaten democracy in America, as it has most visibly in dragnet NSA surveillance (which I discuss in the post) and police militarization (which I’ve explored more closely elsewhere). I had a fun time live tweeting the Democratic presidential debate that night, and felt excited to see this post republished on professor Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog the next day.
  • On January 16, I celebrated a personal milestone that left me feeling grateful and humbled.
  • On January 14, Forbes published a story about recent policy changes at TSA, quoted me as saying “TSA’s latest attempt to erode passenger rights makes it even more clear the agency demands congressional oversight,” before going on to share my reasoning at surprising length.
  • On January 13, I published a post on the EFF Deeplinks blog responding to President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he “examined a great many pressing issues confronting our nation and the world” while “[o]ne of the most dire…somehow escaped his attention: the continuing threat to democracy presented by unaccountable, secret mass surveillance in violation of the Constitution.”
  • On January 8, I joined a panel on al-Jazeera America’s The Stream to discuss social media, social activism, and the changing relationship between the two.
  • On January 6, I published a Deeplinks blog post reviewing new guidance from DHS for state & local agencies using drones for civilian purposes unrelated to law enforcement. On January 7, I joined Alyona Minkovski on Huff Post Live (stating at 19:30 in this clip) to discuss the guidance and our analysis of it…at more or less the exact same time as our organization’s supporters thrust us into a viral spotlight in the press and on social media after a telecom CEO responded…let’s say, “indelicately,” to our concerns about his company’s misprepresentations. 
  • On December 31, EFF published a post I wrote about our progress in state legislatures during 2015, including “new policies to reclaim digital privacy, advance government transparency, and protect free expression” from Virginia to California.
  • On December 25, EFF published a post I wrote reviewing 2015’s most significant updates in the NSA spying saga. This is post is a good one if you’re looking for a birds-eye view of the controversy. 
  • On October 28, I spoke with Uprising Radio about the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) in the days before it was enacted into law. I explain that “the problem with this bill is that while it fails to grant meaningful new powers to address security, it actually does a great deal to undermine security….Congress is demonstrating yet again its technological illteracy.”

Catharsis: like nothing I’ve seen before

While recently visiting the West Bank for an annual olive harvest festival with Code Pink and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, I learned about Catharsis, an unprecedented event I described on the Burning Man blog as:

Equal parts vigil, symposium, occupation, fire conclave, effigy burn, and party-until-dawn-under-the-stars…combin[ing] playa culture, strategic location, and an explicit sociopolitical message resonating across the ideological spectrum. From Friday evening until Sunday morning, the event brought together thousands of participants from across the country to combine ecstatic celebration with activism, peer-to-peer learning, and private diplomacy to help heal from the Drug War.

My DJ set from Saturday night, just before the effigy burn, was among my most exciting highlights of the year. It’s not often one gets to rock the spot across the street from the White House, mixing deep house and MLK Jr. samples for a few thousand of my favorite people!


Ferguson and the Second Amendment

This Sunday (at the same time as I was leaving Black Rock City), Truthout published my latest writing, examining what the Ferguson uprising — and the paramilitary response to it — mean for constitutional rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment. Side-stepping the conventional debate between gun control vs. gun rights, this piece explores how:

The contemporary gun rights debate misses the point of the Second Amendment. A crucial piece of our constitutional design, it is neither the relic dismissed by liberals nor the panacea praised by conservatives. Understood correctly, the Second Amendment is most threatened not by gun control, but rather by the militarization of domestic police.

[I also had a chance to discuss these ideas in this podcast a few weeks later]

One last hurrah

I spent this summer living out an adolescent fantasy, roaming the east coast playing music festivals between trips to Cuba, quitting my job, and moving back to Cali. It’s been a wild ride, capped by a suitably spectacular week in Black Rock City for Burning Man.

Between camping with and playing music at Something Freaky This Way Foams, DJing with Tasty as part of a takeover of Darwin Fish Tank, and the spontaneous set that ensued, I played music for 15 hours over the course of the week. Here are two 150 minute sets that I spun back-to-back the night of Thursday, September 3 and morning of Friday, September 4.

This was my first time spinning with my Tasty family from SF:

I spun this mellow, downtempo, jazzy, dreamy two-and-a-half hour mix for Camp Mega Mikoshi (referring to a traditional Japanese shrine) in Black Rock City at sunrise:

My sunrise set at Mega Mikoshi (referring to a traditional Japanese shrine) was an entirely unplanned surprise, driven by a nuclear physicist’s invitation at 6am — as I was closing out 2-and-a-half hours on the decks with Tasty at Darwin Fish Tank — to play for a camp of Japanese burners with a scaffold to watch the sunrise. I walked over, had a lovely time playing for sunrise, and met some of my new friend’s friends, including a Mike who serves as the Japan regional contact for Burning Man. As it happened, Mike had camped over 15 years ago with Brent, one of the Tasty DJs who played Darwin Fish Tank leading into my set a few hours before. 

I’ve been noticing recently that DJing is as much about remixing communities as it is remixing tracks. Reuniting Mike with Brent presented a fun post-set adventure, a surprise as fun as the chance to spin this set in the first place.

Remembering a dear friend

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the loss of my friend, Jay Marx. Today, the Burning Man blog published a memorial I wrote to celebrate his life and activism. 

It’s worth a read when you have some time, and includes videos of Jay to preserve his legacy in his own voice. Here’s a teaser:

I’m hardly the only person to whom Jay Marx offered a memorable introduction to Washington, DC. Jay passed through this world entirely too briefly, but he touched a great many of us and presented a powerful example of how to apply the principles of conscious counterculture beyond building community to help refashion a new default world.

Here’s a little more excerpted from the full post

Jay and I first crossed paths in 2002. I’d finished an internship interview with a law firm office on K Street, and stumbled into a peace march that he had helped organize six months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We went on to organize, perform, and party together in countless settings over the next 13 years before he passed away at Transformus in North Carolina this July.

There are no words that can ease the pain of losing a dear friend, let alone a hero who devoted himself to promoting positive values in the default world from which we all work so hard to periodically escape. For me, it has helped to remember that he went out on top, the happiest I’d ever seen him, in a place he adored, and alongside a partner he loved.

While our world is dimmer having lost the light of Jay’s profound love, we who were lucky enough to be blessed by it remember his memory and will honor it on the playa, in the streets, and beyond.

RIP, Jay Marx. We miss you, brother.