Edit: Thanks everyone, especially Matthew "The Griller" Rimmer! This has been great! We hope to see you at our inaugural Speak Out with Senator Scott Ludlam on December 9th discussing positive digital rights.

G'day! I am Dr Sean Rintel, the new Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, your friendly neighbourhood disgrace, contributor to The Conversation, and a Lecturer in Strategic Communication at The University of Queensland.

I'll be available for you to AMA in /r/IamA from 8:30pm NSW,VIC,TAS; 8pm SA; 7:30pm QLD; 7pm NT; 5:30pm WA. Oh, and 4:30am USA EST, for the early-birds, confused, and shift-workers.

About me:

I've been online since around 1993, which I believe in Internet years makes me 1bacon old. I started on bulletin boards, moved over the the Internet with Pine and Lynx, written HTML pages perpetually under-construction and best designed for every browser since Mosaic. I tend to research interaction in Internet communication technologies: IRC, forums, videoconferencing. I also like writing about memes.

You can AMA, but here are few starters: EFA; Online freedom, access, and privacy; Internet culture; Academia - in the US and Australia; Aikido; Lindy Hop; How crazily expensive it is to bring a cat from the US to Australia... and, again, EFA.

About EFA - and why I'm doing this AMA:

EFA has been Australia's voice for digital freedom, access, and privacy since 1994. In our 20th year, we want EFA to become Australia's strongest voice for your online rights. So we are upping our visibility and value to members and the public.

To that end, we are embarking on a range of initiatives, starting with monthly Google Hangouts on Air with leaders in online rights from Australia and Internationally. Our inaugural Speak Out guest will be Senator Scott Ludlam on December 9th discussing positive digital rights. We'd love to see you there.

In the meantime, AMA!

Proof for the record, to keep blasto_blastocyst happy: http://i.imgur.com/k8pHVzj.jpg

Original Proof: http://imgur.com/a/Pyqv0#0

Comments: 89 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

doggie01521 karma

What are your thoughts on the TPP?

routinegrounds36 karma

What are your thoughts on the TPP?

Any treaty negotiated in secret is poison. Any treaty that treats citizens' interests as a priori secondary to the rights of mega-corporations is appalling.

Any treaty that in effect 'harmonises' local laws to the laws of the strongest is atrocious.

The TPP appears to fit those criteria. It reflects extremely poorly upon all involved. Other parties to the treaty, Canada and Vietnam for example, appear to hold their citizens' interests in more esteem than successive Australian governments.

Yes, countries need trade treaties and there may even be times for confidential discussion. Ultimately, however, opaque deals have historically not favoured the weak or the many.

In my quick EFA blog post about the leaked IP chapter I wrote that it was very unfortunate that "Fair Use" was mentioned only once, and Australia (and the US) were pushing for negative and restrictive version.

TL;DR: Noooope!

busman15 karma

US citizen here. What are your thoughts about the NSA data collection leaks from Edward Snowden? Has this changed the conversation in Austrailia? Did you and fellow internet freedom pioneers always assume this was happening or were you shocked to find out the extent of the surveillance?

routinegrounds20 karma

It would be disingenuous to claim that it was a total surprise as a concept, but the scales - billions of communications down to the micro scale - are mind-boggling and shocking. It has certainly become a media topic in Australia, but mainly because it fits with the most sensational news-values of many media organisations, not necessarily because everyone has suddenly started to care. Day-to-day on the street there are still far too many people taking the 'I've got nothing to hide' line, which I really disagree with.. I see the rhetorical problem of getting people to care about mass surveillance as akin to the problem of getting people to are about climate change. If we had listened to the scientists 40 years ago and made practical changes then, we wouldn't be in the dire situation we are now. Instead we're now arguing about what a 'theory' is and whether or not one should 'believe' it while global climate change wreaks increasingly problematic disasters upon the earth. Mass surveillance actions -- pushing for positive privacy rights, government and corporate transparency and oversight -- are at the same stage now. If we act now, as we see the tsunami, we have the chance to at least hold it all to account. If not, expect havok. But, interestingly, as I've noted recently about Indonesian hacking, as governments and corporations start to annoy netizens more, the nature of the Internet is such that non-state actors can leap in and create highly unpredictable trouble.

lewd_dutch11 karma


routinegrounds17 karma

The lack of a set of online rights; guiding principles that would provide serious protections for citizens across a series of digital issues: surveillance, the TPP, infrastructure access etc.

That's one reason why EFA is having Scott Ludlam outline his vision for positive online rights at our first Speak Out.

Oh, and as you can see from another post, I really dislike the TPP.

1amathrowaway11 karma

What's it like being a chair?

routinegrounds2 karma

It really gives you a new perspective on people. ;)

ThePeenDream10 karma

In your opinion, what is the most important thing to happen to the internet since it went mainstream and why?

routinegrounds11 karma

In chronological order:

(1) Graphics and GUIs: Usage exploded after the web went graphical. (2) Search: Yahoo! was good, AltaVista was great, Google was narwhal. (3) User-generated content (or produsage, as my colleague Axel Bruns styles it). (4) Memes: The reproduction and evolution of concepts and comment that exist outside of traditional media. (5) Metadata and Mashups. (6) Mobile.

TheVikO_o1 karma

The narwhal, or narwhale, is a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic

routinegrounds2 karma

I couldn't agree more.

wumster9 karma

What makes you more suitable for this position than something from IKEA?

routinegrounds8 karma

I arrive assembled.

DrMatthewRimmer8 karma

What do you think of the double threat of policy action on copyright enforcement - with the Attorney-General expressing enthusiasm for domestic reform, and the IP enforcement chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

routinegrounds11 karma

Given that "reform" is a euphemism for "restriction", as I said in my other comment, it's deeply unsettling.

Fair Use, while it is arguably still imperfect, has been very useful in protecting US citizens' rights. Indeed, it will still protect them even given the TPP. But our "Fair Dealing" is very much the poor cousin principle, providing little to bulwark the more restrictive version proposed in the TPP IP chapter.

DrMatthewRimmer7 karma

Should Australian media law be reformed to recognise net neutrality?

routinegrounds7 karma

I certainly do think that there should be something like net neutrality, although I've always been concerned about the variety of definitions and see the case for economic balancing.

DrMatthewRimmer7 karma

Should the Australian Parliament enact a defence of fair use under copyright law?

routinegrounds5 karma

Yes. The ALRC initial discussion document had lots of really impressive Fair Use conditions that I think should be implemented. Fair Dealing has had its limited day. It can not possibly cover the variety of creative, research, political, and educational expressions of a digital world.

DrMatthewRimmer7 karma

Why aren't Australians more concerned about NSA surveillance?

routinegrounds7 karma

Reflecting back on my time studying in the US (9 years), I've come to think that one answer is that we do not have a strong attachment to the concept of Constitutional rights as US citizens do. I heard people accounting for behaviour based on their beliefs about their Constitutional rights almost daily. The 1st, 2nd (sigh), 4th, and 5th amendments got the greatest workout. These concepts were part of US citizens' psyches. That kind of mindset - the hardcore belief in inalienable rights - is very different to 'go along to get along' Australia.

gdaman227 karma

What are your favorite memes?

routinegrounds14 karma

Such wow. Where start. Amazing!

(1) The academic answer: What I love about memes is not any particular thing but rather the way they operate via templatability and how useful they are as methods of commenting on crisis. I thought it was very interesting that although memes were very important in the 2012 presidential election, memes turned out not to be as important in the recent Australian election.

Personal answer: Most recently Doge, obviously. I've really always been a fan of the early advice animal image macros and exploitables. I've most frequently used Suspicious Fry and The Most Interesting Man In The World.

definitiveanswers6 karma

As someone else who is quite partial to doge, have you seen what happens when you YouTube search "doge meme"? It's cute.

routinegrounds3 karma

LOL! I had not. Such awesome.

DrMatthewRimmer6 karma

Is the National Broadband Network doomed?

routinegrounds13 karma

Simon Hackett is almost Batman, so I'm going to provide an optimistic no. More seriously, recent citizen action to refuse to accept FTTN lying down is actually what we need more of. EFA was super-impressed by Nick Paine's amazing petition. More of it! Democracy does not end after an election period.

Warle6 karma

What will EFF do on its part to support the FTTP campaign?

routinegrounds3 karma

We have been primarily pushing The Hon Malcolm Turnbull and others to include public consultation in the Review process.

He did not do so in this first review but he has said that there will be one or two more, and after the results of this review (due Monday), we will plan a more vocal next step.

We have also provided some advice and ideas to the Save the NBN/NBN Defender group that formed out of Nick Paine's petition.

professor_gruff6 karma

Why is EFA advocating so strongly for government-funded FTTP, how does that fit with their role as an online civil liberties organisation?

routinegrounds7 karma

We advocate for FTTP because we advocate for the best possible equal access. However, we are actually more "funding agnostic" (to use someone's terms...) than you may believe. We are especially interested in Simon Hackett's ideas for fibre on a copper budget. He notes that a more stripped down FTTP provided as a cheap wholesale government monopoly actually then allows for a lot of market opportunities and differentiation on top. We like that. Also, note that the NBN was "off-budget" - it isn't paid for in the same way as paying for roads or other infrastructure, and a lot of it is paid for by bonds which, as they and the network, mature to provide an interest return that makes the NBN an asset, not a crumbling liability -- well, not if it's not based on copper...

DrMatthewRimmer5 karma

In the USA, there are a number of well-established civil society groups - such as the EFF, Public Knowledge, Knowledge Ecology International, and the Creative Commons.

In Australia, it has been a struggle for civil society groups in the field to flourish and grow. What plans do you have to ensure the stability and growth of the EFA?

routinegrounds3 karma

Great question. We need to make ourselves more valuable to entities with deeper pockets. That means publishing research that contributes more directly to government and corporate policy.

The EFA board over the last couple of years has been looking this 'research arm' concept, and after basic governance issues, it will be one of this board's number goals to work towards changing our structure of incorporation to allow the establishment of a separate Deductible Gift Recipient entity that can receive deductible gifts to fund research that will, in turn, we hope also bring in more members and general donations. But most importantly it would allow EFA to commission research that leads opinion that would allow us to move out from under our current largely reactive capabilities. Renai LeMay has questioned (on Twitter) the impartiality of the research we could produce, and others might question the impartiality of research funded by wealthy entities. EFA would insist upon contractual arrangements that allow for unfettered research findings and, internally, would insist upon rigorous blind peer-review processes that specifically seek out a range of opinions from reviewers across the political and corporate spectrum.

nath12345 karma

If you could change/implement one law as a top priority in Australia - what would it be?

routinegrounds7 karma

As above, treat "informational self-determination" as the guiding principle for all other online rights laws.

DrMatthewRimmer5 karma

Does Australia need further law reform to deal with patent trolls?

routinegrounds5 karma

I'm generally in favour of stamping out patent trolls, yes, but I admit to not knowing enough about Australian patent law in particular to provide a direct opinion on just what needs to be changed. I can ask our new Secretary, legal scholar Dr Jenny Ng, if you are interested in a stronger EFA position.

notsuremustthink5 karma

How do I get involved with fighting for our rights online? I feel that the ability of companies and governments expansion to track what we do is becoming more oppressive every year. It will probably be the most important right we have to fight for as the world moves more into the digital realm. Combine this with the idea that we need to have what we see and do filtered could have us very easily slip into a police state without the majority of people noticing or even caring.

routinegrounds5 karma

Perhaps the three most effective things that an individual can do (outside of joining and getting involved in, or donating to, cough, a certain civil liberties organisation, are: (1) Find and share whatever you care about in terms of online rights as widely as you can on social media. (2) Interact directly with politicians and companies: Phone, write, social media. (3) Show your positions with your custom: Reward companies for good rights behaviour, Punish those who abuse rights. The more we as consumers show that our dollars follow our rights, the more companies will, in fact, help us push back against governments. E.g. note the increasing amount of companies that are trying to show that they have our back (but nothing is perfect, so you need to stay vigilent).

DrMatthewRimmer5 karma

Who should represent and defend the Maker Movement in policy debates over 3D Printing?

routinegrounds4 karma

I assume that the Makers will self-assemble representatives... ;)

DrMatthewRimmer4 karma

Should Australia have a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy?

routinegrounds7 karma

Yep, although I would prefer it to be subsumed under a broader general principle of informational self-determination. The number one thing that Internet users/citizens need is choice.

TheProtagonistv24 karma

Hello Sean, firstly congrats on the position, My Question is this. No doubt the recent Snowden revelations has been huge wake up call to everyone and shows the vast length Governments have gone to collected data. Are you and the EFA going to be pushing MPs to introduce new amendments for greater transparency?

edit: grammar

routinegrounds4 karma

Thanks and yes! We are quietly ramping up our Citizens Not Suspects campaign to prepare for the likely re-introduction of data retention and other surveillance nasties. We are also working on developing a research arm to investigate and produce policy white papers and other outcomes that can lead debate about transparency and accountability.

DrMatthewRimmer4 karma

What should be done to deal with the problem of IT price gouging in Australia?

routinegrounds9 karma

I think some form of TPPA that forces exchange-based equal pricing. I assume that's in a chapter we haven't seen. ;)

blasto_blastocyst3 karma

Why does your verification picture have 16 September 2013 on the placard?

Moving on, do you know the best methods to anonymize yourself online or to fuzz any data collected so it won't pop out of analysis?

routinegrounds6 karma

Because I did it to prove who I was when @TurnbullMalcolm laid some hate on me. But to make you happy: http://i.imgur.com/k8pHVzj.jpg

If you really don't want to be found, don't do it digital. After that, probably proxy services and tracker-blockers. If you write to us at EFA we could give you a more detailed answer.

packetinspector3 karma

I'm impressed by this outreach and your answers.

I'm sorry to say that I let my EFA membership lapse but I will now make sure to renew it.

routinegrounds3 karma

That is wonderful news! Thank you! We are hoping to make this the first of a lot more public and membership outreach. If you've got ideas, we'd love to hear them!

Tryingtobeok3 karma

I've never had the chance to ask a chair a question, they become sentient quickly in Australia I suppose.

How hard is it to carry the load?

routinegrounds2 karma

Depends whether Parliament is sitting or not. ;)

Cunfuse3 karma

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book by him/her?

routinegrounds1 karma

Very hard to pin it down to one.

The five books that have probably had the most influence on me are "Studies in Ethnomethodology" by Harold Garfinkel, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig, "1984" by George Orwell, "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe, and "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer.

Others authors:

In Science Fiction: I own everything by Stanislaw Lem, Iain M. Banks, and Neal Stephenson. I seem to re-read Frank Herbert's "Dune" almost every year.

In Fiction: Douglas Coupland, Michael Chabon, Nick Earls, Donna Tartt, A.S. Byatt.

In Non-Fiction: Tom Wolfe, Henry Petroski.

I also often re-read Robert Twigger's account of his year in the Yoshinkan Aikido HQ, "Angry White Pyjamas".

Cunfuse2 karma

Wow, you and I have very similar tastes in literature. Thanks for the answer!

routinegrounds1 karma

You're welcome!

DrMatthewRimmer3 karma

What are your views of the Coalition Government's push to reform racial discrimination laws in light of the Bolt case?

routinegrounds5 karma

This is a very hard question, isn't it, because it trades freedom of expression against repugnant expression. Of course I do not want to see hate speech treated as acceptable -- I was appalled by the Aboriginal memes Facebook page, for example. I know it's a different kind of case but what I liked was that, in the end, Facebook was responsive to community standards. I would like to see more of that kind of test/thing across both civil and corporate situations.

EvilTech51502 karma

I remember the bad old days of the 90s, when Oz only had like 1-2 T1 lines, and half that was going downstream to Kiwi land. Back when users were billed by the megabyte.

So Global Crossing and all the others strung fiber like crazy, went broke, but now everyone has bandwidth. So what happens? Every two bit jackass politician in Oz decides they want their own version of the Chinese Firewall.

Maybe it's not how you guys roll but, Australia has oodles of poisonous wildlife. Possibly you could exercise sort of a Leo Trotsky style endless purge, every 5 years bump off the bad eggs, feed them to the sharks, lock them in a room with nothing to eat but cane toads and vegemite, put a croc or two in their hot tub, venomous snakes in their desk drawers, etc.

Maybe show the movie Se7en in civics class, you know, give the little buggers ideas in case the whole voting thing doesn't work out. :D http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114369/

I dunno, is my irritation showing over the whole internet freedom thing? People say it makes me a tad cranky sometimes. ;P

routinegrounds1 karma

Well, the Coalition prefers Direct Action, so perhaps we should look into it... ;)

Three_Word_Guy2 karma

Hi! Censorship sucks.

routinegrounds3 karma


CobaltKnight2 karma

What's it like being a chair? Have you had any really fat people sit on you?

routinegrounds1 karma

Not yet, but there are some heavies that we will need to lobby, so I'll need to brace myself.

ikim00132 karma

How has the death of Steve Irwin impacted your life?

routinegrounds6 karma

It still stings.

dungoofedupp2 karma

Are you a comfortable chair, do you recline?

routinegrounds1 karma

I'm not a recliner but I am portable.

Tomguydude2 karma

For some reason, I've tagged you as 'Turnbull's Disgrace'. Odd.

Anyway, on topic now. Did you know about the NSA? What they were doing? Maybe even had the tiniest fleeting clue as to what was going on?

routinegrounds2 karma

Oh, and as for the NSA, I wrote elsewhere that everyone suspected some surveillance, but not the scale, scope, and limitations of oversight.

Holocaust__Denier0 karma

What are your thoughts on Christopher Lyin' and his recent announcements for education funding reforms?

routinegrounds1 karma

Not happy Jan!

0ty-1 karma


routinegrounds0 karma

I'm circumspect.

[deleted]-2 karma


routinegrounds2 karma

My Internet bandwidth?

[deleted]-2 karma


routinegrounds12 karma

There are many possible reasons for post-somnolent pain in one's rear nethers.

Ghostly molestation accounts for little more than 3% or 4% of morning ouchification, and even that is an anecdotal figure.

Perhaps you have bruised, sprained, or even broken your coccyx?

tylerrr46-6 karma


routinegrounds3 karma

I'll take that as a comment.