I’m currently in Cairo, giving a training on Internet policy to a group of (mostly young) journalists. As always, I am humbled…having 10 hours to fill, I started off day one on international governance (probably a bad idea, given that it’s by and large the most boring topic of them all), and within 20 minutes was interrupted by someone demanding to know my expertise on Egyptian digital censorship (lucky for him, and me, it’s pretty good). By the end of the day, we’d switched up the agenda, as everyone was really interested in learning about copyright legislation (like SOPA) and treaties (like ACTA) would affect them, and how they can protect their websites from attacks.
There’s a lot of money out there these days going toward absurdist “Internet freedom” efforts to the point where my griping “don’t call it Internet freedom” in staff meetings has become somewhat of a meme. And yet whenever I get the opportunity to do something hands-on like this, I am reminded that there are great ideas, and (like this) simple but important ones being funded. And I’m glad that I have not lost the ability to be humble and listen and change things up. If and when I do, please send me packing.
I leave Cairo tomorrow morning headed for Paris, where I am going to work and waste some time (I mean, where better?) before heading to Geneva for the introduction of the Internet Freedom Fellows at the U.S. Mission. If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I never would’ve guessed that a) the State Department would be doing something like this b) that I’d approve and c) that I’d be invited to speak at it. And yet, here I go, off to welcome some of the world’s coolest young free expression advocates to what some may deem propagandistic but what I think is an eye-opening experience well-tailored to the needs of these young activists.
After Geneva, it’s back to Amsterdam, where I’ll finish up my final module at THNK. I will be incredibly sad to say goodbye, but incredibly proud to pass the torch (along with members of the first class, including my great friend Katherine) to the third round of students, who have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. I suspect I’ll have some reflections, and some things to share about my final project, but right now my meager sleep is preventing me from digging deeper.
And last (and, frankly, probably least), I head to Austin for what may very well be my last SXSW (for a while, anyway). I’m doing a panel on export controls, calling it “the new cryptowars,” with the awesome Ahmed Ghappour, my frequent partner-in-crime Trevor Timm, and Sahar Sabet, whose story outraged me so when it emerged last year that I begged everyone I know to put me in touch with her. I will be proud to hear her retell it, and to raise the other injustices perpetrated by technology sanctions (and their advocates) on Iranians, Syrians, and others.
And then home, but only for a few days before I’m off again. It’s tiring, but exhilarating, worthwhile but exhausting. Once in awhile, I walk through a hotel or a bar and forget where I am. It happened at dinner the other night; I returned from the bathroom and told my dinner companion that I’m both happy and disappointed at how much the world all looks the same after awhile. We agreed: it was a good thing and a bad thing all at once.