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If You Repeatedly Make False Claims, Then Expect Criticism, Shiva Ayyadurai

Or: Shiva Ayyadurai Threatens to Sue Social Media Sites Over One-Line Posts

Shiva Ayyadurai did not invent E-mail. Everyone knows that. It’s easily disprovable. Does he want is to be a punishable offense to point out that he is either deluded or lying? Seems so.

In my daytime job I habitually set up mail servers and I have been a heavy user of E-mail for many years (millions of mails in my boxes). I am no stranger to the subject. I have used E-mail since I was about 13.

Based on this legal threat [PDF] sent by Ayyadurai’s highly controversial lawyer, he has just sunk to new lows by attempting to police what people say about him online. He already sued TechDirt, whose founder coined the term “Streisand Effect”. It means that by trying to silence or suppress some information, especially on the Internet, one only amplifies it. By doing what he just did, Ayyadurai demonstrated his inability to grasp the Internet (e.g. the “Streisand Effect”), set aside E-mail.

Not a clever move. Not by a long shot.

I am a relatively opinionated person, but I am also typically polite and courteous. For people like Ayyadurai I haven’t much patience because I care for facts and I have low tolerance levels for charlatans, like religious nutcases such as Peter Popoff. Their lies are actually causing real harm. Having the nerve to also sue those who disagree with them makes them worse than charlatans; it makes them bullies and merely serves to weaken their stance. They are frail, insecure people.

A lot of readers may have not the faintest of clue what I’m talking about here, so consider these two articles about it [1, 2]. They include background and they are gently worded because Ayyadurai is a legal bully. He tries to induce self-censorship and if he succeeds, everybody loses. Well, with comments in these article one can get a whole picture, a more complete picture. Anonymous commenters are not afraid of Ayyadurai.

For the uninitiated, to put it succinctly, first Shiva Ayyadurai sued Gawker (a news site), basically for saying the truth about E-mail. Then he sued TechDirt (a blog). Now he threatens SOCIAL MEDIA sites. 140-character brainfarts! What next? Will he threaten to sue people over single-word insults, too?

“Divide and conquer,” told me a friend, is the game he is attempting to play here. “If he takes them on one at a time and none band together and crush him, he will win if only one site at a time.”

It’s a form of trolling.

“He’s such a charlatan,” my friend told me, that “I’m surprised he’s not at Microsoft or hanging out with Gates.”

This friend’s advice was to gather more information about this, e.g. by asking around about similar threats. “That would get the word out,” said the friend, “that he is aiming for a divide and conquer strategy. Is there a way to do a class action against an individual charlatan?”

At the moment we don’t quite know how broad this campaign has been. Maybe it was just a sole letter. It’s impossible to tell for sure, unless Ayyadurai folds and shows his cards.

“A lot of sites had articles exposing his fraud,” my friend pointed out. “For starters there are these sites: gizmodo, quora, theverge. Searching more, there is this” (from Charlatan Watch List). “They might be interested.”

Ayyadurai is not an ordinary person; the person is a serial threatener. I’ve recently been reading more about this, hence becoming aware of a Web-wide campaign by him (some like TechRadar too, apparently — not just TechDirt and Gawker — are at risk or under attack). Evidence of this endless chasing by him would weaken his case/s, as any judge in the TechDirt case (aligned with EFF now) would easily see that he’s just trying to ‘tame’ the Internet. Ayyadurai’s lawyer is also quite a bully; to make matters worse, he’s financially connected to Donald Trump, an infamous enemy of the free press (this lawyer received money from Trump’s ally Peter Thiel and represents Donald Trump’s wife in action against British media).

Why does Ayyadurai resort to these irrational fits? He just wants to silence anyone who contradicts him. Which as everyone knows is not possible and would simply get him yet more negative publicity…

Ayyadurai, seriously man, look what you have done to your reputation (if you ever had any)…

I’ve not written about this until the weekend partly due to lack of time (busy week at work) but primarily because I decided to wait until I see some reactions to it; not online reactions but reactions from friends.

“Probably wise,” said a friend about the wait-and-see approach, later adding: “I wonder how widely he has cast his net. Many trolls send out large numbers of letters and then focus on those that respond.”

I’m still eager to know if other people have received similar letters from Ayyadurai. It could be like a form of copyright trolling but with “libel” rather than copyright. And over what? One-line posts? 140 characters? It’s totally ridiculous! I didn’t even say anything that wasn’t already said elsewhere.

Based on the letter, Ayyadurai wanted to have me suspended/banned and even threatened litigation against the platform, which is obviously not liable at all. The whole letter is so legally flawed that one has to wonder if the lawyer should be disbarred. The lawyer even tried to conceal the actual threat, using some bizarre reasoning for secrecy (like misuse of copyright law).

This episode is not over. I hereby publicly ask anyone who has received a similar letter to get in contact with me. Friends agree with me that our utmost priority should be to put an end to this serial ‘libel’ trolling. If only to make an example and discourage others from attempting the same thing in the future…

The case is very important not just for TechDirt but for many of us whose writings are opinionated but based on facts. Nitpicking on some habitual insult (I’m guilty of that too sometimes) is a convenient way for them to paint their critics as unreasonable and rude, but isn’t it rude to blatantly lie about one’s achievements? Quite frankly, a one-word insult is the lesser evil in this context. Gagging criticism rather than gagging or suppressing false claims? Which is worse?

Lawyers Who Don’t Use Encryption When Suing Government Entities With Access to Intercepted Material (Mass Surveillance)

And why every law school should teach everyone about encryption before any other “IT skills”

Industry

THERE IS a disturbing trend which is shared among pretty much all lawyers and other ‘legal’ professionals. I know because I checked. I also know because I saw how my friend, Pamela Jones (the paralegal behind Groklaw), got spooked by the spooks and stopped writing online after she had rejected my offer to use encryption about 8 years ago (saying it would only attract more attention). These are smart people who seem to be ignoring the threat of surveillance even when the threat is out there in the open, thanks to people like Edward Snowden. A lot of what Snowden showed had been known to me for years, but now there is undeniable truth which even the NSA’s chronic lies cannot cover up and shed uncertainty on. Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse.

I currently have a very strong case against a decision from the British government. I am sure I’ll win, the only question is when and at what cost (I have already spent thousands of pounds on it). I am not going to elaborate on it until the case is over, whereupon I will also release sensibly redacted papers (removing personal information) and explain the abuses which I have become aware of and personally suffered from. These abuses have impacted at least 4 people that my solicitor alone (an activist against torture) is working with. Nationwide, therefore, there may be thousands of such victims. It’s hard to say for sure how widespread this type of abuse has become, but one can estimate by extrapolation. In the future I will also file a formal complaint about it, then pressure my Member of Parliament to take action (not just yet).

Now, let’s deal with the key issue — or ‘beef’ — of this post. As in any legal case, papers are being sent back and forth, often electronically. It’s a practical thing to do because of speed (instantaneous for images and text). The stuff which the solicitor and I have already exchanged over E-mail is known about to the respondent, which has copies (this includes a request for appeal). Some stuff does not necessarily need to stay under the table, especially when it is accessible to both sides. Just as one requires no anonymity when purchasing a flight ticket (because the ticket itself already eliminates any chances of anonymity), for some documents it is fine to be visible to the opponent. There is not much to lose there.

But then there’s more sensitive stuff, like strategy.

Lawyers and barristers should always send sensitive stuff encrypted and sent over securely (to secure client-solicitor privacy/privileges). E-mail is one of the least secure methods of transferring data. It’s almost as thought it was designed for surveillance and profiling/linking people, but in reality it just got exploited by spooks and the protocols never adapted to counter these inherent deficiencies (encrypted mail still exposes the identity of the sender and recipient/s). Face-to-face or snail mail are better because bugging is hard and in the latter case it’s hard to achieve un-obtrusively, e.g. opening envelopes and re-sealing them. Since GCHQ and some government departments (e.g. Home Office) work together on increasing surveillance, right now under the guise of ‘emergency’ as if we’re in wartime, we can assume — pessimistically — that they may be studying the cases against them based on interception and preparing themselves based on this prior knowledge, or increased awareness. This is of course not acceptable, but then again, we already know that obeying the law is not our government’s best strength. That’s a debate for another day. In another circumstance one could probably chat or write about these issues (I know that my solicitor too advocates human rights at some capacity), but this is not the subject of this post.

As one who write prolifically on issues of national security, I have good reasons to suspect I have no privacy, unless technical measures are taken to protect it. I encrypt mail where possible. But I depend on others doing the same. Encryption is not a one-end preference, it needs to be agreed on and embraced by both ends.

People don’t want to jeopardise a case by unnecessarily giving away strategic arguments to the opposing side; I have seen people (usually in the US, some of whom I know online) on whom subversive means were used (illegal actions by those in power) to intimidate, harass, libel, etc. Completely bogus charges can be made up and hyped up in the media, framing of a person is very common (digitally too), and drainage of one’s resources through legal fees is also a common tactic of vendetta.

Any solicitor who wants to take on the government of his/her country absolutely must learn to encrypt. But this should not be limited to cases like these. Several months ago it turned out that the US government had spied on a US law firm which was working to advise a foreign nation on trade negotiations (this is a corporate matter). We know these types of abuses do happen in the West, so lawyers must learn to protect themselves. Unless they can sue to stop these practices (illegal actions by their government), they will need to adopt technical means of overcoming these dangers.

Perhaps I have become too cynical or too pessimistic when it comes to my government obeying the rule of law, but based on some recent revelations, the record supports me. We are living at times of lawlessness for the rich and powerful and oppression (through tyrannical laws and overreach) for the rest.

Great Example of E-mail Privacy Going Awry With Gmail

That head of CIA has to use Gmail shows while better systems exist,” writes Jacob Applebaum, “network effect encourages interfacing through weaker systems” (Applebaum is a world-renowned privacy activist).

Applebaum speaks about this article (among others), which highlights a point I raised last week. And “the article completely misses PGP,” wrote my friend iophk, “and the reasons for PGP.”

E-mail privacy is not to be assumed; in fact, it hardly exists at all, unless two parties (or more), both at the sending and the receiving end/s know what they do. We really need to rethink E-mail as a communication tool. At present, it’s good for those who spy on us, it’s not good for its users.

The Mail Services Deserve to be Out of Service

Royal Mail logo

THE SNAIL MAIL services are having a hard time. They are becoming obsolete and rather than improve in order to compete they have only become overpriced and they always underperform. It’s not just Royal Mail, this is a universal problem. Breaking up with the mail system altogether is hard for obvious reasons; quiting E-mail because it is not so reliable [1, 2] has the same issues because particular companies, utilities for example, insist on using postboxes (although some are moving towards E-mail, which isn’t much better).

The mail services are not trying to deliver as they should, so essentially they quit even showing what makes them more reliable than their competition. Why even bother with them? A lot of stuff can be shipped in alternative, more reliable means, even reproduced by printing (notably in forms that can be dealt with digitally or maybe scanned after a manual process).

The level of disturbance or even agony due to lost/missing mail is very high. In the majority of cases it seems to be happening or seems to be ending up as a failure. It doesn’t have to be like this. I am a resident at a place near the Town Hall/Centre (nothing difficult to find or reach) and I found it nearly impossible to receive packages, even when I am at home waiting by the intercom. Over the past year or so only 2 out of about 8 registered parcels sent to this address actually reached me. The post people don’t buzz me (I work at home) and eventually they return important packages to the sender or keep them at the warehouse. It is not possible to contact the post office to get the packages in alternative means, not even a note is left to suggest one does this. This is becoming a systematic and very serious issue and attempts to reach Royal Mail by phone are pretty pointless; it is exceedingly hard to find the phone numbers (they hide those) and once a number is finally dialed a person is hard to reach; they try to just automate an already-defunct system. Over the phone, one needs make sure s/he got the number/s and code/s right because their voice recognition is terrible, leaving one just wasting time talking to a robot and navigating through voice menus.

After a lot of struggle, I did mange to actually speak to a person from the post office (yes, they exist! And it’s not outsourced!). I spoke to an agent at Royal Mail, the national (British) mail service, who also kindly checked the Parcel Force tracker just in case. She insisted that we must speak to another post office, so it’s obviously becoming a game of ping-pong for them, which means to the client that s/he will have to spend dozens of hours of work trying to restore ‘justice’. I spoke to them for 10 minutes with a clear need to insist very strongly that they take action immediately, as their excuses are bad. They claim that the Office has no record of the package which is supposed to be track-able (registered mail), so they must urgently do something, right? But no. In a perfect (or better) world, they would look into it and issue compensation, but when there’s a monopoly on the mail system and the customers are assumed not to be right, no wonder the service is terrible. Time after time they get away with the same excuses, the same terrible service, and the same reduced productivity to everyone around.

People may be losing their jobs as the mail services implode, but society will have better services — i.e. ones that actually work and put the customer first — replace those. For me, the mail is service is something to avoid by all means possible. It’s just trouble. I would rather send and receive no parcel than deal with this ‘random delivery’ mode.

E-mail Ruins Friendships Due to SPAM

A FEW months ago I started to phase out E-mail to an extent. I still use E-mail, but it’s just not a communication tool of choice. The frustration of falsely-flagged (and filtered) messages has convinced me that I made the right choice. Why should I spend half an hour in vain trying to just (re-)E-mail a friend messages that he did not receive for months because his ISP shot these messages down? This whole E-mail chaos (caused mainly by SPAM that compromised Windows boxes spew out) leads to degradation of relationships between people, it not only interferes with work (data loss). When people think that they get ignored simply because their E-mails are not received on the other side, then perhaps it’s time to give up on E-mail, then find a more reliable medium. Last month I reconsidered my position on E-mail, but after seeing it ruining more relationships — simply due to the loss of many messages in a row — I decided to just put friends before E-mail, even if that means not using E-mail unless there is no other choice.

Have any of your friendships been harmed by E-mail problems? Could it possibly happen without you knowing about it (due to communication problems, obviously)?

RIP E-mail

In order to decease dependence on E-mail, starting today I will have an automated response channeling people to other routes of communication. Here is the template:

From: Roy Schestowitz – Autoreply Message

Re: %subject% – Message Received

%from%,

I am in the process of replacing E-mail correspondence with other, more effective & real-time means of communication. I still read my E-mail, but I do not read it regularly. I will collect messages about once a week, which makes manual filtering of spam a lot faster.

If you are willing to have a conversation with me, please consider creating/using an account in identi.ca < http://identi.ca/ > (or Twitter) where I can be contacted by handle @schestowitz. Alternatively, you can find me on IRC, under the Freenode network at channel #techrights

If the E-mail is urgent, please send mail to [redacted], which I will read more regularly. For an explanation of why I prefer to phase my E-mail accounts out, see < http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/email.html >

E-mail is still necessary for management of online accounts and sometimes passing of files (there are other means for that too). Due to high volumes of spam & phishing, E-mail is also dangerous. I wrote a great deal about E-mail since 2004. 6 years later I’m giving up.

Damn, the mail is slow

Stuffed mailboxes

TODAY I received some post. It was a familiar envelope with my handwriting. It turns out that it could not be delivered. The envelope said:

Not available at this address, return to sender

What was it? A cheque that I had sent in December 2004 to Matt Mullenweg. How on earth did it take 2.5 years for a letter to ‘bounce’? That was eerily funny/strange.

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