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August 23, 2007

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Elad

Interesting post, Chris.
I'd probably feel the same conflict, but I know my decision would be to help the guy, and if it matters any, I'm Israeli.
UAV isn't nuclear technology. As you said yourself, it's widely available. If some military or para-military organization wants to use it for offensive purposes, it's hardly a problem for them to find the knowledge and build the technology.
On the other hand, helping someone who'd normally consider you their enemy just as you consider them, might help change their views. It doesn't guarantee that they'll refrain from calling America the Big Satan and Israel the Little Satan publicly, but it just might seed a little cognitive dissonance next time they do it. So I'd rather give them the benefit of the doubt - i.e. that the person is just a geek, not a terrorist.

BTW, the writing (and speech) on his video is Farsi, not Arabic.

Macartan

I don't see the Iranian flag as cause for concern. After all, you probably wouldn't be concerned if you saw a UAV decked in stars and stripes, right?
Control of information on an open internet is doomed to failure. We gain enormous advantages in western societies through collaboration, which is in turn enabled by free-flowing information. Let's hope that less democratic nations inadvertently let in some of that free-flowing information even if their original goal was just to copy UAVs.

Conrad

The most obvious reaction for me would be to marvel at how the internet destroys borders and boundaries, and allows direct connections between like individuals halfway around the world.

It would almost certainly draw me to question the picture of Iran that the mainstream media is painting: if we're going to go to war with them, then everything an Iranian does must be logically bad, right?

No wait, let's stop communicating with peoples of countries that our leaders say are bad. "American lives are at risk!!!"

Fuck that.

Josh

You absolutely should continue to help. You yourself said he's probably just a geek too, and he should be treated that way. If he, through some miracle, is actually a terrorist, I don't bielieve that t's "on you" as you're just providing information he could obtain anywhere. Give him the benefit of the doubt.

If anything, the Arabic writing is probably saying "Hi mom!"

Darren

Food for thought: From where I live, you currently reside in "a country associated with Bad Stuff". I think you've got just as much to fear from, say, an Oklahoman as from an Iranian.

Jon Limjap

Support Amir

It would show him that not all Americans are paranoid, suspicious bigots who think all Iranians are terrorists.

pilgrim

"But what should I do if Amir or someone like him from a country associated with Bad Stuff posts on our own forums looking for technical advice?"

I see Darren beat me to it. I'd even copied the sentence to my Clipboard as I scrolled, in preparation. Sorry to be the bearer of unwelcome news, but viewed from the outside, your country of residence can take few (if any) lessons from anyone, anywhere, ever, on the subject of association with Bad Stuff. Nor can mine (the UK), if it comes to that.

Not that you don't have lots of Good Stuff too, I have to add... :)

Anders Emil

I'd say the posting from Amir to an American geek community, and not an Iranian, shows that he's an open minded person. This is the perfect example of the globalization the internet is making possible which we embrace in all other situations. We're not to fight terrorism or anything by excluding but rather including. Say hello to Amir... ask him what he's up to. Communication, two way like the internet allows, is the best way to understanding.

For an English speaking community to connect with a Farsi speaking talented geek is pretty niche. Isn't that kind of long tail?

Nick C

>I know, that's an ignorant, xenophobic and paranoid reaction. And my
>first instinct is to pay nationality no mind. But as I say, I'm
>conflicted on this. What would you do?

Well, follow your instincts as they say. I haven't seen either the post or Amir's video, so I don't have any opinion myself. It's a judgment call as far as I can tell - if you think that Amir is the enemy, and that by helping him your are helping them, take the post down and stop giving them info. But if you come to realize that your definition of the enemy is anyone whose language or culture you don't understand, then you have to be prepared to admit that you are ignorant, xenophobic and paranoid.

Mirco

Open Source empower the individual. So it could comfort our enemies (they are individual too), but it could comfort their enemies too.
What if the UAVs are used from some Iranian against their government? Maybe transmitting censured stuff or attacking the Pasdaran headquarters?

Ben

Mirroring most of these other comments, I agree that it seems unlikely there's anything to worry about. Iran is actually one of the more internally conflicted countries these days, with a citizenry that is in many ways progressive and modernized and at odds with its leaders. Moreover, you're not talking about nuclear weapons here. You're talking about geeky UAVs. No offense, but model planes have existed for years decades, probably). Adding a phone and a camera to one isn't a huge leap of imagination. I think you can relax your paranoia.

Now, if someone starts asking questions about payload and how to aim and launch bombs or missiles, THEN I'd become a bit concerned... ;)

Paul

Chris - as an Iranian-American, I'm sort of astonished by this post. There are so many insulting assumptions here, it's hard to know where to start. First, whatever danger to the west may be emanating from Tehran, it's certainly not coming from an amateur UAV-builder! Or are you assuming that the Iranian government's military program (or the Revolutionary Guard's terrorist support) relies on scouring the web for UAV advice?

In fact, the guy is probably taking a significant risk building something that his own government might feel like confiscating because of its potential to undermine the secrecy with which they govern.

Second, the whole bit about the video looking jihadist is just ridiculous. Iranians are very proud of their country and their heritage (hence the flag), and, well, they like writing that they can read in their home videos, I guess. How DARE they not use English!?

The other commenters have been more measured (e.g., "I doubt there's anything to worry about"), but I'll go one better and say that you need a serious cultural reset. Speaking a different language and loving Iran (the country, not the regime - a distinction your typical US liberal like myself knows pretty well) doesn't make you an enemy or a terrorist.

Rachel

1. Help Amir
2.Get the posts translated
3. Pay attention to what kinds of questions and comments are posted by everyone who uses your site
4.Listen to your instincts.

Louis

Personally I'd have no problems helping the guy. Like you said, anyone looking to make a weapon with the thing probably wouldn't be posting on your forum. And, again like you said, I think it's fair to consider what your reaction would have been if someone had posted a UAV decked out with the Swedish flag, or Japanese, or whatever. Probably not even a tinge of worry.

My real concern (and maybe I'm the one being paranoid here), is possible legal reaction in the US to you helping this guy. Now I'm not really familiar with the provisions of the Patriot Act, but it would be worth checking to see if there's something about providing (potential) military technology to (potential) terrorists in (potentially) enemy countries. I'd hate to see you suddenly declared an enemy combatant and hauled away by the Men in Black :-)

Tasoth

More than 100,000 Iranians died when Iraq used chemical weapons against them in the 1980s. That makes Iran the biggest victim of WMDs since Japan. Iraq had bought those weapons in France, West-Germany and the USA. Donald Rumsfeld even met with Saddam Hussein in 1983, consolidating the U.S.-Iraq military alliance. Iraq was using chemical weapons on an almost daily basis at that point.

I'm sure you can imagine a lot of Iranians have been a bit paranoid about western influences ever since. But Amir doesn't care about all that. He's just a geek like the rest of us, doing what he loves. So stop watching fox news and welcome him. The west has already done enough to alienate Iranians.

Amir

Hi Too all.
Im Amir from iran and i Designed that airplan and created it.
First:Iam not a terorist.
second:I love my country , persian languege , our flag and dont get it to ant body
second: Im 17 years old and i now am going to Kharazmi fastival in tehran. for get a knolege race !
third: i love friendly.
thank for all.
Amir Aalipour
best regard

J. Chris Anderson

Iran is pretty progressive, as far as I can tell. They've got a lot of bloggers, geeks, and connectivity. Interactions like yours (should they happen more frequently and richly) could do a lot to avert the war path our respective governments seem bent on pursuing.

I had a happy moment the other day when I saw that Iran was the busiest non-western country on my Google Analytics report. Here's a screenshot of the map. Perhaps if we all befriend one Iranian before George Bush has a chance to blow up their infrastructure, he'll never get that chance.

Roger Denton

As in the case of the US, the problem is not with the people of Iran rather their government.

Of course there is no way to be certain of his motives or affiliations but positive contact between the people of the US and Iran can only help keep our governments in check.

Macboffin

As readers of rcgroupps "UAVs" section may have noticed,I have been communicating with Amir in Farsi.Spent nearly six years there, had a great time.
That was before the revolution.It's only the Government that has changed, not the people.Having spent most of my working life in the UAV industry,(I'm now retired)I hardly think that this talented 17 year old student is a danger to the West ; rather I see him as a possible conduit to undo some of the anti-West propoganda holding the country back from from proper progress in the World community; and, it may be, to show some of the red-necked "My country right or wrong" folks the true character of the "rag- heads" they know nothing about.

Some Guy

"Iran is pretty progressive,"

You're kidding, right?

You haven't heard about their mass arrests of people not complying with their "islamic" dress codes?

Alan

Amir told you he was Iranian. But how do you know that you don't have people on your lists posting from, say, North Korea, who just omitted to tell you?
Strikes me as fatuous as those boxes "I am not a terrorist" you have to click through to download encryption software.

Actually, Amir is taking a much bigger risk at being branded a tool of American imperialism by joining you.

Simon

I think this blog post brings up some valid points. However, if you restrict your communication with Amir because he's from Iran, in conflict with your own personal beliefs, then you're basically letting the terrorists win (whichever terrorists we're thinking of).

See the following Bruce Schneier essay for a more thorough discussion of this issue: http://www.schneier.com/essay-124.html

Rodhrek

Hey, why not just ask: "Do you have any intention of using this technology for espionage, terrorism or other violent or military purposes?" If the answer is "Yes," politely decline to help and call the FBI. If the answer is "No" and you think that seems truthful, go ahead and help. You may wish to ask those who ask you for help to put their pledge in writing in some fashion, for your own legal protection.

Rodhrek

True, a terrorist could lie to you, and you could still end up helping a criminal or worse. But at least you would have done something that you reasonably can and should do -- ASK -- and that should help keep you out of trouble with authorities.

Jane Q. Public

Information does not kill people, lack of information kills people.

If this were not true, governments would not keep so many secrets.

Dissemination of useful information enhances mankind. Unless it is extraordinarily lethal in untutored hands (like how to cheaply make 10 pounds of enriched uranium or 10 grams of anthrax), I do not believe that possessors of knowledge have a moral imperative to keep it from others.

Nor, for that matter, do I think they should even be put in such a position that they should have to ask themselves the question.

dave

Oh for crying out loud. "Obviously Iranian != terrorist/bad guy/anti-Israeli zealot". Uh, no. Most of the people in Iran are NOT like that, just like most of the people in the US are not warmongers, just because our president is. This is a kid who want to make a cool UAV! Give him a hand!

Justa Guy

A poster has worried about the potential danger to you from the US government. In a police state, that's always a concern. If it's not a police state, it's not a concern. Personally, I'd think Amir has more to worry about his government than you do about yours, though I agree that assuming any government will act rationally is a dangerous assumption. I suspect that so long as the discussion does not stray into politics, neither of you has much to worry about.

Talk is good. When people are talking, when they're working on mutual projects, they are far less likely to fight. We do not want to see Americans and Iranians fighting, nobody gains from that but the undertakers.

It's a lovely plane, Amir.

Armin

> Most of the people in Iran are NOT like that

What conceivable difference could it make what most people in Iran are like? Most citizens of the old Soviet Union weren't murderous thugs yet the regime killed millions of its own citizens and millions more outside its borders.

> Personally, I'd think Amir has more to worry about his government than you do about yours

That's assuming he doesn't have a government "handler" sitting at his elbow. In a country that considers homosexuality a capital offense and a woman's bare skin a moral affront, that's a pretty naive assumption.

Mark

Chris: remember that there are many places round the world where people think of the US government as being very much associated with Bad Stuff too.. but are intelligent enough to realise that while they may not like the US government, individual Americans can be very nice people and have independent views.

Also I find it rather funny that you're concerned at this teenager's decision to paint his homebuilt UAV in his country's colours, given many Americans' predisposition to paint the "stars and stripes" over anything they can get their hands on, wear, drive, sleep under, etc...

Luke

Dave: just so you know the symbols != means 'does not equal'. The OP agrees with you.

Niels

It's not really clear to me whether you're afraind to possibly be helping an enemy, or afraid that people might think you're helping an enemy.

Adrasteia

Personally, I'd think Amir has more to worry about his government than you do about yours

Some would think that, but I'd caution them to have a very close look at both the USA PATRIOT Act and Arms Export Control Act. If nothing else you may find that the state department has had you restricted from flying in anything larger than a homebuilt for the foreseeable future.

Catharina

Well, maybe the next step should be then to forbid the development of free and open source software? Or maybe you have been watching too much Fox TV?
http://foxattacks.com/blog/10777-fox-attacks-iran

RM2

How ridiculous.

Just because the US and Iran governments happen to be 'enemies' doesn't mean that every citizen in each country has to be too. It's that sort of petty-minded jingoism that allows governments to get away with demonising other countries and cultures.

I think you owe Amir an apology for this post.

b. humbl

Do you really think that any military needs this kind of web site to get the idea, while US military's use of drones is on every journal or media?
Don't think that other people are idiots!

Seán

I think you could have a point. All americans should be thrown off all open source projects at once. They are a rogue nation invading other countries illegally and they are all conditioned by propaganda. I can't stand the loud fat dolts always stinking of greasy food and cowering behind their stupid gaudy flag, the new butchers apron. All they ever do is claim the world is 6000 years old and USA No1. They're shifty too and will do anything for a couple of dollars.

Bob

I think Chris's concern is the project being shut down over paranoia, not concern that Amir, or anyone else for that matter, is going to do something nefarious with the technology.

Chris, send an email to Phil Zimmerman and get his take. He went through hell with PGP for similar reasons, and came out on top by sticking to his values that encryption should be available to all. In this case, if the US or any other government tries to outlaw the open development of UAV technology, it will further demonstrate the whipped up levels of paranoia that is maintained.

For folks that are getting down on Chris, i think it took courage to make this post, and i think it's an important discussion. The right answer is clear, however, and i think that going through this discussion out in the open helps everyone that faces similar issues with projects they are involved with. The vocal vilification of firearms in Europe and the anti-gun contingent in the US has confused people into thinking that technology can be bad. Fortunately, that's simply not true, there is no bad technology, only bad people...and there is nothing you can do to guarantee what bad people have access to, only what good people know and have in order to defend against them.

Dan

It might be a good idea to look at export control regulations - including what is deemed an export. (http://www.bis.doc.gov/licensing/exportingbasics.htm)

There can be other implications in this.

Scud Cancer

wow, didn't this happen to Nobel? .... its hard to see how long till this freedom continues.
till then well have to keep going.

Mark

Chris, it is nice to know that you're in the process of developing UAV's, wish get success. It would definitely help in the scientific perspective. Rightly you mentioned every technological innovations are having two sides, always the creator want to use it for positive aspects. But finally in most of the cases wrong peoples are the frequent users.
Desiccants

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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