It was tiring work. “I think to a large extent, I just became burned out on it,” McCandlish said. “That kind of work carries a lot of the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Others have used the Internet for activism, of course, long before McCandlish was hired. But he appears to have been the first person to sport “online activist” as a job title.
“It was vital work, but it became kind of busy work. Lots of document processing and a little less interesting,” said McCandlish, who quit school at the University of New Mexico to move to D.C. where he accepted a job with the EFF.
For any online activist, especially one working at the first online civil liberties group, the mid-1990s were a tumultuous time. Using the comp.org.eff.talk newsgroup and the EFFector mailing list, McCandlish spread the word about the threat of the notorious Clipper Chip and started the wildly popular “blue ribbon” free-speech campaign.
He also survived the fallout from EFF’s partial embrace of the “Digital Telephony” wiretapping bill, which eventually led to a staff exodus, the founding of the Center for Democracy and Technology and EFF’s flight to San Francisco.
Even with the sometimes-painful experiences, McCandlish says, those were high times for activists. “You were making a difference on a personal level,” he said. “That was fulfilling work: Fighting the Communications Decency Act and its successor. That was an engaging and challenging time.”
And now? A break from the fuss: “I haven’t had a vacation in about five years.”
Senator spam: Sen. Joseph Lieberman says it’s time to crack down on that noxious stuff known as spam.
As far back as 2000, the one-time Democratic VP hopeful was proclaiming: “Spam is a tremendous nuisance…. Unfortunately, spam shows no sign of going away on its own.”
For the last week, journalists on Lieberman’s press list have been thinking precisely that.
Because of a mail glitch, Lieberman’s office has been repeatedly sending out the identical press release to reporters. Wired News received about 10 copies.
The release talked up Lieberman’s proposed broadband ideas, saying President Bush was bereft of any “coherent strategy” in the area, and promised to “expand the reach of truly advanced high-speed Internet service.”
Anyone receiving the senatorial spam would need it. Since the release included an attached copy in Microsoft Word form, each message weighed in at a hefty 320 KB.
It’s been a long run: I started writing for Wired News in 1998, and began this Saturday update from the nation’s capital soon afterward.
During that time, I’ve chronicled the growing intersection between politics and technology, writing about how the law has struggled to keep abreast of developments – often with disappointing results.
Now more than ever, we should remember that technology – not the whims of politicians, judges and bureaucrats – remains an important vehicle for preserving cherished values like privacy and free speech.
This week, we’ve seen how a decision (PDF) by Attorney General John Ashcroft will permit more extensive Internet surveillance by the FBI. During times of crisis, politicians pay scant attention to traditional values like limited government – as we saw when Congress overwhelmingly endorsed the USA Patriot Act last fall.
By contrast, technologies like encryption, anonymous remailers and, eventually, widely available digital cash work because of the immutable laws of mathematics, not the oft-unreliable convictions of elected leaders.
I owe my editors a considerable debt for their good humor and commitment to solid journalism. I owe my readers an equal debt for their commitment to keeping journalists in line: It’s humbling to know that readers often know far more about a subject than the writer.
I’m grateful to my fellow reporters at Wired News for the chance to work with them in chronicling the evolution of technology, society and politics. Keep up the fierce, intrepid reporting!
I’ll continue to write about politics and tech, but for a different news organization. If you’d like to continue reading what I write, you’re welcome to visit my personal website.