Through improbable circumstances I was able to get two of the authors of the joint Stanford-NYU Law Clinic report on U.S. covert “targeted killing” drone policy in Pakistan to come speak at SAIS last Friday. The report–Living Under Drones–is an excellent read, covering interviews with folks from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas  in Pakistan, analysis of media coverage of the policies, legal analysis (both domestic and international law) of the policies, and finally strategic considerations. The two hour event was awesome and engaging (and had Pakistani food to boot!), with a lot of discussion afterward. I kind of saw it as my last hurrah here at SAIS.

For one of my classes this semester I got to write a short paper on US covert drone policy in Pakistan, it’s a good overview of the big issues in my mind–definitions of “militants”, “signature strikes”, “double taps”, and a lack of medium- to long-term US goals–though short on policy prescriptions (can’t have everything in such a paper). Feel free to give it a read if you like, let me know what you think. I’ve often wanted to share the papers I write for classes so I figure this is a good excuse :)

The Trip

At the end of May and beginning of June, I travelled to Jordan to participate in a conference on clinical legal education as a member of the SAIS International Human Rights Clinic with the Protection Project. The conference was next to the Dead Sea, and afterward I visited with some classmates Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Amman. Spent my twenty-fifth birthday snorkeling for the first time, in reefs off the coast south of Aqaba.



Right-click on the photos and open them in separate tabs to zoom in and find Waldo.


Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

We all descended upon a cabin (no electricity or running water) in the middle of Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania west of Gettysburg for the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of April. Myself, Chris, Aliza, and friends of Aliza: Danica from NY, Cody and Kristen from DC, Lisa from Pittsburgh and her dog Karl.


A random assortment of things that have occurred.


Rome was awesome. After watching Nick’s thesis presentation, it was great to go with him and Jess to be with the parents. Always a good time.

I brought but one present back from Rome and that was rosewater. Why? To make my first dessert! Rosewater cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. Totally. Rocking. Awesome. The recipe is here.


Best concert in a while: Alim Qasimov & Fargana Qasimov with the Kronos Quartet at UM-College Park. $9 student tickets got Aliza and I a box seat for what was essentially two concerts: first, a number of pieces just with Kronos, then a piece of just A&F Ensemble, intermission, and the two joining forces. A fantastic concert and great to see Alim Qasimov after five years, when as a young wipper-snapper in the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble I played with him in Chicago during the Silk Road Project. Since then his daughter Fargana has joined him and she has her own unique lyrical style and he seems to love having her with him on stage. Very fun to watch and a joy to listen to.

State has been really enjoyable, dealing with all sorts of Internet policy issues in all sorts of ways, from bilateral dialogues with countries on the legal implications of cloud computing to Internet freedom advocacy in multilateral fora, Internet governance issues, and exploring potential export control of censorship and surveillance technology.


Went on a weekend roadtrip to Shenandoah with Aliza.

Bangladesh! Post 1, Post 2.


Presented at the SAIS Conference on Asia. My talk was on a paper I wrote called “Supporting Rural Development in China Through Information Sharing Networks for Migrants,” based in part on field interviews I did in rural Anhui province back when I was in China in May 2011. My very first conference presentation, awwww. If you’re interested: presentation and paper.

Last Sunday biked with Aliza down to the National Mall and met up with Chris for the some type of Kite Party. They had Rokkaku (kite fighting) and other fun activities. Got to fly a big ole two-line triangular kite, it was good times, hopefully everyone will stop telling me fly one now.

I’ve completed the visual journey begun with Woooo Bangladesh Spring Break!! Bangladesh was very enjoyable, the constant meetings kept us busy and thinking, it all took a good week to adjust back (the day / two day flight didn’t help). Below is a gallery of a whole bundle of photos, I’ll try to sift out some of the better photos at some point. I’ll write in more academic/policy detail about Bangladesh soon.

And now for something completely different…

First time on C-SPAN, this is from Monday.

Info & video:

Yes it was that exciting:

Now… to use my appearance to leverage myself into the talk show circuit : )

This is an article I wrote that was posted on, an initiative of the Bertelsmann Foundation where “people come together to create forward-looking change.”

Courtesy of kerolic on Flickr

Last October, news surfaced that the U.S. technology company Blue Coat Systems had provided the censorship equipment used by Syria in the government’s repression of its citizens. The company initially denied the charge, first brought by the European hacker collective Telecomix with traffic data taken from within Syria, but with increased media scrutiny the company later admitted having sold the equipment through intermediary distributors in Europe, unaware of its final destination. Had the sale been direct, it would be in violation of the 2004 export ban on all US goods to Syria except medicine and food. Because it was indirect and supposedly without the company’s knowledge, there are few avenues for reprimanding the company. That the company’s surveillance and censorship technology was later found in Myanmar as well, a country under similar export control measures, has only intensified the scrutiny of these companies and the porous legal regimes that allow their trade to continue to flourish.

The episode reinforced an unfortunate reality where the business decisions of U.S. technology companies are at odds with stated U.S. foreign policy priorities such as Internet freedom and undermine international humanitarian and human rights concerns in repressive regimes such as Syria and Myanmar. Indeed, the golden standard for Internet censorship–China’s Golden Shield Project, popularly known as the Great Firewall–was built with technology from U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Websense. Such companies insisted at the time that their technologies were politically and morally neutral, and that they had no control over how their technology was used. But although these technological services “do not entail the day to day management of networks” as Cisco argued, these companies do provide service and training support for their products.


Courtesy of GusEds on Flickr

Some companies have distanced themselves from such positions over time. The use of Websense’s web filtering technology in Yemen had been publicized since 2004 by theOpenNet Initiative, but after increased domestic and international media pressure the company voluntarily discontinued its service to Yemen in late 2010. After the Blue Coat controversy broke in October 2011, Websense published a statement exhorting other U.S. technology companies not to deal with governments that would use the technology to suppress the rights of its citizens, even if the company had the legal ability to engage in such business. Whether such industry self-regulation can be sufficient is doubtful, especially given the difficulty of proving a company such as Blue Coat knowingly sold the technology to the government in question and the many international companies in the industry not influenced by such self-regulation.

But domestic measures are being considered. After the Blue Coat controversy broke in October 2011, an investigative article in the Wall Street Journal publicized that the Chinese company Huawei was selling and servicing surveillance and censorship technology to Iran. These two developments have led to increased U.S. government scrutiny of the ability for existing laws and regulations to combat this trade. Furthermore, NGOs such as Accesshighlight the need for any legislative or executive action to make clear that such trade restrictions and export controls target the technology itself, and not only be applied to states of U.S. concern such as Syria or Iran.

Courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

And now the test both for the U.S. government and for the self-regulation of U.S. technology companies has arrived. In late February 2012, the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority put out a request for proposals for a “National URL Filtering & Blocking System” for the country. The Pakistani NGO Bolo Bhi protested the move by sending a petition to the major technology companies around the world that might submit a proposal, and the response has been heartening. Websense and Cisco responded with official statements citing corporate social responsibility in their decision not to pursue the Pakistani request for proposals. Sandvine, Verizon, and McAfee also responded briefly that they would not submit bids. The only U.S. company not to respond to Bolo Bhi’s petition has been none other than Blue Coat Systems. (2012-03-20 update: Blue Coat tells CNET it will not bid on the project, one day after the request has rumored to be withdrawn.) In addition, the three international companies Bolo Bhi approached have not responded: the Canadian company Netsweeper and the two major Chinese telecommunication companies Huawei and ZTE. With strong prodding from civil society organizations, the U.S. industry was mostly successful in not participating in the censorship proposal request from Pakistan. However, the deficiencies of such industry self-regulation—Blue Coat and the international companies—suggest the need for the U.S. government to extend its current concern over the export of surveillance technology to Syria, Myanmar, and Iran to any country, including allies such as Pakistan.

From the Pakistan case the way forward seems relatively clear. NGO pressure must continue on U.S. telecommunications companies to incorporate human rights considerations into their businesses decisions abroad, including pushing companies to follow Websense’s lead and join the Global Network Initiative or other multi-stakeholder venues concerning Internet and communications-related freedoms so that they can better understand how such technology is not “morally neutral.” In addition, the U.S. government must improve its efforts to make it in the interest of these U.S. companies to incorporate human rights considerations into their actions, whether through export controls on the technology, due diligence or other regulatory requirements for the industry. Furthermore, the U.S. government must incentivize international companies to comply with these requirements, whether through U.S. Government procurement rules that block companies who do not engage in industry best practices, pursuing international regulations, or other measures. With both Syria and Iran—the U.S. Government’s current countries of concern—engaged in soliciting and using censorship technologies, this is an ideal time to pressure the U.S. to pass laws or enact measures to support the initiatives of NGOs and some in industry to regulate the industry, not only to level the competitive playing field in the international industry but to lift the moral standards of it as well.

Arrived in Dhaka at 4am. First thing that hit me exiting the plane into the terminal was the smell/taste of the air, very reminiscent of cities in central-west China. Must share some common industry. yum!

Today’s adventures in picture form:

Tomorrow begins the busyness!

Newspapers Friday March 9th. I don’t think this happens often.