Before I say anything more, I would like to clarify some issues that have been raised in recent debates regarding the Censorship Research Center.
- The CRC has always been a small, volunteer based operation. Dan Colascione and I started the organization, and we were its primary drivers. We have not received income from the CRC and worked on a pure volunteer basis. Everyone else involved with the CRC operated on a part-time, volunteer basis.
- The CRC has never received a donation greater than 15k, and the vast majority of its donations have been much smaller than that. These were used primarily to buy our servers and pay for the bandwidth bills.
- Unlike other anti-censorship programs used in Iran, the CRC has never received funding from the United States government. Nor did the CRC, to my knowledge, receive special treatment from United States licensing agencies. We believe the United States and the European Community should continue to support anti-censorship efforts, and that restrictions on the distribution of anti-censorship software to countries like Iran should be loosened or eliminated.
- A diagnostic version of Haystack was distributed to a small number of users in Iran. The CRC took steps to inform users they had a test version of the program, a fact which was also displayed on the Haystack website. The CRC is not currently testing Haystack in Iran, and has committed to receive third party vetting of Haystack’s security before proceeding.
Dan Colascione and I started the CRC because we were moved by the Iranian peoples’ courage in the face of the government repression following the Iranian elections. In the Iranian peoples’ struggle we saw a chance to help the silenced voices of the world through technology.
My initial efforts involved providing instructions so people could set up proxies for Iranian people — thousands of people around the world helped out. It was after we saw that these proxies were repeatedly blocked by the Iranian government that we started working on Haystack. Dan developed the program’s core functionalities. I was charged with developing the user interface and the organization. Our goal was to provide the Iranian people with a tool to definitively circumvent the government’s increasingly sophisticated filters.
This goal soon turned into an enormously complex project whose scope exceeded anything we had been involved with before. After a few successful tests, we naively believed we were going to finish and launch Haystack within months. Instead, we soon found that we had to build an organization, obtain a license, engage in fundraising, and obtain the help of developers, accountants, consultants, and lawyers before we could even get off the ground.
The last year, in my mind, has been characterized by a constant drive to do more than we could with the resources we had. We were sometimes overly ambitious; we believed we could change the world, and I spoke with that belief in mind. And there was a constant, draining race to meet expectations — expectations that, in retrospect, I created, sometimes without meaning to; expectations that the press made into national stories, when really the story was a couple of kids, working for nothing, trying to bring the tools of communications to others.
To those we may have disappointed — those who supported us, those who worked with us, and those who have waited too long for us to deliver them from the Iranian firewalls — I apologize.
Meanwhile, over 30% of the world is still affected by censorship and monitoring. Western corporations still sell the tools of censorship to oppressive governments around the world, with no repercussions. Worse, the Iranian people still lack a reliable tool to access information and each other.
What I regret most is that the debate surrounding me has distracted from these issues. The only issues that matter are being ignored and for that I feel horrible.
This has become a burden and a distraction to the organization’s mission.
That is why I intend to step down as executive director of the CRC and take on a different role. I’m still very much committed to the CRC’s mission of empowering people to speak freely and safely around the world, that’s not up for discussion.
To those who still live under censorship and monitoring, and all of those who have supported us along the way and who continue to send letters of love and support to this very day, you will remain in my thoughts.
All the best,
Recently, there has been a vigorous debate in the security community regarding Haystack’s transparency and security. We believe that many of the points made in this debate were valid. As a result, and in order to ensure Haystack’s security, we have halted ongoing testing of Haystack in Iran pending a security review. We have begun contacting users of Haystack to tell them to cease using the program. We will not resume testing until this third party review is completed and security concerns are addressed in an open and transparent way.