The Tools We Make, the Politics We Don’t: The Digital Public Square Project Debate at Rightscon

We will be hosting a debate panel at Rightscon in Silicon Valley with the goal of creating a discussion around the politics of liberation technology.

Thursday, March 31, 2016
The Bridge Room
10:30 AM

Debate Statement
We, the creators, bear no responsibility for the effects of liberation technology on the people we build it for.

Executive Summary
With Freedom House marking a fifth consecutive global decline in online rights and freedoms, liberation technologies and their proclaimed impact, while significant, have seemingly reached a stasis. Governments and private interests have become more sophisticated in their approach to these technologies and individual users are increasingly subject to monitoring, censorship, imprisonment and physical harm. However, when it comes to liberation technology, the discussion of ‘politics’ is quite often taboo, as creators claim their platforms, products, and projects are apolitical and solely about access and expression. In this debate, we ask whether or not the creators of these technologies are actually engaging as political actors reshaping geopolitics worldwide. Through this debate, we ultimately hope to achieve greater protections of the individual end-user of liberation technologies by increasing awareness of the double-edged nature of these tools among developers and disseminators.

Debate Structure
The debate is structured to ensure substantive and thorough discussion on the broader debate topic, while addressing thee key areas that speak to the macro issue:

  1. We’ve seen the future/We’ve seen the past: The failures of liberation technology to live up to its promise are well covered. Why will the next generation of lib-tech be different?
  2. The Clash of Organizations: When non-profits rely on outside organizations to bankroll tech development, does citizen empowerment remain the core objective? What are the tradeoffs?
  3. Dual-Use Distraction: What do the politics of dual use, for good, and for bad, mean for end-users.


Josh Levy (Moderator), Advocacy Director at Access Now

Eve Chaurand, General Counsel at

Cindy Cohn, Executive Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Morgan Marquis-Boire, Journalist for The Intercept, Director of Security at First Look Media

Esra’a Al-Shafei, Founder of and Shuttleworth Fellow