Chris Soghoian is a smart, relentless privacy advocate and activist. I’ve cited him half a dozen times in this blog (use the search box). He has done a lot of dirty work for print media as well. He’s a grad student at Indiana and a Fellow at the Berkman Center, where I have gotten to know him. He’s a guy you definitely want on your side in an argument. For example, he just took on the recording and movie industries in an FTC hearing about the loss that consumers can suffer if their cloud music or movie supplier goes out of business and takes the bits down with them.
A few weeks ago he pointed out that the decision of the Obama administration to use YouTube had privacy consequences — there was a risk that Google could track who was watching presidential addresses, for example. The first post on this subject was called¬†Why Obama should ditch YouTube, and several others followed. Both the White House and Google were apparently furious, but the White House changed its practices shortly afterwards.
Now CNet, the online news service that sponsored Chris’s blog, has fired him. No explanation, but it’s almost surely because he annoyed some powerful institutions. Here is Chris’s own comments on this, and here is a comment by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
This is not good. We’ve lost an important voice. Even more, the case raises big worries about the independence of the new media. Chris’s stuff is edgy, and it’s no surprise that his exploits irritate people. But what did CNet think it was getting when it published a blog entitled “Surveillance State”? And on this story at least, the denouncements that followed were denials of things that Chris’s stories never said. I am not aware that he was caught making any mistakes. So please imagine the Washington Post firing Woodward and Bernstein after they started printing embarrassing stuff about the Watergate burglary.
I wish him well. We’ll be hearing from him again, I’m sure. And on the bright side, maybe he’ll finish his PhD now. But I wish he were still up on a visible site making trouble in his informed, funny way.