September 14, 2010
No More Haystack

Daniel Colascione, main developer of Haystack, resigned publicly a couple of hours ago in a letter sent to the Liberationtech mailing list

We met online, after the election. After that otherwise-normal day in
June 2009, Austin Heap and I went on to found the Censorship Research
Center. We have traveled, laughed, drank, worked, celebrated, and
commiserated together. I have been involved in this project longer
than anyone else; before there was a Censorship Research Center, I
coined the name “Haystack”. I feel as if I know Austin better than
many people know their own brothers. He is fundamentally a good man.
That’s why this is such a difficult decision, and why I waited so long
to make it.

It is with trepidation and regret that I say that I cannot, in good
conscience, continue associating myself with the CRC. Effective
immediately, I am cutting all ties.

I would like to stress that I am not resigning in shame over the
much-maligned test program. It is as bad as Appelbaum makes it out to
be. But I maintain that it was a diagnostic tool never intended for
dissemination, never mind hype. I did have a solid, reasonable design,
and described it in our brief overture of transparency. _That_ is what
Haystack would have been. It would have worked!

What I am resigning over is the inability of my organization to
operate effectively, maturely, and responsibly. We have been
disgraced. I am resigning over dismissing pointed criticism as
nonsense. I am resigning over hype trumping security. I am resigning
over being misled, and over others being misled in my name.

I am as shocked and as angered as anyone, if not more so: for me, it
was a matter of trust between friends. I genuinely felt like we were
changing the world for the better. I still believe that for a while,
we really were. Austin and I quit full-time jobs in the middle of a
depression to further develop this dream. We stayed up late hours to
prepared drafts. We shared full access to the same machines. We had a
shared purpose. Nobody can argue that we didn’t begin with the best of
intentions. The hype and imprudence squandered that original goodwill.

I announced several days ago that I would resume an active role in the
CRC. I reconnected with Babak and Austin in the hope that I could put
the work I had already completed into a finished product, and I hoped
that I could heal the CRC’s image through openness and transparency.
My colleagues and friends welcomed me with praise, great eagerness and
open arms. But it just couldn’t work.

I finally realize, despite myself, that the damage is irreparable. I
can’t fathom some of what I’m seen and what I’ve learned. Even if xthe
organization were to do its best to make amends, I have no confidence
that the bounty would last.

There was plenty of error on my part too, of course. I should never
have allowed that damned “test” program to be distributed at all, and
should never have added diagnostics to it; running it once in a
controlled environment was a risk —- arguably an acceptable one at
the time. Multiplying that risk by users and by uses was what made it
a catastrophe. I should have stuck my head out of the code and more
strenuously objected to the hype.

I would like to emphasize that my friend and long-time colleague,
Babak Siavoshy, is utterly blameless. Although he is one of the most
intelligent and professional men I know, his ignorance of the
technical details involved made him unable to independently track our
progress. He truly believed. For my part, although judgment of
character is not my strongest skill, I should have known better.

I should have resigned immediately when I began to feel a certain
ineffable wrongness — that action would have either ended things or
produced lasting change. Instead, I allowed the situation to fester. I
should have had the courage to ensure we did things right or not at
all.

I regret that we exposed anyone to undue risk, and that we deprived
citizens of the effective anti-censorship tool that might have been. I
regret standing silently while I listened to empty promises —- and I
especially regret that this whole ordeal has scarred the
anti-censorship landscape so badly that it may be years before
anything grows there again.

I only ask that everyone, please, let bygones be bygones. There will
be no more Censorship Research Center. No more Haystack. No more hype.
We’re all wiser now in one way or another. Analyze if you must, but
acknowledge that it’s over now. Let’s mitigate any remaining damage,
then, please, move on.

Sadly,
Daniel Colascione

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