Introducing Steve Phillips, Technical Director

In his SXSW 2013 keynote, Astro Teller gave big thinkers a challenge: ask yourself, “what would I work on if I knew I would not fail?” He then asks — why wouldn’t you start that tomorrow?

You don’t have to be a hardcore civil libertarian to understand that suspicionless surveillance is a serious threat to freedom on the internet. And now that billions of people use the internet, I consider this to be a direct, global assault on humanity itself and each individual’s right to privacy.

So, what can we do about it?

One thing we can do is decentralize the internet by self-hosting services we need on hardware we control, thereby making users harder to monitor by state and corporate surveillance by keeping data out of the hands of Google, Facebook, and other centralized service providers. And we can use encryption whenever possible so that when our data or web traffic is recorded, it will be nothing but meaningless gibberish to the attacker.

It’s 2014! Shouldn’t two non-technical people be able to chat online, edit the same document, share files, and share photos, all without having to disclose private details to some random company and a bunch of government agencies? I sure think so!

And guess what? Through arkOS and other efforts, The CitizenWeb Project is enabling exactly this — and more.

So why join CitizenWeb instead of starting my own thing or trying to join a different project?

I know a lot of smart people, but never in my life had I met someone who has managed to start an ambitious, timely, and meaningful software project; write all the back-end code; appreciate and create intuitive user experiences; make all the logos; run a successful crowd-funding campaign; and release many iterations of a project — especially all by him- or her-self, in just 1 year! But with CitizenWeb’s core project, arkOS, Jacob Cook has somehow managed to do just that. Wow.

Now, what do I bring to the table to help CitizenWeb in its mission to decentralize the internet for everyday people? What knowledge, skills, and experience can I bring to bear?

I’ve been using (GNU/)Linux since 2001 and, in 2009, co-wrote a booklet instructing students how to install and configure various pieces of Linux server software. Since college I’ve focused on and/or done paid work in the fields of computer security, computer networking, political activism (Occupy Wall Street), the co-founding and expansion of Santa Barbara Hackerspace (since August of 2010), and, for the past 5 years, freelance web development (Python/Django and JavaScript), concurrent server software development (Go), and entrepreneurship (many tech startups).

For the past 2 years, inspired by Jacob Appelbaum in particular, nearly all of my passion projects have included the creation of encryption software that people can use to protect their privacy on the internet (see github.com/thecloakproject, Cloakcast, and Encrypted Anti-TODO list/CrypTag).

As Technical Director, I will be leveraging these skills and others primarily to enhance the quality and capabilities of arkOS, create various value-added services for our users, and in general, help our users succeed in taking back control over their own digital lives.

I really, truly care about this stuff. I’ve long been trying to focus on the biggest, most meaningful problem I could, one that I’m deeply passionate about and where I have the skills necessary to make a significant contribution, all regardless of how difficult and audacious its mission may be. To quote Morpheus — I believe that search is over.

Here I am, folks. Let’s do this.