Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Ada Initiative: from advocacy to censorship

Ada Initiative: from advocacy to censorship

In its June issue, due out by May 22, the American magazine, Marie Claire, will carry a report and pictures about the BSides SF security conference which was held in late February.

Curiously, the organisers of this conference never invited anyone from the magazine to cover it; two people from Marie Claire were taken to the conference by Valerie Aurora, the executive director of the Ada Initiative, in a bid to impose her will on the conference.

What did Aurora want? As iTWire has already reported, she wanted to get a talk, that her organisation deemed unsuitable for such a conference, pulled from the schedule. What the magazine will report remains to be seen.

The Ada Initiative has a stated aim of trying to increase the participation of women in technology and culture; however, with this act it appears to have crossed from advocacy to censorship.

Targeted at BSides SF was Violet Blue, a well-known sex educator who often speaks at such conferences; her talk was titled "sex +/- drugs: known vulns and exploits".

Blue says on her blog: "The talk is structured with harm reduction methodology, the act of giving the talk is an act of harm reduction for the community, and also gives me another opportunity to tell the hacking/security communities about what harm reduction is."

She told iTWire: "The (Marie Claire) journo was Lizzie Oppenheimer, associate photo editor... Her photographer was Nicolas Silberfaden, and they both attended on Sunday (February 24)".

"Adria Richards (a tech evangelist at an US company until recently) had told me at SXSW (a series of conferences in the US held in March) that she tried to talk Valerie Aurora out of taking Marie Claire to the event. Adria told me [that she said to Valerie over lunch a couple weeks before BSides SF] that Valerie was imposing her own victimhood issues on others by bringing in the magazine.

"I got the impression from Adria that she had talked Valerie out of bringing the photographer, but according to BSides organiser Verbal, the photographer was in attendance on Sunday. I got the impression from Adria that Adria thought she'd successfully talked Valerie out of it and didn't know that Valerie had brought them anyway."

It is clear from published correspondence that Aurora approached the organisers and tried to get the talk cancelled. What the Ada Initiative has said publicly is that it was approached for advice on the talk. This is at variance with the facts.

It is curious also that while the Ada Initiative's two posts (1 and 2) on the issue both have rape trigger warnings at the top, the organisation's own post on its stance regarding talks on sex at technology conferences carries no such warning, despite mentioning rape.

As well-known security personality, Brian Martin aka Jericho put it, "Without consistency, your personal agenda shows."

The Ada Initiative raises money for its activities through donations. In the first nine months of 2011 (corrected), it raised around $US130,000. To what use this money has been put is unknown.

In November 2011, the Ada Initiative wrote that it would post about how the money raised was being used; nothing has appeared on its website thus far.

Back in December 2011, a former adviser to the organisation, Bruce Byfield, quit, and in an article titled "2011: The Year of Linux Disappointments" wrote: "Unfortunately, despite having spent somewhere in the neighborhood (sic) of $100,000 in six months - much of that apparently in salaries and travel - The Ada Initiative has accomplished little that a volunteer group could not."

The Ada Initiative has tried to make as many conferences as possible adopt a code of conduct from a template that it has drawn up; BSides SF was one conference to do so. (Update, June 3: An organiser of BSides SF says the parent body for the conference, BSides Global, has not come to any agreement with the Ada Initiative; it was in the process of contemplating an agreement when the incident happened at BSides SF.)

However, after it came to light that Aurora had used threats to get Blue's talk cancelled, the organisers of BruCON, a security conference in Belgium which had already adopted a code based on the Ada Initiative template, junked it, and said it would draft its own.

One of the problems with such codes is that it gives organisers, especially feminists, wide latitude to act in any way and censure anyone against whom they have a personal grudge. And they can do what they like, given that they can always use political correctness to get what they want done.

This was in evidence in Canberra in January this year when I was asked to leave the Australian national Linux conference, on the allegation that I had harassed people there.

Putting power in the hands of some, it would appear, results in little dictators manifesting themselves.

Comment was sought from the Ada Initiative but there has been no response.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.