Friday, March 15, 2013

Will we know soon who 'Mr FOIA' is?

On 13 March several 'sceptical' climate related blogs posted a letter from a self-confessed Mr FOIA*, an anonymous person who claims to have released the emails from the Climate Research Unit.
*[reference to 'Freedom of Information Act]
He writes:
It's time to tie up loose ends and dispel some of the speculation surrounding the Climategate affair.
Indeed, it's singular "I" this time. After certain career developments I can no longer use the papal plural ;-)
I prepared CG1 & 2 alone. Even skimming through all 220.000 emails would have taken several more months of work in an increasingly unfavorable environment.

CG1 and 2 refers to the two batches released in 2009 and 2011 respectively. He does not explain how he obtained the emails and if he is the hacker. Now a new batch has been prepared for release for which he created a password protected .zip file apparently out of concern for not involving third parties:
Dumping them [emails] all into the public domain would be the last resort. Majority of the emails are irrelevant, some of them probably sensitive and socially damaging.
So who is behind Mr FOIA, and what is his motivation? He says:
That's right; no conspiracy, no paid hackers, no Big Oil. The Republicans didn't plot this. USA politics is alien to me, neither am I from the UK. There is life outside the Anglo-American sphere.
If someone is still wondering why anyone would take these risks, or sees only a breach of privacy here, a few words...
The first glimpses I got behind the scenes did little to garner my trust in the state of climate science -- on the contrary. I found myself in front of a choice that just might have a global impact.
Briefly put, when I had to balance the interests of my own safety, privacy\career of a few scientists, and the well-being of billions of people living in the coming several decades, the first two weren't the decisive concern.
It was me or nobody, now or never. Combination of several rather improbable prerequisites just wouldn't occur again for anyone else in the foreseeable future. The circus was about to arrive in Copenhagen. Later on it could be too late.
It's easy for many of us in the western world to accept a tiny green inconvenience and then wallow in that righteous feeling, surrounded by our "clean" technology and energy that is only slightly more expensive if adequately subsidized.
Those millions and billions already struggling with malnutrition, sickness, violence, illiteracy, etc. don't have that luxury. The price of "climate protection" with its cumulative and collateral effects is bound to destroy and debilitate in great numbers, for decades and generations.
Conversely, a "game-changer" could have a beneficial effect encompassing a similar scope.
So this sounds like a guy with a social justice agenda and some involvement with 'hacktivism', not someone primarily driven by climate scepticism or by a neo-liberal market agenda. If genuine, this may be a surprise, and a not entirely welcome surprise, for those who (for now) celebrate him as a hero.
The nature of comments on some blogs are telling. On whatsupwiththat Mr FOIA was decried for his refusal to make the password available to everyone while over at Bishop Hill commenters were only interested in his provenance. Is he an Eastern European or Canadian because of his sentence constructions or use of specific words? Is he a programmer because of the use of the backslash character \ ? Is he continental European because of the use of the dot in 220.000 rather than 220,000 as is typical in English language? Etc etc. So while they are waiting for the forensic linguist to deliver the verdict, password holders will be preparing the release of CG3. It would be interesting if the  man behind the hack steps forward and reveals more about the reasoning that led to his actions. The crime has lapsed; maybe he does not want the limelight?


Bob K said...

What would be the point in revelation of his name? Most of the people in the world are unaware of what he has done. Of those who are aware, he is either lauded or reviled. I tend to think there is little upside and maybe a large downside in unmasking himself if his environment is heavily populated by those dislike him. I think he has enough self-confidence that releasing the emails was the correct thing to do that public adulation under his real name is of little concern. Personally, I have a great appreciation for what he has done.

When it comes to the legal situation, anyone thinking Mr. FOIA is immune to prosecution simply because the time limit on a particular charge may have passed is being rather naive. There may be numerous other laws across many courts throughout the world where it might be possible to lay what would be considered trivial charges. Whether provable or not the process would become the punishment. He could be tied up at great expense for decades defending bogus charges throughout the world. Just for example, how about violation of copyright in some country? Can anyone authoritatively say he hasn't broken some law in some country? I think not.

Vinny Burgoo said...

I'm Spartacus!

(Happy to oblige.)

Bob K said...

Heh. Very good, Vinny.

I supposed I should make full disclosure myself.

I was contacted in relation to CG1 by a detective from the Norfolk Constabulary attached to what they called the Joint Major Investigation Team. I threw him off the scent by being jovial about the whole thing and suggesting if he was ever traveling in my area(CT USA) I'd show him around the Mohegan Sun Casino located in my town.

So, from their perspective the probability of me being Mr. FOIA is greater than zero. ;)

Anonymous said...

So an anonymous person admits a crime on several public forums and explains his motives.

Yeah, right, seems legit. *irony*