Literally anything I want to write about.

This is part of a defunct newsletter/podcast in which I summarized news in surveillance. This interview was a bonus episode. I still enjoy thinking and writing about surveillance and privacy.

I recently highlighted a Wired article reporting on the group behind the website A coalition of organizations posted an open letter to the website calling on law makers to ban trageting advertisements shown to a user based on their behavior, browsing habits, purchase history, etc. The business model, perhaps most famously used by Facebook and Google, has recently come under intense scrutiny in both the public and private sectors. Apple soon will roll out prompts on iOS devices asking if a user wants to allow apps to track them. The planned feature has caused quite a feud between Apple and Facebook and their respective CEOs.

The coalition published the open letter just days before a congressional hearing with the Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pichai, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEOs of Twitter, Google, and Facebook respectively. During the hearing, Representative Anna Eshoo of California, and the congressional representative of both Pichai and Zuckerberg, stated that “Representative Schakowsky and I are doing a bill that is going to ban this business model of surveillance advertising” after calling the practice “dangerous.”

I was able to sit down and discuss the letter and Representative Eshoo's comments with Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Accountable Tech, the nonprofit organization behind the letter. I also got his thoughts on how the events of 2020 particularly brought the issue to the forefront of public dialogue, what he thinks about Facebook defending its surveillance by masquerading as the hero of small business owners, and what he thinks needs to happen in order for enact lasting legislation that addresses the issue effectively. You can read our conversation in its entirety below, or listen to it by playing the audio above.

What do you think about the idea of banning surveillance advertising? Drop a comment and let's discuss!

The following text has been slightly edited for clarity.

Ethan Gregory Dodge: Today I got with me Jesse Lehrich from Accountable Tech. Why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself and your organization before we get started?

Jesse Lehrich: Yeah, how's it going? Thanks for having me. I'm Jesse Lehrich, as you say, co-founder of Accountable Tech. We're a nonprofit that's focused on holding tech accountable, as the name would suggest, with a particular interest in the information ecosystem, but spanning a lot of issues that touch that space as well. We launched last year and we've been hitting the ground running ever since.

EGD: Fantastic. What was your motivation behind starting the organization?

JL: Well, it's something I've been super interested in for a long time. I was actually a foreign policy spokesman for Hilary Clinton's campaign in 2016 so I was sort of dealing first hand with the foreign influence campaigns and the manipulation of social media platforms and information warfare in general and seeing the effect that has on our democracy. And, it's certainly not a vengeance type thing, but before then and certainly since then, I'm just keenly aware of the effect that social media platforms and the modern flow of information has on democracy and society at large. So I just felt that it was important to do something to try and hold these companies accountable and push thing in a more democracy-friendly direction.

EGD: So what you're saying if you're experiencing the problem first hand than most people have?

JL: Yes. I mean, I think we're all living it. But I was definitely living in in a very direct and day to day...

EGD: Right. Excuse me, I meant to say before most people have. There's always been rumblings ever since Facebook and Google launched, but then it was never really highlighted until 2016, but it didn't get the attention of all of society until this past year. But as I said, you experienced it first hand before most.

JL: Yeah, I think that's totally right. It's been interesting to watch people waking up. As you say, there's been a society-wide recognition obviously with the Capitol siege on January 6th, it was something that you couldn't really ignore anymore. But we've come a long way in four years, that's for sure.

EGD: Right. So you're organization's letter, which can be can found on the website and which I've already highlighted to my listeners and readers, it came just before a congressional hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Am I correct to assume that the timing of its release was intentional?

JL: Yeah, absolutely. Some of these hearings in the past, the most infamous one back in 2018 was sort of when you had octogenarian Senators asking Mark Zuckerberg how they can make money if they don't charge for their product and he said, famously, “Senator, we sell ads.” But there's been progress since then in terms of fluency levels amongst members of Congress, but still I think a lot of the hearings have taken the shape of people holding up giant poster boards of blown up tweets or whatever and yelling about “Why wasn't this taken down?” So we've been eager to move the conversation away from individual pieces of content and content moderation to the underlying business model that drives so many of the harms we're seeing today. That's why we wanted to roll this out in advance of this last hearing. I do think, as I say, slowly but surely, we're making progress on that front where members of Congress were drilling down on the business model and the underlying incentive structure.

EGD: Yeah. I love that you pointed to Orrin Hatch that asked that question. I actually grew up in Utah and he was my Senator my whole life until very recently when I moved out the state. I remember writing letters to him when I was in elementary school for class assignments. So it was particularly funny to me when that happened because I've been shaking my head at Senator Hatch my whole life.

To you're last comment, we have seen some Senators more actively go after this business model of surveillance advertising. In that same congresional hearing with those CEOs, [Representative]* Eshoo made a comment that her and Representative Schakowsky from Illinous are planning a bill to ban surveillance advertising. Do you know if you letter had anything influence over that comment.

*I mistakenly said Senator Eshoo. She is not a Senator but a member of the House of Representatives.

JL: So I think there's growing momentum across the board. One of the cool things about the coalition is that we have partners in Europe and have been engaging a lot with them because there's momentum as they move forward with things such as the Digital Services Act. They're eager to push this on that side of the pond as well. So it's been fun to see the momentum building across the board.

And certainly Congresswoman Eshoo has been a leader on these issues for quite some time. We've engaged with her office previously and I knew that last year she rolled a bill to ban political micro-targeting, which is a more narrowly-targeted version of this. We gut-checked with their lead policy guy as we were laying the groundwork for this grassroots efforts just to see what kind of appetite their might on the Hill for something like this. It is pretty bold and we wanted to make sure that we were not misreading the tea leaves. So I don't want to say we get sole responsibility or anything, and I am excited to see what the actual legislation looks like, but we did engage with them about the concept broadly. It's exciting to see this concept hopefully be turned into legislation.

EGD: I don't know if you'll be allowed to say this if the answer is yes, but have they engaged with you since then as they're writing this bill?

JL: Not necessarily on like “What do you think of this exact phrasing of legislative text.” But anytime you're introducing legislation on something like this, it's helpful to have support from grassroots organizations. So I think that if you're Congresswoman Eshoo or Schakowsky it's very encouraging to see so may groups across the spectrum lining up behind this policy. So they're definitely eager to engage with not just us but others in the coalition and make sure that we're loosely on the same page. Ultimately, they're going to write the legislation and they know better than we do how to do that in the best way. But, as is typical on these kinds of things, I think that they'll continue engaging with grassroots civil society organizations. And hopefully they'll put something forward that's great and we can get behind it.

EGD: Yeah. Let's hope, right? So in your letter and on your website, you cite a survey that Accountable Tech conducted this past January. It shows that roughly 80% of 1000 registered voters surveyed are opposed to surveillance advertising. I'd like to hear more about how the survey as conducted and why you think those finding are particularly significant.

JL: Yeah, I do think they were particularly significant. I'll candidly that those were stronger numbers than I was expecting. I thought maybe we're get like 60/40. To be clear, in the survey it doesn't say “Do you support surveillance advertising?” but we asked something along the lines of “Would you support Congress banning companies from using peoples' personal data for the purposes of digital ad targeting?” It was 80% Democrats and Republicans, pretty much exactly the same levels of support across partisan lines, which was interesting. We asked a second question which I thought was particularly noteworthy. It was a pair statement. We basically quoted Facebook's language on “relevant ads” and presented two statements. One of them being “I'd rather see relevant ads even if companies are using my personal data to target them” or “I'd rather keep my personal private even if it means seeing less relevant ads” and, again, 81% support for the first statement. That's basically using the generous framing that Facebook has about personalization and there was still overwhelming support for privacy. So that was really encouraging to see that support across the political spectrum.

EGD: That's awesome. Can you speak a little bit to how the survey was conducted. Did a 3rd party conduct it? Who was surveyed?

JL: It was GQR Research which is a very well respected pollster. They do a lot of political polling. We've been working with them dating back to last year. They work with candidate and what not as well. I think it was pretty standard, the same way they would conduct one of their political polls measuring support for Trump or Biden and what not. So pretty standard methodology for a respected pollster. Maybe you can link to the results in the post and folks can see the exact methodology.

EGD: Happy to link to those, for sure. The reason I ask the question is the tedency of some people is to write off surveys as not legitimate, so it's good to know its sourcing.

I want to take the conversation to what we were talking about towards the beginning. It feels like this problem of surveillance advertising has particularly come to a head this past year sine the pandemic started. Can you speak a little bit to that? Do you agree with that statement? If so, why?

JL: Yeah. It's certainly the case that these big tech companies are making more money than I've ever made before. Which is quite the accomplishment given their previous earnings. I think it's just the reality of people being stuck at home and they're spending that much more time going down YouTube rabbit holes and hanging out on Facebook and whatever social media platforms and the internet in general. So I think it's definitely created an opportunity for these companies to take advantage of and hit people with even more digital ads. I think there may have been a little dip at the beginning with the advertisers, folks in the travel industry and what not, were saying “Maybe we'll pull down ads for a little bit since people aren't traveling,” but ultimately, I think there was a pretty major boom. I think Facebook and Google ended up having their most profitable years on record. And at the same time, people have been isolated and, I don't want to tie all bad things that have happened in the world to surveillance advertising, but I think part of the reason there's been so much attention on it is because you've seen everything from people running scam ads, pushing coronavirus miracle cures to Facebook running ads targeting insurrectionists with military tactical gear. So I think there's an added aspect about the awareness and concern about the way this advertising system works because it's been tied to so many unseemly practices.

EGD: We're actually seeing a very interesting phenomenon happen between Apple and Facebook right now where Apple is going to roll out, if they haven't already, the prompt of whether or not you want that app tracking you and Facebook has responded with ads saying it's going to affect small business owners. What do you say to that? What do you say to Facebook?

JL: I say that I don't think Facebook is quite the champion of small businesses that it presents itself as. I think that Facebook is very good at doing whatever is the most tactical play at the time, presenting themselves as whatever light they think is advantageous for them. Certainly, small businesses existed and, indeed, thrived before Facebook. We've actually seen less small businesses started over the last decade than ever before. Obviously I don't blame that on Facebook, but the notion that Facebook is this god send for small businesses and, in particular, that they need to use surveillance advertising in order to support small businesses, it just doesn't support a lot of water. I think BuzzFeed did reporting on internal communications, where it seems like even Facebook employees were rolling their eyes at this notion of Facebook as the savior of small businesses.

We speak to some of this on the website, but the reality is that Facebook and Google they charge monopoly rents for access to the digital economy. Then they turn around and say “What would small businesses do without us?” Right now, they don't have a choice but to use these tools, but if we level the playing field I think that it will be better for small businesses, better for publishers, and maybe a little bit worse for Facebook and Google and I think that that's ok.

EGD: Yeah. So I got two more questions for you. One, we talked about at the very beginning, but I would like to get your take, if that's ok, as somebody who was part of the Clinton campaign and saw so closely the political effects that surveillance advertising had on our country and in turn on the world. Then four years later, when Trump lost, what his supporters, who were so vile against Clinton in 2016, did at the U.S. Capitol and continue doing online. Was the outcome that we've seen after the 2020 election all that surprising to you?

JL: No. I actually just wrote an op-ed for Crooked Media, not to tout any of your podcast competitors, but the Pod Save America guys are run out of Crooked Media, but I basically made that exact point: what did you think was going to happen? I do like to caveat, because I don't think it's helpful to anyone when we blame tech for all of our societal problems. I think that part of it is that we elected a President, perhaps with the help of Facebook, but nevertheless 60 million people voted for a President who traffics disinformation and conspiracy theories and riled up his base. But when you see a demogague-like figure with a cult-like following like Trump and his party, at least his loyal followers within in it, hyping this notion that the election was going to be rigged and then, of course, as the votes started getting counted pivoting to “Here, it's happening. We told you it was going to happening and it's happening!” You look at QAnon and Boogaloo and all these explicitly extreme and violent organizations that grew and recruited and were born out of the modern social media ecosystem and I just don't know what anyone expected to happen when these people are speaking in apocalyptic terms.

I made the point in this op-ed that it's almost a reasonable reaction if you truly believe that our democracy before your very eyes, certainly if you believe it's being stolen by a bunch of Satan-worshipping child traffickers, as the QAnon folks would have you believe, then of course you're going to storm the Capitol. I don't want to say it was inevitable, but I don't find it surprising at all. I think that not all of this a product of the ads in particular, but the entire business model is optimized for maximum engagement so that they can keep people on the platforms for as long as possible and serve them more targeted ads. So, a lot of times, that manifests in pushing people into more and more extreme content or connecting them with groups that support QAnon, like “This person is vaccine hesitant. Have you heard of QAnon?” They've just built the platforms in such a way that by virtue of optimizing for engagement at all costs to support the surveillance advertising business model, the societal costs are just enormous.

EGD: Right. Thank you so much for giving us that take. No worries at all. I don't view other podcasts as competitors, by any means. And I will link to that op-ed, for sure.

Last question. Let's say surveillance advertising is banned. It's gone, it's illegal. Do we need to have measures in place to make sure that some algorithm isn't going to pop up that's going to have similar effects. Or maybe not similar effects but a detrimental effect on society?

JL: First of all, I always like to say, and I say this about anything we propose, but it's true about surveillance advertising too, that banning surveillance advertising is not a silver bullet. There is no panacea to the moment that we're in when it comes to disinformation and extremism and surveillance. Don't get ge me wrong, there are plenty of great things about technology and the internet. I'm not a techno-phobe and I don't hate tech at large. But there are a lot of things that have spiraled in a way that without any check or regulation and now I find very concerning. So I don't think there is a silver bullet and I certainly think that when you look at GDPR or CCPA in California, privacy laws that have been passed that have definitely moved the ball forward, you still see these companies that are some of the most profitable companies in the world and they're going to continue to find — if 98% of your revenue is rooted in advertising the was Facebook is, in particular surveillance advertising, claiming to advertisers that you have greater capacity to target people by comprehensive profiles than anyone in human history, they're going to continue to find every possible corner they can cut, loophole they can exploit. So any piece of legislation, one, needs to be very well tailored, two, needs to be cognizant of any unintended consequences, because I think that we've sometimes when people rush to pass tech reforms they end up having totally unintended consequences because they weren't thought through or they're difficult to think through, and three, I would say that even if it happens — which I would be stoked if it did — w're going to need to continue to push for comprehensive privacy legislation to address the surveillance state more broadly. We're probably going to have to start pushing for more algorithmic transparency and accountability so that we can understand exactly how these systems are functioning and what content they are recommending and amplifying. And I think we need antitrust solution as well because these companies are just too big and, without competition, it becomes a lot easier to exploit your users and subject them to hate speech and privacy violations and they don't really have anywhere else to go. I think there's a lot of work to do, but hopefully we can move the ball forward.

EGD: What would better algorithmic transparency and oversight to you look like?

JL: One example of a step in the right direction would be Twitter having opened up their API so that academic researchers can take a look under the hood and see. Facebook and YouTube are just assuring us saying “We caught 99% more hate speech than last year,” making all these self-referential claims that nobody can verify so it's just really hard to make. And then, on the flip side, they use it to criticize the critics by saying “Oh you don't actually understand how this all works.” Well, nobody does because nobody has access to the data! Of course policy making isn't going to be perfectly tailored until we have access to the data to understand what the problem and what the scope of it is and then you can figure out how to address it properly.

EGD: Right. Cool, well, thank you so much for your time. I super appreciate it. I loved this conversation, it was fantastic.

JL: Same. I really appreciate the conversation and the work that you're doing to educate folks and advocate around these issues as well.

#surveillance #SurveillanceCapitalism #google #facebook #twitter #SurveillanceToday

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This is part of a defunct newsletter/podcast in which I summarized news in surveillance. This interview was a bonus episode. I still enjoy thinking and writing about surveillance and privacy.

Yesterday in Surveillance Today I highlighted a lawsuit filed in California by a coalition of activists. They're suing Thomson Reuters for selling utility records without consumers' knowledge. Last month, the Washington Post reported that ICE was using these records to track down and detain undocumented individuals.

In that piece, I included an excerpt from a conversation I had with one of those activists who is also an attorney listed on the suit: Albert Fox Cahn. Albert is the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and based in New York City. Below you'll find our conversation in its entirety where discuss the legal strategy, why the suit is important to our Fourth Amendment rights, and what kind of legislation could help fix this problem.

Now here's the interview. Please note that the text has been slightly edited for clarity. You can also listen to it above.

Ethan Gregory Dodge: Can you put the legal argument and strategy into simple terms?

Albert Fox Cahn: Of course. Well first off, thank you so much for having me. It's really a pleasure to be here. In terms of this lawsuit, it's actually a little more complicated. So we filed it with our co-counsel at Justice Catalyst, Gibbs Law, and Gupta Wessler back in December. But we weren't actually advertising it to the public, we weren't highlighting it to the press until after it was more recently removed to federal court. This gets into some of the complexities of state vs. federal and all of that.

But basically, what the lawsuit is trying to do is leverage California common law and this right of publicity, this right to own the monetization of your own likeness. The simplest way of thinking about it is, if they put Michael Jordan's face on a box of Wheaties, they have to pay him for it. They have to compensate him for taking his likeness and using it.

But what we're seeing is, according to our complaint, CLEAR, this service that's used by Thomson Reuters, is allegedly taking lots of people's photos, taking our utility records, taking our credit records, taking all of these data points from our lives — really intimate and invasive information — and selling it. Not to just law enforcement, not just ICE, but even private companies and it's really violating that principle that someone shouldn't be able to profit off of your likeness without your consent.

EGD: Is your legal argument enhanced by the California Consumer Privacy Act?

AFC: So this is something that actually predates the California Consumer Privacy Act. I think there's been some great headway made in protecting privacy in California privacy. We've seen CalECPA being used, we've seen CCPA starting to come into it's own. But really, the claims here largely are going back to much older principles of who owns your likeness, your information. It's trying to update those common law principles for the 21st century.

And I think that when you take a step back and look at so many of the vendors out there that are scraping our data and selling it, it really is absurd that we've allowed this invasive model to flourish.

EGD: Interesting. So was there a particular reasoning for filing in California?

AFC: Yes, because of the California common law protection. California law is its own separate beast. For every one law that's different, that's top of mind, there are a hundred on the books that are very different. We also brought a claim under section 17200, the unfair competition law in California which is one of the strongest in the country.

There are so many different factors that come into play when thinking about where to file. We've seen some bad case law from the federal courts trying to push back against nationwide class action under state laws. I think those should exist, those should be permitted. But just to file the strongest case we could, we limited this to a class of California residents. I can't wait until there are similar federal laws or state laws in every state that let us protect everyone's privacy.

EGD: The Post reported yesterday that Senator Wyden plans on introducing federal legislation. We don't know a ton about his bill because it hasn't been presented yet, but according to what he told the Post, it will law outlaw law enforcement from obtaining data through commercial sources without a warrant. Is that the type of legislation that you're referring to that you would like to see? Or is it much more expansive than that?

AFC: I think that's a huge part of it. This lawsuit is much broader than just the law enforcement piece. But the law enforcement piece, outside of that case, is something that I focus on day-in and day-out on the policy level. I helped author and introduce the first bill in the country that would ban law enforcement purchases of location data. It's a bill pending here in New York that we hope it will help make it illegal for the police to come in and buy up these really invasive data sets. And also ban new types of warrants that we think are completely inappropriate like geo-fence warrants, which try to obtain all the location data for everyone in a specified area. Or keyword search warrants, which we only learned about last year. These are warrants that say “give us the name of everyone who searched for the following phrase, address, or information.”

The common thread here between our bill in New York that was introduced by Dan Quart and Zellnor Myrie and Senator Wyden's fantastic legislation is this idea that you shouldn't be able to buy your way around the Fourth Amendment. Our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence was written in the 18th century, it never contemplated this world where police, if denied a warrant application, could simply go to a data broker and buy the information they want instead.

The way our legal system is set up, if the police want to come to you directly and seize your data, often times they need a warrant or a subpoena. There is that sort of check, as flimsy as it can be. But when they want to get that data from someplace else, they can just buy it a lot of the time.

We've seen really grotesque examples of this. We saw the U.S. Air Force buying the location data for 90 million users of a popular Muslim prayer time app. They could have never gotten a warrant to compel the production of 90 millions peoples information, but they could just go out and pay for it. And we have no idea how often this happening in American policing. We know it's happening, but there's no reporting on it so there's no way to know if it's happening every day, every week or even multiple times a day. We don't know if law enforcement are purchasing data sets just in the thousands or if they're continuing to purchase data in the tens of millions.

Thomson Reuters, who we sued, there was great research from Georgetown Center of Privacy and Technology last week, I believe, where they highlighted that CLEAR, the same tool that we're suing over, they were selling utility records to ICE. So ICE could use the fact that you signed up for a phone line in order to deport you or your family. It's nightmarish and it has to stop.

EGD: That's a nice segue into CLEAR. How involved were you in investigating what data CLEAR had on your clients?

AFC: When it gets to the specifics of the litigation, I have to be a bit high-level. But what I would say is, I was very deeply involved in evaluating the information we could obtain to really understand the harm the was posing to our clients.

EGD: If you can, what would you say is the most notable thing you found out about CLEAR in your investigation?

AFC: Let me just speak in general terms about what's been reported by others. We've seen reporting that there are arrest records in this database. We've seen that there are photos that could be run through facial recognition in this database. We've seen reporting that there's potentially other biometric data. We've seen reporting that there is credit history, job history, and location history.

Without getting into specific information that was there about our clients, one thing to keep in mind is that, depending on who you are, maybe that doesn't sound so frightening, but imagine if you were someone with an order of protection because you're getting death threat. Imagine you're someone who's constantly scared for your safety. That's not an abstract, that is the reality for one of our clients, who has constant security concerns because of the death threats she receives. And yet, even though she's paying to scrub this information from the internet and paying services to prevent her personal data from getting out there, you still have a service like CLEAR that's profiting from selling that same exact data. That's something that I think is completely at odds with even the most basic guarantees of privacy.

EGD: Is there anything reasonable that somebody can do to avoid being in CLEAR's database?

AFC: That's the thing, I haven't seen a really meaningful way to really opt out of it. I haven't seen a way to remove your data, effectively. There are some forms on the website, but I believe many of them require you to submit government ID as part of your request, giving them even more information as part of a process purportedly designed to remove that information.

This is why we need stronger privacy laws and litigation. Even if there is a great way to opt out by navigating to some really obscure page and clicking a bunch of forms, that's not meaningful privacy protections. We need this to be something that is there by default for all Americans, not something that only is available to those who invest huge amounts of time in finding some obscure little form.

EGD: Overall, how do you expect the suit to turn out?

AFC: I feel like lawyers very early on that you can't make predictions. But I think the facts here are very compelling. I think the law here is quite clear. I'm really hopeful that this will have a really substantial impact in both protecting our clients and other Californians and hopefully laying the foundation for more work against other data brokers who are doing similar things.

The scary part is that this is such a profitable industry. There are so many firms in this field that we need some really sweeping and comprehensive action to address the scope of the harm that's being done.


To learn more about Albert's organization, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) visit They've also got a great podcast that I highly recommend called Surveillance and the City.

To learn more about what data CLEAR had on Albert's clients, be sure to read my report on it from yesterday.

#surveillance #SurveillanceCapitalism #interview #CLEAR #california #SurveillanceToday

Thanks for reading! I don't ask for money, but if you liked it, I'd appreciate a follow via the RSS feed, on the fediverse—search “@[email protected]” on your federated app of choice such as Mastodon—or via email below!

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Edrece Stansberry / Unsplash
I originally wrote this in January, days after the attack on the Capitol. Only small edits have been made since my original draft.

Had you predicted in January 2017 exactly what would happen during Trump's first term in office, I surely wouldn't have believed you. To be fair, I'm generally skeptical of predictions, no matter who they come from. I'm convinced the only predictions to come true are overly broad. But I digress.

I voted for Gary Johnson. It's something that I don't necessarily regret. Living on the peninsula of the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, it surely didn't affect the outcome of the election. But I am slightly embarrassed about it. I'm not sure embarrassed is even the right word to describe it. With the world view I currently hold, I surely would have voted for Clinton and never would have even considered Johnson. But I don't think that's necessarily something to find embarrassing, just evidence that I've learned and changed accordingly, as one does in life.

One thing that I am embarrassed about is that I had Gary Johnson magnets on my car the week of the election. I'm surprised it didn't get egged or otherwise vandalized sitting for hours everyday that week on the north side of San Francisco's Potrero Hill in such a state. But then again, the thought of a Trump victory was still unfathomable at that point, at least in my social circles. But, be assured, despite the fact that I voted for a conservative in 2016, when Trump won, I was scared nearly shitless. The fact that many of my fellow American libertarians weren't was very telling to me.

The beginnings of my political transformation can be portrayed in two blog posts I wrote that year: An Open Letter to Senator Rand Paul and Libertarian No More. The latter was received with praise among my immediate groups of friends. I was even urged to join the Democratic Socialists of America. At the time, I was still uncomfortable with that idea because “socialism” was still the misunderstood monster under the bed that I wasn't supposed to talk about.

The day after the election, many of my co-workers at the small San Franciso startup did not come into work. At the time, I regret to say that I nearly found that laughable. I was in the thick of my faith transition. I grew up in one of the reddest states in the country. I had family members who voted for Trump, and surely they weren't terrible people, or at least would condemn the terrible actions many were predicting would happen. While I was scared of a Trump presidency, I think I just suspected four to eight years of comments condemning Kaepernick and other giants with no consequence. I did not understand the history of racism or the depth of the oppression in this country.

Co-workers held sessions to vent and express fears and frustrations. In these sessions, I was viewed as somewhat of a “conservative whisperer” because I said I could sympathize with those that voted for Trump, and I could. Though, I'm not sure that was the best thing in our situation. In effort to span the chasm of misunderstanding between liberals and conservatives which we viewed gave way to the rise of Trump, I was encouraged to share those conservative views. Absolutely no harm in that. However, I believe that such efforts soon were taken too far and led to an environment where the fallacy of “both sides” was present, at least in my head and in conversations I participated in.

I remember the topic of climate change coming up and someone expressing frustration in climate change deniers. I claimed that the majority of conservatives, or at least the reasonable ones I had interacted with, don't deny climate change but simply think that it's not as imminent as the left claims. This was entirely based in my own uneducated understanding of the topic. A co-worker rightly pointed out that it doesn't matter whether they don't believe it's happening or if they don't believe it's as imminent, the effect is the same. In this case, the insistence to see both sides has cost the population of the earth precious time.

In the case of the oppression of racism, the “both sides” argument has cost Black and Brown lives. In the case of the value and contribution of women, the “both sides” argument has cost the human population an immeasurable amount of innovation and progress. In the case of sexuality and gender, the “both sides” argument has led to the suicide of countless LGBTQ+ individuals. If a side denies the humanity, justice, and dignity of any community, it's not worth it. It's a burning pile of shit. Period.

Perhaps the greatest thing that I learned in the past four years that informs my current political views more than anything else is the seemingly unpopular mantra that “all politics are identity politics.” Even the frustrated refute of that statement is rooted in identity. Every policy written without the presence or approval of a certain demographic has a high likelihood of affecting that demographic in an unforeseen way, often negatively. White, straight, cisgendered, able males have grown so accustomed to all the rules being written by our demographic that we don't realize those rules are rooted in identity themselves. We deny any such possibility because without the privilege those rules uphold, we subconsciously fear our identity would crumble in fragility.

And so, to the privileged, equality feels like oppression. Similarly, the advancement of the privileged results in oppression of the under-privileged.

Putting cops in schools was viewed as a good idea to stop school shootings and other crime. All it has done is increase the number of non-white students arrested and even killed in their own school's hallways. The PATRIOT Act was passed to ramp up surveillance and protect us from another 9/11. All it has done is led to racial profiling, particularly in the Muslim community causing mass xenophobia and a literal Muslim travel ban. It has also led to mass deportation of undocumented immigrants in our country, the overwhelming majority of which have never committed violent acts within the US.[^1] Tough on crime bills have led to the US having the largest prison population in the world, the majority of which is Black. Many are innocent but cannot vote, furthering a disgusting history of the disenfranchisement of Black voters in our country.

This is precisely why representation matters. This is why everyone needs a say in policies. This is why those of us who have benefit from these terrible laws need to use that privilege to lift up and support those whom the same laws have kicked in the teeth. You may not think you're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist, or enabling white supremacy, but the policies you support and who you vote for say otherwise.


[^1]: The Homeland Insecurity Podcast by RAICES does a wonderful job diving into this topic. I highly recommend it.


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This is part of a defunct newsletter/podcast in which I summarized news in surveillance. This was a bonus piece. I still enjoy thinking and writing about surveillance and privacy.

Cries for freedom met with bondage

Nearly everyone in America is familiar with at least parts of Martin Luther King’s speech given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, most Americans can probably recite or at least recognize some paraphrased version of the following:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

King’s prophecy of that day becoming “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our Nation” is surely true in the hearts of many people. However, in the eyes of William C. Sullivan, head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence dvision, the speech potentially made King “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation.”

Later that year in October, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General and brother to President John F. Kennedy, would authorize “unlimited electronic surveillance of King and the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] in Atlanta” by the FBI, according to Tim Weiner in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI. In the end, the FBI would end up placing eight wiretaps and sixteen bugs on King.

What is perhaps the most recognized rallying cry for freedom in the history of the United States placed its orator under the itense bondange of government surveillance for the rest of his life.

Stanley Levison and communism

The quest to surveil King had begun more than a year prior on March 16, 1962 when RFK authorized the FBI to tap the work phone line of Stanely Levison, a close friend and support to King. Given an inch, the FBI took a mile and also planted a microphone in Levison’s office on their own authority. In October 1962, RFK would also authorize a tap on Levison’s home phone.

J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, was convinced that the communist Soviet government was in the ear of Levison who in turn was influencing King.

David J. Garrow, a King biographer and historian, writes in a 2002 Atlantic article that the suspicion wasn’t entirely unfounded. Jack Childs, an estranged member of the Communist Party USA with knowledge of the party’s finances of the years spanning 1945 to 1948, told the FBI that Levison and his twin brother Roy owned a Ford dealership that contributed “well over $10,000 a year to the CPUSA.” This revelation came to the FBI in May 1952 and the FBI had been keeping close tabs on Levison since then.

By the time he was introduced to King in 1956, Levison’s support of CPUSA was already drifting and it was believed that he cut ties completely in early 1957. Levison soon became a close adviser assisting with the organizing of the SCLC, negotiating the deal for King’s book Stride Towards Freedom, among other things all while refusing to charge King for his services.

Not only were both the evidence gathered against Levison and his ties to CPUSA fleeting at best, but in March of 1963, seven months before the surveillance on King was ordered, FBI informant Childs produced what Garrow calls “ironclad evidence that Levison had explicitly severed whatever remaining ties he . . . still had with the CPUSA.” Hoover and the FBI chose to keep this information secret from both JFK, RFK, and therefore the public.

JFK, Hoover, and RFK

Both Kennedy brothers approached King in June 1963 urging him to sever ties with Levison. Levison himself, knowing the damage the misconstrued public image of their relationship could cause the movement and King’s reputation, insisted on the same. King, fearful of losing the value that Levison brought, decided to position New York attorney Clarence B. Jones as an intermediary between the two.

And so it was, King and Levison ceased to speak directly to each other and Jones served as a relay. When the FBI became aware of the arrangement, they petitioned RFK for a wiretap on Jones’s home and office telephones.

The relationship between the two men made the FBI nervous, and the extent taken to hide it likely made them even more suspicious. Those feelings apparently reached a head that hot summer day in August 1963 when King was transformed from an activist to the face of the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Bugs and taps

The Bureau’s documents indicate the intelligence produced from King’s surveillance also yielded weak ties to CPUSA or the Soviet Union. But those concerns all but disappeared as they found reason to turn their attention to his personal life. As Beverly Gage, Yale historian, puts it in the newly-released documentary MLK/FBI:

“The FBI found out all sorts of things about King and very quickly, while they still had some concern with the communist question, it begins to become something that’s much more about King’s personal life, about him as a man, about his sex life, about his family, about his confidants, and about, really, his private life.”

The FBI first learned of King’s extramarital affairs when he stayed at Jones’s house in New York in August of 1963. According to Garrow, also in the MLK/FBI documentary, soon after they tap King’s home phone “the FBI begins convening meetings to discuss ‘How can we further exploit all of these extramarital recordings?’” That is “transparently why” William Sullivan decided to bug King using microphones everywhere he stayed.

King’s activism and notoriety caused him to travel far and wide. The FBI would work with the staff at hotels he was staying in to place secret microphones before his arrival. Agents would often stay in the room next door to listen to the audio in real time as well as document King’s visitors.

King’s sex life particularly interested the FBI as it played into a prevalent racist stereotrype that Black men were hyper-sexual. This made it easier to view him as the immoral human being they believed he was. Despite all the evidence that painted him as a man just like any other, they were determined to destroy him and thus leaked proof of King’s sexual affairs to the media and other clergy.

Despite the leaks, King rose in influence. Announcement soon came that he was set to become the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hoover, frustrated that the Bureau’s efforts to discredit King had failed, called an impromptu press conference of only women reporters and famously called King “the most notorious liar in the country.”

The gathering of all this collection of audio culminated in what may have been a last ditch effort by the FBI to discredit King. A package was delivered to King on November 21, 1964 containing a letter and an audio tape. In 2014, Beverly Gage said the letter was “rife with typos and misspellings and sprinkled with attempts at emending them. Clearly, some effort went into perfecting the tone, that of a disappointed admirer.”

The tape contained recordings of King’s sexual encounters with other women. After calling King evil, immoral, filthy, and many other insults due to those affairs, the letter’s concluding paragraph began with “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.” King and his associates took this to mean to kill himself.

The letter was the first time his wife, Coretta, learned of her husband’s sexual affairs. It caused a significant amount of emotional distress for both of them. But, to the FBI’s displeasure, King continued to organize.


According to Garrow in his book [The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis](, the FBI had attempted to place human informants in King’s life as early as mid-1963. Specifically, they had tried several times over to recruit a Black individual within SCLC headquarters in Atlanta. Success was not seen until late-1965 with young James A. Harrison, who had joined SCLC as an accountant one year prior.

Upon hearing something he thought was useful to the FBI, Harrison would phone an agent, arrange a meeting location, and drive with that agent around Atlanta giving him the information. Harrison was paid to do this.

As time went on, Harrison’s stipend grew and the meeting arrangements became more secure. The majority of the intelligence from Harrison concerned the organization’s finances and organizing plans. Very little of it had to do with King specifically.

In June 1966 Harrison became the only source of information on the inside when the bugs and the wiretaps inside SCLC were stopped, making him even more valuable to the FBI.

In addition to Harrison, in 2010, it was revealed by the Memphis Commercial Appeal that Ernest Withers, the famed civil rights photographer who accompanied King to events from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the march in Memphis hours before King’s death, was also an FBI informant since 1958.

As the New York Times Magazine puts it, Withers “took requests” from the FBI, once taking photos of every protester at an anti-Vietnam War demonstration and sending prints directly to the Bureau. NPR reports that he would take 3 cameras to every event: “One roll of film went to the white press, another to the black press, and the last, he kept.” The last roll was used to print the requested pictures for the FBI, adding to their pool of surveillance tactics.

A death surveilled

King’s political profile grew after breaking his 18 month silence on the Vietnam War and criticizing his own country’s role in the conflict. Not only did this stoke public belief that he was a communist, but it also dealt a great blow to what had otherwise been an allyship with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Around the same time, the SCLC announced its new Poor People’s Campaign along with plans for another march on Washington in late-1968. Trying to capitalize on the public’s political distaste for King and also hoping to thwart another event as influential as the first march in the capital city, the FBI continued to surveil King’s every move.

In April 1968, King and the SCLC travelled to Memphis to support Black sanitary public works employees, who had been striking since March 12 in demand of higher wages and better working conditions. They felt the cause aligned nicely with the Poor People’s Campaign.

King was killed by a sniper while standing on the balcony outside his motel room days after arriving. The FBI watched and listened to the murder happen and the aftermath unfold.

While he lived the last years of his life without any privacy whatsoever, more is known about Martin Luther King Jr. than most historical figures. The manuscripts and audio of the FBI’s surveillance in their entirety remain sealed until at least 2027. However, thanks to the efforts of journalists, historians, attorneys, activists, and politicians, we know much of that content that was discussed by the FBI in internal memos. Most historians agree that little more will likely be learned once the tapes are unsealed.

King’s body was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta under a headstone displaying the final words from his “I Have a Dream” speech. And so, the bondage of surveillance King endured that nearly broke his family and threatened to undermine his life’s very mission, ended with the same words with which it started: “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, I’m Free at last.”

#BlackHistory #mlk #fbi #surveillance #SurveillanceToday

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Kristina Tripkovic / Unsplash
I've been aware of the QAnon movement probably only slightly more than the average American for the past couple of years. I have individuals close to me who may not identify with the movement or even know about the anonymous individual “Q” but are definitely influenced by and believe many, if not all, the conspiracy theories rooted in the movement. With the attacks on the Capitol building this past Wednesday, it became apparent which of those individuals believe the 2020 election was rigged and fradualent (it wasn't).

While not surprised, their support has caused me to revisit my relationship with them. That endeavor led me to the subreddit r/QAnonCasualties. The forum description speaks for itself:

Do you have a loved one who's been taken in by the QAnon conspiracy fantasy? Look here for emotional support and a place to vent.

As I read through the stories of people recounting an emotional — and sometimes traumatic — experience of their relationships ending due to the differences of opinion, I was struck at how similar they sounded to the stories that I would read on r/exmormon back when I initially started questioning — and eventually renouncing — my LDS beliefs. The tears, the heartache, the pain, and the destruction felt identical between the two populations.

To illustrate my point and show just how similar they are, I have taken several phrases from posts on r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, and r/exjw (a forum for those who have left the Jehovah's Witnesses), and redacted certain elements of them. I originally wanted to do this with whole posts, but that proved to be too difficult given all the context in posts. Let's see if you can tell which post is from which subreddit. No Googling!

  1. “Instead of facing it they decided to just stop talking to me.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  2. “Yesterday I literally just grabbed my stuff and left my parent's house, because I could not survive there anymore. It was like a black hole sucking away my motivation and personality. I was constantly either in a depressive, carefully controlled state of mind or bloodpressure spiking silent rage at the delusional [individuals] in my house.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  3. “How many of you are being shunned by family that follow you on social media? I have a family member that won’t speak to me, doesn’t watch my stories, reply to my messages but still follows me on social media. She texts my kid but won’t text me. It’s sad.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  4. “She burst into tears and said if this was what we would talk about she should just go. Our voices weren't raised. We were actually whispering because I was nursing my son, and he was asleep. We had a nice time before this. We made pudding. . .I know this is so mild compared to what some people deal with on here, but I feel like I'm losing the ability to talk to my mom.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  5. “Well... I tried to talk to him. I stayed calm. I explained my reasons. I showed him evidence of why I believe what I do. He told me he’s basically right because of feelings and that I’m going to be a horrible mother. . .”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  6. “As we have attempted to set boundaries, there have been multiple incidences where my parents have broken our boundaries. We've had many conversations and I've confronted them. We've been forgiving and have kept trying to make it work. Naturally, they were defensive and resistant to admit to breaking them. Sadly, things have gotten so bad we have had to cut my parents off completely from our lives. The relationship was too toxic. We have not had to cut off my siblings as they have respected our boundaries.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  7. “So I come home from work and my dad is [engaging in movement activities] like he does every night. All I did was point out [flaws in activities]. So my dad charges me and wants to fight and when I refuse he spits in my face.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  8. Trigger warning: suicide

    “My aunt who was ultra [believer in movement] shot herself earlier today, she left a note saying she was terrified [prediction or prophecy was going to happen] because [something else happened].”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  9. “It is odd how happy my husband and I are 99% of the time. Then he hits me with the snitching bitches report of what I have been posting and how dare I persecute witnesses. It's like what the hell? How do you go from madly in love to pissed off?”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  10. “He had a stroke a few days ago, was in the ICU. Wasn't allowed to visit due to covid-19. I found out from my wife because my mother can't even text me to say he's dying.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  11. “Wife thinks we should part ways because I don't believe any of this”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  12. “A couple days ago my sister sent a rambling group text to my whole family about how [a prediction or prophecy was going to come true] and for the love of everything please [watch or read this material] and be prepared. I told her in no uncertain terms that she was in a cult and needed help. The rest of my family ended up calling me closed-minded, aggressive, and mean, then told my sister that of course they’d [watch or read the material].”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  13. “The fact that I no longer believe in [belief] seems to have invalidated my opinions and ideas. . . with some family members, where before, I feel like my opinions mattered and I was trusted to be a reliable information source and siblings would turn to for advice. But... not believing in [belief] means my opinions, ideas, or even outright verifiable knowledge can no longer be trusted.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

  14. Trigger warning: domestic violence

    “He wound up leaving the room and for the remainder of the night we stayed in separate rooms. As I was pumping so I could go to bed, he began screaming at me. I couldn’t tell you what he said because I entirely blocked him out. I finished pumping, locked myself in our bedroom and got into bed. He barged in, broke the door handle, started to shove me while I was in bed, anticipating I would fight back but I played possum. Fighting wasn’t worth the risk of losing my baby boy. He was screaming at me to get the F out and other mean things. I remained in possum mode.”

    Is it r/QAnonCasualties, r/exmormon, or r/exjw. Answer found here.

How'd you do? More importantly, how'd you feel while reading these stories?

Personally, my heart broke as I read through dozens stories in all three subreddits in search of the ones above. A lot of it was triggering for me and caused me to feel the same pain I felt when I lost all my friends upon leaving the LDS Church. It also helped prepare me to possibly experience it again soon on a smaller scale.

I hope it was eye-opening yet helpful to you. I hope it illustrates just with how much conviction people believe the QAnon conspiracy theories. They are throwing away the relationships that are dearest to them because of something they believe that is ultimately false.

You may find yourself in a similar situation. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in navigating these situations, but what I do know from experience is that you have to do what is best for you. It is not worth your physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual safety to be in any sort of abusive relationship. If you feel that the relationship cannot be salvaged, get out. But if you think it can be, before trying to do so, asking your peers, or perhaps even these subreddits, if they agree. Often victims of abuse can't recognize the dangerous situation they're in. Additionally, they can help you analyze if it's even worth the attempt to salvage it. If you are able, I highly recommend seeing a therapist.

There are many success stories on each of these subreddits. In fact, I get downright emotional each time I see an ex-JW celebrating their birthday or a queer ex-Mormon living their authentic life. I found a lot of joy in the success stories on r/QAnonCausualties as well.

As for the macro implications of all of this division, I honestly don't know what those will be, and that's ok. Perhaps a bit scary, but it's ok. One thing is clear to me though, our world needs more kindness and understanding. I'm going to choose to be kind and navigate each situation as it arises. That's the best I can do.


#mormonism #politics #altRight

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Dan Meyers / Unsplash
10 years ago, January of 2009, I was a rebellious Mormon teen and wanted proof of it. So I got a small tattoo of a triplet note on my ankle. It took the artist all of 7 minutes to do and cost me $50. I had to take a cash advance on my credit card to pay him, and even then, could only withdraw $40. At the time, I was a wannabe rock star who was sure I was going to move to Phoenix, become an audio engineer, then move to LA to network while working shows and eventually I'd make it big.

What I actually did was pack my white shirts and ties for Guatemala in August that same year to serve a Mormon mission. I spent the next 7 or so years convinced the triplet scar on my ankle was a mistake, a battle wound of apostasy from and incredulousness in the Gospel I loved.

I have since resigned my membership from the Church, but still hold on to my Mormon identity, preferring the label of “secular Mormon” as opposed to “ex-Mormon”. I cling to my heritage and the good parts of the culture that made me who I am today. I know much more about my Mormon ancestors now. I learned that I'm a direct descendent of Israel Barlow, making many people of the FLDS faith my distant cousins.

Growing up I was always told the stories of my Mormon forefathers leading their wives and children across the plains from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Augustus Dodge, my fourth-great grandfather, was a Captain in the Mormon Batallion and the Church is still in posession of his sword. My grandfather once told me that his rifle used to be in the family but was lost, which still pains me to know, as the timeless heirloom would likely be in my posession now.

But the stories I rarely heard were those of my foremothers. This is often the case. As the unattributed mantra goes, “the victor writes the history”, and time and time again in history, men have prevailed and written their version of history. However in my studies since abandonning my Mormon beliefs, I have found that the story of Mormon women is also fascinating and an important part of my heritage.

Utah women were the first in the country to exercise their right to vote. Martha Hughes Cannon, an Ivy League educated physician, ran against her polygamous husband, George Cannon, for a spot in the Utah State Senate and became the first woman in the country elected to a state-level office. Susan B. Anthony spoke numerous times to feminists in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

My Mormon foremothers were badass. So this March, I entered a tattoo shop once again to pay tribute to this incredible part of my heritage.

Left: the tattoo after first session. Right: the tattoo after final session.

Left: the tattoo the end of the first session. Right: the tattoo at the end of the second session.
The tattoo features a pioneer woman, as indicated by her bandanna on her neck, allowing her hair to rebeliously fall, refusing to be kept. Her face displays confidence in herself and determination to improve her situation. She's flanked by sego lillies, the state flow of Utah, on either side resting above an emblem featuring a bee, surrounded by the Seal of Melchizedek.

This is for Elizabeth. This is for Martha. This is for Elizabeth Haven and her first daughter Pamela who crossed the plains in the hot summer of 1848 at the age of 4. This is for all my female ancestors who lived polygamous lifestyles because they believed it was what they needed to do. Some lived long stretches of time without their husbands to help raise their children. Others lived together as sister wives. Many enjoyed writing, and I adore reading their autobriographies. I imagine, like me, they found it therapeutic.

This is for Alice, for Elizabeth Hudson, for Martha Moore, Lorine, and Marian whose husband's were called to settle areas all over Deseret. This is for other women forgotten, such as Helen Mar Kimball, who was married to Joseph Smith at the age of 14 but never once mentioned by name in the Church's newest book recounting the early history of the Church.

These women will live on in the stories I tell my children about them. They will live on and not be forgotten.


The tattoo was done by the incredibly talented and professional Tony Trophy. I highly recommend him.

#mormonism #tattoos

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Privacy P. Pratt is a pseudonym which I assumed in October of 2016 to mask my involvement with the non-profit, pro-transparency media organization called MormonLeaks.[^1] The name comes from Parley P. Pratt one of the early leaders of the Mormon Church. As Privacy P. Pratt, I have handled the technical operations of MormonLeaks, as well as participated in the executive and administrative operations. I am here to address my anonymity and why I have decided to reveal my involvement now.

This is me.

My reasons for initially staying anonymous.

  1. A person very close to me works for the Church.

    I don't want to expand on this point very much at all other than to say that I didn't want this person to be suspected of even the slightest participation in MormonLeaks. I can honestly say this person had no idea about my involvement with MormonLeaks until yesterday, September 24, 2017. This by far was the biggest reason for my anonymity and the following two reasons were only minor considerations compared to it.

  2. I was not sure of the effects it could potentially have on my career.

    I work in the high-in-demand industry of cyber security and absolutely love it. I am paid to protect sensitive, confidential, and private information and undergo extensive background checks before starting a new job. Initially, my suspicion was that it would not adversely affect my career because Mormonism is so small when compared to the rest of the United States, but I wanted to err on the side of caution on this one and consult trusted colleagues on the matter. After doing so, the overwhelming consensus is that it would have minimal impact on my career and in some cases would even bolster my resume. After all, despite being a digital forensics professional, I have learned quite a bit more in the practice due to the different perspective and niche MormonLeaks has placed me in.

  3. The potential adverse effects that it could have on my relationships with family and friends still active in the Church.

    I touched on this quite a bit almost a year ago here, but I'll summarize for the sake of consolidation. There is a phrase that is common among active Mormons that says “People can leave the Church, but they can't leave the Church alone.” I myself am guilty of having said it about my extended family members who had left the Church back when I was still active. The phrase implies that everyone who leaves the Church obsesses over finding every opportunity they can find to point out the Church's faults or shortcomings, which, if you spend 30 minutes on r/exmormon you will see is simply not true. It also implies that the opinions, statements, and actions of anyone that has left are hostile and malicious towards the Church. This is an unfair assumption that immediately puts all ex-Mormons at odds with their loved ones that remain in the Church, and is typical of the black and white worldview that most religions promote. Both of these assumptions are what make it so terrifying and nerve-racking to publicly admit to a loss of faith.

    In January 2017, an article entitled The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism made its rounds through Mormondom and to date has over 77,000 shares. The article itself, and its circulation, are testaments to the incredibly vast misunderstanding that exists between active Mormons and ex-Mormons. In it the author implies through his rhetoric that all those who leave the Church are anti-Mormons, or at least go through a phase of anti-Mormonism. His analysis and understanding of the term ‘anti’ contains absolutely no nuance. I have had many conversations with my believing family and friends who make similar implications that all who leave are anti and they too typically fail to see the nuance.

    Most ex-Mormons have left the Church at least in part due to a feeling of betrayal when they realize that the version of Church history which they grew up learning — and in some cases taught to others on their missions — is whitewashed, altered, and misleading. The Mormon Church itself instills and promotes a desire to spread truth by sending tens of thousands of missionaries around the world to baptize as many people as they can and with mantras such as “every member a missionary”. Not to mention the fact that this desire is fairly natural of humans in general. So when the claim is made that Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon and an ex-Mormon corrects it by saying Smith really put a stone that he found at the bottom of a well in a hat and claimed the words of the book appeared on the rock, it's not because they can't leave the Church alone. It's because the Church changed the narrative and they're simply setting the record straight. An active Mormon would do the same thing if what they knew to be true was inaccurately represented. The stone in a hat story, by the way, is a fact that even the Church has recognized is true.

    Admittedly, I am being quite a bit more proactive in my quest for truth than simply correctly faithful family members when they misrepresent historical facts. That is because I hold the controversial opinion that there is corruption and abuse that happens within the Mormon leadership. I am not looking to argue that opinion, but everything that I have seen in the past year as a part of MormonLeaks simply reconfirms that opinion. So imagine, if one is written off as nonsensical for simply correcting a false claim, the much larger effects that my participation in such an endeavor as MormonLeaks will undoubtedly have on my relationship with my believing friends and family. It is truly terrifying.

    I'm not anti-Mormon. I still love my friends and family who remain active in the Church. If they are happy, I truly think that they should stay. Leaving the Church was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I don't wish the pain that ensues on anyone. No, I'm not anti-Mormon. I'm for exposing corruption in an organization that tithes its poorest members while its leaders make higher-than-average salaries, rejects those that are different, degrades women, and influences its membership to censor their own thoughts. I am pro-transparency. I am pro-truth.

Myself and Ryan McKnight, founder of MormonLeaks, meeting in person for the first time on July 25, 2017 after working together for ten months.

My reasons for revealing my identity.

Since leaving the Church, I have continuously received therapy. I have learned a great deal about myself, my emotions, my psyche, and how my strict Mormon upbringing has influenced all three. My therapist has always encouraged me to be my whole self and to not censor any part of myself on account of anyone else. This has been a great struggle for me as I've constantly felt my whole life that I had to fit into a good-Mormon-boy mold and subsequently felt judged when I often didn't.

Growing up, music was incredibly important to me as I felt that it expressed emotions that I felt inside but could not express. It related with me on a level that nobody else could. As I intermittently struggled with depression, that music was often dark and hard. I often felt guilty when sharing the music with friends or expressing interest in the groups that wrote the music. It has been so liberating not worrying about this anymore and I want to feel that way about every aspect of my life.

I am strongly against censorship, and I think self-censorship is the worst variety. I believe that being true to yourself is the best and most important thing that anyone can do in their life. If you are not honest with yourself, you are destined to be unhappy. Today I am ending the self-censorship that I have put myself through for the past year and completely owning my actions, values, and beliefs. Today I can confidently say that the benefits of revealing my identity outweigh the costs. I am ready to have those hard conversations with friends and family and help each other down the road to empathy. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish at MormonLeaks and I am ready to show it.

Additionally, I not only do this for myself but for the countless others who have censored themselves because of the accusations of not being able to “leave the Church alone.” This applies not to just ex-Mormons, but to anyone else who has lost their faith or stepped away from life-long beliefs. We should not have to live in fear of strained relationships, hostile accusations, and losing our loved ones for simply expressing our discontent and contrary opinions. We should be proud of our journey and feel free to express the feelings and ideas we have developed through it! We should contend that which we think is hurtful and share our stories. Only then will we reach a state of empathy between ourselves and our faithful loved ones. We are valid. We are real.

I'm Ethan Gregory Dodge, and I am Privacy P. Pratt.


If you would like to know more about the entirety of my story, I have recently started a blog categories and podcast that tells my story of my Mormon upbringing and eventual exit. I will also be conducting an AMA on r/exmormon on Thursday September 28, 2017 from 5 pm – 8 pm PT.

[^1]: For those unfamiliar with MormonLeaks, our mission is to “[increase] transparency within the Mormon Church” which we believe will “[result] in fewer untruths, less corruption, and less abuse within Mormonism”. Our leaks have been featured in local publications like the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News and in national publications such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. But I'm not here to talk about MormonLeaks, its history, or my reasons for my involvement. I am here to address my anonymity for the past year and why I have decided to reveal my involvement now.

#privacyPPratt #mormonism

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Many of my friends, family, and colleagues, if asked, will report that I associate myself with the libertarian political philosophy. They'd probably feel comfortable saying that I support the likes of Ron Paul, Justin Amash, and Gary Johnson. What they probably don't know is that my Libertarian cred is even higher with my subscription to Reason magazine. But I have recently found myself slightly disaffected with the Libertarian party. Some of it is personal philosophy changes, some of it is recent events, and some of it is just misalignments that have always existed that I never saw. But they all add up to something much bigger than I can ignore.

I grew up Mormon and was raised to think of the world in very black and white terms. Almost two years ago, I decided to leave the Mormon Church and one of the greatest things I have gained in that long and painful process was the ability to think freely and with nuance. I was used to authority figures telling me what was right and what was not and aligning my philosophy and worldview with theirs. That said, I have always put very heavy emphasis on social issues even from a young age. I've almost always been pro-choice despite the region of the United States where I grew up. I have always been deeply disturbed by racism and blatant discrimination of any kind. And — as a former Mormon, I feel it my duty to specifically mention this one — I have always been pro LGBT rights. These and many others beliefs and opinions, despite them being mine, typically always made me feel uncomfortable because they typically did not align with those of the previously mentioned authority figures.

Enter Ron Paul and Libertarianism. As a young returned-Mormon-missionary, Dr. Paul's libertarian ideals and principles appealed greatly to me. Not only could I be a fiscal conservative, but I could also be a social liberal and still have a party and several major politicians to identify with. What's more, there was an underlying guideline that directed nearly all the group's political thinking. That principle basically was that the government guaranteed certain rights and they should stay out of everything else. This gave me the psychological comfort that I had grown up with in my religion of aligning myself with someone of higher authority. In many ways, Dr. Paul became my libertarian prophet and whenever I didn't hold a particularly strong opinion about a topic, I typically found his and argued for it. Rare was it for me to critically analyze the position and use it as a step to get to my own opinion.

As I slowly began to question my religious belief system, my entire life was was being turned upside down. Everything I previously thought I knew to be true was not. I went through of phase of extreme vulnerability and fear, not knowing what was real and what was fake. I was forced to reevaluate my entire worldview. I began to explore the possibility of developing my own opinion, venturing into the gray area, accepting the nuance, and viewing 17 different sides to an issue rather than just two. It was scary, but I have been able to find my own person, find the values that I really believe in, and use those to dictate my political ideology.

Being raised Mormon, I was brought up in an extremely sexist society and left the Church loaded with all sorts of disgusting, unconscious bias towards women. Working in the tech industry, I see the sexism and misogyny on a near daily basis. It now makes me cringe to hear a politician claim that if there really was a gender pay gap then companies would solely be hiring women. Ron Paul and other libertarians make that claim, all the time. I see the scientific data suggesting that our climate is changing rapidly. I see pesticides manufactured by billion dollar organizations causing autism that the EPA is fighting. Yet libertarianism wants to leave problems like that to the market and do away with the EPA. The market simply isn't going to work fast enough.

As of late, we have seen atrocities like the murder of Heather Heyer and other racial discrimination around the country. I take a look at the Libertarian party and I see a group that is dominantly white male whose ideologies of nationalism and self interest appeal to the alt-right. To borrow a quote from John Ganz at the Washington Post:

“It was the very bareness of the idea of self-interest and liberty as such that allowed Chris Cantwell, the weeping neo-Nazi made infamous in Vice’s coverage of Charlottesville... to make conceptual space for racism...”

American Libertarianism is a strange breed of Libertarianism anyhow. Compared to the rest of the world, it is a very much more “get off my lawn” and “leave me the hell alone” type of Libertarianism. I still align with many of them on many things, such as the importance of our First and Fourth Amendment rights. But I can no longer associate myself with the Libertarian Party, or any party, and that's ok. I have come to enjoy living in nuance.


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In December 2016, I co-founded a website known as MormonLeaks. Initially, I was known anonymously under the pseudonym Privacy P. Pratt. These are blog posts I published under that name, until I revealed my identity in September 2017. To learn more about my involvement with MormonLeaks, view the interviews section of my portfolio.

I've already written a bit about how Ryan McKnight and myself came in contact, and how MormonLeaks, as it is known today, came to be. In this post, I hope to provide a little more context.

I knew in order to get credibility, MormonLeaks was going to have to set up their submission process correctly in a way they could guarantee the anonymity of their sources. I felt confident in my ability to do this, so I reached out to McKnight via Reddit with this message:

*Note: I have not edited any of the original typos in any of the messages in this post.

Dear FearlessFixxer,

I know this will be the first time you see my handle. I just recently made it in order to conceal my identity. I am going to great lengths to protect my privacy and maintain anonymity not because I'm scared, but because I still not sure I want my true name associated with the project I am about to propose. I realize you may think this is a bit overkill and that I may be paranoid and crazy. I may be paranoid, but I am not crazy. You may have seen the handle I regularly use in the sub. I don't post frequently, but I have had a few posts that were upvoted quite a bit.

I really admire the work you guys do here, especially the recent video leaks. However I believe that these may only be milk compared to some potential meatier leaks out there. I believe that there may be something that we can do together to empower leakers to come forward (especially those who work inside TSCC) with confidence that their anonymity will be protected and maintained. If we can accomplish this and embolden more from the community that really have dirt on the church, I think we can accomplish a great good.

I will say that I am not a current church employee. If you would like to hear more about my ideas please respond and we can establish a more secure way of communicating whether it be PGP, OTR, Telegram, or some other encrypted means. How would you rate your technical abilities? All three solutions that I just mentioned are easy to use once you do it once.

If you would like further verification that I am legitimate, I can provide it to you easily. Again, I know this may seem like overkill, but I still haven't made up my mind if I would like to be associated with my idea publicly.

If you do respond, expect a delayed response from me as I will not be able to respond until later due to the privacy measures I have taken. I can explain later. Securely yours, 3P

In reading through this message again, I honestly don't know what I was referring to when I said “If you would like further verification that I am legitimate, I can provide it to you easily.” I eventually did do this upon his request, but I was extremely hesitant. One day, I may feel comfortable going into detail about how I did this, but not today.

I chose the name Privacy P. Pratt after Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The man signed his letters with the signature of “3P”, which I obviously mimicked.

I figured McKnight had already been contacted by several other people like me, and honestly I'm not sure how I would have felt had he chosen to work with one of them rather than me. Hindsight is 20/20, but I imagine I would be fairly, but privately, upset yet glad he had other viable options. You can bet your ass I would have followed the project closely and scrutinized over their operations though.

McKnight was confused and thought I was someone with a leak. I'm not sure if something I said made him think that or if he just didn't read my message carefully. I think it is likely the latter as the hype from the videos he had recently released was still at its peak. Here is his response:

ok. please monitor this reddit account for a pm from me later tonight about the secure connection. It may come very late as I am extremely busy today. I will patiently wait your response to that message based on your privacy concerns.

also, when we connect outside of reddit, feel free to prove what you can, but I do not want to know who you are.

If you have something truly newsworthy I have the cell number of the key players at NYT and SLTrib


Very cordial. I responded with this:

Perfect. Just to be clear, I have nothing to leak myself, only looking to collaborate on a project to make it easier for those that do have newsworthy info to leak it. It could be that others are already working on something like this. I just want to offer my expertise.

He must have not responded for a day or two because I then sent him another message:

Just seeing if there is still interest. I know that you are busy and that's fine. Again, I think we can easily facilitate leakers to come forward with more confidence and ease. 3P

To which he said:

When you said project in your first message, I thought you meant that you had something to leak.

Now I see that you want to help people facilitate.

There is nothing wrong with that, I hope you are able to help someone if you are approached.

Surely you can understand how I cannot work on the facilitation end of things with an anonymous person.


I found this to be a completely reasonable response. I mean, you are approached by a guy you have never heard of before using an obviously fake name offering help to facilitate the release of confidential documents.

I remember getting somewhat cold feet to the response. I saw that he had posted an interview he did on the Mormon Transitions podcast. I figured I would give it a listen to get a better idea if his motives really matched mine. I listened to it that same morning on my way to work and sent him this message later that night.

Yes, I can understand your reservations. However, I don't think it would be as difficult as you think. That being said, after reading and listening to several interviews from you, I have concluded that you are the type of person that I can likely trust in this situation and would be willing to reveal my identity to you. This would be done under an understanding that you would not reveal me to others unless I agree to it. I'm very sorry for the secrecy, but when we can communicate over a secure connection, I can tell you more and you will understand.

In your interview on Mormon Transitions, you said that you weren't a “hacker”. I am. You said that you don't know much about computers. I do. The way the leakers have recently approached you is dangerous. They are leaving behind dozens of virtual fingerprints that can be traced directly to them. And while it may not be inherently illegal, if what is being leaked is considered intellectual property by the church and they get someone in the government on their side, then yes the leaker can get in very big legal trouble.

I have already said more than what I'm comfortable revealing about myself over Reddit. If you are interested in protecting your sources taking very easy to steps to cover their tracks in the “cyber” contact me via Telegram (, a secure, private messaging platform. You can download it onto your phone and I will get the message on mine. Don't worry, I won't be able to see your number and you won't be able to see mine.

I hope to hear from you.

Securely yours, 3P

For clarification, when I said I am a “hacker” I meant it in the traditional sense of exploring technologies and getting them to work for my benefit and not in the more modern sense of someone who breaches secured networks, which is illegal if done without permission. Yes, I have hacked secured networks, but never outside of a lab or professional setting without permission. To many, my claim of if “they get someone in the government on their side, then yes the leaker can get in very big legal trouble” may seem outlandish, and perhaps it is, but it is most definitely not outside the realm of possibility. My use of the word “cyber” was in reference to then candidate Donald Trump's obvious misunderstanding and apparent vageness of the word.

As I indicated in the last paragraph, I was saying more than I wanted to on Reddit. I wanted to speak in a more secure and encrypted channel before revealing more information. At this point, I still wasn't sure if I ever wanted to reveal my indentity to the public, or even if I would remain with the project in the long term. So I ended the conversation on Reddit and asked him to move it to Telegram. I figured if he was interested, he would message me there and if not, he wouldn't.

I received a message from McKnight via Telegram that same day and I admitedly was very excited. Unfortunately I do not have the transcript of our conversation there as we have since deleted it, but he immediately made it clear that he had been contacted by others like me and had not made a decision with whom to work with but that he was interested in hearing my proposal. I outline this part of the story in my previous post, but my intention was to build the solution myself. I'm still confident that I would have been able to do so, but then I was told about SecureDrop, but that's a story for another post. In my next post, I will go into depth about how the rest of our initial team came together.

#PrivacyPPratt #mormonism

Thanks for reading! I don't ask for money, but if you liked it, I'd appreciate a follow via the RSS feed, on the fediverse—search “@[email protected]” on your federated app of choice such as Mastodon—or via email below!

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.

In December 2016, I co-founded a website known as MormonLeaks. Initially, I was known anonymously under the pseudonym Privacy P. Pratt. These are blog posts I published under that name, until I revealed my identity in September 2017. To learn more about my involvement with MormonLeaks, view the interviews section of my portfolio.

Last week, Mike Norton, also known as NewNameNoah, released a video of 12 year old Savannah speaking in front of her Mormon congregation claiming that God loves her even though she is a lesbian and that he “did not mess up” by making her that way. After expressing these beautiful sentiments, the microphone was turned off and she was asked to sit down by the leaders of the congregation sitting behind her. This powerful video was getting a lot of attention and was even highlighted on CNN. But shortly after its near viral fame, it was taken down from YouTube. Not a whole lot is known at this time as to why it was taken down. We at MormonLeaks suspected this was going to happen and we were ready days in advance. We contacted Mike to tell him that we would host it on our server in Switzerland with a hosting provider that completely ignores all take down requests. As soon as it was taken down, Mike contacted us and we were able to get the video on our server within a matter of minutes. I don't know when people will learn that the Streisand Effect is real.

I have heard a lot of criticism in regards to how Savannah approached the situation. There has been speculation about whether her parents put her up to it or if she decided to do it herself. Some have criticized her for leveraging the Mormon Fast and Testimony meeting to take a stand. And of course, some have said she is confused. But 100% of that criticism completely misses the point. Savannah's action were brave and much needed in the political, cultural, and civil environment that we live in today. In Utah, Savannah's home State, suicide is the number one killer of teens. Many of those killing themselves are from the LGBT community. Data shows that the more Mormons there are in a State, chances are that the youth suicide rate correlates with that percentage. But suicide is not the only delimma facing LGBT youth in the country, 20% – 40% of homeless youth around the country identify as LGBT. In Utah, that number is at least 50%. While I will always be one of the first to point out that correlation is not causation, in this situation, the evidence in pretty damning when during the year immediately following the infamous [November policy]() banning children of gay parents from being baptized until age 18, 32 Mormon LGBT youth committed suicide.

This is an incredible cultural and civil issue. What Savannah did is on the same plane as Rosa Parks and other Civil Rights Movement Era heroes. It deserves to be seen by the world. This needs to stop. A message is being sent to these children that they are not enough, that something is wrong with them, when they are truly beautiful. I do not know who got the video removed, but they do not understand the enormous problem. Not only was the effort completely in vain thank you to the Internet, but their actions are assisting to squash a just movement that the entire country needs to see. I, as a straight white male, am proud to call myself an LGBT ally and republishing Savannah's video is the act that I am most proud to have been a part of at MormonLeaks.


#PrivacyPPratt #mormonism

Thanks for reading! I don't ask for money, but if you liked it, I'd appreciate a follow via the RSS feed, on the fediverse—search “@[email protected]” on your federated app of choice such as Mastodon—or via email below!

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