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MINDS’ CEO: Protect Free Speech, Will Only Respond to U.S Subpoenas

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BILL OTTMAN. Photo credits: TECHCRUNCH & MINDS.

In the past few days, thousands of social media users in Vietnam have relocated to Minds. At the same time, debates erupted where people questioned Minds’ technology, policies, and even the possibilities that Minds would cooperate with the Vietnamese authorities in the future to “sell out” its users.

Luật Khoa magazine had conducted this interview with Bill Ottman – CEO and co-founder of Minds in response to the concerns mentioned above from the Vietnamese social media community. We are providing our readers with the English version of the interview here.

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Before this “exodus” of Vietnamese Internet users to Minds, what do you know about Vietnam? (the regime, the economy, the market, human rights situations, etc.)

Vietnam is a beautiful country but unfortunately run by the Socialist Republic, a communist regime with overreaching power. I studied the Vietnam War pretty extensively and the anti-war movement in the US. I would very much like to learn more about Vietnam Pham Doan Trang, and it would be great to have a live conversation or stream together to discuss your perception of the country, both negatives and positives.

What do you think of the newly-adopted cybersecurity law in Vietnam?

I know that the law has disastrous implications for free speech and privacy. It gives the government excessive power to deem certain content ‘prohibited’, thus the ability to become a censorship machine. The law should be taken away before it goes into effect in 2019. It is destined to fail.

What is Minds’ policy toward customers’ privacy rights?

Please refer to our recent essay on how we protect user privacy. We are 100% committed to privacy. It is our core philosophy. Principles like ‘zero-knowledge’, end-to-end encryption and decentralization are all crucial for human rights. Our terms state that we comply with US law. If it is legal in the US it can be on Minds. We will not hand over user information to foreign governments or censor based on requests.

What is Minds’ policy toward the balance between privacy rights and “public security” as the police in authoritarian societies put it?

Public security is an Orwellian phrase similar to National Security. More privacy and encryption make a nation more secure, not less. More freedom of expression causes a healthy society, not less. Disinformation and propaganda are problems, but research shows that censorship makes these problems even worse. I recently wrote an article about this evidence. This has been proven by top cryptologists and cyber-security experts for a long time like Bruce Schneier and EFF.

What is your opinion regarding the need to balance the people’s human rights and the state’s efforts against terrorism (both real threats and some imaginable threats)?

Our general policy is that we require a warrant or equally compelled court order. Our general opinion is not to sacrifice freedom for safety because then we will have neither as Benjamin Franklin said.

How can we, the Vietnamese Mindsers, as a newly-formed (and maybe, quite small now) community be sure that Minds will fight for our Internet freedom rather than cooperate with the tyrannical government?

Continually ask questions, communicate with our team about concerns and hold us accountable!

Inspect our code and have your developers help us make it more secure and uncensorable.

We heard a lot about the technologies that Minds has been using. Is it true that Minds has been using decentralized, encrypted, and blockchain technologies? If yes, please describe them a little so that we the users learn more about your strength. If no, could you please tell me the difference(s) between Minds and Facebook?

Yes, we are constantly working to become more decentralized which is why we are currently leveraging technologies like Ethereum and Webtorrent. We will be focusing much more on decentralization and p2p in the future.

Facebook is plagued by surveillance, secrecy (proprietary software), manipulative algorithms, data scandals, demonetization, censorship and psychological abuse. Minds does the opposite.

Regarding blockchain, it seems like Minds is now using it only for Token-related activities. Is that right?

Yes. We use an ERC20 token on the Ethereum blockchain. Our whitepaper discusses how we publish a variety of transactions to smart contracts for our Boost and Wire products. We have an extensive reward system where top contributors earn tokens and can then use the tokens to “Boost” content for more views.

Right now 1 token gives 1,000 extra views on the content of your choice. We built this in reaction to the suppressive algorithms on facebook which diminish your organic reach and voice. It is a soft form of censorship. Minds will always have 100% organic reach and reward users with more of a voice for participation. The reward system specs can be found here.

Sorry for asking what seems like a silly question, but why did Minds create the Tokens system? What do you anticipate it to be?

We created the token in order to reward users for the contributions to the network and move the ad network (consent-based) and peer-to-peer payment and crowdfunding systems to smart contracts on the blockchain. We also created it to battle the restrictive algorithms that have caused organic reach to drop so much on facebook. 1 token currently rewards a user with 1,000 extra impressions on their content by pressing the boost button on their post. We believe people’s voices should be amplified, not silenced. Expanded, not exploited.

We saw a paragraph in Minds’ privacy policy which states that Minds “discloses potentially personally identifying and personally-identifying information only in response to a subpoena, court order or OTHER GOVERNMENTAL REQUEST [capital mine], or when Minds believes in good faith that disclosure is reasonably necessary to protect the property or rights of Minds, third parties or the public at large.” We are quite concerned about this because it implies that we the users can still have our personal information accessed by the government while the current Vietnamese government is a single-party, police-dominated one. What do you think?

This does not apply to the Vietnamese government, and we will not hand over personal information to them. We will discuss with our legal team to potentially clarify this language. Essentially, we are founded upon the idea of free expression, and as you will quickly learn, Minds is more uncensored than any other network you will find.

Is it true that Minds receives some support from the Anonymous?

Yes, because we allow anonymous accounts. Though anonymous is a decentralized, leaderless group, so it has many branches and I would not want to speak for them all. I imagine not all support us, but some definitely do.

We only endorse ethical hacking, as a side-note.

What does Minds expect from Vietnam, or the community of Vietnamese Minders to be exact?

We hope more thought leaders and netizens will continue to migrate to Minds for Internet freedom. We are dedicated to constantly evolving and improving the platform based on your feedback. This is why we are 100% open source.

The best way to build the freedom network of the future is for influencers to use our tools like blogs, videos, posting, groups, wallet, tokens and bring their audiences over.

Do you think of setting up a representative office in Vietnam and/or providing a Vietnamese version of Minds for the Vietnamese people? (English is not our second language, so most people may find it difficult to use Minds in English).

Yes, this (the Vietnamese version) will be live within a couple of weeks. 🙂 Maybe sooner.

What is Minds’ strategy regarding China and Asia, Vietnam included and also your worldwide strategy?

Our strategy is to stick to our principles, continue building better tools and hopefully continue to connect with thought leaders all throughout Asia who can help migrate their audiences off of surveillance platforms.

Can you tell us a bit more about your internet activism?

I have been involved in alternative media, freedom of information and privacy activism for about a decade. To me, extreme transparency, open source philosophy, end-to-end encryption and digital rights are crucial for a free society. I helped start organizations on Facebook with millions of followers, but after Facebook’s algorithm and policies got so invasive, it was time to #deletefacebook.

What is your opinion regarding the trend of large corporations acting in concert with the state/government to become one unified threat to the people’s rights in places like Vietnam?

This is an unacceptable trend when the line between global corporation and government merges. The people need to activate on other social networks in order to disempower the corrupt corporations and empower emerging, ethical alternatives.

Press Release

Vietnam: Stop The Continued Harassment And Intimidation Of Our Editor, Pham Doan Trang

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Pham Doan Trang and her two books written in recent years.

March 18, 2019, The Vietnamese Magazine’s editorial board received an urgent message tonight from journalist Pham Doan Trang that the secret police have found her current residence and started to surveil the location.

Ms. Pham is a member of our editorial board and a founding member of our Vietnamese site, Luat Khoa online magazine.

From around the Tet celebration in February 2019, it had been brought to our attention that the secret police began to surveil the home of journalist Pham Doan Trang’s mother in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ms. Pham believed that the police was waiting for her to go back and visit her family during the Lunar New Year celebration so that they could arrest her like they did last year.

However, because she did not go back to Hanoi, the secret police utilized different methods, trying to locate her whereabouts.

As she recently published a book on public policy and the Special Economic Zones draft bill, they have pretended to be her readers, contacted her on social media, and asked if she could give them copies of her new book.

Those who helped deliver her books were followed, and hackers have attempted to gain access to Ms. Pham’s Facebook on numerous occasions.

Ms. Pham wrote on her personal Facebook tonight:

“If you hear, in the coming days, that I am involved in a traffic accident or suddenly got attacked somewhere, then it must be the planning and actions of the secret police. There would not be any ‘citizen actions’ that could have caused it.”

We strongly condemn the ongoing harassment and threats directed at our editorial member by the Vietnamese secret police due to the peaceful exercise of her human rights. These conducts are in direct violation of both Vietnam’s and international laws, and as such, they have put Ms. Pham in grave danger where both her physical and mental health have been negatively affected.

We, therefore, call on the relevant authorities of Vietnam to immediately intervene and cease the ongoing illegal surveillance and intimidation against Ms. Pham, investigate the unlawful individual conducts listed above, and prosecute those who have committed such crimes in accordance to the current legal standards in Vietnam.

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News

Vietnam Continues To Violate People’s Rights After Human Rights Dialogue With EU

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Vietnamese Anti-riot policemen. Photo credits: HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a day after the Human Rights Dialogue between the European Union and Vietnam on March 4, 2019, was conducted, the Vietnamese police continue to commit blatant violations of the people’s rights.

Two hours ago, the police came and arrested one of the active members of a group consisting of concerned citizens who have been fighting against what they alleged as illegal activities associated with the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booths across Vietnam.

Ha Van Nam, the victim, posted on Facebook that the police came and searched his house. Later, other Facebookers cited his wife’s statement to confirm his arrest.

Ha Van Nam was viciously beaten up by men in plainclothes back in January 2019 whom he alleged that they were plainclothes officers. He suffered two broken ribs and other injuries. The perpetrators later threw him at the front gate of Dan Phuong hospital in Hanoi.

Today, his last post on Facebook stated that the police came to his house and alleged that he committed the crime of “inciting public disorder.”

“Inciting public disorder” is a crime that has been routinely used against activists and protestors in Vietnam in the most arbitrary manner.

Often, the government would accuse anyone of committing this crime when they participate in any civil disobedience act.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang wrote on her Facebook this morning after the incident went viral on social media:

“Upon the arrest today of driver Ha Van Nam for ‘disrupting peace,’ once again, we highlight that it is time the Vietnamese government immediately decriminalizes and depoliticize civil affairs. We firmly believe that government-endorsed violence with impunity can only lead to more violence in society.”

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Freedom of expression

English Speakers In Vietnam Got A Taste Of Censorship Over An Article On Pollution

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Screen caption of the removed article on VN Express on February 21, 2019.

February 20, 2019, a few foreigners living both inside and outside of Vietnam were sharing the news that an English article published on the site VN Express was taken down before they could read it.

Some of them suspected that it was the state’s censorship or even the beginning of the enforcement of the new cybersecurity law.

As of press time, still, the link is not working.

The article was about the lone man’s trip across the country of a Vietnamese photographer, Nguyen Viet Hung, to raise awareness on marine pollution in Vietnam using what he knows best, photography.

The story of Hung was becoming quite popular in Vietnam during recent days.

He is a well-known photographer whose trip was published on social media and a few newspapers, including one that is under the ownership of the Ministry of Public Security, Cảnh Sát Toàn Cầu online (Global Police Force).

The 3,260 km long journey, dubbed “The Green Journey” on social media, was documented by Hung and his photography skills

He began his trip in August 2018.

Along the way, he was documenting the danger of improper waste disposal, especially plastic waste, and its effects on the environment.

There was an incident where Hung said he felt scared for his life when taking a picture of a truck dumping trash into the ocean because he thought the truck driver was calling more people to come over and intimidate him.

The story was well-received by the public because it raised concerns over an urgent matter that all Vietnamese people face daily: how to deal with garbage disposal in the country.

Marine pollution and pollution, in general, have gained more attention among the public because the amount of trash being disposed in Vietnam on a daily basis is quite alarming.

In 2018, Vietnamese people became even more concerned when a report placed their country among the top five ocean polluters regarding plastic waste became viral.

Like many other censored topics in Vietnam, we could never fully understand why an article suddenly becomes “unavailable” when the web link stops working.

One may suspect that it was because the story placed equal responsibility on both the people and the state for marine pollution, where the failure of the garbage disposal system in Vietnam played a significant role.

Hung said in one of the Vietnamese articles, that while at Sa Ky Harbor in Quang Ngai Province, it was impossible for him to find a garbage can. As the result, all local residents living in the area would dump their trash directly into the waters which they also use for bathing and consuming.

Regardless of the reason, Nguyen Viet Hung’s photographs bring about a reality that both the Vietnamese people and their government must face: marine pollution in Vietnam is a code red issue where drastic measures, as well as immediate behavioral changes, must happen now.

Hung had put this succinctly in the only paragraph left from the taken-down article:

The farther I went, the more I realized that the environment in general and marine environment in particular of our country are being seriously destroyed. Most people are not aware of the scale of the problem, and this should change, Hung said.

A few photographs from Nguyen Viet Hung’s trip:

Plastic rubbish filled the land near a market place in Tuy Phong, Binh Thuan Province. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

Lacking proper garbage disposal, people dumped their trash directly into the ocean. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

Children were playing near a creek filled with garbage. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

A child was picking up near the seashore. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

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