Richard Stallman detained by UN Security

Wonderful story on Bruce Perens’s Blog

Richard Stallman, Mark Shuttleworth, and I are in Tunis, Tunisia for the UN World Summit on the information society. We’ve had an interesting day :-)

Richard is opposed to RF ID, because of the many privacy violations that are possible. It’s a real problem, and one worth lobbying about. At the 2003 WSIS in Geneva, there was objection to the RF ID cards that were used, resulting in a promise that they would not be used in 2005. That promise, it turns out, was not kept. In addition, Richard was given a hastily-produced ID with a visible RF ID strip. Mine was made on a longer schedule, it seems, and had an RF ID strip that wasn’t visible. I knew it was there because they clearly had us put our cards to a reader at the entrance gate.

You can’t give Richard a visible RF ID strip without expecting him to protest. Richard acquired an entire roll of aluminum foil and wore his foil-shielded pass prominently. He willingly unwrapped it to go through any of the visible check-points, he simply objected to the potential that people might be reading the RF ID without his knowledge and tracking him around the grounds. This, again, is a legitimate gripe, handled with Richard’s usual highly-visible, guile-less and absolutely un-subtle style of non-violent protest.

During his keynote speech at our panel today, Richard gave a moment’s talk about the RF ID issue, and passed his roll of aluminum foil around the room for others to use. A number of people in the overcrowded-to-the-max standing-room-only meeting room obligingly shielded their own passes. UN Security was in the room, not only to protect us but because of the crowd issue, and was bound to notice. Richard and I delivered our keynotes, followed by shorter talks by the rest of the panel and then open discussion.

At the end of the panel, I went out in the hall to be interviewed by various press entities including Al Jazeera. Another item for my CIA dossier, but I’m sure my association with Richard would have caused more notes to be taken today. I was busy with the press for two solid hours. So, I didn’t see what happened with Richard. But a whole lot of the people in the room did, and stayed with Richard for the entire process.

Apparently, UN Security would not allow Richard to leave the room.

Richard and I are actually here representing the United Nations, and are carrying UN Development Program IDs. I would otherwise merit a “business entity” ID, but I guess because of our keynote-speaker status our UN Development Program hosts ordered us better treatment. Richard and I also have some limited immunity as delegates to this conference. So, this was no doubt an interesting problem for the security folks, who had no real idea who Richard was except that he was someone reasonably distinguished who was visibly violating their security measure….

[From Bruce’s entry for November 18. Thanks to Bill Thompson for the link.]