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Berkman Community Newcomers: Nathanial Freitas

Berkman Community Newcomers: Nathanial Freitas

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Profile of Nathanial Freitas

Berkman fellow and director of the Guardian Project
Interviewed in summer 2014 by Berkterns Anna Myers and Brett Weinstein

In what is possibly Nathanial Freitas’s earliest public talk on technology, seven-year-old Nathanial discusses string variables and demonstrates how to program on an Apple II computer.  He also shares with the viewers of the local public access show his aspirations to become a computer programmer. Technology was just part of life for Freitas, who always had a computer while growing up in Northern California.

Freitas achieved his early career goal to become a computer programmer and now uses technology to further human rights through the Guardian Project and the Tibet Action Institute. At the Berkman Center, Freitas will focus on giving “liberation tech” tool developers insight to the legal risks their users face by developing an online resource to assist in mapping the intersection between cryptography, communications law, and actual enforcement.

Nathanial Freitas uses technology to further human rights because technology is integral to humanity and culture.

Freitas’s passion for human rights oriented technology stems from the “do no harm” ideology. Freitas designs his technology with the legal and cultural barriers his users may face in mind. Specifically, his work with the Tibet Action Institute promotes the use of technology to support the free flow of information and ideas within the Tibet movement. The Tibet Action Institutes also provides online security and safety education to the next generation of Tibetan leaders.

Nathanial Freitas designs technology with the legal landscape in mind to promote accountability in the global community.

In the United States there is legal protection under the First Amendment for freedom of speech, expression, assembly, and the press. In countries without these freedoms, technology users are subject to government monitoring and surveillance to enforce such legal restrictions. Freitas developed a secure smart camera, called ObscuraCam, to circumvent some of these challenges. ObscuraCam can automatically pixelate or black out faces it detects in images to protect the identity of, for example, a human rights protester. ObscuraCam also can upload footage slowly so that it appears like normal Internet traffic and doesn’t raise any red flags. 

Nathanial Freitas provides open source security tools free of cost because it allows him to help the broadest number of people possible.

Open source code allows for more trust because your users can see the code. In contrast, companies without open source code rely on the reputation of the individuals involved to gain the trust of their users. When companies acquire legal protections for projects they later abandon, it can prevent advancement. The code from those projects could be useful to others in ways that cannot be predicted and those benefits remain unrealized because the code is buried under corporate intellectual property protections.

In his own words from his Berkman Fellow application, Freitas seeks “to understand better the different global, legal, and cultural contexts in which tools for privacy, security and expression are utilized for social change… While the tool builder’s goal is to develop and provide a tangible tool for someone to fight back against oppression and corruption with, they are often unwittingly turning those they want to help into practitioners of a type of civil disobedience without explaining to them what the risks of that are.”

Freitas looks forward to finding allies, and wisdom and guidance from others at the Berkman Center during his fellowship.