Sometimes policy goals of different entities are in conflict. For example a question can sometimes be viewed as an attempt to learn how to defeat a security control, or be viewed as a way to achieve other security goals like confidentiality and availability.

For example consider a country that censors information and establishes a firewall which interferes with Internet access in violation of what some would consider human rights, vs an organization or individual in the country which wants to achieve confidential access to the Internet and freedom of information, as perhaps in this question. But note that the same firewall technology might be used by a company to preserve their trade secrets or other policy goals, in a situation where their employees would not be viewed as having the right to use the network in violation of the policy.

I think we want to firmly avoid political discussions, but nevertheless want to recognize the technical conflicts involved, and be willing to discuss the technical issues involved in support of each policy goal. The policy goals of a network operator are of interest to us, as are the policy goals of a human rights organization.

Does that sound like an appropriate way to deal with these issues? Are there better ways to word this question, or questions that run into other policy conflicts, to make it better suited to this site?

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2 Answers

As you note, technology doesn't care who's right and who's wrong: it works the same for all sides. This is a technical site, not a political site. When there are conflicting policies, we should answer the question — whether it's about preventing unauthorized access or recovering access to systems locked by a disgruntled former employee, about achieving privacy of banking transactions or detecting money laundering, about allowing whistleblowers and political dissidents to remain anonymous or about helping governments locate criminals, about protecting intellectual property through DRM or about allowing legitimate purchasers to make fair use, about enforcing contractual requirements that a phone will remain locked to a SIM or legal requirements that a phone be be unsimlocked, …

Of course, when someone's goals obviously run against your political opinions, you may be reluctant to answer. And you're free not to answer. But keep in mind that the next person who has exactly the same question, and who will find this question in a search, may well be on the other side of your political spectrum.

TL,DR: We should judge questions on their technical merits alone.

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I think what we have tried to do in the past is as follows:

  • For obvious blackhat questions - close unless we can change the wording to a more generally useful positive one

  • For free-speech questions which may have an issue in some localities - remove the locality information and re-word to focus on the technical aspects, not the political aspects.

I think this is very important - politics shouldn't come into it, but enabling free speech is a part of information security (anonymity, privacy etc).

I have updated the question (I hadn't seen it until just now otherwise I would have got to it earlier) - It doesn't change the important technical aspects of the question (hopefully) but detaches it from the country / regime piece.

I'm unconvinced that there actually is a kind of black hat questions that we wouldn't want on the site. For example, pretty much any breakage of confidentiality or access controls can be justified as enforcing availability or accountability. Let's just leave the politics out of it altogether. –  Gilles Jan 6 '12 at 17:56
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