happy birthday

Dear Chelsea,

You probably don’t remember me, but we met in September 2009. This was before everyone knew your name and before many people knew mine.

I was at home, helping my friend cut her hair. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw you walk into the living room. You were taking photos of our mural-covered walls, seemingly happy to be in such a bizarre and interesting house of MIT students. Someone introduced you to me.

That evening, or perhaps the evening after, I learned that you were a soldier training for Iraq. You wanted to leave the military someday and get a degree in Computer Science. You weren’t much older than me, but you sounded more anxious and weary than anyone I’d ever met before. We chatted for a while, and then I had to go finish my homework.

You left Boston soon after that, and you friended me on Facebook. I accepted your friend request, and that was the last time we interacted with each other.

When you were arrested in 2010, I was proud of what you’d done and angry at what happened to you after (I still am, every day). At the same time, the media started suspecting (baselessly) that friends of mine had assisted you in whistleblowing. For the first time in my life, I felt like I might be under more surveillance than the average 18 year-old.

It was then that I realized that although I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had reason to be distrustful of the government that I lived under. I had nothing to hide, but nonetheless I was now part of a community under suspicion of a serious crime.

I started learning about security and privacy. Soon after, I installed PGP and started using it. Years later, I still think of you every time I help others encrypt their communications.

So thanks for teaching me how to be paranoid. Thanks for showing me why everyone should care about surveillance, even if they aren’t a whistleblower. Meeting you was an accident that could have happened to anyone. I’m glad it happened to me.

Happy 28th Birthday.


[PS for readers: You can help support Chelsea by donating to her legal defense team. Info here.]