June 23, 2010
If you’re following the Toronto news today, one of the main stories out there is about a former team member of mine, Byron Sonne. The news coverage (CNN, Yahoo) paints Byron to be one step this side of Timothy McVeigh… explosives, threatening police, etc.
And that doesn’t even mention that the picture that they’re using makes him look that way. (As an aside: in my 11th grade journalism class, we spent a lot of time talking about how pictures frame the news story that you’re reading. Before you ever even start the Globe and Mail coverage of this story, you’re greeted with a blurry, grainy picture of Byron looking like he’s about to blow up a building. Regardless of whether the facts support the charge, our minds are primed with all of the times that we’ve seen a terrifying looking psychopath looking very similarly to this picture… and we read the story with that bent.)
Unfortunately, the reality seems a little less glamorous. If you read Byron’s Twitter account, you’ll find that Byron was being little more than the opinionated activist that he is. “An agent provocateur”, as someone told The Star. He talked about investigating the fences and posted video of the fences. He talked about how the cameras were being set up in locations that were likely to be used by activists. And he was pointing out that the amount of money spent on “security” for this conference was a little out of range.
One of the things that Byron has been most pilloried for in the news was the talk he gave a few months back on radio surveillance (a decent account can be found here).
Amazingly, Byron even posted the slides to that supposedly “provocative” talk on his Twitter feed. (I’ve put the same slides here for the BitTorrent challenged). Read them… there’s nothing in there that suggests anything but a security professional talking about insecure radio transmission.
Let’s give a different picture of the guy that used to work for me. Byron’s a very smart and well-rounded engineer. While he wasn’t the top producer on the team, he was someone who I valued a great deal from a management perspective. He was vocal and would push others to come to the table with their best (even when he wasn’t up to their level). He was the member of the team most willing to call out others in a meeting. It wasn’t just internal… he was even willing to call out a vendor in a blog post. (Note that since I wrote this, nCircle took the orginal post down)
“I suspect that this may just be a stunt and perhaps a stunt that got out of hand,” Hirsh said.
Regardless, it’s a shock to me that this would lead to an arrest and incarceration. None of the posts made threats or suggested potential for harm. His talk is innocuous. And this all looks like a very large over-reaction from a police service that felt somewhat embarrassed that someone was publicly calling them out on their failure to encrypt their communications and poor placement of security cameras.