Some memories of Caspar

“Bullshit!” came the shout behind me.

Caspar wasn’t about to let the former Home Secretary who had reintroduced ID cards to the UK for the first time since WWII get away with claiming a ‘Damascene conversion’ on personal privacy, even at a birthday party amongst friends (PI’s 20th). David Blunkett may indeed have had a rough ride from very public exposure of aspects of his private life in the previous few years, and may well have modified his thinking somewhat – but not fundamentally. And for Caspar, it was the fundamentals that mattered.

Very few people I know can combine a rigorous grasp of first principles and unswerving moral sense with the ruthless attention to detail and relentless practicality required to do something about them all. Caspar could. And did.

I met Caspar, like many people did, as I started to campaign in ‘his’ territory. He was by no means the only person who helped school, support and tool me up to fight the ID scheme and a whole series of other pernicious database state assaults on privacy, civil liberties and human rights – but he was one of them, and he was always there when I needed him.

Making introductions, feeding me (sometimes literally – we both enjoyed a good steak!) with academic papers, articles and legal insights I needed to better understand the nature of the battles we were fighting. Bouncing around ideas, playful with technology and always willing to talk through tactics and, as I expanded my frame of reference, strategies; we were both angry at injustice, and we both understood we were fighting a war against almost overwhelming odds.

He couldn’t resist complimenting me one time when I thought I’d screwed up by losing my rag and tearing a strip off some hapless, poorly-briefed MP on the radio – but looking back I realise he wasn’t just being kind, or funny. Caspar knew how to channel his righteous anger for effect and was encouraging me in his own inimitable way to learn how to better channel mine.

Caspar left Microsoft the year I stepped down from NO2ID. He came to Bonfire with me that November, and we talked extensively about “what next?”. We were both minded to try to bring on / train up more campaigners, but I guess neither of us were temperamentally suited to doing that as a full-time occupation. If it happened – and with Caspar it happened a lot – the ‘training’ was by osmosis, by generous sustained interest and encouragement, and by example.

Of course, the front line beckoned.

Caspar forged ahead on PRISM/Tempora, FISA and nailing ‘cloudveillance’ and I (along with Terri, Sam and others) got stuck into medical confidentiality and consent. We crossed paths at ORGcon North in 2013, both presenting our latest findings and predictions. Both, unfortunately, turning out to be right.

Our mutual friend William Heath told me a few weeks ago that Caspar was sick, shortly after I had (only half) jokingly ‘nominated’ him for the post of UK Interception Commissioner on Twitter. It’s a running gag amongst some of the UK privacy advocates to send in CVs for positions like that, when they come up. But of all of us, Caspar, who spent nearly 10 years inside Microsoft, had the tools – if not the temperament – to do a proper job.

I’m really going to miss him. As I’m sure are many, many others – my Twitterstream today is testament to the worldwide networks of privacy and other human rights activitists, technologists, journalists, campaigners and legal folk to whom Caspar meant a great deal.

My thoughts – which quite clearly at this late hour are unravelling – are with his family and loved ones.

I’ll sign off with a small sample of links to what others have said today.

Goodbye, Caspar.

Thoughts and memories, in no particular order, from: Malavika Jayaram, Alexander Hanff, Ben Goldacre, Robin Wilton, Simon Davies, Glyn Moody, Ray Corrigan, Natasha Lomas, Chris Soghoian, John Leonard, Danny O’Brien, Cory Doctorow, Wendy Grossman, Martin Hoskins, Helen Wilkinson, Sarah Clarke, Jim Killock, Bella Sankey, Laura Kalbag, Joanna Rutkowska, Ania Nussbaum.

And not from a named person, but heart-warming nonetheless, Tweets fromĀ  The Tor Project, Privacy International and UK Information Commissioner’s Office.

In the hospital Caspar Bowden asked that we work to ensure equal protection regardless of nationality. Privacy is a universal human right.
– Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror)

If you care about privacy – your own or others’ – please donate to the Caspar Bowden Legacy Fund for privacy advocacy and technology.

I added this video some time later. As they say in some Government press releases, “Check (bits) against delivery”:



This entry was posted in communications data, database state, ID cards, identity, medical confidentiality, medical records, Microsoft, NO2ID, privacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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