Category Archives: Privacy & Surveillance

Now this is a good political dressing down …

While I didn't catch enough of the Dem/Rep. VP debate to assess either candidate's performance, a friend drew my attention to this dressing down by the (female) prime minister of Australia for the (male) leader of the opposition's attempt to tar the prime minister with the text-messaging scandal of one of her allies.  Perhaps the Dems could take advice from Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, on how to support women's rights with gusto.

So to summarize for those who didn't want to watch the whole takedown, and you missed a lot of fun if you didn't watch it, the leader of the opposition is:

  • a sexist, misogynist;
  • with a long history of dismissing women and condoning sexism and misogyny in his party;
  • a long-time friend and supporter of the text-messaging scandal minister of parliament (MP) and even attended said MP's wedding;
  • and so a complete, politically motivated, hypocrite.

As I said, a spectacular takedown.  Wish we had more such examples in the US.

Of course, this episode begs the question of when are politicians going to learn that everything they ever do in public, and likely semi-public, will be available for others to use against them?  My guess would be when people actually use that information against them effectively.  Until then we will have more politicians saying "those aren't the 47% you are looking for".

Those who would give up privacy for a little safety …

Rick Falkvinge points to this new short film about privacy and increasing government surveillance:

I think some of the tech is still awhile away, but that doesn't mean it won't be there in my or certainly my kids' lifetimes. Already we are seeing fingerprint scanners being used to id kids when they pay for their school lunches in Maryland and LA. 

No doubt convenience and security will be the justificaton for expanding these surveillance tools.  If you doubt that they will be abused, then look no further than what access to your information mobile phone carriers are providing to the police without a warrant:

  • reset your voicemail PIN;
  • copying existing messages to a separate account;
  • cloning your voice mail as it comes in.

Even land lines aren't safe as Verizon will allow police to:

  • Change the number for a landline too and give the new number only to them;
  • Set an account so that if someone picks up a landline to call out, it
    automatically dials a designated law enforcement number—and no one else;
  • Prevent all outgoing calls or do various things to force a number out of
    service—from straight-up interrupting a call to sending a 3-decibel
    sound on the phone line to irritate the caller so he/she hangs up.

Charming world we are building.  As Franklin is quoted as saying:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

I refuse to give up my freedom

I tend to borrow and remix from the thoughts of TechDirt founder Mike Masnick, Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow and cartoonist and Question Copyright founder Nina Paley when thinking about how copyright and patent laws are increasingly obsolete and counter productive not only to our economy but to our freedom as well.  However, a recent discussion about International Talk Like a Pirate Day prompted me to write up a, likely incomplete, summary of my thoughts.  So here goes:

"It is more complex than the idea that people want to steal from musicians.

We have to keep in mind that the existing music system established a few gatekeepers that were able to capture much of the money we pay for music.  The order that people got paid was:

  1. first the music industry (esp. the big players),
  2. second the small number of musicians who "made it",
  3. third a somewhat larger number of musicians who were luckly to get slightly better than minimum wage,
  4. finally the vast majority made no money at all or did it for the love of playing music.

Now, with the Internet, musicians are able to connect with their fans and ask them to support the music (and musicians) they love directly. Gatekeepers are going away as a result and musicians will be better off.

Will all musicians thrive?  No, but more will do better than their processors did.

Will musicians need to look at other ways of getting fans to support them, than buying the music that can be easily copied? Yes. Tours are one means. Using tools like Kickstarter to have fans pay for musicians to create something new is another. Selling the unique and scarce items that musicians can create will be more common: suggesting the background of a song, personal concerts, signed disks, individual frames of music videos are but a few methods that could be tried and often have been tried successfully.

Leading all this is that people like to create, and now more people have the tools and ability to develop the skills they need to create. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.  Some of it is a copy, some is remixed, but most of the videos are ones that people create for their friends or to express themselves. For me, a future where more people can create and share is exciting and better than a world of gatekeepers and big name musicians.

Ultimately, the only way we will maintain this old and dying system is to spy on what everyone sends out over the Internet, censor our communications and lock every digital file so that no one can share. That is the world the huge entertainment companies and their mouthpieces such as the RIAA, MPAA and Chamber of Commerce want and it would be a sad, poor world indeed.

I refuse to give up my freedom so that a few gatekeepers and stick-in-the-mud musicians don't have to change and innovate."

Organizing a CryptoParty in Somerville, wanna help?

I am working with others to hold a CryptoParty on Sunday, Oct. 21 from noon-6pm. It will be held at The Sprouts, 339R Summer St., Somerville near Davis Square and the Davis Square MBTA stop.
We are planning to hold hands-on workshops on topics such as:

  • Using Tor and the Tor Browser Bundle
  • PGP/GnuPG key generation & use
  • Using Truecrypt and LUKS
  • Using SSL and authentication
  • Using VPNs

You can find out more at the Boston CryptoParty wiki page. If you are interested in participating or want to help teach on one of the topics, please contact me via twitter, email or call/txt (617) 863-0385.

How to kill standalone social networks

Yasssu has an interesting interview with Eben Moglen about a variety of topics including government surveillance, privacy, and sharing:

The topic that drew my attention to the video was his contention that Facebook would only last for about ten years before the open web and open alternatives to it won out. He cites Diaspora, GNU Social and other efforts as the tools that are leading the way to that change and I generally agree with him. However, the flaw I see with that approach is that the variety of social services that are available is increasing at a rate that a canned aggregation service will not be able to keep up. What is needed is an api for:

  1. who is your friend or who you follow and thus who you trust;
  2. the different services to share updates you make on the service;
  3. the different services to talk to talk to an aggregator.

Item 1 can leverage OpenId and OAuth and there are projects such as Portable Contacts, DiSo, FOAF and XHTML Friends Network that can be built upon (or rebuilt) to provide the secure social connection information.
Item 2 requires a defined api and a willingness for social services to support it. However, RSS is pretty prevalent, so building off of that shouldn’t be a complete jump into the dark.
I am not convinced that Item 3 is desirable even on a local level. Rather, the only thing I think we need to host is our public and private connection information. Once we have that information, it would be possible to use a javascript browser plug in that pulls in our connection information and builds a status page of what our friends are doing.
With these tools in place, we won’t need Facebook, Google+ or other specific social network services to act as a man in the middle to our social lives on the net.
I do like his suggestion that we all have our own plugin computers running a server like FreedomBox that act as VPN, host our website, etc.
He touches on a wide variety of other points that I find useful and his quotes are direct and pithy, so please to take the time to watch it.

Senate CISPA Up For A Vote, Help Stop it!

Posting from the Massachusetts Pirate Party web site.

The Senate will have a final vote on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S 3414) soon.  They just passed the cloture vote for it.  This bill is the Senate version of CISPA, and remains a solution looking for a problem.

Thankfully, the Senate has listened to the outcry over CISPA and has made a bill that better protects our privacy.  However, it still authorizes companies to use cybersecurity as an excuse to engage in monitoring of user data and could prevent users from using privacy-tools such as TOR over their network.

This bill has the support of the White House, so we cannot count on President Obama to veto it.

We need you to tell both Senators to oppose S 3414.   Please call the numbers listed below or fill out their contact forms.  Thanks!

Scott Brown
(202) 224-4543

John Kerry
(202) 224-2742

Links 6/25/2012

The crowd-sourced panopticon comes into focus

Being a Pirate, I tend to pay attention to issues about privacy and transparency an awful lot.  It is easy to oppose our increasing government surveillance state when the NSA is hoovering up our emails, Facebook posts and web searches.  We expect that those communications are private.

Likewise, we celebrate when someone whips out her mobile phone and records the police working in public spaces or her house, especially if the police decide to show her their nightsticks or tasers.  Those are spaces that are public or that an individual on the receiving end of police attention controls.

When a friend on Facebook asked her friends to share a screen shot of a Facebook conversation between a married woman and a single man that consisted of her hitting on him and his response saying that she should be ashamed for cheating on her husband and he was going to publicize their conversation my response was immediate: I would not share it as:

  • I had no way of knowing this conversation really happened, and wasn't fabricated to make her look bad;
  • and even if the conversation was real, should either she or her husband do something criminal or harmful as a result, I would feel responsible and I don't need that on my conscience.

But even those reasons were not needed since the conversation was clearly private and everyone should be entitled to personal privacy, even people who cheat on their spouses.

This image brought to mind a similar story I came across recently.  A man hit on a woman on a flight.  The woman tweeted about the encounter, and her followers dug up who he was and most importantly who he was married to.  

Clearly he is a cad and a liar, if her story is to be believed, and I can understand her being annoyed that he wouldn't take no for answer.  She was in a public place and had every right to tweet about a public conversation.  That she crowd-sourced his id and background is quite within her right to do. Everything in a public space is pubic.  Now.

Ten years ago it would have been difficult to crowd-source his id and publicize his actions.  As a result, such a conversation wouldn't seem public.  This change in our attitudes and capabilities both excites and terrifies me.

That it excites me isn't hard to understand, just look at what the Yes Men do.  Imagine anyone going up to a CEO or wealthy individual in a public place, misrepresenting themselves and getting said individual to speak far too candidly.  One need only recall the reporter who punked Gov. Walker by pretending he was one of the wealthy Koch brothers calling to praise Walker to see how that could go.

Two things terrify me.  By recording what you do in public, through your phones or future smartglasses, you are recording what others do and when you share that information, it is there for anyone to sift through, and use to publicize our actions. While it could be used to go after the BPs of the world, and I certainly applaud that use, it can also be used to shame or penalize people for legal behavior.

What terrifies more, though, is that the government will sift through and use such crowd-sourced data to target people it deems a threat without oversight.  After all the data is public.  It isn't inconceivable for the government to fund a smartphone game that gets people to record events or people at certain places and times and share the recordings publicly.  Face recognition technology as well as the quality of cameras, devices and mobile networks is certainly getting better.  No doubt the analysis could be crowd-sourced as well.

If the government's use of such technologies isn't checked, in ten years the government won't need a 1984-style surveillance network. We'll carry it around for them.

From Huxley to Orwell

Chris Hedges over at TruthDig has a well thought out article on our transition from Huxley’s Brave New World to Orwell’s 1984.  Corporate/Governmental domination R Us.  A few exerpts:

“The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.”

On the face of it I don’t buy that high government deficits mean that the US government will be crippled.  The Fed can easily print money to pay those deficits and we could inflate our way out of our debts albeit slowly and reasonably.  A bit of inflation tends to improve the situation better than the deflation we are approaching.

That all said, the one and half parties of the wealthy will attempt to convince us otherwise, cut the deficit by imposing austerity on the poor and middle class, not the wealthy or the military.  They never willingly impose austerity on the wealthy or the military.  Chris’ suggestions of our path looks true to me.

UPDATE: A friend suggested that Chris Hedges’ article reminded her of this Barbara Ehrenreich talk, put to cartoons – Smile or Die!

What type of government surveillance do you want?

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Stewart Baker posted a blog post entitled Times Square bombing — where were the cameras? and posits that it is better to have lots of small surveillance cameras that can only be accessed after the fact instead of fewer surveillance cameras that are centrally recorded and administered.  The comments are pretty good, but this one caught my eye:

… if we’re all soldiers in the war to defend the Constitution against terrorists, some of us are going to get killed in that defense. And some of us will be killed because ‘defending the Constitution’ means observing the limits it puts on government even when violating them might be more tactically opportune.

I’m sure cameras everywhere would be effective; it just wouldn’t be very American.