Investigatory Powers Bill

November 22, 2016

The UK government has passed the Investigatory Powers Bill. This, according to the Guardian, “legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US”.

In truth, it merely legalizes what the government has been doing for years anyway – just consider what Ed Snowden revealed about the USA (via the NSA)n and the UK (via GCHQ) and their nasty snooping.  Indeed, Snowden said in Laura Poitras’ documentary film Citizenfour that GCHQ were spying illegally far more than the villainous NSA!  (I advise everyone to see Citizenfour – it’s widely available on bittorrent, check the Pirate Bay Proxy List for available downloads).

The Guardian rightly describes this new law-in-waiting “extreme surveillance”.  Also noted that it passed “with barely a whimper” – which is, of course, due to the atmosphere of heightened tension over “terrorist plots” that has hung over us for 15 years, since the Twin Towers atrocity.

We all need to use encryption and to anonymize as much as possible.  But as the companies that carry the bulk of internet traffic are in either UK or USA, it doesn’t look good. But try to get into encryption anyway – for everything – it’s the technical equivalent of putting your email in an envelope.  Would you be comfortable writing all your correspondence on the back of postcards, knowing that just anyone can read it?

 

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Apple vs the FBI: Go on, Apple!

February 18, 2016

At the FBI’s urging, a federal magistrate has ordered Apple to create a program that will allow the FBI to get into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.  They claim this a one-off thing; they just want to gain access to the shooter’s phone.  On the radio I heard a federal justice spokesman explain it like this:  “If the FBI had a warrant to enter and search a house, but the house had a combination lock that would permanently lock the door if the wrong combination was entered a few times, the FBI would knock the door in using a tank.  All we want is for Apple to supply us with the tank.”

But that is nonsense.  If the locked-door scenario happened, the FBI would bring their own tank to knock the door in.  They wouldn’t ask a lock manufacturer to build the tank for them.

The US government have wanted a back-door into Apple’s iPhones for a while now. This has especially been the case since September 2014, when Apple introduced new encryption into its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock them for investigators. This was a departure from the past, when investigators could get access to a device if they sent it to Apple headquarters with a search warrant.

The US authorities are painting this as strictly an anti-terrorism move, and that it would apply only to the iPhone in question.  But that is plain wrong.  Ever since the Ed Snowden revelations, FBI director James Comey has been trying to figure out a way around the software as he and Apple’s Tim Cook have traded barbs publicly and privately.  And now he and his colleagues are using thie San Bernadino murders as a way to create case law that could force tech companies to provide back doors into their products.  The FBI claim they want Apple to create a master key just for the one iPhone; but once the precedence had been set, the authorities would use the Apple master key whenever they felt like it, and would be on sure ground to insist other Silicon Valley companies do the same.

Security professionals have pointed out that back doors are not the way to carry out investigations: see here and here for just a couple of examples.  The tragic San Bernadino shootings are, I’m sorry to say, just a way for the US authorities to get the back doors they want on faulty reasoning.  I’m happy Apple have contested this court order.  I don’t like Apple products or their propriety approach, but I’m at one with them that individual freedom is paramount.  After all, isn’t individual freedom what we are trying to defend from people like ISIS?

In addition to that: criminals might get hold of back door tools and use them to steal identities, bank details etc; and oppressive foreign governments might use them to persecute pro-democracy activists.  The authorities will obviously claim that no one will be able to access these master keys.  But the US government, among others, have suffered theft of data frequently; and foreign governments have spies, whose job is to steal secret tools and information.

To go back to the locked door and tank scenario: in this case the US authorities should bring their own tank – the NSA.  Or do they really expect us to believe that the NSA couldn’t crack this one phone?

Apple-Logo

Apple: doing the right thing


Blowing Whistles

February 18, 2016

If you’re at all interested in the case of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden, you may be interested in watching the excellent documentary film Citizen 4.  You can download it from here.  Well worth checking out.

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Ed Snowden.  Image from Wikimedia.


Snowden Q & A

June 28, 2013

Sorry, I didn’t spot this when it first came online. Other stuff going on… Anyway, here it is now: Guardian readers asking the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden all about PRISM, the other secret documents he leaked, and of course why did he blow the whistle? The USA and its buddies are now claiming he gave juicy secrets to China and Russia, why else would he have been allowed to travel to Hong Kong and Moscow? Just shit-throwing, but when they throw enough shit at you some will stick and you’ll smell pretty bad. Snowden will likely be considered a hero in the future. But the heroes of history are often reviled in their own time. I just hope the USA doesn’t get hold of him; if they do, he’s a dead man. Killed for telling us that our own governments spy on us just cos they can.

We gotta stop acting like the dumb jackasses our governments treat us like. In the words of RATM we gotta take the power back! Cos it’s our power, not theirs; they have it right now cos we lent it to them. Some of us thought they could be trusted; some of us have acted like idiots. But that doesn’t mean we are idiots, and we should be real pissed off what’s been going on. FFS, what more will it take before we see this set-up as the house of cards it really is and kick the foundations out from under it?

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Privacy really is (nearly) dead

June 16, 2013

Should government agencies be able to track your email traffic, internet browsing, physical location, when you have a crap? Pretty redundant question really. As Bruce Schneier has written, the Prism programme, run by the NSA, has been going on for some time… we only know about it because the unbelievably brave whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed it to carefully chosen journalists, who have blown the lid on the gig. The NSA have been collecting info on whoever they choose – American, British, whoever – for quite some time, with no judicial oversight at all. That means, the NSA has been spying on the entire world, without even having to get a warrant!

I don’t think there’s much we can do about this. Extraordinary rendition, third-party torture, secret prisons run by the CIA all over the world: this is the status quo. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s pretty much impossible to cram the bastard back in. All we can do is look to our own privacy and that of our friends, as well as we can (and remember: the NSA has been constructing a massive data storing/trawling centre in Utah; so they can collect as much as they like without worrying about storage capacity – they could conceivably spy on all of us, every person with a phone line or other internet connection, anytime, anywhere.

The other thing we can do is support whistle blowers like Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange… and all the others out there. As Schneier says in his article on the matter (and I really do urge you to follow his blog
):

The U.S. government is on a secrecy binge. It overclassifies more information than ever. And we learn, again and again, that our government regularly classifies things not because they need to be secret, but because their release would be embarrassing.

Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal — or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law — but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.

We need whistle-blowers.

Leaking information without getting caught is difficult. It’s almost impossible to maintain privacy in the Internet Age. The WikiLeaks platform seems to have been secure — Bradley Manning was caught not because of a technological flaw, but because someone he trusted betrayed him — but the U.S. government seems to have successfully destroyed it as a platform. None of the spin-offs have risen to become viable yet. The New Yorker recently unveiled its Strongbox platform for leaking material, which is still new but looks good. This link contains the best advice on how to leak information to the press via phone, email, or the post office. The National Whistleblowers Center has a page on national-security whistle-blowers and their rights.

Leaking information is also very dangerous. The Obama Administration has embarked on a war on whistle-blowers, pursuing them — both legally and through intimidation — further than any previous administration has done. Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, and William Binney have all been persecuted for exposing technical details of our surveillance state. Bradley Manning has been treated cruelly and inhumanly — and possibly tortured — for his more-indiscriminate leaking of State Department secrets.

The Obama Administration’s actions against the Associated Press, its persecution of Julian Assange, and its unprecedented prosecution of Manning on charges of “aiding the enemy” demonstrate how far it’s willing to go to intimidate whistle-blowers — as well as the journalists who talk to them.

But whistle-blowing is vital, even more broadly than in government spying. It’s necessary for good government, and to protect us from abuse of power.

We need details on the full extent of the FBI’s spying capabilities. We don’t know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don’t know its plans for future data collection. We don’t know what scandals and illegal actions — either past or present — are currently being covered up.

We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don’t know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don’t know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don’t know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.

And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don’t know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis — and how long they store it. We don’t know what sort of database profiling they do, how extensive their CCTV and surveillance-drone analysis is, how much they perform behavioral analysis, or how extensively they trace friends of people on their watch lists.

We don’t know how big the U.S. surveillance apparatus is today, either in terms of money and people or in terms of how many people are monitored or how much data is collected. Modern technology makes it possible to monitor vastly more people — yesterday’s NSA revelations demonstrate that they could easily surveil everyone — than could ever be done manually.

Whistle-blowing is the moral response to immoral activity by those in power. What’s important here are government programs and methods, not data about individuals. I understand I am asking for people to engage in illegal and dangerous behavior. Do it carefully and do it safely, but — and I am talking directly to you, person working on one of these secret and probably illegal programs — do it.

If you see something, say something. There are many people in the U.S. that will appreciate and admire you.

For the rest of us, we can help by protesting this war on whistle-blowers. We need to force our politicians not to punish them — to investigate the abuses and not the messengers — and to ensure that those unjustly persecuted can obtain redress.

It must be really scary, blowing the whistle when you see things going on that just shouldn’t be happening. But we have to blow the whistle nevertheless. Otherwise, governments and their corporate buddies will just become more and more untouchable. They will be able to do what they want to whoever they want whenever, wherever and however they want. Is that the world you want to live in?

That very nearly is the world we’re living in. Only the glare of publicity can stop our world evolving into a massive police state. Do you want that?

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