We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Welcome to White Rose

Welcome to White Rose, a protest blog collective which looks at the issue of personal freedom and privacy and their erosion in the UK.

Why another blog when Samizdata.net has been increasingly drawing attention to the undermining of individual freedom and privacy? The reason is in the differing objectives. Samizdata.net is about meta-context and changing the way people view their world.

White Rose is about bringing together people from across the political spectrum to oppose invasive government, with specific focus on civil liberties. Its aim is to stimulate debate, offer practical ways to oppose and resist measures that deny personal liberty and encourage practical alternatives to problems that do not abridge individual’s freedom.

During the last year and a half I have become more aware, and more concerned with the stealthy New Labour transformation of the country that I have come to respect and admire. Many qualities of venerable British institutions have been ‘reformed’ out of recognition and, in my opinion, certainly not for the better.

Another disturbing factor is the lack of awareness by the British public of the fundamental changes that their country has been undergoing and the dire consequences these will have on their lives and personal freedom.

Some of the changes originate within the successive governments’ toxic mixture of discredited ideologies and spineless disregard for truth and reality. New Labour, however, has perfected the ‘virtual reality politics’ where facts are spinned until they fit their world-view and policies. Other tectonic changes to the fabric of British society are coming from the EU and reinforced by the government’s drive to let EU engulf the UK.

There are worthy organisations such as Privacy International, Liberty, Statewatch and others, who have been campaigning for the protection of civil liberties and fighting the good fight on a daily basis. We bow to their expertise and presence in the mainstream media and do not intend to duplicate their labours. Nevertheless, we would like to offer them a higher soapbox on which to stand in the blogosphere.

Having been an editor and contributor to Samizdata.net for some time, I have experienced first hand the scope and power of the blogosphere. By power, I mean the blogosphere’s ability to spread ideas, concepts and generate debate. In Samizdataspeak – its meme distribution potential. Recently there have been examples of bloggers reaching into the ‘real world’ but however gratifying this may be, I would not want to base my expectations of White Rose’s success on them.

The idea is to harness the interest of those individuals in the blogosphere (both bloggers and their audiences) who are concerned about erosion of civil liberties by the state. Our objective, ambitious though it may be, is to create a platform and a resource that may eventually extend its reach well beyond the blogosphere.

The motivation is to rally the Anglo part of the blogosphere to chronicle what is happening in the UK and help us make our voices heard. Again, why did we not choose to do this on Samizdata.net? Because it has a particular character and personality, with clearly stated opinions, which may not be palatable to everyone. In fact, we know they are not. However, in this battle we need people from across the political spectrum who oppose the state’s heavy handed imposition on individual freedom. Please join us here on White Rose.

Contributing bloggers can either post here exclusively or cross-post, linking back to original articles on their blogs. That means you can blog as normal and there is no the dilemma of posting either to White Rose or your own blog… you can do both. If things go well, the extra exposure from White Rose could be considerable… The objective is to extend White Rose’s contributors’ reach beyond the blogosphere into the mainstream debate.

White Rose editors are God and God moves in mysterious ways. We welcome erudite and interesting contributions but would like to avoid rants, sweeping generalisations and unfounded statements. Please help us to make a good case against the government’s attempts to strengthen its hold over the civil society.

Contact: email Gabriel Syme at gabriel at samizdata dot net or Perry at pdeh at samizdata dot net.

11 comments to Welcome to White Rose

  • T. J. Madison

    What we REALLY need is HARDENED ANONYMOUS COMMUNICATION. In particular, we need some way to run blogs and post messages without it being traced back to realspace identities. Current generation proxies and anonymizers work great until the surveilance state either brackets the proxies with sniffers or seizes them directly. What percentage of public proxies are actually honeypots?

    We need a better technological solution.

  • T.J. Madison: We need a better technological solution.

    What better way to get one than using the blogosphere to trumpet the need? How do we go about it?

  • Phil Bradley

    As someone who considers themselves a Libertarian, I disagree with significant parts of your thesis. There is a necessary and unavoidable trade-off between privacy and security. Our entire legal and enforcement system is a trade-off between these two things.

    Freedom and privacy are different things and people frequently confuse and lump them together. I value my freedom, but don’t consider my privacy that important. In fact I resent government restrictions on my right to use and where I consider it appropriate to forgo, my privacy as I see fit. Privacy has been eroded for many years primarily because people freely choose forgo it in exchange for increased security – cheques and credit cards over cash, increased security for residences and property (gated compounds are common where I live), secure online identities.

    We then get to the interesting part, which is that to a large extent freedom is determined by security. This ranges from the proverbial little old lady who is afraid to go out after dark, to the traveller who stays home because of fear of terrorism, to the person who won’t buy stuff online because he doesn’t want his credit card number stolen. So we have a very real trade-off between privacy and freedom via security. I consider perhaps the most important social development over the next ten or so years, is how we utilize new technologies with the capability to dramatically increase the strength of identity and hence improve security and increase freedom.

    In railing against identity cards you are confusing three different things. One is a card as a proof of (more-or-less) secure identity. The second is the more abstract notion of a universal secure identity itself. And the third element is forced identity.

    The simple fact is that much of the modern world would be unworkable without reasonably secure identity. An enormous number of things depend on it, from banks to healthcare systems to traffic fines. How useful would an anonymous passport or credit card be? Given that we have to have secure identities to transact in the modern world, would a universal cradle-to-grave system be more secure and effective? Its hard to avoid the answer Yes! Most countries have them, including the USA with a quasi-universal system in its SSN.

    Although everyone will concentrate on the identity cards themselves, I consider them a secondary part of the whole thing. I already carry around a bunch of identity cards – ATM card, credit card, drivers license, residence permit (I live overseas), medical card. One more is neither here nor there.

    Which brings us to the third aspect. Should it be forced? (and perhaps a wider version of the same question is – should the government being doing this at all?). This is the place where we need discussion, because as a Libertarian I find the idea of a voluntary system with mild incentives for adoption much more palatable that a forced system, and similarly if the government had a minor role, I would be much happier. There are several precedents for a private enterprise run system – domain names, commercial digital identity products from RSA, and mobile phones, which have a moderately secure digital identity and are in widespread use. However, to get such a system off the ground in the near future requires some innovative thinking by government – an unlikely eventuality. Long term, I am convinced it will happen of its accord as people understand the implications of more secure identities and voluntary adopt them.

    And then there is the whole ‘Big Brother’ fear that governments will use the data collected (unscrupolously or otherwise) to increase control and limit freedom. I worry about this probably less than others, as think while government is incompetant, corrupt, and wasteful, it is, in Western democracies, generally not venal.

    I’ve probably violated some maximum comment length here but the subject interests me. Good luck with the blog!

  • “Those who are willing to sacrifice essential freedom for security deserve neither.”
    Benjamin Franklin

    “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much…to forget it.”
    James Madison

  • I think Phil is amazingly trusting to think a western democracy is somehow special and civil servants in them would not use the vast amounts of information they are pooling to abridge liberties for political or other purposes. He is in effect trusting hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions, of civil servants and politicians to just refrain from using something that could make their jobs more secure.

    Let me take a ‘trans-Anglosphere’ view: I recall a chum of mine in the USA in 1994 watched through his window one night when a pair of New Jersey State Troopers went through his garbage and took away all the discarded letters, bills and documents they found… because he was a member of an anti-Jim Florio political group (the then NJ governor). Now fast forward a few years…imagine if the state of NJ could force all ISPs to keep copies of your e-mails for 5 years in case they are requested by the authorities… now imagine that access to that sort of information can be gained by relatively low level state employees who would not have to go to the trouble of getting a couple corrupt cops to rummage through your garbage but would just send an official looking letter to the ISP saying you are making enquiries relating to terrorism and need access to the archived e-mails (but in reality hope they can find something incriminating on a person who is a political or even personal annoyance).

    Do you seriously think ‘checks and balances’ in western democracies would stop that sort of abuse if the information gathering infrastructure is in place and the data is just there waiting to be looked at? Well… Welcome to Britain and the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, which has had several attempts to widen the number of civil servants who can get access to information about people, all the way down to lowly town councils.

    There is no freedom without privacy.

  • T. J. Madison

    >>There is no freedom without privacy.”

    Precisely. I am convinced that political efforts to protect our privacy will fail miserably. We need a technological solution. We need to place the laws of physics (preferably the laws of mathematics) between us and the State if we are to survive.

    We need the ability to communicate and BROADCAST information anonymously. The techniques used need to work even if the State understands their principles of action. The techniques need to be packaged in a user-friendly way so that any idiot can use them.

    Comments: Welcome to White Rose
    What we REALLY need is HARDENED ANONYMOUS COMMUNICATION. In particular, we need some way to run blogs and post messages without it being traced back to realspace identities. Current generation proxies and anonymizers work great until the surveilance state either brackets the proxies with sniffers or seizes them directly. What percentage of public proxies are actually honeypots?

    We need a better technological solution.

    >>What better way to get one than using the blogosphere to trumpet the need? How do we go about it?<<

    We need to get in touch with all manner of hackers, coders, and cryptographers. We need people to create several distinct applications:

    1. A secure point-to-point messaging system (mostly done already, needs to be made more idiot-friendly). It will need to be redesigned so that encrypted data can be sent without being detectable as such, since eventually non-State use of encryption will be banned.

    2. A mechanism for blogging where it is MATHEMATICALLY UNFEASABLE or PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to connect the posts to a realspace identity. Assume for this purpose that ECHELON can sniff every router on the planet — if it can’t now, it will eventually.

    This is a much, much harder problem than is seems at first glance.

    3. A sturdy mechanism for detecting State access to a computer system, so that private information therein can be deleted or rendered useless before the State gets its hands on it. We must assume that the State will be able to compromise physical security on any computer system on a relatively short time scale.

  • Phil Bradley

    Perry: I am genuinely baffled by why people get so excited about privacy. It would not concern me greatly if all my emails for the last 5 years were published or otherwise made available to anyone who wanted to read them. There are a couple (OK a few more than a couple) of late night rants, that were perhaps over-the-top, but these would cause me no more than mild embarassment. Also quite a few people would not be happy about my politics, but I don’t expect to persecuted for it and feel that publicizing my views (and others like me) will do some good in helping in a small way to undermine the (largely media/academia fabricated) Left/Lib political orthodoxy.

    I would genuinely prefer a voluntary system run by an entity with an arms-length relationship with government where access could be through some publically accountable and auditable mechanism. But we need to separate the benefits of secure identities from the risks and costs of different ways of implementing them.

    To reject secure identities because you don’t like the risks of a particular system, is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I still maintain that more secure identity systems have the potential to enormously increase our security and freedom and I for one will support their implementation in principle.

  • Phil Bradley

    “You don’t have any privacy. Get over it!” – Scott McNeally

    While Scott has a commercial motivation, as the head of Sun Microsystems to make this statement, it nonetheless contains an important truth. Technological advances and decreasing costs, combined with the uses we choose to put technology to (and the uses that governments put technology to), make ever increasing details of our lives persistent somewhere in some database/computer.

    To think you can opt out this process, is a topic suitable for alt.survivalism (incidentally, for a while one of my favourite newsgroups; it can get deliciously weird).

    One of the largest components of government IT budgets (and business for that matter) is spent on linking up all these disconnected sources of data, to get a bigger picture on each individual (customer in the business jargon). Its obviously filtered up to the powers that be, that this exercise would be a lot easier in the UK if there were a universal unique identifier for each person. Hence the identity card.

    But be clear, absent the universal identifier (card), this linking up of data will still occur, it will just be harder, take longer and cost more.

    Lets say for the sake of argument, that you help generate a ground-swell of public opinion that stops the identity card. You will stop nothing of any significance occuring in terms of the end result. All you will achieve is delays and increased costs to both government and private business.

  • zem

    There already exists a cryptographically anonymous blog publishing mechanism:

    invisiblog.com

    (disclosure: I’m its creator)

    Creating and posting to blogs is a bit fiddly at the moment, requiring some experience with PGP and Mixmaster, but we’re approaching the release of a client application for Windows and Unix that makes the process user-friendly. Later versions of the client may also include functionality for receiving anonymous email via nymservers.

  • zem

    There already exists an anonymous blog publishing mechanism:

    invisiblog.com

    It uses Mixmaster for anonymity, and PGP for authentication.

    Posting is a bit tricky at the moment, requiring some familiarity with PGP and Mixmaster, but we’re working on a client application for Windows and Unix that automates the process. Future versions of the client might also include support for receiving anonymous mail via nymservers.

    (apologies if this is a dupe; my previous attempt at posting didn’t seem to work)

  • Part of the reason the left has been successful is the the rational right and libertarians tend to value privacy more than engagement whereas the left is willing to sacrifice privacy for its own ends.

    Publically taking a position seems to be what White Rose is about. This makes sense and would demonstrate to the left a commitment. At the moment the left wins everytime a blogger or poster hides behind a none too secure alias.