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]

China hacks Google…

Chinese government cyber division accused of hacking Google is a very self explanatory headline and I hope this vulnerability will be addressed swiftly.

But of course the NSA would never do that. They do not need to when they have FISA courts to rubber stamp any fishing expeditions they wish to carry out. No need to break in when you have a spare set of keys under the doormat any time you want to look around.

It is risen… but from the other place

The House is busy performing some very Un-American Activities this week. I have just heard HR 1147 was introduced a few days ago and is being rammed through with minimal notice to the public.

So… what, you may ask, is HR 1147? It is the shiny new version of Real ID, risen once again from the depths of hell like a B Movie demon. It would, according to Campaign For Liberty:

• Allow federal bureaucrats to include biometric identification information on the card, potentially even including fingerprints, retinal scans, or scans of veins on the back of hands, which could easily be used as a tracking device.

• Be required for all U.S. workers regardless of place of birth, making it illegal for anyone to hold a job in the United States who doesn’t obtain an ID card.

• Require all employers to purchase an “ID scanner” to verify the ID cards with the federal government. Every time any citizen applies for a job, the government would know – and you can bet its only a matter of time until “ID scans” will be required to make even routine purchases, as well.

It is the One Card To Bind Them All In Darkness. It is the card to tie the masses of legally and illegally collected government data about you together for real time access by bureaucrats and the overarmed enforcers. There is no Liberty in a Surveillance State. There is only temporary forbearance for so long as your activities are ‘within parameters’.

Call your Congressman if you are a US Citizen. Tell them that no American would vote for this measure.

I will go further and call on anyone who supports Real ID to turn in their US Citizenship because they do not deserve it or understand what it means. You do not belong to the same nation as I do and you should leave.

You might try North Korea.

Heroes and villains

Near to the end (on p. 189) of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One there is this very quotable quote, which I think captures a lot about both the success and the failure of Ayn Rand as a story teller:

That we need individual founders in all their peculiarity does not mean that we are called to worship Ayn Randian “prime movers” who claim to be independent of everybody around them. In this respect Rand was a merely half-great writer: her villains were real, but her heroes were fake.

I agree with both parts of that last pronouncement, but I am guessing that not everyone who regularly comes here would.

Also, some libertarians have asserted (for example in the comments on this earlier Thiel posting that I did here a while back) that there is now a distinct whiff of the villain about Peter Thiel himself. As he relates in Zero to One, he and his Paypal pals worked out how to use large amounts of computer data to spot crooks, and thereby to save Paypal a ton of money. Now he has made another fortune to add to his Paypal fortune, by selling this expertise to, among others, various branches of the US government, a notorious collector of large amounts of data in ways that most libertarians are not at all happy about.

Commenter “Rob”, to whom thanks, emailed me this link to a Thiel video performance. Rob recommends, as do I, looking at and listening to a particular bit of the Q+A at 1:06:00. Says Rob:

I don’t buy Thiel’s response.

I hope, although I promise nothing, to be offering a longer review of Zero to One, Real Soon Now. I am more than ever convinced that Peter Thiel is a very interesting man.

David Davis MP awarded a very honourable title by Malcolm Rifkind

Thus reports the BBC:

Conservative MP David Davis said the Intelligence and Security Committee had been “captured by the agencies they are supposed to be overseeing”. And ex-chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind acted as a “spokesman” for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ rather than a watchdog.

Sir Malcolm said the criticisms were “ludicrous” and had no basis in fact. He said Mr Davis had been “captured” by the civil liberties lobby.

If David Davis is the nice fellow that I think he is, he should send Rifkind a friendly ‘thank you’ note for making such a kind remark ;-)

Sometimes I think David Davis is the best Prime Minister we never had, the British Barry Goldwater. But instead we got that twerp David Cameron.

S-s-s-samsung’s listening to you . . .

Samsung’s latest model Smart TV is the real deal.

Users of Samsung’s Smart TV devices have raised concerns over the device’s privacy policy, which seems to suggest that they should not discuss any sensitive topics in their living room while the television is plugged in.

The warning relates to the product line’s voice recognition services, which lets users control their television with voice commands input through a microphone on the set’s remote control.

Samsung privacy policy warns: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”

Get it now before the rush; the word is that this technology soon really will be a “must-have”. Because it isn’t just Samsung or the company that provides Samsung with voice-recognition software that you need to worry about. As the Boomtown Rats put it back in ’79:

And when the place comes ablaze with a thousand dropped names
I don’t know who to call.
But I got a friend over there in the government block
And he knows the situation and he’s taking stock,
I think I’ll call him up now

This should be interesting!

I just noticed this:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has won its four-year Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over secret legal interpretations of a controversial section of the Patriot Act, including legal analysis of law enforcement and intelligence agency access to census records.

Well, well, this should be interesting.

Magic Unicorn of the Day

From Ryan Paul, in this tweet:

Instead of inventing encryption that only government can break, we should just breed a special unicorn that magically blocks terrorist acts.

Samizdata quote of the day

Politicians: The kind of people who think they can ban math

– the hilariously named “InfoSec Taylor Swift” referencing Dismal Dave Cameron.

Samizdata quote of the day

“My father used to say, ‘Eternal paranoia is the price of liberty. Vigilance is not enough’.”

Berlin Game, by Len Deighton, page 57.

The Samaritan app – supportive or intrusive?

There is an interesting article on the BBC website about a controversial new app promoted by the Samaritans, a charity who provide a helpline and other support for people suffering emotional distress or considering suicide:

Once activated, the app tracks tweets from people you follow on Twitter, and emails you if any of them sound distressed. If one of them writes “help me”, “hate myself”, or any other phrase the organisation deems troublesome, you’ll receive an email from the Samaritans nudging you to take a closer look. The tweets are already public, and you might have spotted them anyway, so the service simply highlights things you might’ve missed. Right?

Not so, according to its critics, who have been tweeting and blogging about the service since its launch last week. The app is fraught with problems, they say. It raises major privacy concerns, and is all but tailor made for trolls. Stalkers and online bullies now have a tool that tells them exactly when their targets are at a low ebb, detractors suggest. Users aren’t notified when someone begins using the app to monitor their tweets.

Via the Guardian article on the controversy, I found two posts by Adrian Short, “Unethical uses for public twitter data” and “Samaritans radar must close”. His arguments mix calls for regulation by law, with which I disagree, and acute observations about the implications for privacy and whether this app will help or harm those who talk about their emotional problems on Twitter.

What do you think?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Privacy never an absolute right” in spook, translates as “state shall be able to invade privacy if convenient, without particular reason”.

Caspar Bowden

This really does worry me

Imagine audio and video bugs get better and better. Maybe in the form of tiny physical cameras, maybe as viruses that will eventually succeed in penetrating any computer, phone or similar device, maybe as some kind of broadcast or field. There is parallel progress in the science of searching through audio-visual records. Eventually every house, every room, every human body is bugged – saturated with bugs. Of course most of the time no one is interested in you. But if ever you become interesting, they can watch you, not just now, but at any time going back years. What you were doing on any given day. Every time you sang along to your ipod, had sex, mentioned the word “government”. But “they” is not just the government; it is anyone.