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]

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.

If The Cloud is the future, we need more than one future

There is a good article on TechRaptor about alleged Chinese intrusions into iCloud.

Greatfire.org, a website dedicated to monitoring and combating online censorship in China, has provided technical evidence to substantiate these allegations. Apple was already facing some heat after pulling anti-censorship apps from it’s iStore and also it’s recent decision to move iCloud storage of Chinese user data to centers within mainland china.

And just in case you think China is the only Bad Guys we need to worry about…

Of course, no one should pretend that this kind of spying only goes on in repressive countries like China. In comparison to the NSA use of ‘fiber-optic splitters’ to copy and filter data directly from the telecommunications backbone, a MITM attack seems rather quaint. Furthermore, it was reported earlier this year that the NSA had capitalized on the Heartbleed bug to steal passwords and other sensitive information.

Big Brother has many guises.

An indication two big tech companies might be on the right track?

Apple and Google recently stated that they intend to encrypt-by-default in future mobile phones, and the FBI does not like it one bit. Interesting.

But then again, I asked a highly skilled technical chum of mine about this a few days ago:

What is your technical take on this? Is this a welcome development or bullshit?

And his reply was:

Somewhere between. Trust in closed-source product is hard to build.

Still… the fact the FBI is bleating is heartening. But it is true that we need to keep in mind that these are indeed closed-source products, thus we really do only have Apple and Google’s word for it that they will be as secure as they say they will be.

Anyone else get the ‘wry smile’ response from this?

I found this interesting:

Apple Inc has begun storing personal data for some Chinese users on servers provided by China Telecom, marking the first time that the company has stored user data on mainland Chinese soil. Apple attributed the move to an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its service. It also represents a departure from the policies of some technology companies, notably Google Inc, which has long refused to build data centres in China due to censorship and privacy concerns.

Now I can certainly see why making it easy for the ghastly Chinese authorities to spy on people would be undesirable, but I wonder… where to locate the data centres then? Presumably not in the USA or UK if state access to people’s data is the big problem right, right? ;-)

Samizdata quote of the day

If you read the catalogue of spy tools and digital weaponry provided to us by Edward Snowden, you’ll see that firmware on your device is the NSA’s best friend. Your biggest mistake might be to assume that the NSA is the only institution abusing this position of trust – in fact, it’s reasonable to assume that all firmware is a cesspool of insecurity courtesy of incompetence of the worst degree from manufacturers, and competence of the highest degree from a very wide range of such agencies

Mark Shuttleworth

Excellent interview with Snowden

For any who have not seen it already, there is a very good interview with Edward Snowden on the Guardian website.

Samizdata quote of the day

My understanding is there was an argument inside government between the two halves of the coalition and that argument has gone on for three months. So what the coalition cannot decide in three months this House has to decide in one day. This seems to me entirely improper because of the role of Parliament – we have three roles:

One is to scrutinise legislation, one is to prevent unintended consequences, and one is to defend the freedom and liberty of our constituents.

This undermines all three and we should oppose this motion.

David Davis MP

…he is the one the Stupid Party rejected for Cameron.

Samizdata quote of the day

Suddenly we’re told there’s a brand new bill that looks like it was written by the National Security Agency that has to be passed in the same manner that a surveillance bill in the United States was passed in 2007, and it has to happen now. And we don’t have time to debate it, despite the fact that this was not a priority, this was not an issue that needed to be discussed at all, for an entire year. It defies belief.

Edward Snowden

An imaginary emergency

As the rest of the world becomes more skeptical about mass surveillance, there is one country where it is seldom ever mentioned, except to babble about the need for more of it. The country that the romantic conservative Daniel Hannan says “invented freedom“: Britain.

The latest symptom of the “polite and commercial people” of Britain’s complacent unconcern with freedom and privacy is emergency legislation to be passed through all parliamentary stages early next week, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill or Act, as we shall have to call it almost immediately. There is little doubt this will happen. All three major parties are agreed they will drive it through.

The “emergency” is a confection. It is ostensibly because of a legal challenge to regulations under an EU directive which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice – which took place in April. So obviously it has to be dealt with by hurried legislation to be passed without scrutiny and not even adumbrated in public till Wednesday. This is the order of events:

  • 8th April – ECJ declares Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC invalid – in theory telcos and ISPs no longer required to gather certain data
  • …wait for it…
  • 7th July – Rumours surface in the press that “something will be done”
  • 9th July – The Sun in the afternoon carries a “security beat privacy” piece boosting the scheme as the only way to beat terrorists and paedophiles.
  • 10th July,  8am – Emergency cabinet meeting briefs senior ministers.
  • 10th July,  11.18am – Bill becomes available on gov.uk website (still not available via parliament), Home Secretary makes statement in parliament.
  • 11th July (Friday), 4pm – Draft regulations to be made under the Bill as soon as it is enacted made available.
  • 15th July (Tuesday) – All House of Commons Stages of the Bill (normally about 4 months).

The pretext, reinstating these regulations (which the Home Office has claimed are still subsisting in the UK anyway) is hard to accept as “vital”. Other countries manage fine without them, and they only existed at all because of some bullying by the UK of other EU states after the 7th July 2005 bombings. I covered this background in an article for City AM written on Thursday. But since then we have had a chance to read what is proposed.

Reinstating the regulations – or anchoring them against legal challenge, since they are still operating – would be simple. The new Bill need only say that parliament enacts the content of the regulations as primary Act of the UK parliament. I wouldn’t be pleased. But it would be doing what was required by the ostensible emergency. That however is not what is happening. The new Bill would broaden the regulations and the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act under which most state snooping in Britain is conducted and give the Home Secretary powers radically to expand the data required, by further regulations. It is a move in the direction of the supercharged surveillance regime set out in the Communications Data Bill, which was dropped as too controversial ante-Snowden. The clearest detailed analysis is by David Allen Green in the FT, he says:

The removals of civil liberties, and the encroachments of the state, are rarely sudden and dramatic. It is often a subtle change of legal form here, and the deft widening of legal definitions there. And before one knows it, the overall legal regime has changed to the advantage of officials and the otherwise powerful, and all we have done is nod-along as it happens.

I fear it is worse than that. Politicians and press have been so comprehensively suckered that some who would normally stand up for civil liberties are burbling about how “it offers [the] chance to bring rise of surveillance state under democratic control”. DRIP.

The Liberal Democrat politicians who have been most reliable n this topic all appear to have been bought off with a sunset clause and the ludicrous promise of “a review”, even though they have now had several years of experience of arrant avoidance of their questions by the intelligence services. DRIP

Even this cannot persuade them that the security state (sometimes called the “deep state”, though that flatters its dysfunctional smugness) is mocking them. DRIP.

Our permanent establishment in Whitehall treats ministers with condescension, and mere parliamentarians with the same contempt it reserves for ordinary citizens. But those in public life need to believe the state is their honest servant. DRIPS!