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]

If you think what Snowden did was wrong, read this…

If you think what Edward Snowden did was wrong, read this article by John Lanchester.

Samizdata quote of the day

What moved Americans about Snowden was not just the scale of NSA hoovering of data – though polls indicate strong aversion – but the lying to Congress. Snowden, a Republican former soldier, was simply shocked at the clear collapse of congressional and judicial oversight. The US had lurched into aping precisely the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against (…) Yet none of this seems to turn a hair in London. While Washington has been tearing itself apart, dismissive remarks by William Hague in the Commons and Lady Warsi in the Lords could have passed muster in Andropov’s supreme soviet. Hague said merely that everything was “authorised, necessary, proportionate and targeted”. National security was not for discussion. British oversight was “probably the strongest … anywhere in the world”. This remark – contradicted by GCHQ itself – went unchallenged.

Meanwhile Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, head of the intelligence and security committee and supposed champion of citizens against state intrusion, positively grovelled towards GCHQ. He said we should all defer to “those involved in intelligence work”. He even cancelled a public hearing with the security chiefs for fear of embarrassing them.

For Labour, Yvette Cooper claimed obscurely she “long believed in stronger oversight” but she was drowned by a dad’s army of former defence and home secretaries, such as Lord Reid, Lord King and Jack Straw. All rallied to the securocrats’ banner in shrill unison. I sometimes think these people would bring back the rack, the whip and the gallows if “vital for national security”.

Simon Jenkins

The future will be Open Source… and it will probably be illegal

There is an interesting article in the Guardian titled US and UK spy agencies defeat privacy and security on the internet:

  • NSA and GCHQ unlock encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records
  • $250m-a-year US program works covertly with tech companies to insert weaknesses into products
  • Security experts say programs ‘undermine the fabric of the internet’

The second point is to me the most interesting as it suggest that open source is really the only way to fight back against this and as a result, I fully expect Open Source to eventually become illegal in the more panoptic parts of the world.

The first point however will be the driver of effective and widespread counter measures. The internet is simply too important to too many economic interests to allow the US and UK governments to have the ability to embed what will be catastrophic weaknesses in its underpinning architecture

Discuss.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I’d be seriously dubious about any “special relationship” with someone who habitually read all my emails, to be honest.”

– A quote I saw via Facebook.

How true…

From Paul Bernal

Curiouser and curiouser…

Edward Snowdon’s designated media conduit, Glenn Greenwald, has yet again played his hand with skill in a game that in theory is completely stacked against him. In response to information released by The Independent that purported come from Snowdon via him:

I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”

How very very interesting.

Read this Greenwald article for the whole story. Might GCHQ be in the process of outsmarting themselves spectacularly?

Samizdata quote of the day

The spooks are not stupid. There are two ways they can respond to this in a manner consistent with their current objectives. They can try to shut down the press — a distinct possibility within the UK, but still incredibly dangerous — or they can shut down the open internet, in order to stop the information leakage over that channel and, more ambitiously, to stop the public reading undesirable news.

I think they’re going for the latter option, although I doubt they can make it stick. Let me walk you through the early stages of what I think is going to happen.

In the UK it’s fairly obvious what the mechanism will be. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his weight behind mandatory opt-out porn filtering at an ISP level, to protect our children from a torrent of filth on the internet. (He’s turned to Chinese corporation Huawei for the tool in question.) All new domestic ISP customer accounts in the UK will be filtered by default, unless the owner opts out. There’s also the already-extant UK-wide child pornography filter operated by the Internet Watch Foundation, although its remit is limited to items that are probably illegal to possess (“probably” because that’s a determination for a court of law to make). And an existing mechanism — the Official Secrets Act — makes it an offense to possess, distribute, or publish state secrets. Traditionally newspapers were warned off certain state secrets by a process known as a Defense Advisory Notice, warning that publication would result in prosecution. It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to foresee the creation of a law allowing for items subject to a DA-Notice to be filtered out of the internet via a national-level porn filter to protect the precious eyeballs of the citizenry from secrets that might trouble their little heads.

On the other hand, the UK may not have a First Amendment but it does have a strong tradition of press freedom, and there are signs that the government has already overreached itself. We’ll know things are really going to hell in a handbasket when The Guardian moves its editorial offices to Brazil …

Charlie Stross

“Overpopulation” as an excuse, or justification, for state spying

I won’t name the guy – he was talking to me in a private setting and such things should remain private – but a friend of mine came up with this rather bizarre defence of the recent fact, as unearthed by Snowden et al, that the US and other powers engage in massive, unauthorised spying on their citizens:

Governments have always done this, so why the fuss now? Accept it and pour yourself a beer.

The world is “massively overpopulated, so with all these ghastly people infesting the planet, governments need to, and will find it easier to, spy on them.

Spying on people, even in ways we find scary, is inevitable, so relax and stop getting oxidised about it.

The second of the arguments interests me because it blends the Malthusian panic about too many humans (and begging the question of what “should be done” about them), pessimism about the inevitability of spying and other outrages, and a sort of world-wearying acceptance of big government. Quite an achievement.

Of course, it maybe that the person making this argument was just trying to be a knob and wind me up (he is familiar with my libertarian views and regards them, patronisingly, as a sort of jolly enthusiasm). But his opinions are probably quite wildely held out there among people who consider themselves to be “realists” and “sophisticated”.

Samizdata quote of the day

All suspicions which have been raised have been dispelled

- German interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, referring to reassurances that British and US intelligence agencies “had observed German laws in Germany”.

It is compulsory to recite this quote in the voice of Cecil Baldwin from Welcome to Night Vale.
Dogs are not allowed in the dog park.
People are not allowed in the dog park.
All suspicions which have been raised have been dispelled.
Do not approach the dog park.

Samizdata quote of the day

Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama.

The Economist

On whistleblowers

High-level whistleblowers know when they come forward that they’re sacrificing their national security clearance, likely their jobs, and quite possibly their freedom. Set aside for a moment what you think about the actions of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden. Imagine you have a top-level security clearance, and you discover in the course of your work evidence of illegal government activity. Even going through the proper internal channels carries risks, and aren’t likely to change much, anyway. (Thomas Drake, remember, actually went through the proper internal channels to expose government spying — he was prosecuted, anyway. He now works at an Apple store.) Would you risk your career, your lifestyle, your family’s security, and possibly your freedom to expose it? How serious would it need to be for your to consider going public? It needn’t even be something as dire as national security. I’ve seen and reported on countless law enforcement officers whose careers were cut short (or worse) when they reported wrongdoing by other cops, or more systemic problems within their police agencies.

Radley Balko.

This is an issue that is unlikely to go away regardless of which political party holds sway in major Western powers. For all the talk about “freedom of information”, “transparency” and the like, the benefits of silencing awkward people are too great. And what is particularly hypocritical about all this is that governments routinely like to lecture banks, for example, on the need for their staff to sound the alarm about would-be money launderers.

Balko has interesting ideas on how to reduce the costs to those who sound the alarm.

Total surveillance means absolute power

It has been less than 42 years since a US President ordered his minions to break in to the opposition party’s headquarters in an effort to conduct espionage directed at undermining them.

Now, thanks to the NSA, no one would need to physically break in to anything — a few calls would be sufficient.

People keep talking about the current NSA scandal as though privacy was something intended to keep your neighbors from finding out you listen to embarrassing music — an understandable desire but ultimately of no great importance. To believe that is why people need privacy is to completely misunderstand what is at stake here.

Richard Nixon really existed, and was really elected to office. The problem is not a hypothetical one.

Consider just for a moment what an unscrupulous President, like Richard Nixon, equipped with the information already available from the NSA could do to his political opponents, to reporters trying to find out the truth about his activities, to anyone he thought of as being “in the way”. Consider how much easier it would be for such a President to find his enemies given what the NSA has already built.

Total Surveillance Means Absolute Power.

The surveillance systems that have been developed by the NSA are too dangerous for us to permit to exist.

nixon-resigns

(39 years ago almost to the day.)