A vast amount of data at US-based intelligence and research organisation, Stratfor, has been stolen by the group styling itself “Anonymous”. As reported today, WikiLeaks has, or is in the process of, publishing millions of emails written by persons at that organisation over a 7-year period.
And Stratfor’s CEO, George Friedman, has resigned. Er, no he hasn’t – it was a fake story, apparently. Curiouser and curiouser.
“I like hearing when companies pay the price for lax security, but in the case of Stratfor, proving that someone’s security is weak by spilling everyone’s details is like peeing your pants to prove your parents aren’t supervising you. It might feel good and warm at first, but you ultimately end up being the loser.”
So writes a person called Michael Lee. His article focuses on Anonymous’ actions. He continues:
“Stratfor is one of the latest companies allegedly targeted by Anonymous. The breach, which began to make headlines on Christmas day in the US, resulted in the loss of 200GB worth of data and ultimately the publication of its customers’ emails, credit card numbers, and corresponding verification numbers and addresses.”
“The hackers wanted to release the credit card details because they belonged to “rich and powerful oppressors”. But even the author behind the release stated that of the 860,000, just 50,000 email accounts were from military or government domains. How many of those 50,000 were even responsible for oppressing anyone? And even if all 50,000 were, was it really worth ruining the privacy of 810,000 other likely innocent bystanders?”
Publishing the details of housands of credit card details, addresses and other important information has nothing to do with holding the rich and powerful to account. And in any event, being rich is not, in and of itself, a legitimate reason for a bunch of hackers to claim that wholesale theft of data is somehow in the “public interest”.
Now WikiLeaks, run by Julian Assange, is involved. As some regulars might know, unlike some other Samizdata contributors, I consider WikiLeaks, and those who aid and abet its publication of such private data, to be near-criminal in its recklessness. It has put journalists’ sources in jeopardy, or it least is careless about them in some cases, which is hardly grounds for celebration by anyone who takes freedom of expression seriously. This story from Africa is particularly troubling.
This item by the BBC shows how WikiLeaks does not give a damn about the damage it does so long as it can claim to be striking a blow against organisations it dislikes:
“Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told Reuters news agency. “What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organisations fighting for a just cause.”
Well it may be that the final sentence has some basis in truth, but as Assange surely knows, a lot of journalists get sources inside large organisations for their stories, be they government civil servants or company types. An investigative journalist looking into corporate or government activities could not operate without such contacts, even in a world where Freedom of Information legislation operates. And there is a real risk that serious sources will be blown and their careers ruined by indiscriminate publication of such vast amounts of information. The key word here is “indiscriminate” – there is no sign of any attempt to filter, let alone consider how some of this data could fall into the wrong hands and cause harm to innocents.
In case anyone brings up the matter, the leak of such a vast number of emails, and hacking of data about hundreds of thousands of credit card details, is hardly the same as say, the discovery of emails at the University of East Anglia that confirmed suspicions that AGW alarmists were playing fast and loose with the evidence. In that case, a Freedom of Information Act request was used to find out about the emails. In other words, a proper process was insisted upon. And I am not aware that global warming skeptics have tried to hack Al Gore’s bank account details.
And now it appears, in an update, that some pranksters are trying to claim that a person has resigned from his job when he hasn’t. This is all getting very juvenile.
February 27th, 2012 | 11 comments - (Comments are closed)
Tim Sandefur makes some good points on why surveillance cameras are not necessarily “Orwellian”, by pointing out that if it is intrusive to have a camera in a public street, why do people not complain if a police officer or some other official of the State is patrolling up and down? However, where I think the debate gets a bit tangled is that for many people, while CCTV is good at recording crimes, it records the incidents after they have taken place. It is less clear if these cameras have a deterrent effect in the same way that police patrols might do. CCTV did not, as far as I can tell, appreciably affect the pattern of the London mayhem of last August. Local authorities and other bodies may claim that CCTV really does cut crime, but I am not sure how reliable such statements really are. In the area where I live – Pimlico – there were a number of street robberies on women and the area has its share of CCTV (which is not surprising as the area is full of politicians, such as former defence ministers, in one case).
In summary, CCTV might not be as Big Brother as some fear, but the real problem is that it is only of limited use in deterring thugs.
Separately, I hardly ever read articles thinking through the implications of last August’s disgraceful looting, violence and mayhem. How easy we forget.
February 9th, 2012 | 10 comments - (Comments are closed)
Talking to a business contact of mine earlier today, the subject of the Levenson enquiry concerning the alleged hacking of persons’ phones by journalists/others came up. One thing that was mentioned was that the corruption of certain police officers, and possibly other officials with access to important data, highlights the dangers of aggregating large amounts of important data into a few places, since the temptation to abuse this for financial gain – by selling some of the juicy stuff to journalists – will be hard to resist. And that surely is another argument against centralised ID systems of the sort that groups such as No2ID have campaigned against.
Call me optimistic, but at least I hope I can say that for the moment, the case for compulsory ID cards is off the table in the UK. That does not, of course, mean that the Database State is not advancing, quite the reverse. But at least some of the more brazen examples of this are not advancing, and the public are getting a very good education in the dangers of data aggregation and the abuse of data by those who are entrusted to defend the public.
February 2nd, 2012 | 6 comments - (Comments are closed)
In a letter (scroll down) to the Independent on February 25, Glen Watson, the director of the UK Census, had the following to say
First, it is not true that EU legislation allows for census information to be shared with EU member states. No personal census information has been or will be provided to EU member states or EU institutions; only statistical tables and counts will be provided.
Second, it is not true that raw census data may be acquired by the police, intelligence agencies, immigration authorities etc under the Statistics and Registration Services Act. The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics will never volunteer personal information for any non-statistical purpose.
It is particularly lovely we were assured of that last point. However, a literal reading of Section 39 of The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 states that for data it holds, the ONS is not permitted to disclose any personal information (ie on specific individuals) to anyone.
Never ever, that is, except if such a disclosure:
(a) is required or permitted by any enactment,
(b) is required by a Community obligation,
(c) is necessary for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Board to exercise any of its functions,
(d) has already lawfully been made available to the public,
(e) is made in pursuance of an order of a court,
(f) is made for the purposes of a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings (whether or not in the UK),
(g) is made, in the interests of national security, to an Intelligence Service,
(h) is made with the consent of the person to whom it relates, or
(i) is made to an approved researcher.
It is great to have such protections, isn’t it?
There was considerable concern at the time of the census that some or all of these exceptions might apply to census data, which is why Mr Watson felt the need to make such a disclaimer.
If he was going to make such a strong claim, one would hope he was sure of it. One would expect that he or his organisation would have asked for legal advice on the matter perhaps? One wouldn’t want to mislead the public any more than one would want to disclose their data to the EU Agriculture Directorate. The readers of the Independent should not be misled, but should be told the truth, always.
Which is why the results of a recent Freedom of Information request to the ONS are quite interesting. Specifically:
The nearest that ONS came to seeking legal advice or formally discussing this matter with Treasury solicitors was while we were drafting the confidentiality undertakings that were incorporated into the Census Regulations. However there was no formal advice sought or specific discussion held about how Section 39 would cover the census, all of these meetings were un-minuted,
Yes, this is just as bad as it sounds. I for one am glad I did not fill in the form.
August 2nd, 2011 | 6 comments - (Comments are closed)
Earlier in the week I was visiting family in the old family home, the nearest railway station to which is Egham. And just outside Egham Station, I spotted this rather remarkable sign, erected (I presume) by the local council, Runnymede.
It seems that Lucinda Campbell Jackson of St Cuthbert’s School (see the verbiage top right) did a really quite witty piece of art, on the theme of CCTV surveillance. But the odd bit is Runnymede Council (see the verbiage top left) – and yes that is Runnymede of Magna Carta fame – thinking that using this bit of school art on an official sign is a good way to publicise the fact that everything you do in public in Egham is being recorded on video.
For me, what this illustrates is that all those who still oppose public video surveillance in all public places in Britain (personally I am still rather undecided) have comprehensively lost this argument, insofar as it ever was an argument in the first place. These local councillors know their business. They know that, if there was any serious public opposition to ubiquitous CCTV surveillance, it would not be in their interests to make public jokes about it. As it is, they are extremely keen to advertise their enthusiasm for CCTV surveillance with a bit of humour, knowing that many will laugh, but that very few will grumble, still less complain out loud.
I mean, if you have nothing to hide, you obviously have nothing to fear. Right? Except looking badly dressed.
The greatest passions, however, require privacy, and the good society would not deserve to be so-called if it lacked ample opportunities for seclusion and solitude. In work and in love, creativity requires time alone, to think and plan. Great, passionate works of art are not usually brought into existence by committee. The deepest friendships and loves also need time away from prying eyes to blossom; time to share intimacies not shared with others; time to build a special microcosm of private meaning within the wider, public world. A society devoid of privacy would be a society with no room for great passion, and hence not a place I would want to live. Warrantless wiretaps and extensive networks of closed-circuit television cameras have contributed to the United States and England being ranked alongside other “endemic surveillance societies” like Russia and China, according to Privacy International. But those who say, in defense of such invasive government actions, that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing to hide, reveal a profound misunderstanding of the importance of privacy. Privacy matters not because of the bad that it hides, but because of the good and the great that it nurtures.
A census – as any social scientist knows – is absolutely essential to modern government. We cannot plan social policy if we don’t know how many people there are, where they are, what they do, how long they live, etc. A non-judgmental collation of information – which is what a census is – is the bedrock of civilised society. Democracy and accountable government depend completely this kind of knowledge. If we lose it, government will be run by gossip, innuendo and Daily Mail after-dinner ‘common sense’ (as if it isn’t already, but hey)
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