Archive | July, 2014

When do you become a terrorist?

We have learned that mass surveillance and shady intelligence operations are not just about national security. The wider term “national interest” is often used and it is obvious that some practices in this area are used to curb dissent.

The NSA has engaged in surveillance of economic targets. In my country, Sweden, surveillance laws openly mention national economic interest. Intelligence organisations, counter espionage and the police often have a clearly stated objective to preserve existing structures and status quo in society.

Obviously we can expect some interesting conflicts in this field.

Wikileaks is a high profile example. Truth about what’s really going on is not popular with politicians and in the government apparatchik. So they use what resources they have to silence or to discredit the messenger.

And what will happen when governments realize that they are losing their grip on money?

It doesn’t have to be a breakdown of the traditional monetary system. (Though, it might be.) My guess is that a wider adoption of digital currencies would be enough do the trick. That would move power from the state to citizens in a way most governments cannot tolerate.

Take Cyprus as example: It wouldn’t have been possible for the Cypriot government to confiscate a large portion of citizens bank deposits if people had been using Bitcoins instead of Euros.

Or imagine what will happen if people move to adopt digital currency because it is more stable than government fiat money. This would cause serious political problems. Probably to the extent where governments won’t have it anymore.

The mere possibility that something (that politicians don’t really understand) could undermine national currencies and our centralized, controlled economies will be considered a major worry. Possibly big enough for governments to let the dogs loose. And if that happens, the digital currency community will be considered and treated like other threats to society. Like terrorists.

It will not only be individuals. From the Snowden files we have learned that governments now are labeling categories of people as terrorists, with no need for proof of any “wrongdoing” on an individual level.

Anonymity and cryptography are other concerns for government, that might be serious enough for it to pick a fight over. And tomorrow will bring other, brand new challenges to government power and authority.

We do live in interesting times.

Personally I consider decentralized systems, openness, pluralism, privacy and civil rights to be crucial for a free, democratic and tolerable society. Important enough to fight for. But I also know our enemies. So I fear that we might be in for a bumpy ride.


Some links:
Blacklisted: The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist »
Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters »
How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations »


The enemy stands at our gates

Twitter, TOR, encryption and P2P-solutions for safe communications have been important tools for democracy activism in many far away countries. And now we in Europe must realize that a free and open Internet might be of the utmost importance–for exactly the same reason–for us.

Government is getting more and more non-transparent. War on terror is eroding democracy. War on drugs is wearing down the rule of law. The close cooperation between some European countries and the NSA is undermining our civil rights.

And in some places authoritarian tendencies are now being hailed to become official policy. For example in Hungary, where prime minister Viktor Orbán recently declared that the era of liberal democracy is over. Now he points to countries like Russia, Turkey, Singapore and China as successful role models.

This is serious stuff. We didn’t stop the ruling political class from obtaining very strong and far reaching tools for mass surveillance. And now–an EU nation is actually deliberating to leave the road of democracy and civil liberties.

Actually, most tools for surveillance and censorship that are used to control people in dark places are not created exclusively for those countries. It is the default configuration for practically all our telecoms systems, placed there on request from our own police forces, our own intelligence bureaucrats and with the blessing from our own politicians.

And then, suddenly the political system changes towards authoritarian and totalitarian standards.


We urgently need to reinforce our systems for encryption, anonymity and safe communications. The enemy stands at our gates.



The coming revolution must be user friendly

I’m into privacy issues and the fight for a free and open Internet from a political background. Even though I’m not a complete technical idiot, I really don’t know what’s going on under the hood. Show me a command line, and I will freeze without a clue what to do about it.

So, I’m like most people.

At the same time, the world badly needs some tech-based change. We need to build platforms for digital currencies, as alternative to government fiat-money. We need to rise the prize for surveillance by building decentralized systems, by making encryption the default option and by developing various P2P solutions.

At present, this is far beyond the ordinary user.

Ergo: We need to make privacy orientated technology user friendly.

Last year international information activist Smári McCarthy made this very point in his keynote at FSCONS 2013. A few extracts…

“Most people don’t care about technology, they care about doing the things that are meaningful to them. They don’t want to spend all day fiddling with GnuPG’s parameters or figuring out whether their XMPP session is being transferred over SSL. They don’t want to know about IPSec or AES.”

“No. They want to be farmers, or merchants, or dentists or doctors. They want to teach our children languages and mathematics. They want to build houses or spaceships or plumbing or bridges or roads. They don’t have time to work with bad technology that we made badly because we didn’t care about them.”

“What’s worse: when companies that don’t care about those people either give them highly usable software that doesn’t respect their fundamental rights, most people will go for it because despite its failings, it at least gets the job done. If what we offer them as an alternative is not at least as good in terms of getting the job done – from the perspective of a nontechnical user, it does not matter at all how ideologically pure our offering is.”

Spot on.

I like to believe that I’m at least as smart as people in general. Still, I prefer to have some qualified guidance when diving into these things.

As a matter of fact, I had Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge to install everything on my Linux laptop. And to guide me into PGP. And Swedish Internet icon (and 5 July chairman) Oscar Swartz to get my Mac to act in a reasonably safe way. I might have managed myself. But it would have been a slow and very painful process.

But people in general don’t give a fuck. They choose user friendliness before privacy. They are happy if whatever they get from the Mediemarkt shelfs works, no matter how exposed it is to government surveillance.

To fight back, privacy oriented options and solutions supporting an free and open internet must be the best ones. They must be ordinary peoples natural and carefree choice.

This said with the greatest respect for all the fine people who are putting their time and energy into fighting Big Brother command line by command line.


Smári McCarthy at FSCONS 2013: Engineering Our Way Out of Fascism »


A dark Orwellian irony

For years, politicians have claimed that we have to “give up liberties to be safe”.

What exactly does that mean? What liberties are we expected to give up? To what extent?

A clue might be the phrase “to strike a balance between fundamental rights and security”. That is an expression often used when the EU deliberate on mass surveillance issues.

Fundamental rights are called fundamental because they are. They are essential. They mark a red line, that should never be crossed in a democracy. They exist to protect citizens from politicians and from the state.

To “give up” civil liberties or to “balance” fundamental rights is always to restrict them–changing the rules to incapacitate the people, handing more power over to Big Government.

From my point of view, to give up liberties or fundamental rights is to make people less safe.

To give up privacy, to compromise on rule of law and to limit free speech does only make society more safe if you define “society” as politicians and their functionaries. But if you think of society as the people, as citizens or as an open dynamic system–this kind of “safety” or “security” is pure newspeak.

At the same time government is getting evermore opaque.

It seems that we are caught in some sort of dark, Orwellian irony.



And now, the game will change…

Earlier this summer, The Telegraph ran a very long and extremely interesting piece by Matthew Sparkes: The coming digital anarchy »

If you didn’t read it, please do. If you did, read it again. It points out a concept that the general public knows practically nothing about, that might change society and our lives in a dramatic way: blockchain.

Already a blockchain based digital currency, Bitcoin, is making payments on the internet (and in the real world) easy, fast and cheap. We might not need banks in the future. And if you think that is a game changer, consider what will happen when governments no longer are in control of money — with no possibility to inflate it and with limited ways to confiscate it or enforce taxation.

Sparkes gives us many other examples on the use of blockhain based processes. To take just a few examples, it might be used for safe cloud services or to distribute the voters democratic mandate to more than just one political candidate. The possibilities seems to be endless.

Now, to get to my point…

Technology solutions such as blockchain will re-distribute and decentralize power in society in a spontaneous and disruptive way.

Big Government and Big Business will not be amused.

The copyright wars, the fight over mass surveillance and the forceful pushing of a square plug into a round hole during the €uro crisis… All of that will be nothing compared to what will take place when the ruling classes realize that they are losing their grip, losing their power over others and that their models for how to do things are to be obsolete.

Some of these dinosaurs will not even understand what’s going to hit them. Or that it is happening right now.

The only way for them to save status quo might be to severely restrict the free flow of information on the Internet.

On top of this we should keep in mind that the ruling classes have their own armed wing with the right to use force to uphold Order–the police.

So finally, we might actually find out what will happen when an unstoppable force meets an gigantic immovable object.



UN Human Rights Commissioner takes a stand against mass surveillance

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has released a very interesting report on the right to privacy in the digital age.

Among other things he disapprove of “collect-it-all” mass surveillance, mandatory data retention, and tech backdoors. Read more about this at EFF. »

He also urges the US not to prosecute Edward Snowden. »

Read the Human Rights Councils report on the right to privacy in the digital age here (PDF). »


Down the surveillance state rabbit hole: manipulating information

We all know that the NSA, GCHQ and others are involved in gathering information by means of mass surveillance.

Information is power and mass surveillance is a gold mine for government institutions and politicians.

Now we learn that the british NSA affiliate GCHQ is involved in manipulating information on the Internet.

It is nothing new that western intelligence organisations sometimes use aggressive methods, such as IT-attacks. But that they manipulate, influence and change information on the net is. (At least in their own countries. Even though we might have suspected it.)

This is something different than surveillance. This is deception on a Mind Control scale. This is government trying to change the way the general public perceive the world. This is the ruling classes undermining citizens possibilities to make informed choices. This is Orwellian.

Such methods simply do not belong in a democratic society.

Government officials and civil servants ought to remember that their job is to to serve the public. Politicians should remember that they are in office to represent the people. But apparently they do not.


The Intercept: Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek to Control the Internet »
The Guardian: GCHQ has tools to manipulate online information, leaked documents show »


A leaky ship

The Snowden files do not only expose serious breaches of peoples right to privacy. They also prove that information will always be leaked.

The Atlantic writes…

“The agency collected and stored intimate chats, photos, and emails belonging to innocent Americans—and secured them so poorly that reporters can now browse them at will.”

This is not unique for the NSA. It goes for intelligence organisations and law enforcement agencies all over the world.

In my fight against the Swedish NSA-associate FRA, I found myself in possession of nonsensical surveillance information about more than a hundred Swedes. This made it clear that the FRA gathers information about people who are no threat to national security whatsoever. They are not suspected of any wrongdoing at all. But still, the information is collected. And leaked.

Over and over again we hear about people in law enforcement using their databases and information from surveillance to check up on ex-girlfriends, neighbours and personal enemies. Sometimes they slip information to criminal networks. Information is power and will always be used.

Information about our air travel is frequently shared between transport industry and government authorities. I have been assured by Swedish government officials that such data, on an EU level, is used in a responsible way–by the Swedes. That might be, or not. But how is such data handled in other EU countries, with high levels of corruption and murky legal systems?

There are many other cases when data and surveillance information is being misused. The only way to tackle this problem is to reduce the amount of personal details being collected and stored.

There should be no surveillance without a reasonable suspicion of serious wrongdoing. This is not only an important principle. It is also essential to protect ordinary people from having their personal data ending up in the wrong hands.



The ACTA demon rises. Again. And again. And again…

Two years ago European Parliament killed ACTA, the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

The main reason was that ACTA promoted the concept that internet service providers (ISP:s) should police the internet to stop intellectual property infringements (i.e. illegal filesharing of music, film, games and software).

Such practice would be in conflict with the principle that ISP:s are not liable for what their customers (ordinary users) do when using their services. This principle is called “mere conduit” and is regulated in the EU E-Commerce Regulations of 2002.

In the same way the Post Office is not liable for what people send in the mail. This is a very reasonable principle.

If ISP:s where to police what is going on in their cables, they would have to inspect and scrutinize all internet traffic. (E.g. by deep packet inspections.) This would include everything we do online. Everything.

This would be a gigantic and very expensive task. And it would force ISP:s to set up extremely comprehensive terms and conditions for users.

And, of course, this would obstruct free flow of information and curb Internet freedom in an unacceptable way.

So it was a very good thing that the European Parliament killed ACTA. (After widespread public protests.)

But ACTA is not really dead. Every now and then the idea that ISP:s should police the Internet pops up. The intellectual property industry never fails to lobby for it.

The issue will be back on the agenda as the EU rewrites its package of copyright rules 2014-2019. (There might also be a revision of the EU E-Commerce Regulations.) And it seems to return in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty, TTIP.

And right now Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation wants to hold Australian ISP:s responsible for piracy.

This is an ongoing battle, maybe a never ending one. To kill ACTA was an important victory for a free and open Internet. But we must be aware that the IP industry has no intentions of giving up their lobby efforts to get various ACTA clones into legislation and international trade agreements.