Archive | August, 2014

NSA: Unable, inefficient and expensive

NSA mass surveillance has not led to one single terrorist being sentenced in a court of law. Not one.

NSA did not manage to foresee the Russian annexation of Crimea. And it does not seem to give western leaders any assistance of substance when it comes to predicting Russian moves in eastern Ukraine.

NSA did not manage to predict the sudden rise of IS in Iraq and Syria.

NSA apparently had no clue when it came to the uprising in parts of the Arab world during the Arab Spring. And the agency seems to be of little help when it comes to keeping the western world in touch with developments as that spring turns into autumn and winter.

NSA do, however, manage to keep track of the telecommunications of millions and millions of ordinary people–who are not suspected for doing anything wrong or dangerous at all. And the NSA has succeeded in causing resentment among some of the US most important allies.

I feel sorry for the US taxpayers.



Security for whom?

I have spent many years fighting for liberty for people in the old communist east block. There people who spoke their mind were imprisoned. The judicial system was mastered by the political elite. And government kept control by a system of intrusive surveillance.

Obviously, that system was built to protect the ruling political class from the people.

In the end that system fell apart and people got their civil liberties and personal freedoms back.

Disturbingly, today that system is in a state of resurrection. Right here.

In my home country, Sweden, laws against hate speech are increasingly suppressing freedom of speech. Just the other day some oddball artist who makes a point of annoying almost everyone was thrown in jail, just because of his art. In lower Swedish courts there is no separation of politics and the judiciary, as co-magistrates are appointed by the political parties. With the data retention program all citizens all phone calls, text messages, e-mails, internet connections and mobile positions are being logged.

And it’s not just Sweden. In the UK government officials shows up at a newspaper to smash a computer containing incriminating information. And the US is turning into some sort of police state.

It is obvious that we–in what used to be the free world–are building a new system to protect the ruling political class from the people.

This is extremely dangerous. Especially as our politicians and bureaucrats show no sign of restraint when it comes to introducing new laws and systems that infringe our privacy and curb our civil rights.

That is why the people must protect itself from the government. Encryption and new forms of secure communications are needed to defend our right to privacy; Bitcoins can move power over our money back from politicians to ordinary people and the market; Using free and open software will make it harder for those with a hidden agenda to invade our IT environment; Supporting consumer friendly and privacy minded Internet service providers will safeguard a free flow of information.

Now is the time for ordinary people to reclaim power from the government. And we have the tools to do it.



You are not allowed to remember certain things

The conflict between copyright holders and the internet seems to be a never ending story.

And, of course… Copyright is about restricting access to information. Internet is about making information available.

The copyright war has been fought in the world of physical objects. It has been fought in the digital world.

And it’s about to be fought in your mind.

Some copyright holders now forbid memorization of information.

Read the whole story here: Licensing Boards Think Studying For A Test Is Copyright Infringement, Forbid Memorization Of Material »



Is it legal… just because they say it is?

There are some interesting similarities when it comes to mass surveillance in the US and in NSA partner countries. There is no doubt that system and judicial designs often are copied directly from the US system.

As an example, in Sweden the Government talking point is that it assumes that (the Swedish NSA partner) FRA is conducting its mass surveillance in accordance with the law.

Yeah, right. The legality of NSA as well as FRA surveillance lies with secret courts, with no effective representation of civil rights or the public interest. In the US it’s the FISA Court and in Sweden the FRA Court.

And here is the “beauty” of it all: What the secret courts says is legal is legal.

So, mass surveillance carried out is legal in a formal sense–regardless of what’s going on.

That is how Sweden has managed to cram hostile IT attacks on systems in other countries into a law that mentions nothing of the sort. If the secret court says it’s legal, it doesn’t matter what laws Parliament has set down.

This is not how things are to be carried out in a democracy. Rules should be decided in an open, democratic process. And the people must be able to hold politicians accountable.

The way mass surveillance is managed in the NSA sphere, it short-circuits democracy as well as rule of law.

This is utterly unacceptable.



Mass surveillance in the EU: What to expect

Just before the European elections, the European Parliament dug into the controversy of mass surveillance. Short of time, the EP managed to pinpoint some of the relevant issues. But the outcome was mainly in form of sweeping resolutions, expressing concern.

Now, the EP is not allowed to propose any new regulations or reforms by it self. The Parliament can ask for change. But only the European Commission may introduce any actual proposals.

At the moment, there is no new Commision, only a president. When it comes to surveillance, we don’t yet know who will be commissioner for the “interior” (police, security and border control). The surveillance issue will also be dealt with by the new commissioners for legal affairs; industry; telecoms and possibly also by a new commissioner dealing with human rights issues.

After the European Court of Justice overthrowing the EU directive on data retention, we can assume that a new and revised directive will be put forward relatively soon.

In this process the European Council (the member states) will be the third player. And there the opinions are deeply divided. Some MS would like to scrap data retention, while others like the UK and Sweden (NSA partners) are very insistent on continuing to store data on all citizens all telecommunications.

It is hard to tell about the outcome, but one possibility is that if the Parliament, the Commission and the Council cannot agree–there will be no new directive. If so, every member state will have decide for itself. (Keeping in mind that the ECJ considers warrantless blanket mass surveillance being in breach of human rights.)

Then we have the issue of NSA global mass surveillance, member states cooperating with the NSA and various national surveillance programs. In these matters member states are very clear that they consider them to be national issues, outside EU competence.

In this they are correct. And we should be thankful that surveillance as such is not an EU issue. (Centralized EU surveillance and intelligence would be a nightmare.) However, human rights are. And on that note we should expect the EP to continue fight member states over privacy issues related to surveillance policies.

There are also internal market and competition issues related to national surveillance programs. Those will be covered in the EU Data Protection Package, now being in limbo between outgoing and incoming EU institutions.

There is a sense of urgency in the EU apparatus when it comes to issues mentioned above. In the present power vacuum the EU bureaucracy will continue to prepare these matters without sufficient democratic oversight. That is cause for concern.

On a positive note, a newly elected European Parliament is always sensitive about activism, public debate and publicity.

So, the present interruption in EU policy making might actually be a window of opportunity for privacy and civil rights activists to strengthen their case.



Creating blind spots

Often, the perception of reality matters more than reality itself.

That is why PR firms, spin doctors and advertising exist.

As long as it is a matter of adding information that is relevant in some way, there is little or no harm in image building. Normally this is a good thing–even though we should be aware that just about all information is selective.

Lies and disinformation is another matter. But still informed citizens, critical readers and the net community can tackle deception.

However there is something that is much worse than lies. That is to remove or censor information. It is very difficult criticize or scrutinize what is not there.

That is why pulling Google links according to the “right to be forgotten” is so damaging. It creates blind spots. That technique can be used for all kinds of disturbing purposes. And, apparently, it is.

Wikipedia founder: EU’s Right to be Forgotten is ‘deeply immoral’ »



Secrecy or democracy?

For democracy to be a meaningful concept the people need to know what their governments are up to. If this is not the case, the process of electing politicians will be pointless and holding those elected accountable will be impossible.

Power is carried out in more and more murky ways, becoming increasingly opaque. (Ironically, this happens at the same time as our governments roll out new systems of mass surveillance of the people.)

There are the things we know. Most laws are made this way. This makes it possible to participate in an open process, to influence and to have a constructive public debate.

Then we have what we know that we do not know. But when we know what it is we don’t know – at least we can relate to it, try to find out what’s going on and demand openness.

And then there are the things that we do not know that we do not know. Things completely going on in the dark. Things that the people is not supposed to be aware of at all. The dirty little secrets of the few and powerful.

Naturally, there are some things that ought to be kept secret. At least for some time. This could concern certain ongoing diplomatic discussions, ongoing military activities and data concerning private citizens. But most things should get out in the open, as soon as possible.

Consider the US Embassy Cables, made public by Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning.

The US government–elected by the people–has one official policy and another, secret one on important issues.

This nullifies the very purpose of democratic elections. What is the point in voting, if politicians have a secret agenda that voters are not informed about? How should you know who to vote for? And how could you ever be able to evaluate and keep an elected government accountable?

And the Iraq and Afghanistan war diaries: If war is conducted in name of our countries, our values and for our tax money–why should the people not be allowed to know what’s really going on? And how can we even assume that our western military forces are doing the right thing, if relevant information is blacked out? “Trust us” is not a satisfactory answer.

Then we have the Snowden files: Government keeping secret from the people what it is doing to the people. This is a democratic faux pas, if there ever was one.

Or take negotiations on international trade agreements (ACTA, TTIP etc.) that are held behind closed doors.

When government functionaries have come to an agreement, nothing can be changed. What is stated in these agreements often have the same effects as law. And elected politicians in our parliaments can only adopt or reject these agreements in one piece. Nothing can be changed. This creates a fait accompli that short circuits the open, democratic process.

This is about democracy. For real. Governments are trying to suffocate it–and whistleblowers are trying to reanimate it.

And, trust me, there are lots of shady government policies and actions that we don’t even know that we don’t know about. At least not yet.



It just takes one…

Politicians and bureaucrats have given themselves powerful tools for mass surveillance.

It just takes one leading populist or autocratic politician for those tools to be abused.

A system depending on the sanity, honesty and rationality of one person (or a small group of people) is dangerous.