Archive | October, 2014

Something might be rotten in the state of Denmark…

This week Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm Warg was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, for hacking the Danish branch of (NSA connected) IT company CSC.

The court was not united in its ruling, there were actually no solid evidence and the circumstances were identical to a Swedish case in which GSW was acquitted in high court. Regardless what he might or might not have done, this process has been rather dubious.

GSW (a.k.a. Anakata) is an high profile target for authorities–founding the Pirate Bay, hosting Wikileaks and being a menace to the ruling political class in general.

I cannot free myself from the feeling that the Danish case was just another go at it, when the establishment couldn’t get him convicted in the Swedish case. And yes, they can do that: Under EU mutual recognition of legal systems and the European Arrest Warrant double jeopardy (and possibly also habeas corpus) is being eroded.

It seems that our leaders have got themselves yet another way to silence rebels.

Some links…
Pirate Bay founder guilty in historic hacker case »
Pirate Bay Founder Convicted on Hacking Charges »
Pirate Bay founder handed 3.5 year prison sentence »



The Swedish data retention drama

Following the European Court of Justice (ECJ) verdict revoking the EU directive on data retention, the issue is developing into some sort of dark farce in Sweden.

While several other EU member states, the lawyers at the EU Council and the EU Data Protection Group have declared that this is the death of blanket data retention–the Swedish government (both the former center-right government and the new social democrat-green one) is keen to continue to store data about all citizen’s all phone calls, text messages, e-mails, net connections and mobile positions.

After the ECJ ruling the responsible Swedish government authority, Post- och Telestyrelsen (PTS) announced that it would not go after telecom companies and internet service providers who wished to end storing the data in question.

And no surprise, most of these companies did.

At the next step, the then Swedish Minister of Justice said that she believed Swedish data retention not to be in breach with European human rights–even though it is a rather direct implementation of the EU directive. This was soon echoed by the incoming social democratic government spokespersons.

So, the issue was sent to a (very small) commission headed by a former national police commissioner. To the surprise of nobody, he presented preliminary findings saying that all is fine with Swedish blanket data retention. (This despite the ECJ:s objections about the “blanket” part of it.)

Before you knew it, PTS changed its position. Totally. Now they declared that it would uphold the Swedish data retention laws and that operators and ISP:s must continue to store data on all citizen’s all telecommunications.

Some did. Others, like Tele 2 didn’t, but was ordered to and finally complied. And one, privacy orientated Bahnhof (Swedens first ISP) refused completely.

At this point Bahnhof and the 5:th of July Foundation took the whole thing to the European Commission, complaining that Sweden doesn’t follow the relevant ECJ ruling and the European Human Rights Charter (that is part of the EU treaties). But yet, there are no indications about what the Commission is going to do about it.

Bahnhof also requested access to the PTS first assessment of the issue, the one leading to no action being taken against those who don’t store this data. That request lead to PTS trying to re-classify the assessment in a way so that it will not be covered by Sweden’s generous freedom of information laws. (This was done in a rather dubious way.) That issue is now developing to a drama in it self.

And now, also Bahnhof has been ordered by PTS to resume data retention. With one difference from the order handed over to e.g. Tele 2: In the Bahnhof case the order is attached with a threat of a fine of some 550.000 euros (five million Swedish kronor).

I guess this is the way you get treated when you stand up against the government.

But Bahnhof is still defiant and its CEO Jon Karlung has promised to present a “plan B” to protect its customers privacy.

This story is to be continued.



Surveillance leads to collateral damage in all of society

We live in a surveillance state where you must be aware that everything you say or do can be used against you.

The institutor of the secret police, French Cardinal Richelieu is attributed to having said…

“Give me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough in them to hang him.”

Thats really it, isn’t it? Can you explain all your words and actions? Especially if they are taken out of context or associated with some sort of pattern haphazardly connected to bad things? Can you prove your innocence?

What does such a society do to people?

Personally I am conducting even rather mundane conversations by encrypted channels these days. Using encryption is, in itself, a good thing. But what is disturbing is that I feel that I have to do it.

Using the phone, apps on a smartphone or tablet or just surfing the Internet we all have to consider our actions in advance. (What did you google today?) And it is not just about us. With government agencies building charts and sociograms from our communications, what we do can have consequences for our friends, family and others.

German studies about data retention shows that even “passive” surveillance will have a chilling effect on human behaviour. It makes us avoid doing things and to communicate about things that are sensitive, that could be misunderstood or that are rather private.

This form of self censorship is becoming more common the more the surveillance state is rolled out. But it is very hard to estimate what effects it will have on society.

Terrorist attacks can be measured in value of damaged property and in the number of injured or killed people. (For instance you are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. You are also three times more likely to be killed by lightening than by terrorists. You are even more likely to die from falling of a chair than from terrorism.)

Even if those numbers are more or less neglectable, they are numbers. And those numbers will be used (normally out of context) by politicians as an excuse to expand mass surveillance.

Here we have a problem without an adequate solution. On the one hand you have soft values that are very difficult to measure (the effects of self censorship). On the other hand you have something rather well-defined (the number of people killed by terrorists).

I’m not an utilitarian–but if you are going to get politicians and bureaucrats to back down, you need facts and hard numbers. Sorry to say, but it’s all about beancounting.

Nevertheless, there are serious consequences from self censorship. It’s damaging to democracy. It’s toxic to culture. It’s harmful for business. It has a chilling effect on all of society.

This ought to be a given subject for a scientific dissertation.



UK: Whistleblowers to face lifetime sentences?

Here we go, again. More totalitarian gestures from the British Government.

The Guardian reports…

Government plans that mean computer users deemed to have damaged national security, human welfare, the economy or the environment will face a life sentence have been criticised by experts who warn that the new law could be used to target legitimate whistleblowers.

Politicians claim that this is all about cyberterrorism. But it is obvious that such a legal framework easily can be used against whistleblowers.

And–as usual–it’s all about how you define things.

What is “national security” anyway? It can be almost anything. “Human welfare” is a very broad description. Computer users “damaging” the economy or the environment? (Sounds more like something the Government is doing.)

And notice the word “deemed”.

Well, the definition will be made by… the Government. How convenient.

UK politicians are just about to give themselves yet another legal tool that can be used to curb opposition. This is becoming a pattern.

I cannot understand how they are thinking. OK, politicians see themselves as fair and decent people. That might go for the bureaucracy as well. But you know nothing about how things will be tomorrow. And politics is a volatile business.

To put it in simple words: Never create legal tools that you wouldn’t be prepared to trust in the hands of your worst enemy.

The Guardian: Computer users who damage national security could face jail »



So, what is Truth?

UK lawmakers prepare to increase the maximum penalty for “cyber bullying” from six months in prison to two years.

The BBC reports…

Under the act, which does not apply to Scotland, it is an offence to send another person a letter or electronic communication that contains an indecent or grossly offensive message, a threat or information which is false and known or believed by the sender to be false.

If so, shouldn’t we begin with deciding on what it is that can be considered as offensive? Or should we make that up as we go..?

And what is false information? What about satire, travesty and irony? What is true and what is false when it comes to political issues? Are there absolute truth in culture? And who is to decide?

Naturally, the proponents of these rules will point out that it’s just about cyber bullying, threats and harassment. But with the definition above–any government could use this law to curb free speech and to stifle opposition.

Don’t give the ruling political class such tools. Sooner or later they will be misused.



US Government to act against “social pollution” on the Internet?

A US federal agency (The National Science Foundation) has been granted close to a million USD of taxpayers money to study “social pollution”.

Ajit Pai in the Washington Post

The project is being developed by researchers at Indiana University, and its purported aim is to detect what they deem “social pollution” and to study what they call “social epidemics,” including how memes — ideas that spread throughout pop culture — propagate. What types of social pollution are they targeting? “Political smears,” so-called “astroturfing” and other forms of “misinformation.”

And it gets worse…

The Truthy team says this research could be used to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”

So, the US Government is trying to get on top of what’s going on in social media, such as Twitter?

If you are to act on misinformation and propaganda–you first will have to decide what the truth is. And that’s not always all that obvious.

To do that you will have to side with one party in ongoing public debate. And in this case truth is to be defined by a government agency…

That’s scary. For real.

Ajit Pai in the Washington Post: The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter »