Archive | November, 2014

Sanctuary for Snowden

In Sweden tomorrow Monday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will receive yet another award: The Right Livelihood Prize (a.k.a. the alternative Nobel Prize).

The outgoing (center–right) government bluntly stopped the prize ceremony from being held at the Swedish Foreign Office.

And when a Swedish green member of parliament today suggested asylum for Snowden the new (socdem–green) government went notably blank.

Considering the close ties between Swedish FRA and its US counterpart NSA, Sweden might not be the best option for Snowden anyhow. But it is interesting what a hot potato the Snowden affair is, regardless the political colour of government.

When it comes to the wider question of the future for Edward Snowden–it’s a disgrace that no western country is willing to provide a safe haven.

The reason Snowden is stuck in Russia is because the US has revoked his passport and all European liberal democracies have closed the door in his face. It’s not a free choice–but because of us and our elected political leaders.


One day, Bitcoins might save the world

Bitcoins, Blockchains and crypto currencies still are something new for most people. Bitcoins might be quicker and cheaper to use than banks and credit cards. But it will take some time before they are used in Mr Smiths everyday life.

Still, Mr Smith will be very lucky to have the Bitcoin option–some day.

The US Dollar might be strengthening for the moment. But the underlying problems with the US economy are still there. It’s not in balance. And the system as such is not a sound free, self-regulating market.

In Europe, with its common currency, it’s even worse. The ECB is kicking the can down the road, trying to stay clear from new difficulties. But the system–binding the value of money in disconnected economies to each other–is doomed. This will cause new crises until the day EU manage to centralise all economic power to Brussels and Frankfurt. And then, that centralisation will kill off the economy.

The Russian Rubel is weakening. And it’s very difficult to predict where the Chinese economy is going.

Gold might be an alternative. But it has to be traded, stored and eventually turned into some fiat currency anyhow.

Then we have Bitcoin: A virtual currency with a relatively controlled expansion of its volume. Without government interference. And, in many ways, more secure than state fiat money.

It doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario. It doesn’t have to be the obliteration of the dollar or the euro. And it’s not even about the future.

If people in Cyprus would have had their savings in Bitcoins–instead of euros in the bank–it wouldn’t have been possible for the government to partly confiscate them the last time the euro crisis hit the country. If nothing else, people should learn from this that their money are not safe in the bank and that their fiat money is not protected by the state.

When the next crisis hits a currency (and it will happen, over and over again)–Bitcoin might be the only reasonably safe and useful alternative. It might be the only feasible option for most people. It might be what saves us when politicians, bureaucrats and banksters fucks it all up, again.



The Assange case and the deceitful Swedish prosecutor

Today Stockholm’s appeal court has rejected a demand to lift the arrest warrant against Julian Assange. This leaves him in limbo in Ecuador’s London embassy.

There is much to be said about the Swedish case against Assange. (It’s very thin.) One could speculate about the risk of Sweden handing him over to the US. (There might be a risk, but that is also the case in the UK.) But let me focus on something else: The Swedish prosecutor in this case, Marianne Ny.

Ny has stubbornly refused to go to London to interview Assange. She refused to do it when it could have been done at the Swedish embassy. And she refuses to do it now, at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Ny has claimed that prosecutors don’t travel abroad to interview people. She has claimed that it is too expensive. And she has presented the rather odd argument that Assange might not want to answer her questions anyway.

Recently the UK Foreign Office said it would “welcome a request by the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to question Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy and would be happy to facilitate such a move”. Link »

And today the Swedish appeal court made a special point about the prosecutors’ failure to examine alternative avenues of investigation. Link »

One could suspect that prosecutor Ny is acting in line with the interest of those who think that the best place to have Julian Assange tucked away is in limbo at the Ecuadorian embassy.

And one thing is for sure: Prosecutor Ny is not telling the truth when she claims that Swedish prosecutors do not go abroad to interview people.

A year and a half ago–when I worked in the European Parliament–I had a Swedish prosecutor, a Swedish police inspector, two members of the Belgian Federal Police and one (rather poor) translator barge into my flat in Brussels. At 7 o’clock in the morning.

The reason was a rather mundane tax dispute between me and Swedish authorities.

They looked around in my apartment (and impounded some letters from the Swedish tax authorities to me!), then invited me to a “voluntary” interview at the Belgian Federal Police headquarters the next day (where I was refused to have a lawyer present).

This clearly demonstrates that Swedish prosecutors happily do go abroad, even for minor cases (especially when it includes visiting an exciting foreign city).

It also demonstrates that Swedish prosecutors do not care care a bit about costs. The price tag for this whole operation, with international police assistance, must have been enormous. And absolutely not proportionate, taking the amount of money in my tax case into consideration. (If they had sent me a letter, I would happily have travelled to Stockholm to meet with them.)

This is how Swedish authorities act in a rather insignificant case about taxes. It makes it even more remarkable that they refuse to move at all–when it comes to an high profile case as that of Julian Assange, with its high level political and geopolitical implications.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny should be removed from the Assange case. (Especially as Chief Prosecutor Eva Finné already dismissed the whole case back in August 2010, before Ny suddenly entered the scene to reopen it.)



When the Internet fights back

Government mass surveillance has vitalised efforts to make the Internet more secure and anonymous.

Today EFF announced “A Certificate Authority to Encrypt the Entire Web”. And Wired reports “Whatsapp Just Switched on End-to-End Encryption for Hundreds of Millions of Users”. At the same time Blockchain technology is being used not only for virtual currency, but also for projects like safe cloud computing.

Every day now, we see “the Internet” fighting back.

At the same time this will raise the stakes. Governments around the world are not amused. Many police-, intelligence- and surveillance authorities demand back doors or a ban on encryption all together.

Needless to say, the latter will not happen. In many cases such a ban would be impossible to enforce. And a large portion of private (and public) business relies on encryption to be able to conduct their business.

Some countries have tried. In a piece in The Register way back at 1999  we can read the following report from France…

“Until 1996 anyone wishing to encrypt any document had to first receive an official sanction or risk fines from F6000 to F500,000 ($1000 to $89,300) and a 2-6 month jail term. Right now, apart from a handful of exemptions, any unauthorised use of encryption software is illegal. Encryption software can be used by anyone, but only if it’s very easy to break. Many French users and businesses have complained that this is not only an infringement of privacy but makes it impossible to provide e-commerce transactions that can be trusted to be safe and secure.”

We might laugh–but the mindset of the authorities seems to be the same, even if they have to stand down in the face of reality.

In the news this week, we have the ongoing fight between Apple, Google and the FBI…

Huffington Post: FBI Director Calls On Congress To ‘Fix’ Phone Encryption By Apple, Google

Time: FBI Director Implies Action Against Apple and Google Over Encryption

Wired: The FBI Is Dead Wrong: Apple’s Encryption Is Clearly in the Public Interest

In this case, Apple and Google acts from the purest of motives: money.

They have realised that mass surveillance is bad for business, especially for overseas business. The same is true for Microsoft, Amazon, Dropbox and others.

What NSA and their international counterparts have managed to do is to (more or less) unite business and internet activists against a common enemy.

There might be reason for cautious optimism.



2015: Entire Web to be encrypted

Good news…

“Today EFF is pleased to announce Let’s Encrypt, a new certificate authority (CA) initiative that we have put together with Mozilla, Cisco, Akamai, Identrust, and researchers at the University of Michigan that aims to clear the remaining roadblocks to transition the Web from HTTP to HTTPS.”

More information at EFF: Launching in 2015 – A Certificate Authority to Encrypt the Entire Web »


A global “right to be forgotten”?

Worrying reports…

“Google has so far been removing links only from its European sites, for example in France and in the UK. However, a French court has now ruled that Google is required to remove links globally, and that local subsidiaries can be fined if the company fails to do so.”

Read more:
‘Right to be forgotten’ by Google may extend beyond Europe following court ruling »
Google’s French arm faces daily €1,000 fines over links to defamatory article »