Archive | June, 2015

There is a working currency for Greece — and everybody else

The Greek crisis is throwing the country into turmoil. Banks are closed, ATM-machines will only give people small change and coming payments of salaries and pensions are in danger.

Yet there is a working currency, available for all people in Greece. And in the rest of the world: Bitcoin.

Anyone can get a Bitcoin wallet and start accepting payments the very next minute.

Bitcoins may be volatile and there have been problems. But still, Bitcoins are more reliable than the euro for people living in European countries with shaky economies.

Using Bitcoins is also cheeper and quicker than bank transfers.


Angry frogs

So, the NSA seems to have bugged the phones of the latest three French presidents.

The French are furious. Rightfully so. This is a serious breach of protocol. It is not a way to treat allies. It might even be in conflict with the Vienna Convention.

But, frankly — it’s a bit amusing.

Two years ago, the French daily Le Monde exposed the french surveillance apparatus. It seems that the French also “collects it all”. And they seem to be rather generous to share this information with all French authorities who ask for it.

And today French representatives adopted a new, draconian surveillance law. The irony.

In other words: It’s totally OK with the French elite to use mass surveillance against the people. But to bug the president, that’s a big non.



Bring mass surveillance back on the EU agenda

At springtime last year the European Parliament was conducting hearings om mass surveillance. In parts, it was rather thrilling and tense. The hearings ended with a resolution, where the MEP:s stated (in a rather vague way) that they are ill at ease with what is going on.

Formally, they could do nothing more — as national security does not fall under EU competence.

But informally, it was important that the peoples elected representatives tried to get to grips with what is going on.

Then came the European elections, a new parliament was elected and mass surveillance was not an issue on the agenda anymore.

It’s about time to bring some new life to this issue, on the EU level.

Even though the European Parliament cannot interfere with national security — it has the authority to make statements when it comes to human rights. (The right to privacy is considered to be a human right, according to binding european statues.)

And the European Commission (the only EU institution that can submit real proposals) is formally the “guardian of the treaties” — including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Also, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights can uphold our civil liberties, as stated in the documents above.

The problems with mass surveillance are still the same as a year ago. As a matter of fact new national laws in some EU member states have made things worse since then.

We need to figure out how to apply renewed pressure on our EU politicians when it comes to mass surveillance. And some judicial activism wouldn’t hurt either.



The Snowden spin war

The Sunday Times ran an article this weekend about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It claims that Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by Snowden – and that the MI6 is believed to have pulled out spies because of this.

The whole piece is filled with strange statements, contradictions and obvious disinformation.

Here is some recommended reading, debunking the anti-Snowden spin…

Ryan J Gallagher: Questions About The Sunday Times Snowden Story »

Shami Chakrabarti in The Guardian: Let me be clear – Edward Snowden is a hero »

A comment from The Sunday Times » — (And a slightly longer version »)

Update: The InterceptThe Sunday Times’ Snowden Story is Journalism at its Worst — and Filled with Falsehoods »

Update 2: TechdirtNews Corp. Sends DMCA Notice Over Glenn Greenwald Trashing The Sunday Times’ Ridiculous Snowden Story »

Update 3: TechdirtReporter Who Wrote Sunday Times ‘Snowden’ Propaganda Admits That He’s Just Writing What UK Gov’t Told Him »


Big Brotherism when the law is an ass

Laws are the tools politicians (and bureaucrats) use to force the people to behave in a certain way. And they have the police to enforce these laws.

In a democratic society it is essential that the laws are the same for all citizens, and applied in the same way for all. Regardless what these laws stipulate, regardless if they are “good” or “bad”. All people should have the same rights (and obligations).

This does not imply that all laws are good. There are plenty of really bad laws. Some are unfair, some are in conflict with fundamental human and civil rights, some are silly, some creates “crimes” without victims and some are plain stupid.

Most people break some laws, most of the time. There are simply too many laws for anyone to have a reasonable grasp of most of them. Some laws we break because we find them unimportant, silly or patronising. And some laws we should break, as they infringe on our fundamental rights.

Laws are always the footprint of the ruling political forces. We have all seen the Internet meme “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). The fact that something is legal is no guarantee that it is right or reasonable.

In a democratic system, the laws can even be used to undermine or nullify democracy itself. In a democratic, orderly way.

Enter: mass surveillance.

Mass surveillance gives the authorities a way to control that the people obey the laws. All the people. All the laws. All the time. Even really bad laws.

This will create a society where everyone must be looking over the shoulder. A society where you must be careful before you talk. An anxious society.

This might be a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

We need to talk about this: If we are to live in a mass surveillance society (like it or not), it must be a somewhat relaxed, liberal and tolerant society.

To put it in different words: The ruling classes need to give the people some slack. If not, pressure and tensions will build in a dangerous way – when authorities can control almost everything we do.

But politicians do not abide by any live and let live principles. And they certainly do not plan ro roll back mass surveillance.



The secret police state: More lies ahead…

So, the German Intelligence Service (BND) lied to Parliament and the democratic oversight body about its cooperation with the NSA. And the NSA has lied to the US Congress about mass surveillance. In Sweden the surveillance institution, the FRA, has lied to Parliament about (possibly illegal) IT-attacks carried out together with the British GCHQ and the NSA. And in the European Parliament hearings on mass surveillance several prominent European surveillance and intelligence bodies declined participating…

Can we trust the Intelligence Community? Seriously. It ought be under some sort of democratic control or oversight.

There is a view that our elected representatives are powerless against the intelligence organisations — simply because the latter knows too much about the former. If that is to be true, we have some serious problems. In that case democracy has been overridden.

But it doesn’t have to be that bad. It could be a matter of sheer political incompetence. (The politicians do not know what questions to ask, as they do not know what they do not know. And there is a thin line between telling lies and not telling the whole truth.)

It can also be the case that some things, politicians do not want to know.

OK, the intelligence community is supposed to keep us all safe, right? And politicians are not known for keeping that kind of secrets. Maybe it’s better not to let the peoples elected representatives in on everything? Who knows, they might be spies? Or some sort of collaborators? Or they might just fuck things up. (Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.)

Well… No.

In a democracy the power emanate from the people. The intelligence bodies are branches of government, who should defend the democratic system and carry out the tasks presented to them by our democratically elected representatives. Frankly, it’s up to the people. If we elect unreliable, psychotic maniacs — that is what our different branches of government have to work with. Sorry to say. But to countermand general elections would be nothing less than a coup d’état.

However, I’m not sure that is how the intelligence community perceive things.

This is a complete mess, isn’t it? A minefield.

My personal favourite theory is that most western intelligence organisations feel that they have more in common with each other than with their respective governments (and parliaments). Many screw-ups could be explained by this theory. And it’s not that far fetched. They know things. (At least they think they do.) They share sensitive information. They do things together. And sometimes shit happens. (To get a grip of this theory, I would recommend you to turn to John le Carrés all too realistic novel A most wanted man. And it’s very possible that reality outmatches fiction.)

So? I guess we need our intelligence services. Even if they sometimes get out of control and do stupid, silly or outright dangerous stuff. The only way I can think of to handle this is to elect better politicians. That, however, is not as easy as it sounds.

Until then: More lies ahead…