Archive | Snowden

“Snowden sped up spread of encryption by seven years”

The projected growth maturation and installation of commercially available encryption — what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago, was accelerated to now, because of the revelation of the leaks.

James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence.

The Intercept: Spy chief complains that Edward @Snowden sped up spread of encryption by 7 years »


Germany, Snowden and Russia

Last Friday German magazine Focus ran an interview with the country’s two top spies — Gerhard Schindler, of the Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND) and Hans-Georg Maaßen, of the Bundesamtes für Verfassungsschutz (BfV).

In short, they are annoyed that Edward Snowdens exposure of NSA mass surveillance puts Germany and the UK in an uncomfortable spot. They even implied that Snowden could have been acting under the influence of the Russian government.

“Leaking the secret service files is an attempt to drive a wedge between western Europe and the USA – the biggest since the Second World War,” Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz), told Focus in the double interview.

The translation above from The This has gained some attention in the media and Western military circles. So, let’s take a step back and try to look at the wider picture.

Yes, it is a problem that very little is known about mass surveillance carried out by e.g. Russia and China. But you cannot blame Snowden for this. He worked for a contractor to the NSA and leaked what he found to be unacceptable violations of civil rights. Furthermore, the NSA is an intelligence organisation in a democratic country; that should be held responsible under the rule of law. It is not a level playing field. But our western democracies are better than authoritarian and totalitarian states – and our authorities should be held accountable according to a higher standard. Especially when they spy on their own citizens.

Yes, it is a problem that Edward Snowden is stranded in Russia. But that does not make him a Russian spy or mouthpiece. The reason he is in Moscow is: 1) When he arrived there for transit, the US had revoked his passport. 2) No western democracy is willing to grant Snowden asylum. If German authorities are willing to grant him shelter and protection – he can be in Berlin pretty quickly, where a parliamentary inquiry would love to meet with him. (However, I don’t think German intelligence services are all too keen about that prospect.)

And naturally Germany and the UK are being criticized. They deserve to. German intelligence has been spying on companies, businesspeople, and political figures in Germany and allied European nations on behalf of the NSA. And they have lied about it in front of German parliamentarians. In similar ways, the British GHCQ have been acting far beyond its mandate. Both countries are close allies with the US and both countries intelligence authorities have a close cooperation with the American NSA. So, it is not the least strange that German BND has come under scrutiny. But they can blame no one but them selves.

But OK, no one can tell for sure if Snowden is a (knowing or unknowing, willing or unwilling) Russian spy. But that does not alter the fact that his revelations have huge implications for how our democratic societies are run. It is extremely important that this information has come to the public’s knowledge. To defend a free and open society, we must stick to democratic principles, rules, and legal frameworks.

The best, easiest and most decent thing would be to grant Edward Snowden asylum in Germany – and let him testify in front of relevant parliament committees. But I guess that will never happen.


• The German spies imply Snowden leaked files for Russia »
• Focus: Doppel-Interview mit Gerhard Schindler und Hans-Georg Maaßen: Kreml versucht den deutschen Bundestag zu infiltrieren – Russen treiben mit Hilfe des Whistleblowers Snowden einen Keil zwischen Westeuropa und den USA »


A European FBI? Really?

Somewhere on the Internet, someone wrote “The purpose of terrorism is to provoke the target government into curtailing civil liberties, so more people become radicalized.”

Close enough. Google “the purpose of terrorism”. The Internets is full of thought-provoking discussion about what the fuck is going on. Or at least, opinions about it.

Terrorism is a wide specter, in many ways. Now, we are waiting to find out how governments are going to react to the Brussels attacks. They will. They have to. That is what politicians do. But… how should they react?

It happens to be that national governments are catastrophically bad at sharing information with each other. At least, when it comes to information that might be a bit sensitive. They simply cannot let everyone else in on everything. They will not do that.

And the EU can do nothing. (I’m not saying that the EU should, absolutely not – but it is noteworthy that it can not. National security is strictly national competence. That’s the rule.)

So there is this bold idea floating around: A European FBI.

In other words, a federal and centralized European police. All information would belong to an EU institution in some Belgian suburb. It would have its nose in everything. Like they say in American crimis… “Oh, shit. The Feds are here.”

Newer the less, it would be a radical way to get all of the European police in line, I guess. And think about all the money they can save by having a common European police uniform.

On the one hand, it is obvious that someone must make national government’s security agencies share relevant information — about common enemies, at least.

On the other hand, who should handle this? Not the Commission itself, I hope. So, give it to Europol, they will say. And right there we also need to give Europol full operative authority in all EU member states.

Europol is the European Union’s law enforcement agency whose main goal is to help achieve a safer Europe for the benefit of all EU citizens. We do this by assisting the European Union’s Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism.
— Europols boilerplate

Europol is largely a post-macho bureaucracy, with some support for member states in need to coordinate specific work and operations. But it’s not very operative in itself. (Europol didn’t even bother to look into the possibility that the NSA hacked the SWIFT bank transaction system, mentioned in the Snowden files. Not even after being asked about it by media and in the European Parliament.)

Should we put these people in charge of running European police? I’m not even sure that Europol would like to. They lack the ambition.

Maybe something… new! And there you have it: Europolice. The only police you will ever need.

Then anything can happen. There will be disasters like a centralized procurement process for toilet paper to all European police stations. There will be a federal authority running its own investigations parallel to local law enforcement. And federal crimes must be handled in a unified way across all of the EU — how do you make that happen?

There will have to be field offices in cities all over the continent, with a partly international crew.

Europolice: Keeper of all information. Online with all national records. Connected to the mass surveillance network. Bureaucracy with operative authority. A single point for failure. Under at best vague democratic oversight.

Are you really sure about doing this?



Time for activists and Silicon Valley to join forces against government

The infotech war has begun, for real.

First we had the fight over illegal file sharing, creating a divide between Big Entertainment backed up by Big Government and a large portion of the general public. (Young people in particular.) Parallel we have had the fights between Big Telecom and activists campaigning for a free and open internet. And the struggle between Big Intelligence and civil rights / privacy advocates.

Then came Edward Snowden, providing actual proof of what our governments are up to. This created an even bigger splash, still causing ripples.

And with the San Bernardino iPhone backdoor/unlock case between the FBI and Apple the tech sector will have to choose between loyalty to its’ customers or abiding by overreaching anti-terrorism and anti-privacy legislation. That ought to be easy enough. The money is with staying loyal to customers and their right to privacy. But it’s not. Not even Silicon Valley might be able to stand up against the state monopoly on violence.

The stakes are sky high. The San Bernardino case is not just about that single case or even just about privacy. It’s about secure encryption – imperative for safe communications, online banking, medical records, confidential information, trade secrets and public affairs. Apple cannot back down on this one.

This might be what finally will unite all sorts of activists and the Valley. I rather hope so. Alone, it’s very difficult to stand up against the government (and related special interests). But if the Internet generation, net activists, civil rights defenders and tech companies stand together — we might stand a chance.

Unjust laws will stay unjust if no one stands up and fight them. Civil rights will be eroded if no one stands up to defend them. There are no limits to what governments will try to justify under the pretext of security — that, by the way, is an illusion.

The government will always try to “balance fundamental rights and security”, time and time again until there are no fundamental rights left.

Now is the time for activists (who know how to actually change politics) to team up with Silicon Valley (where the money needed to make campaigning effective is).

We can win this one — and at the same time establish a red line that governments will have to recognize.

But it will be dirty. It’s all about power and control.


Related: Apple’s FBI battle is just the beginning of a reality check for the tech sector »