Nov 252014


Fair enough.

The Guardian reports that (the bold is mine):

Internet companies face intense demands to monitor messages on behalf of the state for signs of terrorist intent after an official report into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby said one of his killers wrote on a website – later named as Facebook – of his desire to slaughter a soldier, without the security services knowing.

Meanwhile, we get stories like this, describing the situation five years ago – that is to say, in 2009:

Millions per month

The leaked Snowden documents also contain numerous references to payments from GCHQ to Cable & Wireless in return for access to cables and infrastructure, some of is which listed as active well after Vodafone’s takeover.


In February 2009 some £6 million was paid to Cable & Wireless, now Vodafone, and a 2010 budget references a £20.3 million expense.


A July 2009 document shows that Cable & Wireless either owned or leased 29 out of 63 cables to which GCHQ had access to via partnerships, providing almost 70% of the total data accessible to GCHQ from the cables.

So not really fair enough, after all.

We’re being told, over and over again this week it would seem, in a concerted campaign bordering on an irresponsible panic-generation strategy of public fear, that more access to our online data is needed by various bodies.  Which bodies these are, I’m really not sure.  GCHQ?  MI5?  The police?  The government itself?  Paedophile politicians?  Posh parliamentary committees?  Craven police commissioners?  Newspaper journalists with the right ideologies?

What’s more, if we’re to believe even just a small part of what Snowden has let out of the bag, I’m really not clear how those who already – perhaps rightly – have relatively legal access to our data could have any more access than they clearly already do.  And if they currently don’t, and if they actually should have more, and if it’s possible at the moment for them not to be in possession of enough, why on earth are so many of those involved in the apparent business of planting and propagating all kinds of stories – in particular about the alleged omnisciences of our governments – doing anything of the sort in the first place?

It seems their bind runs as follows.  They either:

  1. Don’t know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t admit to this because a) it would let the baddies know there are places to hide; b) more importantly, let the rest of us know that all those unaccountable billions spent on surveillance aren’t quite the value-adding bolt-ons to democracy we’d been led to believe; and c) give us the impression that our leaders are not only spinning the truth but are doing so mightily unprofessionally.
  2. Do know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t quite admit to this since when a Lee Rigby-style atrocity hits the fan, in theory they’re directly responsible – what’s more, surely ripe to be (perhaps) class-action sued  – for not having done more to stop such crimes.

In the latter case, of course, the easiest thing out there is to distract the public’s attention by piling the pain on a Facebook for not having done what the security services were supposed, from the start, to have done themselves.

But that’s really really not fair.

For it doesn’t fit together at all, does it?  If in 2009, GCHQ was paying millions a month to a fibre-optic cable company to globally access Internet-carried traffic, just imagine what it was doing in 2014!  (With or without, I might add, the relevant legislative protection – which I suppose in such gun-slinging days as ours have obviously become is neither here nor there any more.)

Consequently, how can it be acceptable that government should now cast the first stone at Facebook for not having seen what GCHQ et al are bound to have “seen” first – even if they failed, in their googlingly overwhelming stream of daily zettabytes, to properly “observe”, “understand” and “act on” the right information?

If we were being charitable, we might say: “We understand the problem.  It’s like looking for an undetected euthanasia victim in a million sad cemeteries.  How do you know where to start?  How do you know where to end?”  But the problem here is, despite their current inability to process everything as we need them to, they’re apparently asking for even more data to not be able to usefully process.  It’s clearly not enough to access all Internet traffic, past, present and (algorithmically predicted) future; it’s clearly not enough to tie IP addresses to all our devices; it’s even not enough to automatically track and comprehend our social-network profiles, instincts and behaviours – and then stop us in our tracks when our tracks are typed as leading us toward violence.  No.  They must have more, far more than that: they must have the biggest sword of all to batter every one of us over our vulnerable heads with – in the full knowledge that the real baddies will always know how to construct, at the ordinary citizen’s expense, adequate shields to defend themselves from such overkill.

I dunno.  Just seems to me that surveillance law and process, as it stands, is mainly there to be able to point the finger fairly accurately – a posteriori – at the miscreants various of evil acts multiple.

But, sadly, wearily, not before.

Not in time to reliably prevent anyhow.

Something’s manifestly broken.  I don’t know if the lack of fit is our fault as demanding consumer-society subjects – or the spooks for not going down the route of getting and keeping us onside; for, instead, perpetually playing us out of the match and any constructively wider understanding.

And in the meantime, we as a civilisation blame our corporations for not doing the state’s job properly; our states for not doing the people’s job properly; our peoples for not doing a society’s job properly; and this society for not doing anything at all.

The blame game is a merry-go-round of truly adult pleasures.

And that euthanasia victim I alluded to perhaps all our Western democracies.

Aug 112014

A few months ago I was happy to sit with a short clever summary of the essence of privacy by Cory Doctorow (this is not to say he was happy to sit with it too – just to say I found it shiny enough not to need to pursue the matter further):

This needed to be said, and I’ve never seen it said better:

You should care about privacy because privacy isn’t secrecy. I know what you do in the toilet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to close the door when you go in the stall.

Today, however, this tweet came my way:

How do we define #privacy? Is privacy the ability to control with whom information gets shared? -@JulieBrillFTC #FOCAS14

This also seems a good approach, certainly at first sight anyhow.

But yesterday, Evgeny Morozov had already worried us thus:

The privacy debate, incapacitated by misplaced pragmatism, defines privacy as individual control over information flows. This treats users as if they exist in a world free of data-hungry insurance companies, banks, advertisers or government nudgers. Can we continue feigning such innocence?

He goes on to suggest:

A robust privacy debate should ask who needs our data and why, while proposing institutional arrangements for resisting the path offered by Silicon Valley. […]


[…] The intellectual ping pong over privacy between corporate counsels and legal academics moonlighting as radicals always avoids the most basic question: why build the “private spaces” celebrated by Mr Zuckerberg if our freedom to behave there as we wish – and not as companies or states nudge us to – is so limited?

This, of course, widens the issue immensely: it can even lead us to question the fundamentals of the corporate manifestation of capitalism which dominates 21st century life.  This morning I asked the following question:

The question we should be asking ourselves of 21st century revolution (oh,all right – “disruption”, if you prefer) runs as follows: >>

<< Is there enough spare resource in the world for people to create parallel spaces – or must the dispossessed dispossess the rich? >>

<< Answering this question will determine whether the revolution (oh, all right – “disruption”) is going to be humanely manageable or not.

Whilst the Zuckerbergs of the world (oh, all right – Facebook itself …) recommend (that is to say, like!!!) us to squabble over the crumbs and dregs that fall from their privacy tables, Morozov seems to be asserting that we should be much more ambitious.

Which brings me to the point of this post, after four hundred introductory words!

When we think about privacy, why not think as we do when we think about bullying?  Why not have a multi-polar definition in much the same way?  An example.  I wrote this paragraph quite a bit ago now on the subject under discussion, and related matters:

The problem with being accused of racism is surely one of point of view.  Let us take what I would argue is an analogous act of aggression.  As far as I understand it (please correct me if I am wrong), bullying is defined in labour legislation as depending on the perception of the victim not the oppressor.  If someone simply feels they have been bullied, this is enough justification in itself for an investigation of some kind to need to be carried out – whether the alleged oppressor intended to bully or not, this does not affect the significance of the event.

I then go on to apply the concept and approach to racism – an application you can read more about by reading the post in question, if you wish.  But for the purposes of today’s post, I would apply it further to the subject of privacy.  And it leads me to propose: let not there be one definition of something which invades a privacy or someone who feels invaded.  Let, instead, that definition be a matter of point of view of those who feel the invasion.

To go back to Doctorow’s shiny conceptualisation: some of us don’t care if the door of the toilet is open; others greatly treasure their intimacy; and to others, the carelessness about such privacy is quite objectionable.  As I point out towards the end of the post on bullying:

So it is that the racist, as well as the bully I’m sure we have all experienced, manages with an incredible precision to occupy simultaneously two miserable and quite contradictory positions in society: that of victim and oppressor both.

Yet we should not allow the horrible things such people succeed in doing to provoke a similar hatred or reaction in ourselves – for just as surely as the cruelty they exhibit to others is a sign of a brutalising upbringing, so our response to their resulting brutality can only serve to define how uncivilising was ours.

There are two ways of dealing with racism and bullying: a) outright rejection and a terrible shunning or b) a generous engagement and a never-ending instinct to education.

I know which process I would prefer to be a part of.  Have you considered which one most closely resembles your own?

If the envelope of what we should be allowed to consider privacy must include the right to define how far in our own particular cases – and, what’s more, at any particular and variable time – it must be able to place and extend its boundaries, the state will have to be far more fleet-of-foot if it is not to fall into the trap of behaving like the racists and bullies who throughout our shared histories have dominated accepted opinion with bald prejudice.

For in a sense, not asking someone where they see the limits of their own privacy reaching (or only asking them once but not repeatedly) (or not asking them with the education, politeness and cautious kindness a desire to both civilise and be civilised has to encompass) is to do what racists and bullies do constantly: take a personal point of view – that of the bully or racist – and impose it unquestioningly on the emotions and intellect of another.  No permission requested; all assumptions of every right to do so placed upfront; the complete and assumed disregarding of the need for dialogue and communication with the other party.

If it’s not racist for me, it’s not racist for you either; if it’s not bullying for me, it’s not bullying for you either; and if reading your emails and your text messages, listening to your phonecalls and Skype conversations and forming an opinion of your attitudes and being from your metadata (not to mention watching and sharing your sexual activity laughingly alongside others I work with) isn’t something I’d consider an invasion of privacy for me, it’s not something you should consider an invasion of privacy for you either.

But that’s because just like racists and bullies before me, I’m now doing exactly the same with privacy.  Perhaps we need to coin a new term: how does “privacist” suit the moment?


I tell you what: if the same people who in Britain have just sanctioned the long-term retention of citizens’ Internet data used the same process, behaviours and attitudes to define bullying and racism, to defining the envelopes of what governments with such a freer hand could now do to the governed, there’d be a hue and cry like no other heard in history.

Except that

Aug 062014

There have been stories this morning on how over a billion unique user name/password combinations for over 400,000 websites have been stolen by cybercriminals.  Everyone’s being rather cagey – to date – about the issue as far as I can see: no lists of the websites (a lot of info to process, admittedly), though perhaps these would in any case be counterproductive if published.  What we can surely conclude is that the user name/password system more generally is just about broken.

Which brings me to another couple of thoughts: thoughts I shall proceed to leave you with.

Why does Facebook use https?  It’s a colander of data – there’s just about no one of importance it won’t reveal content to: from security services to advertisers to social scientists … well, it doesn’t half make you wonder if the https strategy is little more than a marketing ploy.  Make us feel we’re in safe techie-hands, even as our data is splurged and spread around to increase shareholder satisfaction.

And as Google becomes the de facto scourer of emailed child porn (no problem with the idea itself, but tremendous issues with the privacy and constitutional implications of this implementation in particular), I do wonder whether we shouldn’t forget about security altogether.  What’s next to be rolled out?  A pop-up notification which warns you when you express adulterous thoughts – or perhaps a knock at the front door if you suggest in desperation, not literally of course, you’d like to kill someone for everything they’ve done to you?

In truth, all of this can only lead to two places: firstly, the death of irony, sarcasm and – more widely – the homely habit of telling jokes, as fear of being misunderstood replaces the freedom to speak one’s mind; secondly, a progressive rewriting of the Ten Commandments of ancient times, where the crimes pursued are those which most justify a dragnet surveillance approach, and the God who oversees their application are the Google & Co (but, hey, let’s be honest here: it’s Google we mean) already mentioned.

After all, it’s faintly conceivable for those in the know that – all along – Google has been a contraction of “God + ogle” …

Jul 232014

Two bloody awful pieces of rubbish which came my way today.

Rubbish not because they themselves are rubbish.  Rubbish because they just had to be made.

The first is this brilliant website from Open Rights Group.  The video they crowdfunded is below.

It explains quite clearly the idiocy of British government Internet filter policy.

Meanwhile, from the current Kafkaesque world of UK control-freakery we find ourselves off to the US world of Original Sin 2.0.  In such a paranoid environment as the Intercept article portrays, you’re not only dangerous at the age of two but also way after death overtakes you.  And as it becomes for such terrified security professionals so easy to contemplate real-life terrorists assuming the identities of those now dead – those now dead but previously suspected of thought crime when still alive – anyone who ends up shuffling off their mortal coil in these paradigms will remain a potentially violent citizen forever.

And on his tombstone, may RIPP mean “Revolve In Pain and Perpetuity”.

The grand virtue (or disgrace, depending on your point of view) of the Intercept article is to publish the guidelines which determine whether you’re going to be on the list or not.  But since they’re so opaque, self-serving, anti-legible and – ultimately – downright inexplicable, I don’t suppose many of us will be much the wiser.  Except inasmuch as it does become jolly clear from the tenor of the reporting that few people will find it inconceivable they won’t be on the list one fine day.

Actually, I’m not sure if that last sentence means what I meant to say – it comes of reading too much 21st century bollocks.  No matter.  What I would now like to ask of the Intercept and its really cool team is whether it mightn’t petition the US government to start drawing up a list of people who aren’t potential terrorists.  That would be much easier to structure, implement and work with – and presumably wouldn’t require so much funding.  And, for sure, would allow the rest of us to forget the need to oversee the legality of what they’re doing with us.

After all, when the aforementioned concept of inescapable and automatic guilt becomes the state’s modus operandi, who needs anyone to administer the idea that we’re innocent until anything is proven?

Let’s, then, make that two things, the Intercept: first, encourage the American security sector to operate not with a list where to be a human being is, by default, to be dangerous (they’re already doing that) but, rather, to have just a simple couple of pages of those you can trust – citizens you can concentrate your time and energies upholding the Constitution for; and second, over the next couple of weeks (or months, if you prefer), publish some interesting stories about “regular” people – those ordinary souls who are deemed dangerous at two and forever risky after death; souls whose lives have been interfered with, intervened in and generally wrecked as a result of the unacceptably unreasonable inclusion on such wide-ranging lists as we have read today exist.

Jul 152014

I posted recently, unwisely I suppose, on the Facebooking of the political party I belong to – the Labour Party.  Today, I realise this has extended to the whole British body politic, state, security services and every citizen who lives on our islands.

The Guardian reports the so-called #DRIP lawmaking process thus:

Forty-nine MPs have voted against rushing the government’s emergency surveillance legislation through all its Commons stages in just one day.

A deal between the three major parties, however, secured the fast-track timetable by 436 votes to 49, despite accusations from one Labour MP that the move amounted to “democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state”.

It concludes with the following summary of the powers being rushed through:

The bill requires internet and phone companies to store the communications data generated by phone calls, email, texts and internet use for 12 months and make it accessible to police and security services.

So why do I call this a “state-run Facebook imposed on every UK Internet user”?  Mainly because once you’re a part of Facebook, the most you can do is delete your osmotic public persona – if you’re looking to remove your data from their servers, however, think twice, three times, as many times as you want: it won’t ever be clear whether it’s happened or not.

A similar issue with this #DRIP bill.  (Bill?  How naive of me.  Probably law by now … they’ve had two days, after all, bless ‘em, to get through the complexities of the process.)

In the same way as I’ve never been very clear about what happens to your Facebook data – even on deletion of your account – so I’m not clear about the implications of the conclusion of the Guardian‘s report; and it’s a fact I’m sure is not due to the reporters themselves.

How can I ensure Facebook has removed my data, likes, posts, comments and photos from every single server it owns, when I ask for us to go our separate ways?  I can’t be.

Equally, after the last twelve months of my Internet activity’s been released to the police et al, what happens next month to the first of that last twelve months’ block?  Do the police et al conscientiously remove the first half of a telling email thread from their files because it started thirteen months ago and is now out of my best-by date?  Or do they realise – for the security of the nation, its peoples and paedophile political classes (or not as the case may unjustly be alleged) – that they actually need to hang onto not only thirteen months of my Internet history but, now, as I slowly progress down the evil road they believe I am taking, fourteen, fifteen or even twenty-four long months – whilst they wait for me to make my surely criminal moves?

Really, what I’m asking, much as I’d ask in the case of a data subject’s desire to be permanently removed from Facebook’s servers, is who is possibly going to be able to oversee the correct removal of tens of millions of British citizens’ datasets on a 24/7 rolling basis, week after week, month after month, year in and year out – until the end of civilisation as we know it?  (This latter date being probably July 16th, when #DRIP will clearly be law.)

I suppose if we really cared to do it right, we could solve unemployment overnight.

In the 20th century, they talked about digging holes, burying bags of money – and then proceeding to dig them up again.

In the 21st century, they now may talk about invading privacies, hollowing out voters’ lives – and then proceeding to pay other people bags of futile dosh to ogle the multiple intimacies of the obviously guilty multifarious.

The principle’s the same, of course.  The utility, creativity and imagination required too.

Jul 052014

I wrote this some time ago:

Snowden isn’t the first person governments have refused to value sufficiently, because those who do the valuing are less brainy.

Nor will he be the last.

And so this is why it’s time we should begin to complain, demonstrate and act in the strongest terms.

Not because war is immoral.  Not because invading privacy is wrong.  Not because punishing the poor for the evidence-free consequences of the rich is an unnatural and unacceptable turning over of justice and law.

No.  Why we should begin to complain, demonstrate and act in those strongest terms I mention is because these second-rate behaviours are bloody inefficient!  Bloody inefficient – and, ultimately, dangerous for the very survival of our species.

As an empire on the planet, all of a sudden we are in retreat.

Is that really what we wanted; really what we needed; really what we expected of the century?

Meanwhile, an ultra-rich businessperson with considerable self-awareness writes this:

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

It’s well put; there’s a lot more behind the link above; and I strongly suggest that for the benefit and understanding of the rest of us, who live outside these “gated bubble worlds”, that you go ahead and read it all.

When you have, I’ll conclude my post for today.


Thinking on the analogies the ultra-rich businessperson in question uses, we feel – almost smell – the furious physicality of what’s being suggested: the French revolution; the inequality; feudal times; in particular, of course, the pitchforks themselves.

And when he says “You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising […]”, we maybe can see with a clearer perspective what’s been happening in the first case my post today mentions: that of Snowden.  When we think about revolution, we think about swords, muskets, those blessed pitchforks and puddles of scrappy bloody battle.  But what if the aforementioned miscreant of secret information – a thought leader for many, I shouldn’t be surprised – is the template for future human pitchforking activity?

Such individuals wouldn’t form a revolution out of the traditional tools of Bolshevik uprising.  After all, we already have one of the most efficient police states in history – and all this under what is really a rather shady cloak of democracy (a cloak only ever hides).  Yet, even so, even now, it still obeys certain legal minimums as we attempt – despite ourselves – to maintain a semblance of free speech.

So a third option exists, quite apart from full-blown police state or bloody uprising: being as the battleground of tyranny in Western society is not so much one of physical imposition but of intellectual and constitutional code (requiring intelligence far more than brute force or revolutionary brawn to function correctly), what if we propose instead to understand the encroaching future of “not if, but when” in terms of the potential for a broad expansion of virtual pitchforks – pitchforks which may one day serve to destroy those at the top of the hierarchies encouraging all this grossly unsustainable inequality?

Virtual pitchforks?  How so?  Snowden is arguably one of the first to show the dangers for current hierarchies.  And when I say “current hierarchies”, I include all of us who benefit as well as all of us who suffer.  Just imagine such a future: a veritable coordinated swarm of puncturing points of action on a body politic, unable to sustain itself in the light of both present misdeeds and unravelling past practice.

Thus the surveillance state we now live in.  The terrorism from without exists, that is true.  And we shouldn’t underestimate its malevolence.  But the surveillance state which aims to protect the massive majority from the minute minority is a double-edged sword if there ever was one.

Or maybe, just maybe, that’s a double-edged provoker of pitchforks, the like of which we’ve never seen before.

Jul 052014

If, that is, we don’t do something first.

But first, a photo.  A badge of courage.  A statement of principles.  A declaration even, in times such as these, of battlecry proportions.

The principles of Bevan's NHS

(This photo and its text are, I believe, taken from a Bernadette Horton posting on a Unite the Union Facebook page – if other copyright owners also exist, please contact me for attribution or any other relevant action.)

So what different kind of illness am I talking about?  I’ve already posted recently on these pages about how – in a world of Snowden-like revelations – paranoia is becoming the default setting.  I left Spain in 2003, after a year of growing and ultimately debilitating paranoia, as I thought Microsoft was intervening my computer due to my work on – especially with respect to my desire to expand the software’s reach to Croatia.  And although these thoughts were clearly an illness at work, in the light of Snowden and everything we’ve discovered recently, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I was being tracked, manipulated and objectivised as well.

Who by?  Who knows!

The illness was real enough, but the causes may not have been as random as my diagnosis – carried out under the NHS of the day – ultimately chose to conclude.

(The problem with paranoia, at the best of times, is that you never know if the people who walk behind you are following you – or “following” you …)

So fast-forward to now.  And we see, all of a sudden, a new challenge to our mental wellbeing: the EU/Google “right to be forgotten” story – pounding, as it is, on our virtual doors and castle gates.  Whilst the NSA/GCHQ/Microsoft nexus was bringing us – indeed, has finally brought to a whole society – a virtual paranoia about as real as earlier centuries’ individual manifestations of sadly dodgy mental health, so the EU – alongside, in this case, Google (all on its lonesome, as befits behemoths everywhere) – has brought us a virtual memory loss about as real as any an Alzheimer’s could physiologically impose on us.  As search engines have taken away our ability to remember stuff without their help, once in such a position they – and others, presumably – have conspired to kick away the stools we’re been so happy to sit tall on.

This is why the real challenges ahead don’t only lie in what they wish to do to the principles of a society caring societally for its most infirm members.  They also lie in what hugely untransparent and opaque structures like our security services and our largest corporations do to normalise such consequentially infirm behaviours: from the paranoia Snowden’s world generates and validates in us to the inability to remember history – and therefore our progress and its stumblings – accurately, it’s quite possible that both attitudes will, in the future, become embedded in our psyches without our even realising it; without our even having the distance to acknowledge what’s happening.

To summarise then, in a tweet I didn’t send but which did serve to spark this post:

Time to forget “right to be forgotten”: whilst NSA/GCHQ bring us virtual paranoia, EU/Google hasten virtual memory loss.
Freedom to confuse.

As the man says: the freedom to confuse.  What a gloriously democratic right that is indeed.  And how magnificently they are taking the opportunity to do so.

Jun 252014

Or maybe, more kindly, I should say that’s half the truth.

This, however, from the Telegraph this afternoon, tells the truth and nothing but (the bold is mine):

Mrs May signalled that she could resurrect plans for a snoopers’ charter – previously blocked by the Liberal Democrats – giving stronger internet surveillance powers to counter the terror threat from British jihadists in Syria.

“The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state, but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty, which is to protect the public,” she said.

And I am highlighting this phrase – in particular the bit about the half-truth/half the truth which is this “protecting the public” idea of May’s – because I recently saw an episode of a TV documentary show on CBS Reality.  It’s about the day-to-day life of US police officers, and involves them in all sorts of complex and difficult to resolve situations.  In truth, as the motto emblazoned on their car doors clearly tells us, their most basic duties are not singular, as in May’s world, but dual (again, the bold is mine): “To protect and to serve” is what it says, quite anthologically of course (after all, who hasn’t seen the term in a myriad of Hollywood movies?); and presumably what they – in their professional responsibilities and environments – attempt on a similarly daily basis to live up to and comply with.

So I mention it here, because I think it’s pretty bad that May’s world of security doesn’t appear to include the duality mentioned above.  For civil servants and their ministers to believe that their real job and responsibility is that of becoming civil protectors and (presumably) defenders, all the while leaving well behind them any obligation to see themselves as those former servants at the democratic beck and call of those who pay and/or elect them, is an almost monopolistic vision of how nations should be governed.  Never was the world of rights and responsibilities ever so primitively and incompletely sketched.  For the logical conclusion of such attitudes is that we are here only to be protected and defended in those ways that our protectors and defenders see fit.  Meanwhile, our right to engage and debate about what this all means is limited to rubber-stamping (oh, if only it were that proactive!) behaviours, underhand extra-legal activities and activities the implications of which we can only take on humongous trust.

Weird, isn’t it?  Our current crop of leading politicians believes it is right that the public be obliged to take everything on that trust – even as they themselves trust the public in very little; in fact, if we’re honest, in nothing at all.  We are all potential “jihadists” now, at least in the eyes of our security services and their political leaders.  We’re all threats to an established order which orders that everything be established via a minimum of free debate and consultation.

Yet ask yourself this final question, and tell me the answer if you can – or if you will: how is it possible that out of such a cauldron of once-democratic but now totally untrustworthy citizens so many entirely trustworthy political and business leaders can possibly have emerged?  How is possible that we, the voters, are so undeserving of another’s trust – and yet they, who we voted into power, who grew up in our communities, who rose to fame or notoriety on our approbation, are untainted by our untrustworthiness?

Doesn’t quite fit, now does it?  Eh?

And if it doesn’t quite fit, where are we at right now?

Well.  At the very least, making a sensible and reasoned call in good faith for a bit more responsive service and ministering, along with a lot less undemocratically-assumed protecting and defending.

Don’t you think?

Jun 112014

I’m a member of the Open Rights Group (the British EFF), as well as sympathising with very many of the things ORG stands for: digital transparency; freedom of expression; the right to use the Internet and the worldwide web in as untrammelled and egalitarian way as possible.  Given that this is the case, I’m probably about to commit dreadful heresy with these thoughts I’m setting down tonight on the potential for a trade-off between privacy and security.

Working as I do via the web in a number of fields, I’m a fairly competent user of these pipes as useful channels of communication – even as I’m equally clearly never going to be their all-knowing plumber.  So I’m competent to the extent that whenever a computer stops doing what it should in the extended family, it falls to me to spend half an hour on the phone to some hapless relative or other.  (There are others in my family far more knowledgeable than me, mind, but as they live quite a lot further than the most hapless ones, it’s always me who is going to get the grief.)

And as a fairly competent user, I’ve begun to observe a curious pattern.  You know all those stories recently about criminal bots being broken up by the Microsofts and FBIs of this world?  You know the ones I mean: networks of connected computers, connected quite unbeknownst to owners like you and me (or maybe, just maybe, that is you and me), rapidly and precisely being decriminalised by clever forces beyond our ken for our greater security and safety.

But exactly how does this work?  To continue with the water analogy: if your computer becomes part of one of these bots, it’s like a pipe bursting in your house.  The plumber comes along and repairs the leak; you pay once the job’s been done satisfactorily; the wall and damaged goods dry out; and life goes on as before.

Except this is where decriminalising criminal bots and repairing leaks via a plumber part savage company, as analogous situations I mean.  In the latter case, we participate in the discourse; we see the leak, call the plumber, open the front door to them; watch over the repair; and finally negotiate the price.  In the former, meanwhile, someone quite beyond us sees a burst pipe we are probably never going to properly perceive; calls up a solution without our manifest knowledge; opens the virtual door to our IT infrastructure without our permission; and puts our temporarily insecure infrastructure back on track.

That, surely, is what is happening every day of the week.  Perhaps, then, a better analogy than plumbing would be a road infrastructure: you get a pothole or a broken traffic light or permanently persistent traffic jams, your taxes are used automatically to provide short- or long-term solutions with very little direct recourse to a dialogue with the taxpayer in question.  And up to now, we’ve been quite happy with the arrangement.  The question has to be why it doesn’t seem to be pleasing us at all in relation to the Internet and the worldwide web.  Why, for example, do we accept the trade-off between privacy and security when it comes to the use and policing of our roads but not when it comes to the use of our virtual equivalents?

The first thought, of course, is that perhaps the trade-off isn’t real or worth it; doesn’t add the value which they claim to be delivering.  Dangerous roads, everyone can see the evidence.  And safety measures, policed highways, drunk-drive legislation – well, they’re all comprehensible.  Dangerous Internet and web, no one’s really ever sure of the wherefores at all.   And in fact, for the vast majority of basically competent users like ourselves (unlike our road-driving equivalents), how can we possibly know if the threats are actually sourced in our friendly technology partner, our elected representatives and their inability to conduct appropriately democratic oversight or, indeed, crime-creating transnational beasties whose visages – whether real or imagined – we’ll never get to correctly appreciate?

The second thought is that maybe we are fairly illogically – fairly irrationally – but utterly understandably furious because democracy and its treasured discourses have been completely circumvented for the last handful of decades; maybe since time immemorial even (not the subject of today’s post, mind).

So really, what I’m moving heretically towards suggesting is that whilst we have every right to be fairly illogical in the middle of a powerful anger at this precise moment, the solution (allegedly) being arrived at behind our backs – a policed and secure virtual highway, analogous to those we commute on every day of the physical world’s working week – is not a particularly unusual infrastructure; certainly not something we should find impossible to take onboard as an organisational – even societal-friendly – concept.

A final thought, then, before I finish today’s post: perhaps what really rankles in all of this is that corporations like Microsoft, private industries we’ve paid cash to in a consumer transaction with a contractual relationship which supposedly should guarantee certain mercantile givens, are getting mixed up and confused with government institutions such as crime-detection agencies.  In a sense, we’re now paying double for the plumber (or, more exactly, the road worker): once, through our apparently increasingly inefficient tax system; twice, through our office suite software, operating system licences and evermore blood-soaked hardware.

A plumber (or road worker), that is, who has the keys to our living-rooms and business environments, and who enters and leaves fairly invisibly at the flick of a switch.

So should we be grateful?  If that’s what they’re doing, and they’re doing it to recover the precious shape and form of what was once a relatively liberal offline marketplace of goods and services, maybe the answer we should offer up – even after the revelations of the past eighteen months – is a tentative “yes”.  On the other hand, as the relatively competent user I probably am (even as I’m nothing more than that), it does occur to me, as I’m sure it must occur to you, that top-heavy behaviours such as those exhibited by our leading institutions and companies can lead to considerable abuse.  The temptation to use that ability to unlock all those living-rooms and businesses in order to gain rank commercial advantage, for example, must be pretty huge.

It comes down to the old old question: who to trust?  And because faith isn’t a very 21st century instinct (how, any more, could it possibly be?), the answer to this question must depend on greater knowledge possessed by the ordinary like ourselves.  Yet I really don’t want to have to become a fully-trained mechanic in order to be able to buy a car which will work.  Why, then, should I have to become a tech-oriented bod, at ease under the hood of all these dreadfully sexy and simultaneously incomprehensible concepts – just so I, in that simple user-mode already mentioned, can feel comfortable on this often glorious and entrancing web?

I dunno.  I really don’t.  I don’t want to abandon my prior subscription to freedoms various.  But I do want to use the web’s many ways without feeling I’m always a link away from particular and painful disaster.  And if modern government in this virtual world should be able to guarantee anything these days, surely it’s not too much to expect it to guarantee our sense of security whenever we would like to read, write and communicate multifariously – or simply, flatly, necessarily … just earn a living.

Even, as often happens in these analogous ways I’ve discussed and we all understand, at the expense of some of the most intimate of privacies.

Sep 102013

So. Sweden joins the club:

[…] Raw data. Legal loopholes. Secret details. Oversight that does too little, far too late. But maybe the [Swedish] FRA can’t be blamed entirely for its transgressions. It’s not like it came up with these ideas on its own.

Last week, British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell revealed Sweden’s involvement as one of the United States’ most important partners in efforts to monitor internet communications across the globe.

“A new organization has joined the “Five Eyes” and is seen as the largest cooperating partner to [the UK’s] GCHQ outside the English-speaking countries – and that is Sweden,” Campbell told the European Parliament committee, referring to the colloquial term used to refer to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

Nowhere is safe, it would seem, from the reality that “[…] like the US, the defenders of these illegal activities are quick to point out that national security is more important than following laws or respecting citizens’ rights”.  Not even our erstwhile cuddly Scandinavian social democracies.  Perhaps especially not them.

Just to step back a moment from all of the hullabaloo.  What was the plan, do we think?

  1. Protect Western democracy from evil people.
  2. But the Lord says everyone is born with Original Sin.  Therefore, everyone is potentially evil.  Therefore, everyone needs protecting from everyone else.
  3. Trawl everything that might possibly be useful.  But hey, this ain’t dolphin-friendly land.  We’ll trawl both the relevant and the irrelevant – and who cares if some of the good guys and gals get speared in the meantime?
  4. Problem is, what to do with all the catch?  Prioritise, of course.
  5. So: a) some of the bad stuff is really really bad – and actionable; b) some of the bad stuff is irrelevant for our objective of overall law and order (thus we have the British police announcing they only investigate forty percent of crimes); and c) some of the bad stuff may be useful further down the line, only we can’t tell exactly when or how – so we’ll keep it just in case!
  6. Actually, c) is what I’m most worried about in this game plan I perceive: imagine how you could shape Western “democracies”, if you had embarrassing stuff on every single leading public actor, ready for using at any crucial moment.  You wouldn’t, then, have democracy at all, would you?  No.  You wouldn’t.

I’m beginning to wonder, however, that whilst these revelations may make many a leading politician or businessperson a mite hesitant about rocking too many of these nasty little fishing-boats, as far as the general public is concerned their effect may not only be minimal but the reverse of what most people are currently assuming.

Over the past five years or so, via Facebook and latterly Twitter, as well as through that prior generation of famously blogging enthusiasts, we’ve been brainwashed into baring our every inner thought and occurrence with a happy abandon unknown in the previous century’s history.  We’re already quite used to being tracked by advertisers everywhere.  We may complain and mutter under our breath how horrible it all is, but when upgrade time comes we don’t usually step back from investing two more years in that cracking (where not cracked) new smartphone.

So why should what the Western security services do to us make any difference?  Before the summer, we suspected (some of us, anyhow) we were all being watched.  (In fact, around the time of the Iraq War, I was once put in a hospital for asserting this was the case.)  After the summer, we know it to be true.  We know that anything and everything we do has been registered and recorded for future examination by our virtual lords and masters.  We now know what it’s like to live with the chill factor: that feeling you cannot say something because someone else might act on it.  Although since the revelations, it really doesn’t matter any more (even as before them we wondered whether encroaching offline injunctions wouldn’t get the better of social networks’ freedoms).

And this is how it’s become: they already know how we think; they probably already know how we’d act under various circumstances.  Surely in that, then, there is a tremendous sense of liberation.  Surely in that we can begin to come round to the idea that the NSA revelations may lead to more of a desire – not less – on our part to exercise our freedom to speak out.

In for a penny, in for a krona … there’s nowhere you can go to escape these disagreeable behaviours.

Stay where you are, then.  Stand firm and understand: this is how it will be from now on.  You can choose to be quiet – which is clearly your right.  Or you can choose to speak up – in the full liberty-engendering knowledge that we are now in a state of mind we once occupied so joyfully, quite before the Original Sin in question was committed.

As naked as the day we were born.  And gradually becoming as unconscious of our circumstance, as that day for certain we were.

Wonderful feeling, ain’t it?

Wonderful just doesn’t begin to describe it!

Sep 082013

Here we have a Coalition which is anything but a partner with its people.  And do you wanna know exactly how easy it is to know what the Coalition’s playing at?  This easy!  Just listen carefully to what it accuses others of doing – and then you’ll find an example of government doing the same.

When it looks to smash the indignant feelings of an oppressed poor by accusing it of scrounging off the state, it quite happily services the needs of its political sponsors in large financial corporations to scrounge their way to profitability again.

And when it looks, brazenly, to eliminate extra-parliamentary protest, it acts, brazenly, to conduct the biggest campaign of government-sponsored extra-parliamentary governance in Britain’s history.

Well, I haven’t doublechecked all of Britain’s history – but, at least, the history I’ve lived in my lifetime.

From the latter link, this is what I said just over a year ago:

It seems to me that, more and more, supposedly democratically-elected governments are getting the dirty work of less than transparent policy-making carried out on their behalf by private industry.  This is, in a sense, a strategy of de facto governance where democracy is absented from the process.  It works in the following way: in exchange for negative publicity which, in any case, legions of legal departments can generally vanish into relative thin air, private industries of transnational sizes are awarded humongous public-sector contracts.  And as this is a business-to-business relationship – thick-skinned government to hard-sold corporate – public opinion is pretty irrelevant to either party.  A perfect way of removing the need for approval from irritatingly well-informed and tech-savvy end-consumers, who were in any case beginning to make the business of corporate capitalism so very complicated and unpredictable.

Instead of selling to end-users who pick and choose, the most foresighted corporations are now choosing to focus their attentions on governments which – for various untransparent reasons – prefer to pick and stick.

The corporates get stability in long-term contracts despite the voter flak.  The governments get to blame the corporates if anything too unpleasant comes to light.

A perfect exchange of complementary interests.

Which brings me to what I ended up saying then – sadly predicting the conditions for this ugly story, which rears its ugly head via Boing Boing just this Friday.  First, Boing Boing’s report (the bold is mine):

The only way to stop Internet users from accessing “bad” websites is to spy on all their Internet traffic (you have to look at all their traffic in order to interdict the forbidden sites). So it follows that any censorship system must also ban any privacy/security tools. The UK is raising a generation of Internet users who are told that “security” requires them to make their sensitive, personal information available to anyone who is listening in on the network, because otherwise they might see sexually explicit material. Instead of teaching kids how to stay safe online, the official UK Internet safety policy requires them to be totally naked in all their online communications.

In order to achieve this goal, the following is happening:

UK mobile providers, including O2 and its reseller GiffGaff, are blocking commercial VPN providers that help to secure sensitive communications from criminals, hackers and government spies. […]

You may ask what this really has to do with government.  After all, surely O2 and GiffGaff are sovereign bodies.  Well.  In the light of my post already quoted above, I’m not absolutely sure that this is the case.  As I concluded in August 2012 (the bold is mine today):

[…] We have a recent story on how mobile phone access to the Internet is controlled extra-judicially by the private sector here (from the Open Rights Group of which I am a member) as well as a story from my own archive on how copyright owners can quite literally – and quite easily – make websites invisible to all sensible intents and purposes.

In conclusion, the case of ATOS – and the issues its behaviours and processes apparently raise – are not really attributable to the company itself.  It is, rather, the government – deliberately employing it as a shield to hide public services from a proper democratic oversight – which is mostly to blame and which should be brought to book.

And by focussing our attention on crucifying a supplier – a supplier which, admittedly, appears to have substituted the disabled as direct customer of this sorry cohort of political actors we call the Coalition – we may be ignoring the much wider reality: that in disabled services, in welfare and health, in Internet freedoms, in law and order, communications and social media more generally, allegedly democratic governments across the world are working out how to circumvent democratic controls by using private-sector firewalls.

This is a new kind of anti-democratic governance.

A de facto governance.

A governance which our cowardly leaders have cleverly put together outside the democratic process – in order that trusting voters and citizens ignore the real reasons for their despair.

I wrote that just over a year ago – I think it, and much much more, still stands.

To catch a thief, no one better than a thief of course.  In that sense, there’s an argument that an immoral government knows best how to channel an immoral populace.

Not that there aren’t other problems this raises.

Who’s to argue the populace is essentially immoral, for starters?

But far better for modern governments is simply refuse to sign on the dotted line.  If parliamentary democracy – and representative democracy elsewhere – is becoming such an impossible task for governments to work efficiently with, why not place the responsibility for policy- and law-making on the shoulders of unelected bodies such as corporations?  For the government of the day, no legal flak; no media persecution; no irritating sessions examining the fine print of so much legal to-and-fro.

Just issue a populist edict via friendly media (anti-terrorism, anti-paedophilia, anti-porn in general) – and get rid of a whole raft of measures and consequent inspection regimes from the framework that should be Parliament.

The only problem with respect to the Internet in particular, of course, is that Cameron has recently been going on about Britain being the sixth-largest economy.

And I’m really not sure how long that’s going to last when companies and their customers realise all their communications must be naked.


Further reading: this .pdf file from Open Rights Group and the LSE makes for unhappily prescient reading.  Please read it and inform yourself.  Before it’s too late.

Even as it may already be.

Sep 022013

Whilst the government called Ed Miliband “a fucking cunt” and a “copper-bottomed shit” for saying no to a repeat of Iraq, it would appear the French – who did say no to Iraq all those years ago – have known that Syria has had chemical weapons for at least thirty years:

The announcement comes after Sunday’s French paper, Journal du Dimanche, said French intelligence agents had compiled information showing that some of the weapons had been stockpiled for nearly 30 years.

And if the French have known it, surely the NSAs and GCHQs of the world have known it just as much.

Which brings us to the matter of a request by a UK company to export precursors of chemical weapons to the Syrian government last year.  Here we have the British government’s reaction, via the Lib Dem member of the Coalition, Vince Cable.  A little disingenuous to say the least:

The licences for the two chemicals were granted on 17 and 18 January last year for “use in industrial processes” after being assessed by Department for Business officials to judge if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end”, according to the letter sent by Mr Cable to the arms controls committee.

Mr Cable said: “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

No grounds for refusal – except thirty years of stockpiling, Mr Cable.


So what do we have then?  A UK Coalition government, which commits austerity violence on its own population, gaily spending our taxpayer dosh on coming to decisions to export potentially dangerous chemicals to war-torn regions – war-torn regions where their government is one of the few which hasn’t signed international treaties on not using the WMDs that can be made from such chemicals … and this UK Coalition I talk of finds itself able to congratulate itself that it has complied with the law, even as it foul-mouths the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for saying no to any resulting Western “intervention”.

Which by the way would, as a Facebook photo that just whizzed through my feed pointed out, involve members of our Armed Forces “fighting [in a way] alongside Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”.

This, I feel most strongly, is the result of what we might term the psychodrama of austerity unspooling.  What I’m not quite sure of is whether we were brutal and incoherent abroad first – and then learnt how to be so at home.  Or, perhaps more likely, vice versa – in a (sociopolitical) vice of totally immoral proportions.

When you learn how to treat your own people as scroungers, wasters, chavs and layabouts, how much easier it must be to think that on the foreign stage you can prance your incongruences – brightly flailing their idiocy and unkindness without anyone caring.

He (or she) who can call the Leader of the Opposition a “shit” and a “cunt” is able to see all voters, all opponents, all anti-war activists, all thinking people who are unsure of this matter … everyone who does not instinctively agree with what only starts out as yet another drone- and cruise-missile-led adventure … well, anyone who does not automatically say yes is also going to be seen as a “shit”.  No wonder austerity is so easy for them.  We are simply bits and pieces of political (sometimes literal) cannon fodder in a cruel and global conflict.

The problem here, of course, and I leave it without resolution on my part, is that whilst Iraq was the war we should’ve said no to – a war, in fact, the French did say no to – perhaps this Syria biz is quite something else.

What’s more, if the French are prepared to declassify intelligence which shows Western governments knew that Syria had stockpiled chemical weapons for nigh on thirty years, and then did absolutely nothing about it, it surely does beg the following question:

“How can our own political institutions and structures choose to make money out of such evil political trajectories – and then expect us to vote in favour of anything the former propose?”

From chemical weapons to Saddam’s unspeakable WMDs to austerity politics where the poor are savaged by the consequences of the acts of the rich, even as the rich are able to emerge unscathed, we have a politics which is broken quite as badly as it ever could be.

No wonder we feel like being shits to the profession.  They’ve been cunts to us all along.

Aug 242013

Eisenhower warned us a while ago of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.  In fact, he even went so far as to request that “security and liberty […] prosper together”.

He was warning us of the dangers of a private industry so powerful that representative democracy would end up representing only the very private interests of such industry.

The people would no longer get a look-in under such a panorama of influence.

Today, however, I’ve read something quite different.  It comes from Julian Assange, who I am sure will need no introduction.  Where it’s most interesting is in its extrapolation of his personal experiences on a particular occasion with Google’s Eric Schmidt and “others”.  The composition of these “others” was what allows us to understand how Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex has subtly changed the way it operates.  No longer does it merely affect how the state functions where its interests demand that it does so; it’s now also impacting, through the state itself, on the behaviours, instincts and room for manoeuvre which the rest of private industry – nominally functioning in an environment of free-market capitalism – formerly exhibited.

The “others” who supposedly attended this meeting with Assange were as follows:

That visit from Google while I was under house arrest was, as it turns out, an unofficial visit from the State Department. Just consider the people who accompanied Schmidt on that visit: his girlfriend Lisa Shields, Vice President for Communications at the CFR; Scott Malcolmson, former senior State Department advisor; and Jared Cohen,  advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, a kind of Generation Y Kissinger figure — a noisy Quiet American as the author Graham Greene might have put it.

The wider process which Assange extrapolates from such an event – a meeting whose transcript (he informs us) has been published on WikiLeaks itself – describes the broader breaking of free-market capitalism thus:

Google started out as part of Californian graduate student culture around San Francisco’s Bay Area. But as Google grew it encountered the big bad world. It encountered barriers to its expansion in the form of complex political networks and foreign regulations. So it started doing what big bad American companies do, from Coca Cola to Northrop Grumman. It started leaning heavily on the State Department for support, and by doing so it entered into the Washington DC system. A recently released statistic shows that Google now spends even more money than Lockheed Martin on paid lobbyists in Washington.

And concludes:

That Google was taking NSA money in exchange for handing over people’s data comes as no surprise. When Google encountered the big bad world, Google itself got big and bad.

Either way, then, it would seem that security has broken the kind of capitalism many of us would prefer to subscribe to.  Whether it’s Eisenhower’s big bad wolves eating up the liberties – and more importantly the federal budgets – of the people or it’s Assange’s corporate-engulfing state security agencies, the short-term outlook for anything like economic justice is very very poor.

As a Twitter colleague of mine tweeted recently:

I’m not opposed to capitalism, I oppose it being used as an excuse to artificially inflate the basic cost of living for ordinary people.

And that, my dear readers, is exactly what the NSA, GCHQ and the half-truths of latterday politics seem – to me, at least – to represent more and more.

Security has broken, perhaps forever, free-market capitalism for us all.

And when Google promised it wouldn’t do evil, we all must’ve known – ultimately – it wouldn’t do much good at all.

Aug 232013

I was chided last night on Twitter for retweeting this story from the Independent, as it might serve to threaten the lives of telecom engineers in the field.  I replied by saying I found it difficult to evaluate the situation either way.  As I pointed out recently, I get the feeling we’re being played with by people who otherwise should limit themselves to serving the voters and their families.

Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s journalist at the eye of this storm today responds thus to the above story:

[…] The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don’t mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.

Just to summarise and clarify: serious accusations are being made that the British security establishment is not only looking to fulfil its rightful responsibility of protecting the British people from external and internal threat, but is also messing around – quite unreasonably I would argue – with the public’s perception of reality and its proper course.  The former is quite sustainable, of course; the latter I would submit is most unacceptable in all cases – and probably a symptom of weakness rather than strength.

We pay our security establishment to protect us from physical harm.  We don’t pay them to play silly buggers with our understanding of where the truth lies.  When the aforementioned establishment thinks it can lash out at anyone and everyone in the interests of keeping the lid on all these unpleasant situations, we have an equally unpleasant problem presenting itself in what is now a very public domain: our security services find as threatening to their sense of wellbeing and focus our own 21st century social-media and virtual inquisition as they do the beastly things which nasty people are planning to do, every day of the week.

The job of the security services shouldn’t need to cover playing mind games with the nation’s perceptions.  We are, after all, ultimately, their paymasters.  We should not be perceived as the enemy.  Our representative democracy should be efficient enough in the task of representation to make the contemplation of repressive response totally unnecessary.

And if it’s not, that’s then a symptom that something is going very wrong with the mechanisms of our democracy.

That our security services do feel they must play to the gallery, as they allegedly leak information when it pleases them, is bad for our sense of equanimity of course – but, equally, it’s bad for the efficiency of those who would defend the integrity of the nations that make up our state.  If instead of focussing on sifting through all the information they’ve gathered on us, they choose to expend all that energy on massaging and manipulating our attitudes to their labour, they’re bound to be wasting a helluva lot of time and money on what is little more than a rolling PR operation.  And it”s not even as if they’re any good at it.  As the Atlantic piece I linked to above underlines:

[…] Given how ham-handedly the NSA has handled PR as each document was exposed, it seems implausible that it wanted advance knowledge so it could work on a response. It’s been two months since the first Snowden revelation, and it still doesn’t have a decent PR story.

In this sense it would seem that the NSA, GCHQ and the rest of the security bundle have been attacked by the same malaise that affects corporate organisations all over the globe: first, keep it secret at all costs; second, if you can’t keep it secret, deny it; third, if you can’t deny it, find some dirt on the enemy; fourth, if finding dirt doesn’t work, pay the enemy off; and fifth, if paying the enemy off doesn’t work, put it all in the hands of a platoon of lawyers.

And if all that fails, put it in the hands of an advertising agency with a solid reputation in rebranding.

No wonder David Cameron is our Prime Minister.  It’s quite fitting that an adman should be running a government whose security services practically own our airwaves at the moment.

No attempt or desire to deal with stuff at all correctly.  Just a continuous and ongoing attempt to brazen their way out of the hole they’ve stupidly gone and dug themselves.

Getting to the point where these guys and gals would appear to be more worried about how we see them than they are about the reality of defending Queen & Country.

Getting to the point where we can only expect a 21st century version of the Spanish Inquisition:

Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs’ decision to found the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column.

Though I’m sure I’m wrong, of course.  As I’m just as sure none of the following sketch bears any relevance to the above.

Jun 152013

I once had a next-door neighbour who was clever enough to know how, and stupid enough to go ahead.  This individual split the cable that came out of another neighbour’s Sky dish and hogged half of the service for free for probably a year.  They caught him in the end.

Nothing came of it though.

I’d like you to watch a podcast before we continue, which eventually – in its studied and careful way – takes us back to basic physics.  Remember what that beautiful object we called a prism actually did?  Split a pure white light into a rainbow of illuminating colours.  And that is just about what this video from last Wednesday invokes both figuratively and literally.  If you’ve not too much time on your hands, start from a little after twenty minutes in.  You might also want to read this EFF document (.pdf format) which describes a highly relevant legal deposition from way back in 2006.  It gets mentioned in the podcast; it’s a crucial part of the audit trail.

Worth every damn minute, right?  As I said, that next-door neighbour of mine.

So really, if they’re right in their analysis, what’s happening here is permanent wire-tapping, possibly legal (the Internet after all is a public space), on a hugely infrastructured scale.  Maybe a bit like (then again, who am I to say?) those episodes of CSI where they gain DNA by getting someone to drink a cup of coffee and then throw away the cup.

You discard something into that public domain and we’ll hoover it up by splitting the signal as close to its node as we can, without even telling the companies which harvest it in the first place what we’ve decided to do.

So where do people congregate?  What do people use?  The services of – and routers closest to – Google & Co’s massively centralising communication facilities.  All that careful language in their denials of any possible server back-doors, when the issue – semantically – wasn’t the servers.  Direct access to the data the servers contained, yes; but not direct access to the servers themselves.

So it is our society has trodden a long path from once being “economical with the truth” to saying “the least untruthful thing” a politicised figure could think of.

But I’d like to take the issue one step further.  What if Prism doesn’t only allow the light to be split off?  What if it also allows the data to be manipulated?

Last week, just a day before the podcast linked to above, the Greek broadcaster ERT – described to me by Greek citizens recently as the Greek equivalent of the British BBC – was suddenly taken off-air.  News, current affairs, history, culture – all gone at the drop of a hat.  The shock, if replicated here in Britain with our own organisation, would be powerful and lasting for sure.  Yet I argued, for only a moment it is true, that perhaps the Greek way was better: at least someone was taking ownership for obfuscation by clearly closing down its outlet.

The BBC, in the meantime, has been accused of multiple acts of perfidious journalism – an institutionally implemented censorship, in fact, of considerable consequences; a censorship never admitted nor answered by anyone in charge; a censorship, for the majority of its viewers, never even perceived.

Under such circumstances, wouldn’t a manifest – even where shockingly sudden – absence be a cleaner and more hygienic way forward than this grubby messing-about with the parameters of our perceptions and realities?

Except that, of course, for those who use it as a tool to transmit on-message content, keeping it all going is going to be far more productive and in keeping with their overarching objectives than any honest admitting of the truth.

The aforementioned opportunities for manipulation being far more useful than simple tracking and observance.

Don’t just be a spectator is what I’m suggesting here; far more proactively, actually become an actor.

This brings me back, then, to Prism.  If the NSA is accessing everyone’s data, and has allowed in some indirect way for our knowledge of this information to finally hit the public domain, it will surely – now – have the parallel capacity to intervene, interrupt, modify and falsify almost anything which flows around the Internet.

I’m not saying it would, mind you; just suggesting that it’s impossible that the facility wouldn’t have been included.

That is to say, it would include not only the ability to split out of the Internet a perfect copy of everything that hit Google & Co’s servers just before it actually did but also the ability to replace a digitally manipulated alternative of what was originally on the point of being there, just before it actually ended up being so.

There could be many desperate reasons why someone might wish to reserve the right to do this: not least, in times of awful war or some other ongoing conflict, the desire to short-cut legal niceties and thus allow the summary removal from circulation of people who otherwise might be far too clever by half.

And I’m not saying even in this case I’d agree with such a position; all I’m saying is that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone thought engineering such a feature into the infrastructure might be a natty thing to do.

Whatever the substantive reality of the situation, I’m pretty sure one of the drivers of all these repressive instincts is that maybe, just maybe, the Internet as constructed has, at least in the eyes of those who would continue governing, given us far too many freedoms: far too many freedoms for governments to treat their peoples with justice; far too many freedoms for the establishments across the world to feel safe; perhaps, I wonder, even far too many freedoms for even the most sensible and stable of the planet’s citizens to know how to choose consistently reasonable ways of using them.

I’m not saying they’re right; I’m just trying to understand their fears and behaviours – as well as their downright illegalities.

I’m trying to understand how rational human beings can justify using “the least untruthful” way of answering questions from political representatives speaking in permanently-recorded public forums.


Let’s finish on a pertinent piece of legalese.  Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says the following:

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Now that’s pretty sweeping – correspondence for example, at least these days, may cover everything from the more analogous emails to tweets and Facebook “likes”.

And remembering Doctorow’s intelligent separation of the words “privacy” and “secrecy” this morning, I do wonder if anyone who’s fighting the good fight still recalls why they went into the business in the first place.

Stop Watching Us?  Well, quite.  It’s an important thought.

Though when 60 percent of Americans say they just don’t care any more, perhaps the good fight has already been lost.

Jun 152013

This needed to be said, and I’ve never seen it said better:

You should care about privacy because privacy isn’t secrecy. I know what you do in the toilet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to close the door when you go in the stall.

Read the rest of this brilliantly pointed post.  It sets up the market-stall for those of us who find attacks on privacy disturbing and resistable – even as that government argument of “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” both resonates weightily and sees rebuttal as a complex process.

Privacy is a human right.  The flipside of the coin of integrity.

We mustn’t allow government discourse to interfere with that right, nor dirty it with broad-brushed arguments which attempt to criminalise us or make of all our activities suspicious indicators they must feel obliged to track for ever and always.

In truth, whilst governments becomes evermore disagreeably secretive, they avoid all constructive debate on the matter by shifting the onus onto the voters and represented who must – often with a sense of overriding guilt these days – pledge themselves to fight for the few remaining freedoms out there.

Our desire to be private has been corrupted by their need to maintain their own secrecy.  And so they confuse and conflate their desire to hide stuff from democratic oversight by arguing our human requirements for privacy equal their hierarchical and corporatising thirst for permanent obfuscation.

But when we righteously, rightly, demand our privacy, we are not asking for secrecy.  And when they refuse to concede our privacy democratically, arguing that it is little more than the anteroom to criminal secrecy, they curiously, perhaps revealingly, do not choose to give up on their own secretive games.

We ask for little.  They reject this little.  And, what’s more, they assume oversight over so much more.

This, and so much more, is why we must separate the words “privacy” and “secrecy”.  The battleground is so much clearer for me today.  I hope it is also clearer for you.