Active Resistance against Passive Surveillance

So I complain about a lull in the news about the more-or-less complete compromise of the Internet by the National Security Agency et al, and then this goes and happens.

One of my old standard interview questions for people applying for jobs with some responsibility for information security was “are you paranoid”? When the lighting was good, and my eyes bugged out just right, this could be a little scary. It’s time to retire this question, I think, because the answer would seem to be “no, I am clearly not paranoid enough”, unless the applicant shows up to the interview in a tin-foil hat.

The Freedom Panopticon

This is the fourth post I’ve started on the pervasive, indiscriminate, uncontrolled surveillance of electronic communications by the ministries of state security of the North Atlantic world. I stopped writing each of the last three either because the rant got too paranoid, or further revelations showed that the rant was not yet too paranoid enough.

But the stream of new information seems to have dried up a bit, as the news cycle has distracted itself with something called a Miley Cyrus, whatever that is, so I’ve had a chance to catch up a bit. And as a researcher in network measurement who left a job funded by security-academic-industrial-complex money to move to Europe to work on a project seeking to apply technical privacy guarantees to network monitoring systems (which ironically was named PRISM, and which I must forevermore footnote on my CV as “no, not that PRISM“), I feel I should make some statement on all of this. So here it is, predictable and unoriginal though it may be:

Pervasive surveillance is anathema to a functioning democratic society, and nations which do not exercise effective civilian oversight of their state security apparati end up being controlled by them.

Amerikanische Qualität

Got yet another SVP (Swiss People’s Party) flyer stuffed in the mailbox yesterday, outlining what passes for their platform for the April cantonal elections, which is a straight cognitively-dissonant mix between xenophobic nationalism and classical liberalism. Schweizer wählen SVP, it says: Swiss people vote SVP, the implication being that all the other parties are for people who are somehow less than Swiss. The party somewhat disappointingly leaves the question of the impact of the rather stark protectionism implied by disengagement from Europe on the freedom of markets and Switzerland’s competitiveness unanswered. I get the impression this is because actually attempting to answer such a question would require nuance, which doesn’t fit onto a triple-folded A4 flyer in 36-point type underneath the picture of the scary foreigner. (You’d hope they’d be smart enough to realize, at least from the mailboxes, that they were advertising to a building full of binational couples. But alas.)

Sixty-eight, eighty-nine, eleven, or: Why Protocol Design Matters

It is not yet completely clear the extent to which the Revolutions of 2011 were run on Facebook and Twitter, but to say they have not been instrumental would, I think, be disingenuous. Like Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, the body counts in Vietnam, or CNN in Kuwait, from the American standpoint the social networking protocols have removed one more layer of separation between the reality of these revolutions, and those watching them. The key here is that they are also used as a primary communications medium for those taking part.

Now is perhaps not the time to point out that they’re doing it wrong.

The Problem with the People’s Party

This is Ivan S. (name der Redaktion bekannt). Ivan lives with his wife and young son in a dingy little apartment in an old building in a small town outside a small city in Switzerland, an Ausländerghetto filled with asylum-seekers and semi-skilled foreign workers. Ivan has held the occasional odd job, but most of his time these days is spent on low level criminal activity for the Swiss arm of one or another criminal organization with ties to the Balkan peninsula: petty thievery, drug dealing, armed lookout and intimidation, transport. If it involves breaking the law with only marginal autonomy, Ivan’s probably got his fingers in it.

grüezi, y’all

Misaligned

The tenor of the health-care slapfight (I’ll not dignify it with the word debate) in the United States of late is… well, frankly, embarrassing. Y’all are really making yourselves look bad. Death panels? Really? When a walking vapidity whose prime qualification for the job is that she can see Russia from her house gets up on the tee-vee and starts improvising science fiction so terrible that even L. Ron Hubbard wouldn’t stick his name on it, you do what the rest of us do, and you ignore it.

Welcome to 2009