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Review: No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald

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In his latest book, No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald gives a brief summary of the events since Edwards Snowden first contacted him 1 December 2012, up until UK government’s harassment of David Miranda at London Heathrow airport on 18 August 2014. He gives an overview of some of the released NSA documents, showing the scope and detail of the illegal surveillance.

It is however the last two chapters of the book which makes this a must-read. Here, Greenwald examines why ubiquitous surveillance is so dangerous and damaging to all of society, and why the “nothing to hide – nothing to fear” argument is misguided and naive.

In the final chapter, Greenwald describes the toxic climate of modern journalisms, and how challenging state power is the exception rather than the norm in many newspapers.

Besieged by state surveillance

Glenn Greenwald’s examination of the harms of mass state surveillance is an indispensable read for anybody debating the topic. He explains why privacy is essential to all humans, on an individual level, as well as for society as a whole. Without privacy, we automatically conform to written and unwritten rules and expectations of behaviour and and thought.

Surveillance stifles self-expression, creativity and experimentation. On a state level, its very purpose is to hinder deviant and radical thought and action. As such, surveillance and lack of privacy is an obstacle to political and cultural progress. The goal is to freeze the status quo with its current power structure and current authority.

Herein lies the rebut of the “nothing to hide – nothing to fear” argument. Rather than grasping for fringe groups and special circumstances, Greenwald shows that this argument is narrow minded, egoistical and hypocritical. Given that mass state surveillance harms us all, our individual relation with the state authority is nonessential to the debate. It is irrelevant if you yourself is involved in politics, opposition groups, and protests. In many ways, surveillance harms everybody, depriving us of freedom, and hindering political, cultural, and human progress. It makes us complacent, unable or unwilling to question authority.

Furthermore, Greenwald points out that state surveillance is masked in secrecy, often with little oversight. It makes the surveillance a one-way mirror: They can see you, but you cannot see them. This is by design, and Greenwald examines multiple examples of why this works so well in controlling the population. He shows why it is important to break this one-way mirror; to shine light on government activities so its power cannot be used for harassment and control.

News as state propaganda

In the last chapter, Greenwald gives an introspective look into the failures of US media. Journalists and newspapers are nicknamed the Fourth Estate, because they were supposed to challenge the other three branches of government. However, many have become mere propaganda outlets for those in power.

What’s worse, Greenwald was attacked by fellow journalists across the political spectrum for publishing his stories based on the NSA documents. UK in particular has gone very far in attacking anybody working with these documents. There is no Forth Amendment or similar law protecting free speech in the UK. As a result, the Guardian was threatened with lawsuits and shutdown by GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) agents. Through an ultimatum, they destroyed the computers belonging to the newspaper which they believed contained copies the NSA documents.

Later, Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained using an anti-terrorist law while in transit through London Heathrow airport. As Greenwald put it, UK agents grabbed him out of non-British neutral territory. Lacking anything to charge him with, the UK police later acknowledged that this was an harassment tactic, to send a message to anybody working with Snowden or Greenwald.

Read it now!

If you haven’t kept an eye on the Snowden and NSA story, Gleen Greenwald’s latest book is an excellent and brief overview of the important events and facts. Still, even if you have followed the details of the NSA documents, the last half of the book is refreshing and worth the read.

State propaganda with its excuses to justify surveillance is as prevalent as ever. It is essential that we all know how to refute those arguments. Also, putting an end to the “nothing to hide & fear” argument will be important if we want to repel mass state surveillance.

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Another assault on privacy by GCHQ

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Recently, it was revealed by IT Security Guru that the British intelligence agency GCHQ had demand a backdoor into the secure email service PrivateSky by CertiVox. At the end of 2012, GCHQ made the request, but CertiVox chose to close the service instead of betraying their customers. This is preceding the similar heavy-handed threats by NSA which caused US based Lavabit and Canadian based Silent Circle to shut down their secure email services.

It is clear then, that it is not possible to operate secure email or communication services within these countries. In that light, it’s interesting to see Swiss hosting companies picking up business. “Business for Switzerland’s 55 data centres is booming”, claims the article. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Will they be pressured by US as was the case with the banks? Or will they also sell out, as was the case with the Swiss based Crypto AG and their machines?

As many have pointed out, the physical security of a data centre is often less of an issue than its network and system security. Furthermore, it’s a question of how it is used and what is offered. PrivateSky is for example still operational, but only for its owners. If somebody offered a secure communication service from within the Tor network, it would be both hard to detect, so it might fly under the radar for a while, and hard to take down if hosted in Switzerland. That’s a business idea right, up for grabs for anybody with a bit of spare time and money.

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Trends: Snowden didn’t change public’s behaviour

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For all the NSA documents revealed by Snowden, and for all the news headlines stressing the gravity of the situation, it seems the general public has not changed their behaviour much. At least that would be the conclusion if looking at the worldwide trends of a few Google search terms: As can be seen in the first chart, the terms Snowden and NSA quickly rose to prominence when the story broke in the second half of 2013. However, interest quickly declined. If we look at the two next charts, comparing terms privacy, surveillance, encryption there seem to be no correlation with the former terms at all. Maybe there is an ever so faint increase in the term encryption, but nothing of significance.

The two last charts compare the terms encryption, surveillance in Germany. Here there is a small blip for the former term, while interest in the later, surveillance, seems to have increased significantly. This is possibly driven by the news stories there about NSA spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

These trends are rather disappointing to see. One would have hoped for at least a blip on the radar when it comes to public awareness of these issues. Instead, the distraction campaigns by most of the mainstream media seems to have been successful: The headlines have been focusing on Snowden, his girlfriend, his father, and whether he is a hero or traitor. Masking and excusing the abuse of power by NSA, GCHQ and the politicians who support these organizations have been successful. In fact, in Britain the story has taken the bizarre turn where the government is investigating The Guardian and editor Alan Rusbridger for publishing the leaked documents. What other clue do you need to see that the so called democracies and free countries of the West is nothing but a mirage for a powerful and abusive elite?

Swedish politician Rickard Falkvinge put it nicely in his post about the coming of the Swedish police-state:

A key difference between a functioning democracy and a police state is, that in a functioning democracy, the Police don’t get everything they point at.

 
 
 

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The list of shame

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Over the last years, Wikileaks has collected and published a set of files detailing the companies involved in implementing and assisting mass surveillance. The “Spy Files” includes mostly public product sheets, sales brochures and company catalogues. Below is the list of all the company names mentioned in all the Wikileaks Spy Files.

There’s a lot of interesting reading there. From not so well known hardware companies across the world, to big names like HP, Ericsson, and Siemens. Some of them are selling “investigation platforms” for law enforcement, while others offer products for covert operations. There’s data sheets on network taps like those from NetOptics, and network traffic surveillance and retention from Packet Forensics, to give some examples. There’s marketing material, like Ernst & Young 2011 brochure with the title Biometrics: time to evangelise the benefits. (They want biometric identification pretty much everywhere: From border control to benefit payments, and Internet access).

In other words, these are the companies which implement the police and surveillance state. Employees from these companies do the dirty-work of the NSAs and GCHQs around the world. If you are working for or with one of these, now is a very good time to consider your stance on democracy, human rights, and privacy. If your set of values does not align with that of your company, it might be time to do something about that. “I was just doing my job and following orders” is not an excuse which will hold up in court when judgement comes.

AAPPRO
ABILITY
AcmePacket
ADAE
ADS
ADS UKTI Defence & Security Organisation
Agnitio
AGT International
AI Solve
ALCATEL-LUCENT
ALTRON
AMECS
Amesys
AQSACOM
Arpege
ATIS
ATIS Systems GmbH
Atis Uher
Autonomy
BEA
Berkeley Varitronics Systems
Bivio
BLUECOAT
BrightPlanet
Cambridge Consultants
Cassidian
Cassidian (EADS)
CCT Cecratech
CELLEBRITE
ClearTrail
Cobham
CommsAudit
CRFS
CRYPTON-M
Cyveillance
DATAKOM
DATONG
Delta SPA
DETICA
Dialogic
Digital Barriers
DigiTask
DREAMLAB
Dreamlab
Dreamlab Gamma
EBS Electronic
ELAMAN
ELAMAN GAMMA
Elektron
ELEXO
ELSAG
ELTA
Endace
Enterprise Europe Network
ERICSSON
Ernst & Young
Eskan
ETIgroup
ETSI
ETSI TC-LI
Evidence Talks Ltd.
EVIDIAN
Expert System
FCO Services
Forensic Telecommunications Services
FOXIT
Freightwatch Security Net
FROST & SULLIVAN UTIMACO
Gamma
Glimmerglass
Glimmerglass Networks
GRIFFCOMM
GROUP2000
GTEN
GUIDANCE
HackingTeam
Harris
HiddenTechnology Systems International Ltd.
HP
HP Defence and Security
Human Recognition Systems
i2 Group
INNOVA SPA
Innov Telek IZT
INVEATECH
IPOQUE
IPS
IPS Intelligence
ISS
Kapow Software
L3 ASA
LOQUENDO
Mantaro
Medav
MEDAV
Metronome
NeoSoft
NETI
NetOptics
NetQuest
Netronome
NETWORK Instruments
NEWPORT NETWORKS
NICE Systems
Nokia Siemens Networks
Ntrepid
NTREPID
OCKHAM
OCULUS
OnPath
OXYGEN
Packet Forensics
PAD
PALADION
PANOPTECH
Phonexia
Pine Digital Security
PLATH
Protei
PV labs
QCC Interscan
Qinetiq
QOSMOS
RETENTIA
RHEINMETALL DEFENCE
Roke Manor Research
Safran
Scan & Target
SEARTECH
Septier
Septier Communication Ltd.
Seqtor
SESP
SHOGI
SIEMENS
Silicom
Silicom Dreamlab
Siltec
Simena
Speech Technology Center
SPEI
Spektor Forensic Intelligence
SS8
STRATIGN
Tamara
telesoft
Telesoft Technologies
Thales
TRACESPAN
TRACIP
Trovicor
Utimaco
Utimaco Safeware AG
VAStech
Virtus
Visual Analytics Inc
VuPen
VUPEN Security

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NSA’s Social Graph

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NSA is creating a social graph of everybody. That is the latest NSA story based on Snowden’s documents. “The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data”

On Slashdot, user jbn-o has an insightful comment, regarding Eben Moglen’s warnings about exactly this scenario:

“I was talking to a senior government official of this government about that outcome and he said well you know we’ve come to realize that we need a robust social graph of the United States. That’s how we’re going to connect new information to old information. I said let’s just talk about the constitutional implications of this for a moment. You’re talking about taking us from the society we have always known, which we quaintly refer to as a free society, to a society in which the United States government keeps a list of everybody every American knows.” —Eben Moglen, “Innovation Under Austerity”

Eben Moglen gave a talk where he warned us about a conversation he had with an American government official who wanted a “robust social graph” of Americans. And again at Moglen’s re:publica talk as Nicole Brydson reminds us. Of course, I’d prefer to point to a copy of this talk in a format friendly to free software, but I don’t know of one.

Moglen reminds us in his talks about how right Richard Stallman (RMS) is, and how we need to do the work of sharing what RMS teaches to others. RMS was right (as per usual) we need software freedom more than ever. Social action based on an ethical grounding (not mere technical convenience or speedy development) is exactly what this situation calls for. I hope everyone will take the time to read or listen to Moglen’s insightful talks and take them seriously. They’re deeply engrossing and filled with interesting history, so much so that they reward repeated listening and social action.

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Latest NSA round-up

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Glenn Greenwald has the latest round-up of various NSA surveillance related stories around the world this week. From the British GCHQ spying on Belgium’s largest telecom, Belgacom, to Obama working hard to keep the controversial programs away from judicial and public scrutiny. And much more.

Also interesting is a new coalition of civil liberties organizations and other interest groups called “Stop Watching Us”. On October 26th they are planning a rally in Washington, D.C. It takes time, but somebody are waking up.

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The mind of a megalomaniac: NSA chief Keith Alexander

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Glenn Greenwald recently had a nice story in the Guardian which showed how completely out of touch with society and reality NSA’s surveillance operation has become. NSA chief Keith Alexander have built a command centre and war room modelled after Star Trek’s Enterprise bridge. The pictures below are from the Guardian article.

To add insult to injury, the room was dubbed “Information Dominance Center”. The arrogance of it all is astonishing. Add to that Alexander’s motto “Collect it All”, and it goes to show how totally out of control this whole operation and agency has spun. The revelations over the last months have made it crystal clear that he nor is organization can be trusted, and this small story just hammers home the point even further.

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NSA survailance violations – a brief summary

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A summary of the latest news and NSA revelations.

Thanks to Snowden, we now know the NSA:

  • Had James Clapper lie under oath to us – on camera – to Congress to hide the domestic spying programs Occured in March, revealed in June.
  • Warrantlessly accesses records of every phone call that routes through the US thousands of times a day JuneSeptember
  • Steals your private data from every major web company (Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al) via PRISMJune and pays them millions for it August
  • Pays major US telecommunications providers (AT&T, Verizon, et al) between $278,000,000-$394,000,000 annually to provide secret access to all US fiber and cellular networks (in violation of the 4th amendment). August
  • Intentionally weakened the encryption standards we rely on, put backdoors into critical software, and break the crypto on our private communications September
  • NSA employees use these powers to spy on their US citizen lovers via “LOVEINT”, and only get caught if they self-confess. Though this is a felony, none were ever been charged with a crime. August
  • Lied to us again just ten days ago, claiming they never perform economic espionage (whoops!) before a new leak revealed that they do all the time. September
  • Made over fifteen thousand false certifications to the secret FISA court, leading a judge to rule they “frequently and systemically violated” court orders in a manner “directly contrary to the sworn attestations of several executive branch officials,” that 90% of their searches were unlawful, and that they “repeatedly misled the court.” September September
  • Has programs that collect data on US Supreme Court Justices and elected officials, and they secretly provide it to Israel regulated only by an honor system. September

Source

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