Quotulatiousness

August 12, 2017

Why The Government Shouldn’t Break WhatsApp

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Jul 2017

Encryption backdoors – breaking WhatsApp and iMessage’s security to let the government stop Bad Things – sounds like a reasonable idea. Here’s why it isn’t.

A transcript of this video’s available here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-scott/why-the-government-shouldnt-break-whatsapp/1378434365572557/

August 1, 2017

Ontario adopts voluntary self-surveillance app from CARROT Insights

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

I often joke about how inexpensive it appears to be to “influence” politicians, but it’s only fair to point out that the voters those easily influenced politicians represent are even more easy to influence:

Ontario announced earlier this month that it will become the fourth Canadian government to fund a behavioral modification application that rewards users for making “good choices” in regards to health, finance, and the environment. The Carrot Rewards smartphone app, which will receive $1.5 million from the Ontario government, credits users’ accounts with points toward the reward program of their choice in exchange for reaching step goals, taking quizzes and surveys, and engaging in government-approved messages.

The app, funded by the Canadian federal government and developed by Toronto-based company CARROT Insights in 2015, is sponsored by a number of companies offering reward points for their services as an incentive to “learn” how to improve wellness and budget finances. According to CARROT Insights, “All offers are designed by sources you can trust like the BC Ministry of Health, Newfoundland and Labrador Government, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and YMCA.” Users can choose to receive rewards for companies including SCENE, Aeroplan, Petro-Canada, or More Rewards, a loyalty program that partners with other businesses.

It’ll be interesting if they share the uptake of this new smartphone app … just how many of us are willing to let the government track just about all of our actions in exchange for “rewards”.

In order to use the app, users are giving Carrot Insights and the federal government permission to “access and collect information from your mobile device, including but not limited to, geo-location data, accelerometer/gyroscope data, your mobile device’s camera, microphone, contacts, calendar and Bluetooth connectivity in order to operate additional functionalities of the Services.”

Founder and CEO of CARROT Insights Andreas Souvaliotis launched the app in 2015 “with a focus on health but the company and its partner governments quickly realized it was effective at modifying behavior in other areas as well,” according to CTV News.

June 2, 2017

Ethiopia goes offline

Filed under: Africa, Education, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on Ethiopia’s decision to shut down access to the internet “to prevent exam cheating”:

The entire nation of Ethiopia — a corrupt, oligarchic state with the distinction of being “the world’s first turnkey surveillance state” where spy technology from the “free world” is used to spy on the whole country — just dropped off the internet.

The ruling clique says it turned off the country’s internet to prevent Ethiopian students from accessing final exam questions via Facebook groups run by the global Ethiopian diaspora, and indeed, last year’s exams were spoiled by early-circulated exam questions.

But Ethiopia routinely disappears from the world’s internet in response to dissent and protest, and these are never far from the surface in Ethiopia, so the exams might just be a convenient excuse.

It’s an interesting counter to the idea that even authoritarian regimes struggle to turn off their national internet systems, because these are vital to maintaining the elites’ business interests, as well as extractive industries like oil, or other industries like tourism. In Burma and Egypt, totalitarian regimes have wrestled with the question of when and whether to shut down the internet, often pulling the switch after it was too late (for them).

April 2, 2017

Yes, Prime Minister – The need to know

Filed under: Britain, Government, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 23 Sep 2014

Scene from season 2, episode 8.

November 21, 2016

“We are one click away from totalitarianism”

Filed under: Britain, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Cory Doctorow on the awful authoritarian “Snooper’s Charter” that somehow slithered onto the law books in Britain recently:

Britain’s love-affair with mass surveillance began under the Labour government, but it was two successive Conservative governments (one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are nominally pro-civil liberties) who took Tony Blair’s mass surveillance system and turned it into a vicious, all-powerful weapon. Now, their work is done.

The Snoopers Charter — AKA the “Investigatory Powers Act” — is the most extreme surveillance law in Europe, more extreme that America’s Patriot Act and associated presidential orders and secret rulings from the Foreign Intelligence courts. Snowden nailed it when he said it “goes further than many autocracies.”

The fact that these new spying powers — which conscript tech companies to do the collection and retention of materials for use by the government, usually in secret — comes even as the ruling Conservative Party is barely holding itself together after the Brexit vote and the rise of nativist, racist, pro-deportation/anti-migrant movements who are working their way into the halls of power. Needless to say, any project of mass roundups and expulsions will rely heavily on the legal and technical capabilities for surveillance that the British state has just claimed for itself.

November 19, 2016

More examples of that “strange new respect” for limiting presidential powers

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It may have been awkward for Democrats who watched Obama go further, faster than George W. Bush on deportations, surveillance, assassination, and even torture, but they can finally get their groove back on in protesting Donald Trump’s use of exactly the same tools Obama has been using for the last eight years:

Even the extreme legal theories of the George W Bush administration were mild compared to some of the “compromise” positions Obama’s DoJ argued for, and now Donald J Trump gets to use those positions to further its own terrifying agenda of mass deportations, reprisals against the press, torture and assassination, and surveillance based on religious affiliation or ethnic origin.

When it came to things like closing Guantanamo, Obama argued for limits on establishing offshore black-sites and military tribunals, but refused to shut the door on them. So maybe Trump won’t be able to use Gitmo to house the people he has kidnapped by his CIA, but he can use the legal authority that Obama argued for to set up lots of other Guantanamos wherever he likes.

Likewise torture: Obama decided that it was better to move and and bury the CIA torture report, and had his DoJ block any attempt to have torture declared illegal, which would have given people opposing Trump’s torture agenda with a potent legal weapon that is now unavailable to them.

Obama argued that the president should be able to create kill lists of Americans and foreigners who could be assassinated with impunity, and argued against even judicial review of these lists.

Then there’s Obama’s war on whistleblowers — his administration invoked federal law against more whistleblowers than all the other presidents in US history, combined — and his aggressive assertion that journalists have no right to protect their confidential sources. These will be of enormous use to the Trump presidency, which has already promised to use executive powers to persecute hostile journalists who try to hold it to account.

It’s sad that partisans of the current administration can only seem to see the problems in granting the president more powers when those powers are about to be wielded by a president of the other party. A wee bit too late to repent, my friends.

November 6, 2016

Canadian intelligence agencies and domestic overreach

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Michael Geist on the drumbeat of revelations — but less outrage than you’d expect — on the extent of surveillance being conducted within Canada by CSIS and law enforcement organizations:

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in which the public has become largely numb to new surveillance disclosures, the Canadian reports over the past week will still leave many shocked and appalled. It started with the Ontario Provincial Police mass text messaging thousands of people based on cellphone usage from nearly a year earlier (which is not government surveillance per se but highlights massive geo-location data collection by telecom carriers and extraordinary data retention periods), continued with the deeply disturbing reports of surveillance of journalists in Quebec (which few believe is limited to just Quebec) and culminated in yesterday’s federal court decision that disclosed that CSIS no longer needs warrants for tax records (due to Bill C-51) and took the service to task for misleading the court and violating the law for years on its metadata collection and retention program.

The ruling reveals a level of deception that should eliminate any doubts that the current oversight framework is wholly inadequate and raises questions about Canadian authorities commitment to operating within the law. The court found a breach of a “duty of candour” (which most people would typically call deception or lying) and raises the possibility of a future contempt of court proceeding. While CSIS attempted to downplay the concern by noting that the data collection in question – metadata involving a wide range of information used in a massive data analysis program – was collected under a court order, simply put, the court found that the retention of the data was illegal. Further, the amount of data collection continues to grow (the court states the “scope and volume of incidentally gathered information has been tremendously enlarged”), leading to the retention of metadata that is not part of an active investigation but rather involves non-threat, third party information. In other words, it is precisely the massive, big data metadata analysis program feared by many Canadians.

The court ruling comes after the Security Intelligence Review Committee raised concerned about CSIS bulk data collection in its latest report and recommended that that inform the federal court about the activities. CSIS rejected the recommendation. In fact, the court only became aware of the metadata retention due to the SIRC report and was astonished by the CSIS response, stating that it “shows a worrisome lack of understanding of, or respect for, the responsibilities of a party [SIRC] benefiting from the opportunity to appear ex parte.”

January 7, 2016

QotD: The right to record police officers

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Some advice for the beleaguered and backward states of Illinois, Massachusetts, et al.: If police are not obliged to ask our permission before recording their public encounters with us, then we should not be obliged to ask their permission before recording our public encounters with them. That states generally dominated by so-called progressives should be so insistent upon asymmetric police powers and special privileges for government’s armed agents is surprising only to those who do not understand the basic but seldom-spoken truth about progressivism: The welfare state is the police state.

Why Illinois Republicans are on board is another matter, bringing up the eternal question that conservatives can expect to be revisiting frequently after January: What, exactly, is the point of the Republican party?

Illinois is attempting to resurrect what the state’s politicians pretend is a privacy-protecting anti-surveillance law; in reality, it is the nearly identical reincarnation of the state’s earlier anti-recording law, the main purpose of which was to charge people who record police encounters with a felony, an obvious and heavy-handed means of discouraging such recording. Illinois’s state supreme court threw the law out on the grounds that police do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when carrying out their duties, though police and politicians argued the contrary — apparently, some part of the meaning of the phrase “public servants” eludes them. The new/old law is, by design, maddeningly vague, and will leave Illinois residents unsure of which encounters may be legally recorded and which may not.

Here is the solution: Pass a law explicitly recognizing the right of citizens to record police officers. It is important to note that such a law would recognize a right rather than create one: Government has no legitimate power to forbid free people from using cameras, audio-recording devices, or telephones in public to document the business of government employees. The statute would only clarify that Americans — even in Illinois — already are entitled to that right.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Prairie State Police State”, National Review, 2014-12-10.

December 4, 2015

QotD: “Dance like nobody’s watching”

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I always laugh when I hear the phrase, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” It’s 2015. Everybody’s watching.

Jim Treacher, “Mac & Cheese Dude Is Sorry For Being An [Incredibly Unpleasant Person]”, The Daily Caller, 2015-10-13.

September 10, 2015

Making it easy for governments to monitor texts, emails, and other messages

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle explains that while it’s quite understandable why governments want to maintain their technological ability to read private, personal communications … but that’s not sufficient justification to just give in and allow them the full access they claim that they “need”:

Imagine, if you will, a law that said all doors had to be left unlocked so that the police could get in whenever they needed to. Or at the very least, a law mandating that the government have a master key.

That’s essentially what some in the government want for your technology. As companies like Apple and Google have embraced stronger encryption, they’re making it harder for the government to do the kind of easy instant collection that companies were forced into as the government chased terrorists after 9/11.

And how could you oppose that government access? After all, the government keeps us safe from criminals. Do you really want to make it easier for criminals to evade the law?

The analogy with your home doors suggests the flaw in this thinking: The U.S. government is not the only entity capable of using a master key. Criminals can use them too. If you create an easy way to bypass security, criminals — or other governments — are going to start looking for ways to reproduce the keys.

[…]

Law enforcement is going to pursue strategies that maximize the ability to catch criminals or terrorists. These are noble goals. But we have to take care that in the pursuit of these goals, the population they’re trying to protect is not forgotten. Every time we open more doors for our own government, we’re inviting other unwelcome guests to join them inside.

I don’t really blame law enforcement for pushing as hard as possible; rare is the organization in history that has said, “You know, the world would be a better place if I had less power to do my job.” But that makes it more imperative that the rest of us keep an eye on what they’re doing, and force the law to account for tradeoffs, rather than the single-minded pursuit of one goal.

March 6, 2015

Las Vegas, home to “the country’s most developed surveillance state”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle recently visited Las Vegas and her reactions were recorded pretty much everywhere she went:

So this weekend, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. I’m not much of a gambler — I quit playing when they raise the minimums past $5 — but there’s enough of a theme-park aspect to the place that a few friends and I managed to have a terrific time. Two things immediately stand out to the libertarian visitor: In some ways, it has the most liberty of any place in the U.S. — and it also has the country’s most developed surveillance state.

First, the libertarian aspects: All sorts of things that aren’t allowed in normal cities are positively encouraged on the Vegas strip — gambling, obviously, but also things such as drinking and smoking in public. The casinos still allow smoking, and every bar is happy to give you a to-go cup if you don’t want to linger. I’m a little old for all-day drinking, but I did wander around an arcade with a frozen margarita, reveling in my newfound freedom.

[…]

Now for the creepy aspects: There are cameras everywhere. In the casinos, obviously, but also on the streetlights, the walls and every overhang. When I asked the cab driver whether there was much crime on the Strip, he laughed and pointed to the cameras. “No crime,” he said. “No point. Cameras everywhere.”

So I left Vegas with a question: Is the friendly police state the price of the freedom to drink and gamble with abandon? Whatever your position on vice industries, they are heavily associated with crime, even where they are legal. Drinking makes people both violent and vulnerable; gambling presents an almost irresistible temptation to cheating and theft. Las Vegas has Disneyfied libertinism. But to do so, it employs armies of security guards and acres of surveillance cameras that are always and everywhere recording your every move.

This is a question I’ve asked myself before, funnily enough, when arguing with anarcho-capitalists. For those who do not follow the ins and outs of libertarian sectarianism, anarcho-capitalists want to replace the state with private institutions, with insurance companies and private security forces substituting for most current government functions. But when I’ve probed into the actual mechanics of this, I’ve often found that anarcho-capitalists end up describing something unpleasantly like a police state, only not called “the government” — like giving insurance companies and private police forces the ability to perform warrantless at-will searches in order to prosecute crimes. One way or another, society is going to protect itself against theft and violence, rape and murder, and putting those tools in the hands of private parties causes much the same trouble as they do in the hands of the police.

February 15, 2015

“Smart” TV? Oh, no thanks. I prefer mine not to spy on my every word…

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Karl Bode sings the praises of dumb TVs that don’t share your every word with unspecified “third parties” who may or may not have any compunction about further sharing of what happens in your home (within audio range of your TV, anyway):

Samsung has been doing a great job this week illustrating why consumers should want their televisions to be as dumb as technologically possible. The company took heat for much of the week after its privacy policy revealed Samsung smart TVs have been collecting and analyzing user living room conversations in order to improve voice recognition technology. While that’s fairly common for voice recognition tech, the idea of living room gear that spies on you has been something cable operators have been patenting for years. And while Samsung has changed its privacy policy language to more clearly illustrate what it’s doing, the fact that smart TV security is relatively awful has many people quite justly concerned about smart TVs becoming another poorly-guarded repository for consumer data.

But it’s something else stupid that Samsung did this week that got less press attention, but that I actually find far more troubling. Numerous Samsung smart TV users around the world this week stated that the company has started injecting ads into content being watched on third-party devices and services. For example, some users found that when streaming video content from PC to the living room using Plex, they suddenly were faced with a large ad for Pepsi that actually originated from their Samsung TV:

    “Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos. A Plex spokesperson assured me that the company has nothing to do with the ad in question.”

Now Samsung hasn’t responded yet to this particular issue, and you’d have to think that the company accidentally enabled some kind of trial ad injection technology, since anything else would be idiotic brand seppuku (in fact it does appear like it has been working with Yahoo on just this kind of technology). Still, users say the ads have them rushing to disable the smart portion of Samsung TVs, whether that’s by using a third party solution or digging into the bowels of the TV’s settings to refuse Samsung’s end user agreement. And that raises an important point: many consumers (myself included) want their TV to be as slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, dumb and dim-witted as possible.

February 9, 2015

The fantasy that CSE/CSIS oversight will actually protect the privacy of Canadians

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Geist on the rather disturbing news that Canadian intelligence agencies are busy watching the uploads of every internet user (including the Canadian users that CSE/CSIS are theoretically banned from tracking by the letter of the law):

… the problem with oversight and accountability as the primary focus is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If we fail to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, no amount of accountability, oversight, or review will restore the loss of privacy and civil liberties.

First, consider the Snowden revelations that the CSE has been the lead on a surveillance initiative that gathers as many as 15 million uploads and downloads per day from a wide range of hosting sites that even appear to include the Internet Archive. The goal is reputed to be to target terrorist propaganda and training materials and identify who is uploading or downloading the materials. The leaked information shows how once a downloader is identified, intelligence agencies use other databases (including databases on billions of website cookies) to track the specific individual and their Internet use within hours of identified download.

The Levitation program, which removes any doubt about Canada’s role in global Internet surveillance, highlights how seemingly all Internet activity is now tracked by signals intelligence agencies. Note that the sites that host the downloads do not hand over their usage logs. Rather, intelligence agencies are able to track who visits the sites and what they do from the outside. That confirms a massive surveillance architecture of Internet traffic operating on a global scale. Is improved oversight in Canada alone going to change this dynamic that crosses borders and surveillance agencies? It is hard to see how it would.

Moreover, these programs point to the fundamental flaw in Canadian law, where Canadians are re-assured that CSE does not – legally cannot – target Canadians. However, mass surveillance of this nature does not distinguish between nationalities. Mass surveillance of a hundred million downloads every week by definition targets Canadians alongside Internet users from every corner of the globe. To argue that Canadians are not specifically targeted when it is obvious that the personal information of Canadians is indistinguishable from everyone else’s data at the time of collection, is to engage in meaningless distinctions that only succeed in demonstrating the weakness of Canadian law. Better oversight of CSE is needed, but so too is a better law governing CSE activities.

December 23, 2014

Creepy Christmas “traditions” – Elf et Michelf

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:06

Published on 14 Dec 2013

Foucault’s take on the elf on the shelf through an imagined conversation by @DrLauraPinto

H/T to Anthony L. Fisher for the video link:

Dr. Laura Elizabeth Pinto, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, thinks Elf on the Shelf poses a criticial ethical dilemma. In a paper for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Pinto wonders if the Elf is “preparing a generation of children to accept, not question, increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance.”

Sensing that she might come off as a humorless paranoid crank, Pinto clarified her position to the Washington Post:

    “I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy. It sounds humorous, but we argue that if a kid is okay with this bureaucratic elf spying on them in their home, it normalizes the idea of surveillance and in the future restrictions on our privacy might be more easily accepted.” (Emphasis mine).

One could argue that the millions of adults walking around with NSA-trackable and criminal-hackable smartphones in their pockets are far more influential than a seasonal doll in setting the example to the next generation that surveillance is inevitable and Big Brother is not to be feared. Still, Pinto has a point when she writes:

    What The Elf on the Shelf represents and normalizes: anecdotal evidence reveals that children perform an identity that is not only for caretakers, but for an external authority (The Elf on the Shelf), similar to the dynamic between citizen and authority in the context of the surveillance state.

December 17, 2014

Canadian telcos: “there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:10

Sounds good, right? Canada’s telecom companies telling the government that there’s no reason to pass laws requiring surveillance capabilities … except that the reason they’re saying this is that “they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default“:

After years of failed bills, public debate, and considerable controversy, lawful access legislation received royal assent last week. Public Safety Minister Peter MacKay’s Bill C-13 lumped together measures designed to combat cyberbullying with a series of new warrants to enhance police investigative powers, generating criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, civil liberties groups, and some prominent victims rights advocates. They argued that the government should have created cyberbullying safeguards without sacrificing privacy.

While the bill would have benefited from some amendments, it remains a far cry from earlier versions that featured mandatory personal information disclosure without court oversight and required Internet providers to install extensive surveillance and interception capabilities within their networks.

The mandatory disclosure of subscriber information rules, which figured prominently in earlier lawful access bills, were gradually reduced in scope and ultimately eliminated altogether. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court ruling raised doubt about the constitutionality of the provisions.

[…]

Perhaps the most notable revelation is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.

In light of the standardization of the interception capabilities, the memo notes that the Canadian providers argue that “the telecommunications market will soon shift to a point where interception capability will simply become a standard component of available equipment, and that technical changes in the way communications actually travel on communications networks will make it even easier to intercept communications.”

In other words, Canadian telecom providers are telling the government there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality since they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default.

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