Andy's insights

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Mon, 15 Jul 2013

Surveillance and State based on Justice and Integrity

By now everybody should know about how NSA intercept nearly the whole world with the PRISM program thanks to Edward Snowden.

This leads to a few interesting questions. While this program probably helped to detect terrorist, its primary justification, it also installed all components necessary for surveillance and police states. This not only includes the technology, but also the intransparent processes, courts, and secrets to avoid investigations and control by the citizen.

For instance, there is formally a process which investigations are allowed, even a court to take the decisions to. But all this is secret. In practice the court only rejected a few two digit number out of fifteen tousands cases. Another example: The decision whether a conversation involves an american citizen needs a 51% surety before it can take place. 51% is one percent more than a coin flip! Let alone this only affects american citizen, all other people in the world will be observed anyway.

Former technical director William Binney who retired in 2001 said the first draft of this system included all saftey measures to protect the general right of privacy. But then nine eleven happened and the Bush administration wanted to observe them all. As a consequence Binney retired. Later Obama followed and extended the whole program.

So how does that affect us, we foreign people of the world? Well most internet services, search engines, mail services, social networks, telephony, and chat services are owned by an american company that is vulnerable to the electronic eavesdropping of the NSA or a connected agency. We can surely say our communication is logged once it crosses the american border, and quite probably logged if it crosses an submarine communication cable. Even if the communication is encrypted it probably is readable if it ends in a data center owned by an american company. And if it couldn’t be encrypted, there’s always the connection meta data that is as valuable as the communication itself.

Ok, and how does that affect us? Well even if the NSA is primarly oriented towards terrorism and crime, John and Jane Doe are still risking to be affected. May it collateral damage caused by dragnet investigation. Or its libability to submit to blackmail, if he has some valuable knowledge. As the USA is known to targeted killing and confinement without court, this is nothing to just ignore.

For corporations this has some more implications: Who say that once a business secrect is intercepted by the NSA they won’t forward it to a competitor?

What can we do against this?

First there are some political solutions: The first political solution does not only apply to this but can’t be said enough: Make all as transparent as possible. Each surveillance must be approved by an independed court. The court must be controllable by citizen. Of course ongoing investigations can’t be made public, but as soon as the case is solved the have to be published. Each person under surveillance must be informed too. Second: Don’t allow dragnet inestigations. They are too risky. Third: Keep the observation as low as possible. Destroy old records as soon as possible.

Then there are technical solutions: Avoid the cloud, or whatever the marketing division calls the outsourced data store and application servers. If you can’t choose hosters that can guarantee the data stays in your own country. Use distributed communiation services instead of central services for instance messaging, chat and telephony: Use XMPP (Jabber) for chat and instance messaging, switch to distributed social networks (egg and chicken problem). By all means avoid Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp for sensitive data. Encrypt all your E-Mail communications. E-Mails are only postcards without envelopes. There is tried and tested technology out there, S/MIME for corporations or PGP/GNUPG for all other (I use it for over 10 years now). Use HTTPS instead of HTTP to access websites, clean cookies often and block Google analytics, Twitter and Facebook counters in each and every website (I’m looking at you web page owner).

When I first heard from the leak I wasn’t surprised about the surveillance program. I somehow reckon that it was there. But as more and more details revealed I’m shocked about the backgrounds and intransparencies. We must stop it right now. We live in a liberal democracy, a state based on justice and integrity. I want to keep it. If we ignore the demount of our privacy right we may find us sooner than expected in a state without basic human rights.

posted at: 00:55 | path: /net | permanent link to this entry