Tag Archives: Politics

Privacy will die, but not because of corporations or governments: Because of you

Edward Snowden used his alternative Christmas message to highlight the death of privacy, and he’s right that privacy as we’ve all known it will die. But he’s wrong to focus on what governments are doing. Governments aren’t the ones that are going to kill privacy.

Neither are corporations the ones to blame. Google, Amazon and the like will know more about us than any company has ever known about its customers, but they aren’t the ones who will kill privacy.

No: the ones responsible for the death of privacy will be you and me.

What happens when the technology of surveillance - surreptitious cameras, tiny drones,  spyware – becomes available to every individual on the planet? What happens when every parent can follow their children’s activities 24/7, online and offline?

History tells us that technology starts off expensive and big, the domain of governments and corporations, and ends up small and cheap, available to every individual. Surveillance tech is going to follow the same pattern. And that, not corporations and governments, will be what kills privacy.

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Did the NSA pay RSA $10m to weaken encryption?

According to a story by Reuters, the NSA paid encryption company RSA $10m to deliberately weaken one of its products by using an encryption algorithm which, presumably, the NSA had already cracked.

Sounds plausible. After all, we know the NSA at least attempted to influence standard-setting bodies to adopt weaker levels of encryption.

But there’s something about this story which doesn’t add up. Once you begin to think about it, this kind of deal doesn’t make sense for either the NSA, or for RSA.

For RSA, doing something like this would be a brain-dead move. Yes, as the Reuters report says, $10m looks big in the context of the $27m made by the division of RSA which allegedly received it. But for the company as a whole, it amounts to less than 2% of its annual revenue of $525m in 2007. And a decision to accept that money would almost certainly have to have been board-level: so why would they have accepted it? Would they undermine their own product – and in a way which they must have known would almost certainly leak at some point? It just looks unlikely.

For the NSA, why bother when there are more effective and secretive ways of achieving the same goal? Why not simply plant an employee in RSA with access to the code? Why not quietly pay a very senior individual (or individuals) to buy their compliance? Why not hack into the company and plant your own back door? After all, this is an organisation capable of planting malware in top secret nuclear facilities of another country – breaking into a commercial organisation, by comparison, is trivial. And using methods like bribery, “human intelligence” or hacking gives you a level of plausible deniability that no direct deal with a company could.

Paying the company money – money which would have to be accounted for somehow “through the books” – is the least secure, most probable to leak and thus least-effective option. It seems pretty unlikely to me that an organisation like the NSA would choose to do that, rather than use one of the more covert (and effective) options at its disposal.

UPDATE: RSA has “categorically denied” it was paid to weaken its security. It’s worth reading this post in its entirety, because it includes some details about its decisions.

Obama is playing a smart game with Syria

It strikes me that Obama is playing a very smart game with his decision to ask Congress for the authorisation to act against Syria. If he can get the backing of a Republican-controlled Congress, he can play the “America is unified” card.

That makes his position much stronger with other countries. He will have not only (as he sees it ) a moral mandate, but also a democratic one. And where David Cameron lost because the people's representatives weren't behind him, Obama would have that backing.

And if he loses? To my mind, he's in something of a no-lose situation. If he loses the vote, he can simply blame the Republicans.

Nerd supremacy

Jaron Lanier gets it:

“What I’m seeing in my nerd brethren is an increasing combativeness, a loss of empathy, and creepiness,” said Jaron Lanier, a critic of digital culture and a pioneering computer scientist who helped develop virtual reality. “It’s just another supremacy movement, ultimately. It just happens to be nerd supremacy.”

(via ‘Hactivists’ fight for their cause online – Los Angeles Times)

There is a particular arrogance, a particular vision to impose their will upon the world, that’s developing in some branches of nerd culture. It’s… disquieting. One to watch.

“Will to power” is the phrase that pops into mind. And that’s not something that makes me comfortable.

(Image by Suzie Katz  - http://flic.kr/p/8Y8Pai)

How the Amazon debacle shows the dark side of social networks

There’s no point in recapping how the “Amazon de-lists GLBT books” meme developed, because other people have done a far better job than I. But what it illustrates ably, I think, is the dark side of social networks and how they spread news.

There’s a meme which appeared a while ago about a statement a kid made about news, which has been passed on as a truism about the new media landscape. He said “if something is important to me, it’ll find me”. Behind that is a simple idea: if news matters to me, it will matter to my friends, and they will pass it on to me. If someone isn’t a friend, I’m probably going to be much less interested in it – so there’s no point it getting to me.

If people you know and trust tell you something, you are much more inclined to believe it, and less inclined to stop and think critically about what they are saying. That’s the way we’re wired: we trust our tribe to tell us that we’re in danger, or that there’s a new source of food, or that going that-a-way leads to water, and that-a-way to a nasty other tribe.

Then add in another factor: our reverance for the written word. We have a couple of thousand years of cultural history that makes us much more likely to believe something we see in text. Bibles, text books, newspapers, fake diaries of Hitler – if it’s written, we’re much more gullible about about.

Finally, add in a third factor: the impossibility of making a nuanced, balanced statement in 140 characters.

As social networks increase in influence, this is going to happen more and more, and sooner or later individuals will be physically hurt because of it. Like every village, the global one can turn from warm community to pitch-fork wielding insanity as fast as it takes someone to misread “paediatrician” as “paedophile”.

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Why bank lending can never be the same again

The government has said on a number of occasions that it wants the banks to resume lending money to home-buyers and small businesses at the same levels as before the start of the credit crunch. There’s only one problem: doing so would be a sure-fire way to bankrupt the banks. And either the government doesn’t know it (in which case it’s stupid), or it does know it (in which case it’s lying to the public).

If you want to understand why bank lending can never be the same, look no further than Robert Peston’s post on HBOS’s last financial results as an independent entity. HBOS was amongst the most willing of lenders to both companies and home-buyers, and it has ended up with 47% of its business loans going bad. And, when you’re lending a total of £116 billion to business, that’s a lot of potential for loss – a risk which will now have to be paid for by the taxpayer.

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Where did it all go wrong? When Labour started telling lies – Telegraph

Link: Where did it all go wrong? When Labour started telling lies – Telegraph.

"A senior academic from Imperial College says that universities have to run catch-up classes for many students with excellent A-levels. And the National Audit Office reports that poor A-level results were the main reason why state school pupils fail to get into a decent university."

It’s worth noting that this isn’t something you can actually pin totally on Labour. When I was a postgrad back in the early 1990′s, the quality of writing ability in students dropped notably over five years – despite them all apparently getting better A level results.

The reason, of course, was the massive expansion of higher education initiated by the Tories and continued under Labour. It was, and is, a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

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