'Our security forces have it back'?!?

August 21st, 2013

Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:

Louise Mensch on data security

She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.

Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.

[Via Charlie's Diary]

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August 10th, 2013

Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:

The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.

That the spies know what they are doing.

It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.

It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.

But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. […]

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Life imitates The Onion

July 24th, 2013

The word 'ironic' comes to mind:

The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn't have the technology.

"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is "a little antiquated and archaic," she added. […]

How suspiciously convenient for them.1

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. For what it's worth, I'm quite prepared to believe that they don't have all their employee email in a single spool that can easily be searched by or on behalf of their FoIA team. The question is whether that was a desired outcome or just a happy side effect of their last email migration.

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Hero and villain

October 26th, 2011

Assange versus Zuckerberg.

[Via Ghost in the Machine]

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Wikileaks is "transparent," like a cardboard blast shack full of kitchen-sink nitroglycerine in a vacant lot.

December 27th, 2010

Bruce Sterling on the Wikileaks saga:

Assange didn't liberate the dreadful secrets of North Korea, not because the North Koreans lack computers, but because that isn't a cheap and easy thing that half-a-dozen zealots can do. But the principle of it, the logic of doing it, is the same. Everybody wants everybody else's national government to leak. Every state wants to see the diplomatic cables of every other state. It will bend heaven and earth to get them. It's just, that sacred activity is not supposed to be privatized, or, worse yet, made into the no-profit, shareable, have-at-it fodder for a network society, as if global diplomacy were so many mp3s. Now the US State Department has walked down the thorny road to hell that was first paved by the music industry. Rock and roll, baby.

[Via The Null Device]

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Representing. Comfort-seeking. Advancing.

December 26th, 2010

Professor Ross Anderson's response to a request by the UK Cards Association1 that the university take down an MPhil thesis published by a student that included information about the No-PIN attack and "give [the UK Cards Association] comfort about [the university's] policy towards future disclosures." may not be as pithy as the best reply ever committed to paper, but it's equally robust:

Your letter of December 1st to Stephen Jolly has only this week been passed to me to deal with. I'm afraid it contains a number of misconceptions and factual errors.

First, your letter was not correctly addressed. The University of Cambridge is a self-governing community of scholars rather than a corporate hierarchy. […] Omar's work was not 'published by the university' as you claim but by him. If you wanted him to take his thesis offline, you should have asked him.

However, given that the material on the No-PIN attack appears on my page as well as Omar's and Steven's, and given that Mr Jolly passed the matter to me to deal with, I expect that I can save us all a lot of time by answering directly.

Second, you seem to think that we might censor a student's thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. […]

[Via James Nicoll]

  1. That's 'cards' as in credit/debit cards, not playing cards or collectible card games.

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The US State Department imitates The Onion

December 8th, 2010

In the month of Wikileaks – when US senators lean on Amazon to stop hosting a web site they disapprove of, online payment processing services suddenly find it inappropriate to continue to service certain customers, and numerous columnists and out of work politicians express the view that Julian Assange should be hunted down and tried for [espionage | treason | insert capital crime of your choice here]1 – life truly does imitate The Onion:

US Department of State

Press Statement

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC

December 7, 2010

The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.

The theme for next year's commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals' right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age. […]

You Couldn't Make It Up…

[Via Making Light]

  1. Crimes against a nation of which he is neither a citizen nor a resident, let's not forget.

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Mulder has been transferred to Afghanistan

December 13th, 2009

The British version of the X-Files is no more:

The government has shut a unit which has investigated UFO sightings for more than 50 years, judging its resources better spent on more earthly threats.


"The MoD has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life. However, in over 50 years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom," it said in a statement.

Sceptical readers will note that they don't say that UFOs don't exist, just that there's no threat to the UK. Is this because they've found no evidence of alien visitors to UK airspace, or <paranoia level="maximum">compelling evidence that the government has already signed a non-aggression pact with an alien power?</paranoia>

[Via Blood & Treasure]

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Commercial interests

January 4th, 2009

I just knew how this story about the money spent on celebrity participation in public sector health campaigns would end long before I got to the end:

[The Department of Health…], which increasingly uses actors, singers, television stars and sports personalities to convince the nation to adopt healthier habits, refuses to admit how much it spends on celebrity campaigns. Now critics have accused the government of "unacceptable secrecy" following speculation that stars are being paid up to £10,000 a day for their appearances.


Officials confirmed that [Jenny] Frost, of the band Atomic Kitten, worked on the campaign for eight days and was "paid for public relations work, including interviews and personal appearances, as well as the use of her image on the pack sent out to young mums who sign up for Breast Buddy". But the DoH refused to reveal how much the singer received, citing "commercial interests" as the reason. Disclosure of the amount would deter other celebrities from fronting such campaigns in the future, it said. One official working inside the department said Frost had received £10,000 a day for her work, but the Observer has been unable to verify that figure. […]

At this juncture, it's important not to get too caught up in speculation about precisely how much a given celebrity may (or may not) have been paid for a given campaign, or to get worked up about the notion that having a celebrity's image associated with a given project will make it more effective; those are valid issues, but of secondary importance. The major issue is that this is yet more evidence of the shockingly common attitude among government departments that "commercial interests" (whatever that means) justify hiding information from the taxpayers about how the government spends money. As far as I'm concerned, if you take money from the public purse then you should not expect to be able to keep the amounts involved or the terms of your contract secret.1

As to the argument that revealing the amounts paid would deter celebrities from participating in such public-spirited activities in future, in the absence of hard information about the amounts involved it's difficult to avoid one simple, damning conclusion: the celebrities involved are worried that their adoring public would be much less impressed with their idols' public-spiritedness if they knew that they'd received a good fraction of the national average salary for what may amount to a few days' modelling work or a couple of days learning a script to deliver to camera.

  1. I work in the public sector, and as I've noted before I have no problem with people knowing how much I take home in return for my daily toil.

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