At the moment the press is full of the stories of cyber spying, surveillance and the NSA whistleblower – William Binney. Fair play to the man, it takes courage to stand up against the NSA but he’s definitely not the first. This particular organisation have been spying on our internet traffic for years and the huge spying complex being completed in Utah is merely the centralization of a spying network which has been up and running for many years. I am of course referring to the infamous Room 641A in San Francisco which was brought to the public attention by another brave whistle blower – Mark Klein.
Mark Klein was a contractor like William Binney working in AT&Ts switching center – a major part of the US internet backbone, when he became aware of a particular room in this building run by the NSA. Room 641A had been set up as a network tap, with effectively all the internet traffic that passed through this center being copied and routed into this room.
Inside the high security of this room sat a device called the Narus STA 6400 – a device capable of intercepting and analysing huge amounts of network traffic. No prizes for guessing what was going on here then! Mark Klein, gathered some proof together and exposed the room and it’s function to the world, leading to a court case brought by the EFF.
William Binney has brought the story up to date, and demonstrates that the NSA have never really stopped gathering this data. Here’s the story from Democracy Now – (edited ‘cos they deserve a link!)
The reality is that this new facility is no real secret, nor the methods being utilized by the world’s security organisations. There were lots of ‘Room 641As’ all across the US and indeed the world, capturing, logging and storing details of all the network traffic on the planet. It was always going to happen anyway, at least while we used an open, distributed and shared network like the internet to communicate.
The Mark Klein episode was nearly a decade ago now, and obviously just rooms are not quite enough nowadays. There’s lots of talk about legality, permission and here in the UK the Foreign Minister insisting that legal due process is always followed. The reality is that it’s much, much easier for a security organisation to capture all traffic – emails, web browsing, phone calls, search enquiries and everything else than it is to selectively capture the communications of individual suspects. Far simpler to dump the whole lot into huge databases and then data mine, or search for the information you require. If they could somehow just harvest ‘terrorist related data’ then I’m sure nobody would mind very much but they can’t. The data is ours -
this data is your web history, your emails, your search history – what you do online – at anytime from anywhere.
Had a few drinks? Watched Zero Dark 30? Then proceeded to flounder around the web using lots of ‘terrorist keywords’ . Well it doesn’t matter if you’re a kitchen fitter from Manchester – you’ll raise a few flags on a database somewhere…..and it could very well be via PRISM and the NSA, who might mention it to GCHQ!
Anyone who would believe that all this data would sit untouched, unmonitored and unanalysed until it’s needed is I’m afraid sadly deluded. Effectively we’re all turned into suspects – the PRISM project and the huge UTAH surveillance center changes nothing except perhaps the efficiency and scope.
So that’s it, all semblances of privacy whilst using any form of electronic communication gone. Millions of people’s privacy waved aside on the chance of catching the odd terrorist now and again. Of course there is another issue there, there are ways of keeping your privacy even now such as using a VPN. The methods of using security products, VPNs, false IP addresses and encryption can ensure that your data is not accessible by these broad sweeping exercises. Of course this is what the terrorists will do, at least the ones with a half a brain cell between them.
Which leads to the conclusion that the NSA will most only be snooping on the innocent….
Well if you like to idle away those long winter nights (and days) in Reykjavik by surfing a little porn online, then you might want to consider moving away. The Iceland Government have decided they want to do something good for their citizens (as opposed to bankrupting the country with a hopeless banking system) and are going to ban pornography from the web in Iceland.
Every time I see these sort of stories my heart sinks, why can’t people just leave the internet alone and let people make up their own minds. You might think that it’s all for a good cause, banning all that nasty porn stuff and everyone will behave and be nice to each other. Who knows they might be right, but what I do know is that censoring and filtering the internet doesn’t work – it never does.
An adviser to Iceland’s interior minister- Ogmundur Jonasson who is drafting the legislation was quoted as follows -
“At the moment, we are looking at the best technical ways to achieve this…..but surely if we can send a man to the moon, we must be able to tackle porn on the internet.”
A comment that first got me thinking, can Iceland actually send a man to the moon and secondly they haven’t got a clue about how to achieve this and what sort of issues they will face.
It’s just another of these populist ideas that politicians have, the fact that when you start censoring and filtering the internet, you also start to erode people’s civil liberties. I have no idea if there is any scientific basis to the argument that no porn on internet = less rape and sex crimes, I suspect very little. However I do know that any content filtering will only work against a minority of citizens and almost exclusively on the law abiding ones.
There are so many ways to bypass these filters, that your average sexual predator will easily be able to access whatever pornography they like. The Chinese Government have invested billions in their Great Firewall of China and yet your average 12 year old Beijing schoolboy can easily bypass them using a simple VPN or high anonymity proxy. Do we have any evidence that Iceland will come up with a technical solution more advanced than the People’s republic of China – obviously it it’s not going to happen.
What will happen is that another Government will have a little more control over it’s citizens, but only the ones who follow rules anywhere. The Iceland government will also have this infrastructure installed so maybe next year they’ll think of some thing else we shouldn’t do online and will add that to the banned list. It always happens you start by banning one thing then it just get’s easier and easier to control more aspects of what people can do online.
It’s negative, oppressive and most of all it doesn’t work…..
If you’re in Iceland, Kuwait, Iran, China or anywhere else where the Governments decides whether you can watch porn, politics , sports or whatever – then try this – Identity Cloaker, it’s not just a simple proxy for watching porn over, but a sophisticated security product that can bypass all sorts of blocks and filters and keep you hidden whilst you do so!