Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Case for More Paranoia

"I..have multiple layers of encryption on a personal desktop at home which is now running Linux and not Windows anymore. I do this because I want to sort of  'thumb my nose' at the N.S.A. more than anything else. I actually have nothing to hide!....But foreign governments have no business in my business or personal life. So I guess this is just my own petty little protest and way of saying F you NSA. Childish? Probably, but hey, why not?" - a comment off the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) MyVoice website.

He's responding to a CIRA survey conducted early this year and which found that 49% of Canadians believe it is acceptable for government to monitor e-mail and other online activities. This rises to 77% when the prevention of future terrorist attacks is specified. Wow one might think, our public protectors have to get a search warrant to view our snail mail or tap our phone lines but the majority of us think it's OK somehow for them to read anything at all we put online!

For myself, I see the fundamental error in our accepting unrestricted universal surveillance is assuming that those in security bureaucracies are any different from the rest of us with regard how much they can be trusted to behave honourably. There is nothing in our history as a species that justifies such acquiescence. While it often seems we live at a very paranoiac time, there are huge gaps in this perception, and online surveillance is one of them.  I'd argue one should be paranoid, knowing what we now know about human nature.

90% of Canadians do financial transactions online, one of the highest proportions in the world.  Knowing that some people in government have unfettered access to those transactions, why do these folk keep doing that? We know that the best 'hackers' these days mostly work in non-criminal security jobs. Big Brother really does know all about you to a degree unimaginable in the past. He also has your picture, whether he be the gigantic US version from spy satellites, or our own local Big Brother with area surveillance video. At least out here in the Ontario boondocks, our local coppers can't see us out walking through the bush.

However in the UK one needs to be hiking deep in the moors and mountains to avoid the ubiquitous all-seeing cameras mounted on a wall nearby. My wife and I spotted three (yes three) cameras inside a local bus we took in the Isle of Man two summers ago. The Isle of Man for heavens sake, a little island with a low crime rate on the rear end of Europe and full of little more than middle-class holidaymakers and income tax-avoiders!

Now that mini-drones are round the corner, their seeing-eyes will soon make disappearing for a quiet stroll in the woods to get away from walls into just another surveillance opportunity. While we up north here in the snows scoff today at the antics of the US National Rifle Association, it may not be long before we will be asking their advice on the best gun to buy to shoot unmanned flying objects out of the sky above.


  1. What you said about monitoring emails is interesting. While I'm against monitoring foreign Prime Ministers (when the country's an ally), I don't worry too much about our feds seeing what I say. I'm definitely in favour of cops being able to quickly and easily get warrants when there's a 1% chance of a terrorist attack. I'm 44 and wonder what chance there is feds will use monitoring to take my money or infringe on my rights, in my lifetime. As there are now an estimated 35 million Canadians, I'll worry about it when I hear about the first such case; I doubt very much it'll be me.

  2. From today's NYT 'Disruptions: Internet’s Sad Legacy: No More Secrets' by Nick Bilton:-
    'Ben Wizner, the director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union: “What we’ve learned this year is that agencies are determined to conduct surveillance on us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”

    But there is one thing that Mr. Wizner said can and should happen. Technologists are capable of building tools that can prevent such snooping — things that go beyond disappearing messaging apps and that could protect everyone’s privacy.

    “This may be one of those once-in-a-generation moments when we re-calibrate the powers of the citizens and the state,” Mr.Wizner said. “And that change can happen on the technological side, where the technologists that are disillusioned by the incessant tracking will use their skills to make surveillance more costly.”'


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