Neglecting the Lessons of Cypherpunk History

 

Over the course of the Snowden revelations there have been a number of high profile figures who’ve praised the merits of encryption as a remedy to the quandary of mass interception. Companies like Google and Apple have been quick to publicize their adoption of cryptographic countermeasures in an effort to maintain quarterly earnings. This marketing campaign has even convinced less credulous onlookers like Glenn Greenwald. For example, in a recent Intercept piece, Greenwald claimed:

“It is well-established that, prior to the Snowden reporting, Silicon Valley companies were secret, eager and vital participants in the growing Surveillance State. Once their role was revealed, and they perceived those disclosures threatening to their future profit-making, they instantly adopted a PR tactic of presenting themselves as Guardians of Privacy. Much of that is simply self-serving re-branding, but some of it, as I described last week, are genuine improvements in the technological means of protecting user privacy, such as the encryption products now being offered by Apple and Google, motivated by the belief that, post-Snowden, parading around as privacy protectors is necessary to stay competitive.”

So, while he concedes the role of public relations in the ongoing cyber security push, Greenwald concurrently believes encryption is a “genuine” countermeasure. In other words, what we’re seeing is mostly marketing hype… except for the part about strong encryption.

With regard to the promise of encryption as a privacy cure-all, history tells a markedly different story. Guarantees of security through encryption have often proven illusory, a magic act. Seeking refuge in a technical quick fix can be hazardous for a number of reasons.

Why Cameras on Police Officers Won’t Save Us

One reaction to the decision by a grand jury in New York, on Wednesday, not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put a Staten Island man named Eric Garner in an unauthorized chokehold that killed him, is despair over cameras as potential instruments of juridical salvation. On Monday, in an effort to improve police accountability after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict the white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, the Obama Administration announced that it would provide local police departments with funding to purchase fifty thousand body-worn video cameras. Garner’s death had became infamous precisely because it was videotaped by a friend of Garner’s with a cell phone, and the video, which we could all watch on YouTube, was not blurry or muffled or ambiguous. It was not at all hard to make out Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” repeated over and over and over again. My son, a college freshman in New York, texted me after the grand-jury news came out: “What makes this sad is it shows the mandatory cameras for cops idea might not change anything.” If evidence like that in the Garner case couldn’t elicit an indictment, what was the point?

The truth is that if the cameras do offer a benefit—and there is some, not a lot, of research showing that they do—it’s in influencing behavior before the fact, not providing evidence after it. In two cities where the effect of body-worn cameras has been studied—Rialto, California, and Mesa, Arizona—researchers noted that the cameras had exerted “a civilizing effect” on police behavior. In Rialto, citizen complaints against the police declined by eighty-eight per cent during the year that the cameras were used, while the use of force by police officers fell by sixty per cent. Moreover, the incidents involving the use of force by camera-wearing officers all started with a suspect physically threatening the officer. The numbers suggest that such provocation was not an essential element with officers who weren’t wearing cameras.

In a 2014 Department of Justice report, the criminologist Michael D. White, who looked at five empirical studies involving body-worn cameras (two in Arizona, one in California, one in England, and one in Scotland), notes that we can’t be sure what produced the decrease in complaints and instances of use of force by the camera-wearing cops. It could be that the officers, knowing that their actions were being recorded, behaved with more restraint, or it could be that citizens did. But it seems more likely that the police would be conscious of the camera’s presence—the devices are usually worn hooked to a shirt or mounted on a pair of sunglasses, and the officers knew that they were participating in an experiment—than most civilians, who may not notice the green recording light.

White concluded that the videotapes played some role in chronicling and accounting for police actions: they helped police officers to resolve citizen complaints against them more quickly, and they made unwarranted and frivolous complaints less likely. As it happened, the benefits as evidence tended to accrue to the police—which is fine, of course, provided that they are serving the larger goal of establishing the truth and a standard of behavior. Still, most people who have high hopes for the cameras probably aren’t primarily concerned with wiping out some scourge of frivolous citizen complaints but, rather, with achieving justice for citizens like Eric Garner.

Maybe the bigger lesson is, again, that cameras won’t save us. Like photographs and like eyewitness testimony, video evidence is subject to differing interpretations, and to the prejudices and assumptions of individual viewers. We’ve known that for a long time; still, we can’t help hoping. One of the only cases in recent years in which a New York police officer was indicted, charged, and convicted in the death of a citizen occurred in 1994. As it happens, it also involved a police officer administering a chokehold to a man, the twenty-nine-year-old asthmatic Anthony Baez, a security guard who was playing football in the street with his brothers when the ball landed on a police car, and an altercation ensued. Why that case and not Garner’s resulted in an indictment isn’t clear—and, in any event, the officer’s conviction was later overturned. But there was no video evidence in Baez’s case.

And yet the cell-phone video of Eric Garner’s death was not meaningless. The fact that so many people watched it is part of what fuelled the outrage that produced demonstrations, as well as a Justice Department investigation that the Obama Administration announced this week. But there is also something deeply sad and demoralizing about having in our collective possession such a vivid record of a death that could neither be prevented nor, in any immediate way, remedied.

NSA tapping vast majority of cell phone networks worldwide

By Thomas Gaist
5 December 2014

Electronic surveillance programs run by the US National Security Agency have compromised the great majority of the world’s cell phone networks, according to newly released NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published on The Intercept.

The NSA’s operation AURORAGOLD, exposed by the new Snowden documents, has already established an institutional and technological framework through which the spy agency can achieve direct access to all data traversing the world’s cellular networks.

Run by at least two secret NSA spy units, referred to in the documents as the Wireless Portfolio Management Office and the Target Technology Trends Center, AURORAGOLD encompasses a range of surveillance and electronic infiltration activities against cell phone networks on every continent.

The agency had established some level of electronic surveillance presence within 701 of the estimated 985 global cell phone networks as early as May 2012, the leaked documents reveal.

The main purposes of AURORAGOLD, the slides in the documents indicate, are:

* to “maintain data about international GSM/UMTS [cell phone] networks”

* to “forecast the evolution” of global cellular networks in support of the agency’s “imperative to Know the Future”

* to develop intelligence on and surveillance operations against “GSM/UMTS infrastructure,” “voice data convergence,” “technology migration,” and “technology deployments”

As part of AURORAGOLD, the slides show that NSA agents engage in:

* installing electronic backdoors in encryption systems deployed to protect cell phone networks

* gathering intelligence on and predicting the future development of cell phone security systems

* cracking new encryption technologies before they have even been deployed on live cellular networks

Information gathered by AURORAGOLD is widely shared within the intelligence agencies of the US and its allies, the slides show.

“Coincident beneficiaries of this mission are, among others, other NSA SIGDEV elements, protocol exploitation elements, and Five-Eyes Partner SIGDEV organizations,” one slide states. The Five Eyes network is comprised of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The leaked slides include a color-coded map showing that the NSA has tapped into 100 percent of existing cellular networks in numerous countries, including the majority of countries in Africa, as well as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Venezuela, Poland and Indonesia.

The NSA has tapped a large majority of cell phone networks in China, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Spain, the map shows, and is running cellular network surveillance operations inside the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France.

Making clear that the NSA is seeking to establish a regime of total information awareness even in relation to its corporate partners, one slide reads, “We monitor the industry” and demands “visibility into changing standards and practices for: Roaming, Signaling, Billing, Interoperability.”

The agency systematically spied on the content of emails sent from more than 1,000 email accounts run by key offices within the global telecommunications network.

One of the NSA’s main targets was a British-based global trade group called the GSM Association, which maintains ties to hundreds of telecommunications and tech companies around the world. NSA operations against GSM sought to intercept “IR.21 documents” passed between companies via GSM. The IR.21 documents contain information about cell phone networks that the NSA uses to penetrate their security systems.

The NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ worked together to crack the so-called “A 5/3” encryption algorithm as part of a program called WOLFRAMITE, the documents show.

The documents also shed light on the role of NSA in supporting the geopolitical machinations of US imperialism. One document shows that the NSA received orders to hack Libyan cellphone networks from the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) in March 2011.

“AFRICOM IKD-OPS requires information concerning the SMS Gateway domains for: Libyana mobile (libyans.ly) and Al Madar Al Jadid (almadar.ly),” one slide reads.

A slide boasting of the agency’s “Notable Successes” claims that the NSA has achieved “IR 21 collection from 67 high-priority networks,” including “recent IR 21s from Egypt,” and “IR 21 collection related to a possible new Chinese network.”

The latest documents make a mockery of the countless lies advanced by the Obama administration and the intelligence establishment in defense of the US government’s warrantless surveillance programs.

Rather than being limited to telephone metadata, or to “foreign intelligence” threats, the NSA’s surveillance machine has direct access to the bulk of cell phone traffic worldwide, including traffic that is supposedly protected by encryption.

Responding to the latest revelations, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines reassured the public that the spy agency “collects only those communications that it is authorized by law.”

In a sense, it is true that the surveillance programs have been “authorized by law.”

With the emergence of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1978, a secret surveillance judiciary has was established that presides over the development of a panoply of unconstitutional spying operations by the US intelligence establishment.

This process has complete support from the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress and the last several presidential administrations, which have adopted a series of executive orders authorizing mass surveillance.

The entire US government, including the Congress, has endorsed practices which clearly violate the Fourth Amendment to the US Bill of Rights. It is the military and intelligence agencies that call the shots in Washington, in alliance with Wall Street, not Senators, congressmen and even presidents, who serve as willing accomplices.

Defending the worldwide cell network tapping programs, NSA spokesperson Vines argued that the use by “terrorists” of cellular networks justifies total access by the US agency to global cellular data. “Terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets often rely on the same means of communication as ordinary people,” Vines said.

These words express the fact that as far as the NSA is concerned, Internet and telephone users have no democratic rights. Under the pretext of spying on “terrorists” lurking in every corner of the globe, the NSA is aggressively pursuing its openly stated objectives: “Collect it All; Process it All; Exploit it All; Partner it All; Sniff it All; Know it All.”

Terrorists also breath the same air, drink the same water, eat the same food and travel the same roads as ordinary people. Apparently this brings every necessity of human life under the jurisdiction of the US military-intelligence apparatus.

The favorite arguments of right-wing dictatorships are now continually invoked by the leaders of the US bourgeois state. The NSA spokesperson’s comments are a textbook application of the authoritarian legal theories developed by Nazi jurists, which call for the executive power to free itself from all legal constraints in response to a “state of emergency.”

The Obama administration has fully embraced authoritarian legal doctrine that the government the government can spy arbitrarily on any target that its agents select.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/05/cell-d05.html

Amazon’s frightening CIA partnership

Capitalism, corporations and our massive new surveillance state

Hundreds of millions flow to Amazon from the national security state. It’s a kind of partnership we shouldn’t allow

Amazon's frightening CIA partnership: Capitalism, corporations and our massive new surveillance state
Jeff Bezos, Dick Cheney (Credit: AP/Reed Saxon/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Photo montage by Salon)

When Internet retailer and would-be 21st century overlord Amazon.com kicked WikiLeaks off its servers back in 2010, the decision was not precipitated by men in black suits knocking on the door of one of Jeff Bezos’ mansions at 3 a.m., nor were any company executives awoken by calls from gruff strangers suggesting they possessed certain information that certain individuals lying next to them asking “who is that?” would certainly like to know.

Corporations, like those who lead them, are amoral entities, legally bound to maximize quarterly profits. And rich people, oft-observed desiring to become richer, may often be fools, but when it comes to making money even the most foolish executive knows there’s more to be made serving the corporate state than giving a platform to those accused of undermining national security.

The whistle-blowing website is “putting innocent people in jeopardy,” Amazon said in a statement released 24 hours after WikiLeaks first signed up for its Web hosting service. And the company wasn’t about to let someone use their servers for “securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs,” even if much of that data, leaked by Army private Chelsea Manning, showed that its rightful possessors were covering up crimes, including the murder of innocent civilians from Yemen to Iraq.

The statement was over the top — try as it might, not even the government has been able to point to a single life lost due to Manning’s disclosures — but, nonetheless, Amazon’s capitalist apologists on the libertarian right claimed the big corporation had just been victimized by big bad government. David Henderson, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, explained that those calling for a boycott of Amazon were out of line, as the real enemy was “megalomaniacal Senator Joe Lieberman,” who had earlier called on Amazon to drop WikiLeaks (and is, admittedly, a rock-solid choice for a villain).



“The simple fact is that we live in a society whose governments are so big, so powerful, so intrusive, and so arbitrary, that we have to be very careful in dealing with them,” Henderson wrote. That Amazon itself cited a purported violation of its terms of service to kick WikiLeaks off its cloud was “a lie,” according to Henderson, meant to further protect Amazon from state retribution. Did it make him happy? No, of course not. “But boycotting one of the government’s many victims? No way.”

But Amazon was no victim. Henderson, like many a libertarian, fundamentally misreads the relationship between corporations and the state, creating a distinction between the two that doesn’t really exist outside of an intro-to-economics textbook. The state draws up the charter that gives corporations life, granting them the same rights as people — more rights, in fact, as a corporate person can do what would land an actual person in prison with impunity or close to it, as when Big Banana was caught paying labor organizer-killing, right-wing death squads in Colombia and got off with a fine.

Corporations are more properly understood not as victims of the state, but its for-profit accomplices. Indeed, Amazon was eager to help the U.S. government’s campaign against a website that — thanks almost entirely to Chelsea Manning — had exposed many embarrassing acts of U.S. criminality across the globe: the condoning of torture by U.S. allies in Iraq; the sexual abuse of young boys by U.S. contractors in Afghanistan; the cover-up of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, including one that killed 41 civilians, 21 of them children. The decision to boot WikiLeaks was, in fact, one that was made internally, no pressure from the deep state required.

“I consulted people I knew fairly high up in the State Department off the record, and they said that they did not have to put pressure … on Amazon for that to happen,” said Robert McChesney, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois, in an appearance on “Democracy Now!.” “It was not a difficult sell.”

And it paid off. A little more than a year later, Amazon was awarded a generous $600 million contract from the CIA to build a cloud computing service that will reportedly “provide all 17 [U.S.] intelligence agencies unprecedented access to an untold number of computers for various on-demand computing, analytic, storage, collaboration and other services.” As The Atlanticnoted, and as former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed, these same agencies collect “billions and perhaps trillions of pieces of metadata, phone and Internet records, and other various bits of information on an annual basis.”

That is to say: On Amazon’s servers will be information on millions of people that the intelligence community has no right to possess — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper initially denied the intelligence community was collecting such data for a reason — which is used to facilitate corporate espionage and drone strikes that don’t just jeopardize innocent lives, but have demonstrably ended hundreds of them.

Instead of helping expose U.S. war crimes, then, Amazon’s cloud service could be used to facilitate them, for which it will be paid handsomely — which was, in all likelihood, the whole point of the company proving itself a good corporate citizen by disassociating itself from an organization that sought to expose its future clients in the intelligence community.

“We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,” Amazon said in a 2013 statement after winning that long-sought contract (following a protracted battle for it with a similarly eager tech giant, IBM).

If it were more honest, Amazon might have said “We look forward to a successful relationship with the [coup d’état-promoting, drone-striking, blood-stained] CIA.”

And if it were more honest, Amazon could have said the same thing in 2010.

So long as there are giant piles of money to be made by systematically violating the privacy of the public (the CIA and NSA together enjoy a budget of over $25 billion), corporations will gladly lie in the same bed as those who created them, which is, yes, gross. Protecting consumer privacy is at best an advertising slogan, not a motivating principle for entities whose sole responsibility to shareholders is to maximize quarterly profits. This isn’t an admission of defeat — and when companies fear state-sanctioned invasions of privacy will cost them customers in the private sector or contracts with foreign states, they do sometimes roll back their participation — but a call to recognize the true villain: If we desire more than just an iPhone with encryption, we must acknowledge the issue is not just a few individual megalomaniacs we call senators, but a system called capitalism that systemically encourages this behavior.

In the 1970s, following the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the Church Committee exposed rampant spying on dissidents that was illegal even according to the loose legal standards of the time. Speeches were made, reforms were demanded and new laws were passed. The abuses, it was claimed, were relegated to history. What happened next? Look around: The total surveillance we enjoy today, enabled by high-tech military contractors including AT&T and Googleand Verizon and every other nominally private tech company that capitalism encourages to value profits over privacy — a public-private partnership that grants those in power a means of spying on the powerless beyond the wildest dreams of any 20th century totalitarian. Sure, ostensibly communist states can of course be quite awful too, but the difference is that, in capitalist nations, the citizens actually place the eavesdropping devices in their own homes.

Now, whether the reforms of the 1970s were inadequate or were just plain ignored by those who were to be reformed is sort of beside the point; the status quo is what it is and, at least if one values privacy and the ability to organize and engage in political discussion and search the Internet without fear a spy agency or one of its contractors is monitoring it all in real-time, it sure isn’t good. So when groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and progressive magazines such as The Nation call for “another Church Committee,” the question we ought to ask them is: “Fucking really?”

Abolishing capitalism is indeed a utopian goal, but when corporations routinely go above and beyond their legal duties to serve the state — granting police and intelligence agencies access to their customers’ data without so much as a judge’s rubberstamp on a warrant — expecting meaningful change from a few hearings or legislative reforms will only leave the reformers disappointed to find their efforts have just led to dystopia. So long as there’s money to be made serving the corporate state, that is what corporations will do; there’s no need to resort to conspiracy for it’s right there in their corporate. And that’s not to be defeatist, but to suggest we ought to try a different approach: we ought to be organizing to put a stop to public-private partnerships altogether.

Right-wing libertarians and other defenders of capitalism are absolutely right when they say that the profit motive is a mighty motive indeed — and that’s precisely why we should seek to remove it; to take away even just the prospect of a federal contract. If the demands of privacy advocates are limited by myopic concerns of what’s politically possible here and now, all they will have to show for their advocacy will be a false sense of achievement. The problem isn’t, as some imagine it, a state spying without appropriate limits, but the fact that capitalism erases the distinction between public and private, making it so non-state actors gleefully act as the state’s eyes and ears. This isn’t about just Google or the government, but both: the capitalist state. And until we start recognizing that and saying as much, the result of our efforts will be more of the same.

Charles Davis is a writer and producer in Los Angeles whose work has been published by outlets including Al Jazeera, The New Inquiry and Vice. You can read more of his writing here.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/01/amazons_frightening_cia_partnership_capitalism_corporations_and_our_massive_new_surveillance_state/?source=newsletter

The dangerous complacency of the iPhone era

Technology is making us blind:

The rise of smartphones and social media has ushered in a new age of techno-optimism. And that’s a big problem

Technology is making us blind: The dangerous complacency of the iPhone era

The technology pages of news media can make for scary reading these days. From new evidence of government surveillance to the personal data collection capabilities of new devices, to the latest leaks of personal information, we hear almost daily of new threats to personal privacy. It’s difficult to overstate the implications of this: The separation of the private and public that’s the cornerstone of liberal thought, not to mention the American Constitution, is being rapidly eroded, with potentially profound consequences for our freedom.

 As much as we may register a certain level of dismay at this, in practice, our reaction is often indifference. How many of us have taken to the streets in protest, started a petition, canvassed a politician, or even changed our relationship with our smartphone, tablet or smartwatch? The question is why are we so unconcerned?

We could say that it’s simply a matter of habit, that we have become so used to using devices in such a way that we cannot imagine using them any differently. Or we could, for example, invoke a tragic fate in which we simply have no option but to accept the erosion of our privacy because of our powerlessness against corporations and governments.

These are, however, retrospective justifications that miss the kernel of the truth. To reach this kernel, we have to excavate the substratum of culture to uncover the ideas that shape our relationship with technology. Only here can we see that the cause is a profound ideological shift in this relationship.

Over the last few hundred years, it has been one characterized by deep ambivalence. On the one hand, we have viewed technology as emancipatory, and even, as David Nye, James Carey and other scholars have argued, as divine. On the other hand, we have seen it as dehumanizing, alienating and potentially manipulative — a viewpoint shaped by historical figures as diverse as William Blake, Mark Twain, Mary Shelley, Charlie Chaplin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ned Lud, Samuel Beckett and Karl Marx. However, over the last 20 years or so, this latter perspective has largely been thrown out of the window.

There are many areas of culture that witness this shift, but none does so as lucidly as science fiction film. Even when set in the future, science fiction explodes onto the silver screen the ideas held about technology in the present. Indeed, the success of many of the best science fiction films is undoubtedly because they illustrate their time’s hopes and fears about technology so clearly.



Those of the late 20th century clearly suggest the prevalence in American culture of the old fearful view of technology. The 1980s, for example, saw the advent of personal computing, innovation in areas like genetic engineering and robotics, job losses brought about by industrial mechanization, and the creation of futuristic military technologies such as the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars).

Lo and behold, the science fiction films of the time betray cultural fears of keeping up with the pace of change. Many explore the dehumanizing effects of technology, depicting worlds where humans have lost control. “Terminator,” for example, conjoins fears of mechanization and computing. The human protagonists are powerless to kill Schwarzenegger’s cyborg directly; it ultimately meets its end via another piece of industrial technology (a hydraulic press). Another classic of the era, “Blade Runner,” is a complex thought experiment on the joining of technology and humans as hybrids. The antagonist, Roy, whom Harrison Ford’s Deckard must kill, represents the horrific synthesis of unfettered human ambition and technological potency.

The 1990s was the age of mass computing and the rise of the internet. In response, new technological metaphors were created, with the 1980s’ imagery of hard, masculine technology replaced by the fluidity and dynamism of the network. In “Terminator 2,” Schwarzenegger’s industrial killing machine is obsolete, and no longer a threat to humans. Instead, the threat comes from the T-1000, whose speed and liquid metal form evoke a new world governed by the data stream.

The ’90s also witnessed increasing virtualization of everyday life — a trend reflected by Jean Baudrillard’s identification of the Gulf War as the first truly virtual war. Films explored the loss of the real that virtualization implied. “The Truman Show” and “The Matrix” both involve their protagonists being “awoken” from everyday life, which is shown to be artificial.

However, this view of technology as fearsome is seldom expressed in the sci-fi films since 2000, while it’s also difficult to identify many common themes, or many iconic genre examples. Is this simply because sci-fi as a genre has exhausted itself (as Ridley Scott has claimed)? Or is it symptomatic of something deeper in the culture?

The answer becomes clear when we consider two recent examples that do express fears of technology. “Transcendence” and “Her” join a long line of sci-fi films that portray artificial intelligence as out of control. Both, however, were not huge commercial successes. Was this because they were simply bad films? Not necessarily. While “Transcendence” was poorly received, “Her” was a thematically sophisticated exploration of love in a virtual age. The problem was that both missed the zeitgeist. No one really fears artificial intelligence anymore.

The notion that technology is fearful relies upon three assumptions: First, that technology and humans are self-contained and separate from each other (the old dichotomy of man and machine). Secondly, that technology has its own nature — that it can determine human life. (As legendary media theorist Marshall McLuhan once put it, “we shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”) Thirdly, that this nature can direct technology against humans.

However, the last 20 years have seen a dramatic erosion of all three assumptions. In particular, we no longer view technology as having any intrinsic meaning; the medium is no longer the message. Instead, its only meanings are those that we give it. For us, technology is a blank slate; it’s cultural matter waiting for us to give it form. Allied to this has been a new sense of intimacy with technology: a breaking down of the boundaries between it and us.

Perhaps the key driver of this has been technology’s centrality to the foremost pursuit of our times: the quest for the authentic self. This quest tasks us with finding ways of demonstrating to ourselves and others what makes us unique, special and individual. Technology has become a powerful way of doing this. We see it as a means of self-expression; it allows us to fully be ourselves.

The smartphone is the exemplar here. The cultural understanding of the smartphone was initially driven by BlackBerry, who positioned it as a corporate tool. Such meanings have long since lost resonance. Now, smartphone brands position their products as central to relationships, creative expression, play and all the other things that apparently make us authentic individuals. Apps are important: The customization of experience they allow helps to make our smartphones unique expressions of ourselves.

This association of technology with ideals of the authentic self is not confined to smartphones, however. Many researchers into artificial intelligence no longer aim to create ultimate intelligence; instead they replicate the “authentic” qualities of humans through creating machines that can, for instance, write music or paint.

Only recently, at the launch of Apple’s smartwatch, Jonathan Ive claimed that “we’re at a compelling beginning, designing technology to be worn, to be truly personal,” signifying a new frontier in the quest to eliminate the boundaries between ourselves and technology.

Similarly, the Internet of Things promises to make us the center of our worlds like never before. This is a world in which we will know about medical issues before we have even felt the symptoms, be able to alter the temperature of our home from wherever we are, and be warned in advance when we are running out of milk. It is one in which it’s claimed technology will be so in tune with our needs that it will anticipate them before we have.

Thus, we now view technology not just as empowering but as self-actualizing as well. Because it’s positioned as key to our authentic selves, we are newly intimate with it. This sounds utopian. It seems as if technology is finally reaching its potential: It is no longer the threat to human freedom, but its driving force.

Undoubtedly, there may be great pleasure in this new utopia, but this does not make it any less ideological. As Slavoj Zizek points out, ideas can both be true and highly ideological insofar as they obscure relations of domination. Indeed, it is the wrapping of technology in the “jargon of authenticity” (to borrow a phrase from Theodor Adorno, another critical theorist) that makes this new “ideology of intimacy” so seductive.

In the past, it was easier to critique technology because the dichotomy of man and machine clearly kept it separate from us. As such, we were able to take it as an object of analysis; to hypothesize how innovations might affect our freedoms for better or worse. This becomes infinitely more difficult in a context that has conflated ourselves and technology. We struggle to achieve the distance needed to critique it.

The result is that we become blind to technology’s dark side — its potential to be misused in ways that encroach on our privacy. How can we see the privacy implications of our smartphones when we see them first as the key to the authentic self, or the Google Car when it looks so cute, or Google Glass when we believe that it will allow us to transcend our bodies to allow a new mastery of the world.

It is, though, a question not just of blindness but also of will. The injunction to treat technology as an extension of our authentic selves encourages a kind of narcissistic love: We love technology because we love ourselves. In Freudian terms, the ideology of intimacy incites us to invest our love in the technological object through presenting it as key to the pursuit of our ego ideal. Thus, we do not want to really separate ourselves from technology because doing so would be experienced as a traumatic loss, an alienation from part of ourselves. Perhaps this is the true power that the ideology of intimacy holds over us.

Yet somehow we need to take a step back, to uncouple ourselves from the seductive devices around us. We need to end our blind devotion and rediscover critical distance. This way we can start to view technology as it is: as both the key to our freedoms, and also their greatest threat. If we don’t, we may discover too late that the new technological utopia is actually a poisoned chalice, with profound implications for our privacy.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/29/technology_is_making_us_blind_the_dangerous_complacency_of_the_iphone_era/?source=newsletter

Monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors — they’re the central part of the problem.

Tech Companies Are Peddling a Phony Version of Security, Using the Govt. as the Bogeyman

http://kielarowski.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/b4817-tech.png?w=399&h=337

This week the USA Freedom Act was blocked in the Senate as it failed to garner the 60 votes required to move forward. Presumably the bill would have imposed limits on NSA surveillance. Careful scrutiny of the bill’s text however reveals yet another mere gesture of reform, one that would codify and entrench existing surveillance capabilities rather than eliminate them.

Glenn Greenwald, commenting from his perch at the Intercept, opined:

“All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.”

Anyone who followed the sweeping deregulation of the financial industry during the Clinton era, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 which effectively repealed Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, immediately sees through Greenwald’s impromptu dogma. Let’s not forget the energy market deregulation in California and subsequent manipulation that resulted in blackouts throughout the state. Ditto that for the latest roll back of arms export controls that opened up markets for the defense industry. And never mind all those hi-tech companies that want to loosen H1-B restrictions.

The truth is that the government is more than happy to cede power and authority… just as long as doing so serves the corporate factions that have achieved state capture. The “empire” Greenwald speaks of is a corporate empire. In concrete analytic results that affirm Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Party Competition, researchers from Princeton and Northwestern University conclude that:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Glenn’s stance reveals a broader libertarian theme. One that the Koch brothers would no doubt find amenable: the government is suspect and efforts to rein in mass interception must therefore arise from the corporate entities. Greenwald appears to believe that the market will solve everything. Specifically, he postulates that consumer demand for security will drive companies to offer products that protect user privacy, adopt “strong” encryption, etc.

The Primacy of Security Theater

Certainly large hi-tech companies care about quarterly earnings. That definitely explains all of the tax evasion, wage ceilings, and the slave labor. But these same companies would be hard pressed to actually protect user privacy because spying on users is a fundamental part of their business model. Like government spies, corporate spies collect and monetize oceans of data.

Furthermore hi-tech players don’t need to actually bullet-proof their products to win back customers. It’s far more cost effective to simply manufacture the perception of better security: slap on some crypto, flood the news with public relation pieces, and get some government officials (e.g. James ComeyRobert Hannigan, and Stewart Baker) to whine visibly about the purported enhancements in order to lend the marketing campaign credibility. The techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley are masters of Security Theater.

Witness, if you will, Microsoft’s litany of assurances about security over the years, followed predictably by an endless train of critical zero-day bugs. Faced with such dissonance it becomes clear that “security” in high-tech is viewed as a public relations issue, a branding mechanism to boost profits. Greenwald is underestimating the contempt that CEOs have for the credulity of their user base, much less their own workers.

Does allegedly “strong” cryptography offer salvation? Cryptome’s John Young thinks otherwise:

“Encryption is a citizen fraud, bastard progeny of national security, which offers malware insecurity requiring endless ‘improvements’ to correct the innately incorrigible. Its advocates presume it will empower users rather than subject them to ever more vulnerability to shady digital coders complicit with dark coders of law in exploiting fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Business interests, having lured customers in droves with a myriad of false promises, will go back to secretly cooperating with government spies as they always have: introducing subtle weaknesses into cryptographic protocols, designing backdoors that double as accidental zero-day bugs, building rootkits which hide in plain sight, and handing over user data. In other words all of the behavior that was described by Edward Snowden’s documents. Like a jilted lover, consumers will be pacified with a clever sales pitch that conceals deeper corporate subterfuge.

Ultimately it’s a matter of shared class interest. The private sector almost always cooperates with the intelligence services because American spies pursue the long-term prerogatives of neoliberal capitalism; open markets and access to resources the world over. Or perhaps someone has forgotten the taped phone call of Victoria Nuland selecting the next prime minister of Ukraine as the IMF salivates over austerity measures? POTUS caters to his constituents, the corporate ruling class, which transitively convey their wishes to clandestine services like the CIA. Recall Ed Snowden’s open letter to Brazil:

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

To confront the Deep State Greenwald is essentially advocating that we elicit change by acting like consumers instead of constitutionally endowed citizens. This is a grave mistake because profits can be decoupled from genuine security in a society defined by secrecy, propaganda, and state capture. Large monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors. They’re the central part of the problem. We shouldn’t run to the corporate elite to protect us. We should engage politically to retake and remake our republic.

 

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis.

http://www.alternet.org/tech-companies-are-peddling-phony-version-security-using-govt-bogeyman?akid=12501.265072.yCLOb-&rd=1&src=newsletter1027620&t=29&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Amnesty International Releases Tool To Combat Government Spyware

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/11/20/detekt-1d.png

Human rights charity Amnesty International has released Detekt, a tool that finds and removes known government spyware programs. Describing the free software as the first of its kind, Amnesty commissioned the tool from prominent German computer security researcher and open source advocate Claudio Guarnieri, aka ‘nex’. While acknowledging that the only sure way to prevent government surveillance of huge dragnets of individuals is legislation, Marek Marczynski of Amnesty nevertheless called the tool (downloadable here) a useful countermeasure versus spooks. According to the app’s instructions, it operates similarly to popular malware or virus removal suites, though systems must be disconnected from the Internet prior to it scanning.

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