Tag Archives: internet

An introduction to the fight for the internet and humanity’s fate.

22 Nov

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

What if you could fight a war without the need for armies and large scale military operations? What if you could fight these wars proactively, before your enemy even attacks? What if you were able to identify potential enemies and neutralize them before they even organized? What if you were able to achieve near complete situational awareness, not just on the scale of your immediate surroundings, but on the scale of entire nation states? What if your definition of “enemy” was not limited to foreign agents but anyone who questions your total dominance?

What if your definition of enemy included your own citizens?

What if there was no one to stop you?

This is the situation humanity now faces with the US Government and technology.

Back in the days of knights and archers, castles were the primary force multipliers. A well-built and well situated castle would allow a small garrison of soldiers to fend off a much larger foe. The castle allowed for efficient and targeted use of force. Today intelligence is the ultimate force multiplier. The better your intelligence is on a target, the more efficiently you can apply targeted force. Just as the atomic bomb represented a paradigm shift in conventional warfare, so does the internet represent a paradigm shift in surveillance and intelligence gathering.

A government’s power rests on its ability to use violence to enforce its will. Note that I said “power” and not “legitimacy.” People sometimes confuse the two and mistakenly believe a government gets its power from the people when in fact it only gets its legitimacy from the people; but what does legitimacy matter when you have the power to eliminate those who say you’re illegitimate?

A government’s power in an operational theater (domestic or foreign) is limited by how quickly and effectively it can exert organized violence, usually through either a military or law enforcement.

At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted the technology was such that the exercising of power usually took the form of infantrymen with muzzle-loading muskets. The founding fathers understood the relationship between the ability to exercise violence and power. England had just attempted to exercise its power through violence on the colonies; hence why they codified into law a people’s right to bear arms. A populace without the final recourse of violence is a populace without the final say. To take away that populace’s ability to check government power (violence) with their own power (violence) is to take away all their power. They are then made subservient and can only hope that those with the power will consent to changes if only the populace asks nicely enough.

redcoats

The problem we face now is that government’s ability to exercise violence has vastly outstripped the populace’s ability to check that violence.  Instead of muzzle-loading muskets, we now have flying robots that kill people, including American citizens without trial.

drones

A side note on the accountability of government and the false dichotomy of liberal/conservative with regards to this issue:

This problem transcends the liberal/conservative paradigm everyone is used to. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Liberal vs conservative is a false dichotomy encouraged by those in power to distract you from the fact that you have no rights and no real say over what the government does. No matter who you vote for, the government always wins. If voting actually changed anything it’d be illegal.
Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to believe the government is ultimately subject to its own laws. It writes the laws. Trying to defend your “rights” within the US legal system is like playing a football game against a team that wrote the rules of the game and can alter or ignore those rules at will.  The fact that the president can and has extrajudicially executed American citizens without trial is a recent example of the government’s immunity to its own laws. This attitude is nothing new. Nixon stated “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Well when the government does something, it’s not illegal. Any thinking person knows that just because something is legal or illegal doesn’t make it just or unjust.
(Possible videos of interest: Judge Napolitano was fired from Fox News for this 5 minute speech he gave pointing these facts out. The late standup comedian George Carlin explains here how “rights” are a myth. Recently making a lot of waves, Russell Brand explains in an interview why the current system is impervious to “approved” political outlets like voting.)

How does all this violence and politics relate to the internet?

Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s important to understand the context of what you’re up against as a person who wishes to maintain their rights to privacy and personal liberty.

The internet is the force multiplier, like a castle, but is the most powerful force multiplier ever constructed. With modern surveillance techniques the government, who is effectively answerable to no one, can record practically everything you do: Where you go online, what you buy with your credit cards, who you call with your cell phone, even where you travel. The CIA is even preparing to spy on you with your home appliances.

How do they do this?

The key concept is what’s called “Data linking.” Through programs like PRISM, SIGINT, and BULLRUN, the government will record as much information about you as they can. Often they will ask companies like Verizon and Google to hand over all the information they have on you. If the company refuses, which they rarely do, the government just hacks the company and takes it. They then store this data in centers like the Utah Data Center, a $1.5 Billion dollar facility built specifically to house 100 years’ worth of data on everyone on the planet.  They then use all this data on you, credit card purchases, who you messaged on facebook, cell phone text messages, phone calls, GPS location, etc to create a matrix of dots. Each dot is a point of data. Jacob Appelbaum, a security research, privacy advocate, and member of the TOR anonymity project gives a great example of this during a digital anti-repression talk. Here’s the part where he introduces the concept of data-linking: 5:56-8:23

To watch the whole talk, and you really should if you want to understand what you’re up against, you can start from the beginning here.

They’re doing this to protect us from terrorists, plus, I’ve got nothing to hide!

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

The government will often use “we’re protecting you” as an excuse for power grabs. It could be something as simple as the mayor of NYC attempting to ban big sodas “for your protection” to something as massive as invalidating the 4th Amendment with the “Patriot” Act and super-secret FISA courts.

In reality, the government is protecting itself.  In addition to “we’re protecting you from terrorists”, you will often hear “we’re protecting the children!” as an excuse to take away your liberties.  Think of all the cries for repelling the 2nd amendment after the Sandy Hook shootings.  As if disarming an entire populace would somehow make people safe against lone shooters. Another example: UK prime minister David Cameron implemented a nation-wide ban on internet pornography. Starting in 2014, all new broadband accounts will come with mandatory pornography filters. “To protect the children.” Do you think pornography is the only thing these filters will be searching? (Hint: The answer’s NO.)

Do not be surprised if you hear the government label people who wish to maintain their right to privacy as criminals, terrorists and peddlers of child pornography. Just like guns, there will always be a few people who use a technology for unjust purposes, but this does not warrant attempting block everyone’s access to that technology. Those who still want to take a technology away from everyone more often than not have their own unjust motives for doing so.

But the government would never abuse this power and target political adversaries…right?

It’s the classic scenario: Would you do something you knew was wrong if you knew you wouldn’t be caught and punished? I would hazard to guess that most average people would say no, but then again average people aren’t the type of people to get themselves in positions of power like politicians, generals, and spies.

It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ~Douglas Adams

Think about it. You’re the government. You are god. No one will punish you except yourself, and that’s not about to happen any time soon. You have this secret power to spy on anyone in the world. The public, hell even most of congress, doesn’t know about your secret abilities. If they do, you’ll pull the “terrorism” card or the “child pornography” card. Who wants to be labeled as “pro-terrorist child rapists?”

Do you do it?

OF COURSE YOU FUCKING DO IT! Are you serious? Every government ever has always sought to spy on their political adversaries. It’s like statism 101! The US government is no exception and has a long and rich history of spying on civil rights leaders, students, activists, anyone that didn’t fit with the party in power. Abusing power isn’t reserved for just political adversaries, the employees at the NSA even used their illegal powers to spy on spouses and ex-lovers!

What’s worse, all this spying has not provided any tangible benefits! In June of 2013, NSA director Keith Alexander sat in front of congress and flat out asserted that they had stopped 54 terrorist attacks as a result of illegally and unethically spying on 300 million Americans (and the rest of the world).

But guess what… he was lying.

Last month Alexander admitted as much. Instead of 54, Alexander said they had stopped “only perhaps one or two.”

Let me tell you a little story about a man arrested for drinking and driving. The officer pulled him over and asked him how many drinks he had that night. When the man replied “one or two” the office asked him to take a breathalyzer test and found that he was over the limit. When the man asked the office how he knew that he had been drinking heavily the office responded with “If you had had only two beers you would have remembered exactly how many you had.”

And that’s ladies and gentlemen yet another reason why the NSA (and Keith Alexander) is full of shit.

What are the risks?

Besides living in an Orwellian police state world (the internet knows no national boundaries and nor does their spying) where you automatically suspect and guilty until proven innocent, they’ll break the internet.

Most people don’t understand how the internet works. They get on a computer and it’s just there. Sadly, a lot of people in government don’t understand how the internet works either. As a result, they’re doing things that will destroy the internet on a fundamental level. Their short-sided goals of cracking down on political dissidents has led them to break common encryption methods used for things like whenever you purchase something from amazon with your credit card. They’ve also leaned on software developers to put back-doors (allowing the NSA to spy and steal information) into various programs and websites. (Most notably, Skype and Facebook)

One of the (many) big issues with this is that the government is not the only one who will be able to take advantage of these back doors and broken encryption. They’re basically smashing down the door to your house, ransacking the place to try and incriminate you, then leaving. Meanwhile the door to your house is still smashed in and anybody can just walk right in when they find that opening. When they break the ability to encrypt transactions online, they break the trust people have in online commerce. Imagine if nobody felt safe buying anything online anymore. What would that do to the world economy? According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans, just Americans alone, are projected to spend $327 BILLION online by 2016. That’s just Americans. Can you imagine what the total figure is for that plus the rest of the world? Now imagine what would happen if that disappeared? What would happen to the world’s economy? It would fucking crash in a catastrophic fashion. There is a serious threat now of Balkanization of the internet. When Snowden revealed just how massive the NSA’s spying is, countries started talking about segmenting themselves off from the internet. This will undermine the internet’s core concept: inter-connectivity. Can you imagine a country by country internet?

The internet is arguably the most amazing technological advancement in the history of humanity. The ability to communicate and share ideas instantaneously has produce a Cambrian explosion like advancement in science, commerce, and culture. There has never been anything like it. Unfortunately, there’s now a real risk that it will die. If it does die, die too does humanity’s chance to escape the bonds of its past and any hope for a brighter future. The fight for the fate of the internet is really a fight for the fate of humanity. It is perhaps the most important fight in human history.

So what can you do?

I hope you know by now that writing letters, calling your representatives, marching around in the cold with signs, and voting (all the socially “approved” outlets) are futile. They’re an illusion to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something when in fact you’re not. Instead the only thing you’re accomplishing is venting your frustration in a sterilized (non-violent) way. As far as the government is concerned, you can do that all day. What really matters to them is that you don’t challenge their power with your own.

So if the approved outlets are pointless and you’re unable to out-violence the government, what can you do to protect yourself from the monster of a surveillance state we’ve created? What will save us?

sacred_heart_of_jesus

End to End Encryption

Our only hope for salvation lies in end to end encryption of all internet traffic. Why? Remember how all government power rests on violence?

No amount of violence can solve a math problem. ~ Jacob Appelbaum

End to end encryption is based off of a complex math problem. (If you’d like to see a really clever and easy to understand explanation of encryption, check this video out.) Whenever you communicate with someone over the internet (or go anywhere for that example), unless you’re using end to end encryption to encrypt all your traffic, you’re basically having the equivalent of unprotected sex with the internet. You’re not anonymous and it is easy for someone, especially an oppressive government, to monitor your activity. Pretty Good Privacy was one of the first publicly available encryption methods. (Funnily enough, the US Government tried to throw it’s creator in prison for spreading a technology that would prevent them from spying on people.)

In addition to end to end encryption, another source in combating oppressive regimes online is to utilize open-source software. What’s open source software? It’s software that is created by anyone who releases the source code of the program for everyone to see. For example: A private company might write a program and sell it. They don’t want to give the program away for free, so they don’t show the source code. This way you have no idea what else is hidden in the program. It’s possible for governments and other entities to hide things inside the program that do things other than what the program is being sold to do.

Open-source, however, has the source code out there for all to see. This actually increases security as everyone can look to see if something bad is hidden in the program. It also opens the program up to peer review. People can often contribute to an open-source project and improve upon it, whereas a close-sourced project is restricted only to the people who originally wrote it.

Lastly, you can use some tools to help obscure your identity online. TOR is a browser, much like firefox or google chrome, that lets you surf around the web. TOR, however, obscures your traffic by sending it through multiple different paths before coming back to you. In addition, you can also use a VPN service that will act like a middle man. Say you want to go to a website, but you don’t want someone watching your internet traffic to see that you’re going to that website. If you use a VPN, the VPN provider will go to that website for you, and then forward everything to your computer. This way someone watching will only see the VPN provider going to that website and not who’s on the other end looking at it. An example of a VPN provider is Private Internet Access.

Encryption is so dangerous to the government precisely because it renders them powerless. You can bet your ass they’re going to do everything they can to demonize encryption, anonymity, and attempt to prevent its wide-scale adoption. It’s for precisely this reason that it’s so important to implement and popularize security measures like this. The fate of humanity depends upon it.

What will it take?

17 Dec

Wow, NDAA and SOPA in one week. 220 years to the day after the ratification of the bill of rights, the NDAA passed congress and is now on it’s way to the white house where Obama has said that he will NOT veto the bill. What’s the big deal? Indefinate detention of Americans SUSPECTED of being terrorists. Suspected, not “proven guilty in a court of law.” If the government doesn’t like you, all they have to do is say the “suspect” you of being a terrorist and you’re GONE!

It’s ok, I wasn’t using my basic human rights anyways.

Meanwhile, SOPA has been being rushed through congress, despite many of the legislators not understanding what it is they are passing. The bill would essentially break the internet. Copyright holders would be able to go to Internet Service Providers (whoever you get your internet from) and demand that they censor websites they don’t like. If the ISP doesn’t censor it, they can sue them. This would remove some websites from your computer’s address book, meaning not everyone’s address book was the same. (Thus, in layman’s terms, “breaking the internet”)

Claims could be filled against anyone who uses copyrighted content in any way. Think of it this way:

It is the equivalent of copyrighting letters in the alphabet and then suing people who use those letters in writing a sentence. Think of everything on the internet that references something else, be it to comment on it, or to redesign it to express another idea. All of that would be illegal if SOPA passed.

It looked like the bill might be postponed until 2012, which is what the major media outlets are reporting, but the people in favor of the bill have quietly agreed to meet on the 21st to push it through.

I see all this and I’m beyond outraged. I’m not even shocked or surprised. THIS is why I want to leave this country so badly. It’s stuff like this.

I went to go copy the URLs to these stories and post them on facebook so my friends could see what was going on right under their noses, but then I stopped. What’s the point? Nobody is going to do anything about it. Some of my like minded friends might chime in with their outrage, but it’s ultimately just a circle-jerk.

People don’t want to hear about it. It’s not immediately affecting them, so don’t bother. But what will it take?

You have no rights. You have no freedom. Your future and childrens’ futures are being stolen from you in plain view for all to see.

What will it take for people to do something? For them to stand up and fight back? Thousands already have. The Occupy Wall Street movement has been speaking out against this immoral system of disfranchisement and thievery for months, but everyone is trying their damnedest to sweep them under the rug, to paint them as fringe with no clear agenda.

What would it take for the rest of the population to wake up?

10% unemployment obviously isn’t enough. Would 20% do it? 40%? Do we need to reach the same levels as Spain and other countries currently facing financial collapse?

The bill of rights has effectively been repealed by post 9/11 legislation and yet we do nothing. What would it take? Would people need to be round up in camps? It has happened before, but there seems to be this notion that it can’t happen again. It won’t happen again. That happens somewhere else.

I’m reminded of Hartley’s famous line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” While this may be true for a great many things, it is not true of political oppression. There is no comfortable distance seperating us from the horrors of the past. Surprisingly enough, MTV seems to understand this:

Sadly, history shows us that a people will not wake up to the danger of what is happening until it is too late.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

There is only us

1 Feb

This might seem like a no-brainer for many people, but it was something I slowly came to understand when I was a kid growing up.

My parents don’t really get the internet. My grandmother doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on. My father rarely uses the computer. Whenever he does it is just to check bank statements or e-mail. My mother also doesn’t understand the computer, much less the internet. She mainly uses the computer for typing up letters in word, for checking e-mail and facebook, and to play bejeweled. For both of them the computer is simply a tool, like a telephone. I can understand where they’re coming from; they spent the majority of their lives in a computerless world, even more of that time without the internet. The one thing they haven’t grasped about the internet is perhaps its greatest power: the ability to answer questions.

Both of my parents don’t understand how to use google to find the answer to a question they have. “What are some good chicken recipes?” “What movies are playing at the theatre tonight?” “How do I do fix X,Y,Z?” They’re both used to finding these answers elsewhere.

Where am I going with this? Well when talking to my grandmother, or my parents, I wondered how I would explain the internet. What IS the internet?

The first analogy that came to mind was a university, which leads me to the point of this post.

What is a university? The campus? The buildings? The books? A university is none of that, it’s the faculty and students that make up the university. If all the people left, the cold empty buildings would not be a university. If you get a degree from a university, what that degree signifies is that the people who make up that university deem you as having achieved a certain level of knowledge and ability. The buildings just serve as a meeting place.

The internet is the same way, only more pronounced because it lacks a physical location. It exists in the digital realm that we access through our computers. Or at least we create the notion of this digital realm by linking up millions of computers and servers where the actual content physically exists, just as the “university” realm exists through the connection and interaction of ideas and concepts that physically reside as chemical an neurological interactions within the brains of those who collectively are “the university.”

But what I’m trying to get is more than just this notion of creating realms of information through the transmission of ideas. What I slowly started to understand while growing up was that we are all there is. The lines on a map are not physical boundaries between countries, they exist purely because we created them. The system of calendars and years are setup by us. Only we mark the passing of time. Sure the earth completes one full rotation in about 24 hours, and one full orbit in 365 of those rotations, but it is we who arbitrarily picked a beginning and end to each year. On midnight of December 31st, the other animals on the planet have no idea that one year is ending and another beginning. For all they know, it’s just another night, and tomorrow is just another day.

I first came across this concept when I started studying history more in-depth. While we talk of “historical periods” like the Roman empire, or the middle ages, or the renaissance, there is no clear delineation between the start and end of these periods. Bells did not ring, the sun did not stop, and a voice from the heavens did not announce “You are now in a new historical era!” The only thing that separates us now from the middle ages are a lot of revolutions of the earth.

What is society? What are laws? If you are at a stoplight, in the middle of nowhere, and there is not a single person around, there is nothing inherently wrong about driving through that red light. It is only wrong because we say it is wrong. (Because doing it in a populated area could get someone killed) But if you drive through that light out in the middle of nowhere, nobody is going to make a mark by your name.

There is a saying “All knowledge is human knowledge.” For a while this bugged me. “Well that’s stupid, a squirrel has the knowledge of how to gather nuts for the winter,” but that’s not what it is addressing. It’s more of an existential statement. This whole post is about an existential realization I had growing up.

We are all there is. We make the rules, we alone are solely responsible for our actions and for creating meaning in our lives. There is no safety net or wall we can lean against. We’re completely vulnerable to error.

Which brings me full circle back to computers. I feel that more and more we are trying to make life like a computer program. If a computer were self-aware, it would not have the existential problem that humans do. A computer must obey laws (the coding of a program) in order to function. That coding is created by external entities, us. Our own version of coding that we attempt to enforce are social mores.

For me, one of the most stand out examples of this was when I went to Disney world with my now ex-girlfriend. We were going out to a late night fireworks show and it was a bit chilly. I wanted to pack one of the hotel blankets in my backpack to keep us warm. She protested. This made her very uncomfortable and she tried to explain to me that I can’t take the hotel blanket from the room. Why not? You just can’t. (coding) I explained to her that nobody was going to know, that I was going to return the blanket when I was done, and that if anything happened to it, that I would personally pay for its replacement. She grudgingly dropped the issue, I took the blanket, and we were warm. The whole incident really stuck with me. Why is it such a big deal to break the computer codes? We are the masters that wrote them in the first place. They exist because we say they exist.

Religious search engines, protecting you from ideas

14 Sep

An interesting article on NPR. If you didn’t feel like reading it, the basic synopsis is that there are now search engines for religious people to use that will filter out any results that don’t already agree with their world view. Not only that, but the search engines are proactive in what content they provide. The article gives two examples: Search for “democrats” and you get articles on Marxism, search for “sex” and you get abstinence only articles.

This whole thing just blows me away. So you’re telling me that your belief system is so weak it’s threatened by just being exposed to other world views, thus if you must use the internet (and be connected to the the wealth of accumulated knowledge the world has to offer) you choose to do so by essentially locking yourself in a closet.

Actually, it’s not surprising. If you’re a religious fundamentalist, like the people who use these sites, you’ve already arbitrarily decided on how the world works. You’ve deluded yourself so deeply into believing that you’re correct, so why bother even exposing yourself to other ideas? It’s sad really. What they’re essentially doing is intellectually castrating themselves.  Perhaps it’s out of fear. Maybe they’re afraid their might be a chance they could be wrong, and that being exposed to different opinions might open them up to doubt.

I think the internet has had a really interesting effect on religion. While on one hand it makes it easier for religious groups to coordinate and get out their message, it also exposes people to a lot more information that they previously wouldn’t have been able to get. I think this is key, it is this fact that makes the internet a negative thing for religion. In order to keep your believers following you, it’s important to control their access to information. Information is power after all. With the internet offering all this information, and for free, you’ve lost that power. You can no longer control what your followers are exposed to. In the real world religion can rely on social pressures to keep people in line. People are more likely to shut up and go along with the crowd and avoid asking questions that might cause them trouble. With the anonymity of the internet, religions can no longer coerce people like that. Here is a really interesting video on the subject:

May 20th, Draw Muhammad

20 May

May 2oth is Draw Muhammad Day! Will you stand up and exercise your freedom of speech? Or will you cower in the shadows and allow barbaric fanatics to take away you inalienable rights? Do you have the courage to do what is right?

Grow thicker skin

26 Oct

Every child is born with enemies. There are people in this world who will dislike you for every conceivable aspect of you. Born in America? There are people who will dislike you for that. Born in Mexico? There are people who will dislike you for that too. People will dislike you for the color of your skin, the clothes you wear, the friends you have, the games you play, where you went to school, what your parents do for a living, the car you drive, everything.

I once read an easy 2 step guide for being offended. Step 1, have an opinion, Step 2, post that opinion on the internet. One of the sad things about the internet is that it opens you up to all kinds of people who will attack you for just about anything. Sometimes your mere existence will irate them. This can be really hard for thin skinned people, people who are care about what other people think about them. I’m having this problem. Often I get really mean comments left on my blog. Comments that don’t make any constructed arguments, just attempts to attack and degrade me.

While I delete these comments, they often sour my day and I’m left hurt and thinking about them for the rest of the evening. I know I should ignore these people, but it’s just hard.