“Fear is the name of the game when it comes to global mass surveillance.”
This post is a follow up to the series of essays I wrote on the topic of Security and Privacy. In line with my previous posts on security and privacy, I am sharing all this knowledge in the name of human rights to help protect our privacy and to positively inspire others to stand up for similar ethical actions. Since this is a “how-to”, I have compiled the results of my research and expertise in a mindmap with an easy-to-read structure. The mindmap contains a considerable number of highly-secure apps (mostly Open Source & free) and tutorials on how an individual can secure their digital data and online communications by using true encryption (as opposed to snake-oil encryption used for marketing purposes or as Orwellian honey-traps).
This article is dedicated to Aaron Swartz, who in January 2013 (at age 26), died for what he believed in: A free and open digital society. The first sentence of his Open Access Manifesto reads: “Information is power.” It continues with: “But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.” (ref) – I highly recommend everyone to read his full Manifesto because I think that we all have so much to learn from the work of this extraordinary young man who never had the chance to finish his fight for our digital and intellectual freedom. However, since Aaron’s death two years ago, unfortunately for us things have only changed for the worse. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12, clearly states that: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference.“ And the European Parliament’s report on the US NSA surveillance program clearly states that: “privacy is not a luxury right, but the foundation stone of a free and democratic society” (ref.) And Europe’s top civil liberties body has declared on Tuesday the 27th of January that online privacy is a human right, and challenged the British government’s plans to introduce more surveillance on communications technology. Despite all the mentioned formal reports and ethical legislation (plus a lot more!), the recent revelations about the extent to which a number of governments violate everyone’s right to privacy show that unethical governments and corporations will stop at nothing to fulfil their agendas (ref). Under EU data retention law, ISPs can now reveal all of our online and telephone communications, including our digital identity, to the authority upon request; and such data sharing includes the confidential data of investigative journalists too! For example, on Monday, 19 January 2015, it was reported that thousands of emails of journalists in international media organisations were collected by the British intelligence agency..but there was no formal reaction to such profound unethical actions (ref). Furthermore, following decades of mass spying due to various reasons (i.e. cold war, political conflicts etc), now we know that criminalizing people for using privacy tools has a deep chilling effect on everybody, and especially on human-rights defenders, journalists, and activists in particular. Nevertheless, despite this inhumane unethical trend, giving up your basic right to privacy due to fear or embarrassment, is unacceptable. Security and personal privacy are not a crime and should never be treated as such. (ref)
Considering the threat to individual privacy is strongly connected with the dangerous security threats we are experiencing today, we must also be aware of the increasing trend in cyber-warfare, and economic & industrial cyber-espionage which has devastating effects on all of us living in this digital reality. Cyber-threats (cyber-weapons) such as Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame, Gauss, Regin and countless other mal/ransomware & APTs, are not just a digital threat like a pesky computer virus, they are a real physical danger to our core infrastructure, to our personal identities and to our individual security and privacy. Therefore we must find an ethical way to combat such threats through policies, legislation and technology which enforce security against cyber-threats, but without taking away people’s privacy and liberties in the process. I don’t believe in counterbalancing security with privacy, and I’m willing to prove it anytime that this is a myth perpetrated by some to fulfil an unethical agenda! In today’s unethical world, indeed we can’t have privacy without having security, but we can definitely have security without violating people’s privacy and without taking away individual rights!
While some specific malware and APTs made by various (private and governmental) organisations may be used for cyber-warfare, illegal financial gains and other unethical purposes, the recently uncovered mass surveillance programs (i.e. NSA spying timeline, Snowden revelations, EFF list of sources) have more to do with creating a hostile environment for truth rather than sorting through the googolplex of data related to any genuine or manufactured threat under the brand of “national security”. The need for encryption is not coming from the desire to do no-good and hide from the law, on the contrary. The need for using encryption is coming from the strict necessity to protect the individual privacy given the fact that most democratic governments today (which were originally founded on ethical values), are now unethically monitoring (Et tu Hibernia? Et tu Roumania? Et tu Europa?…) all our digital data: telephone calls, emails, texts, SMS, VoIP conversations etc. What is happening in our free world today is the equivalent of the actions which took place during the eras of dictatorships and wars, only that today no war or dictatorship has been declared!
The necessity of encrypting everything with your own [strong] keys
A large number of unethical governments have transformed the fair Greek democracy into just a wishful-thinking philosophical concept without any connection to reality other than for propaganda used to justify attacks, conflicts and removal of human rights. As a result of such unethical actions, we now have mass-spying programs which go well beyond monitoring digital data. Such programs are capable of manipulating online polls to channel public opinion in a particular direction, impersonating and discrediting targets, spamming targets with SMS messages, tracking people by impersonating spammers, posting social media content, and with help from human agents can even create false flag operations! (Guardian ref, Intercept ref). As if monitoring all digital data and manipulating the digital info we consume is not bad enough, in the last few years, various corporations and spy agencies have started to use the very term “security” to defend profiteering and crush activism. On top of all this, governmental leaders of countries like USA and UK have openly condemned the use of encryption in Internet communications and demanded a backdoor into all encrypted applications. This literally nullifies ALL digital privacy and leaves the public open to a full scale implementation of George Orwell’s 1984.
So what can we do!?
We can make use of secure apps implementing true encryption (as opposed to snake-oil encryption used for marketing purposes or as Orwellian honey-traps). We can also follow EFF’s Game Plan for Ending Global Mass Surveillance. Now since I have some professional expertise in this field, I compiled my relevant research into a comprehensive JAVA mindmap. If you click on the mindmap image below, it will open a PNG image at full scale in a new window. However, please note that the PNG image is the compact version of my research. If you wish to see the full & interactive JAVA version (and you have the latest version of JAVA installed on your machine), then click here.
In line with Voltaire who wisely stated “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”, lets first start with the most essential question we all ask during our childhood (but which we actively suppress as we grow up): WHY? We must use our critical thinking ability to ask meaningful questions on a daily basis.If you’d like to find our how, please watch this 6min video on how to use Critical Thinking anytime anywhere with anything:
Now, in regards to security, here are a few examples of questions which come to my mind:
- Why care about proper security when just “good enough” is literally considered to be enough to get a product to the paying customers?
- Why care about digital security and privacy when there’s a gigantic amount of profit to be made from harvesting people’s wants and needs?
- Why care about people’s privacy at all when analytics and big data are directly based on tracking people’s actions, behaviour and desires?
- Why care about security and privacy when you think that “you don’t have anything to hide”?
- Why care at all about privacy?
Since all these are perfectly valid questions (in my opinion), I will provide some suggested answers via the paragraphs below and via the TEDtalk video by the ethical investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald. In October 2014, Glenn Greenwald gave a terrifying TEDtalk on mass surveillance and privacy, and I took the liberty to quote the following from his speech, as an intro to his speech: The renowned socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg once said, “He who does not move does not notice his chains.” We can try and render the chains of mass surveillance invisible or undetectable, but the constraints that it imposes on us do not become any less potent.
I hope Glenn’s words caught your attention and provided you with a soft intro to what I’m about to share. I hope you understood that Privacy is paramount to a free and open society and that it doesn’t just matter as a theoretical concept, but it truly matters in every moment of our lives. And to quote Glenn Greenwald yet again, please remember that the people who say that privacy isn’t really important, [they are knowingly or unknowingly hypocrites because] they don’t actually believe it. And the way you know that they don’t actually believe it is that while they say with their words that privacy doesn’t matter, with their actions, they take all kinds of steps to safeguard their privacy. (for more details please watch Glenn’s video and read more in my post How to surf (relatively) anonymous in today’s digital world?)
Now back to our individual micro-cosmos. You may think and believe that your computer can’t harm you, unless you fiddle with the power supply or its internal wiring – and you’d be generally correct from this physical perspective. However, if you think that the computers (including devices like your phone, laptop, desktop, mac..) which capture and store your personal data with or without your permission and knowledge, can’t harm you in real life, then you’re absolutely wrong and that would be completely understandable. If you’re not a geek like me to spend most of your time absorbing new information, I’m almost certain that you haven’t noticed that we’re at the beginning of a war fought at digital level. This cyberwar is still in its infancy and we could very well stop it, but unfortunately for us (“the 90%” majority of the planet’s population who are not mil/billionaires, bankers, politicians or military), we are not on track to stop it, quite the contrary. And the reason for that may be because of the ignorance of the majority of the population towards essential issues regarding our interconnectivity. But since this mass ignorance (or controlled mass mobilisation in the wrong direction), has its roots in a very well operated system which keeps us very busy working for it to make profit for its owners, no wonder we can’t see the direction we’re heading to! How could we see the truth when we’re kept in cyclic financial collapses, in austerity campaigns, we are continuously fed digital entertainment and distractions so most people are either too confused or too tired to search for the truth deep enough. ON the other hand, if you’re a journalist or an active citizen looking for the truth because its your job, don’t be surprised if you’re placed in the “threat” category…The man who gave us “The Century of the Self” documentary – Adam Curtis – is currently working on a new documentary which will help us lift the veil on a terrifying global agenda with chilling goals and I can’t wait to see it in a few months time! For more details on the subject, perform a private search and also feel free to read my post on ethical education and my “Imagination is more important than Knowledge” essays.
The impact of physical – digital interconnectivity
The regular ethical and honest citizens of this planet may think that they have no reason to worry about the data bits normally found in the world of Tron, because those computer bits are not in our world and therefore have nil (0) impact in the human bio-physical reality. As I disagree, let me remind you that the mechanics of our industry, agriculture, economy and way of life, are directly dependent on the functions performed by computers, and we willingly gave computers the control over our energy, food, transport, security and way of life. While that’s not entirely a bad thing because the computers allowed us to progress exponentially (if only we would have done it in the right direction..), the actual real problem today is that unethical people own those controlling computers and therefore they have control over our way of life (i.e. what food is available, what’s in it, how much it costs etc). Just think about this for a few moments…
It is paramount that we consciously understand that our world today has an incredibly thin line between Real and Digital with the current balance in favour of the Digital. If ethical people would rule the world, this imbalance and this blur wouldn’t absolutely be a negative thing, and maybe in an ethical world it wouldn’t have happened at all since all things digital would be seen for what they truly are: tools used to reach goals (like a fishing pole-kit used to catch fish and allow an individual to relax while fishing). However, this is not the case in our world today, is it? In our world today, where the virtual borders between people are more vivid in our minds than the clear border between Real and Digital Fantasy, unethical individuals rule the majority. By using their own tools (i.e. mass media, industrial education, political systems etc), these rulers educated us to focus on our struggle to build better tools for them and some toy-tools for us to keep us distracted, instead of spending our free time on this planet to create tools to reach meaningful goals in balance with ourselves and with nature. Continuing my simplistic fishing kit analogy, we are now competing against eachother to make better fishing poles, but with which we’ll never have the time to fish, because we have to go back to work and build more fishing kits so we can receive the money we need to pay in a store for…a fish. Not just that what we’re doing is completely idiotic and we’re only two steps away from Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, but we never get to enjoy doing what we love because first we must do what’s profitable and which aligns with the expectations of the powers that be.. Considering we are the only species on Earth which pays to live here, or else the individual dies, do we actually understand the critical problem with our “civilised” society/world?
In our civilised world we are thought to perceive Digital as “cool” and fun to use/own (and sometimes it is), but while we are not directly thought that Digital is better than Real Life, the effect is very clear – just watch the chaos unfold if your kids or teens are not allowed to use their pad/smartphone or social media for a while. All this may seem like natural human evolution, but a sharp observer will notice that in practice, Digital is subversively used at global scale to guide (and control) not just an unnecessary financial system which is corrupt beyond imagination, but is also used to manipulate our real-life thoughts, words, knowledge, behaviour and actions. The digital tools (both software and hardware) are now literally shaping the new generations of humans. This is especially concerning given the fact that some of the controversial world events which took place in the last 14 years, have given Orwellian powers to governments and unethical individuals who own these tools and the “factories” which makes them. As a result of a very unfortunate combination of events, the Internet itself is now at risk to be owned and used as a power tool for control and profit. And the most unbelievable thing about all this is that the users of Digital are not just ignorant of the dangerous digital trend used against humanity, but they’re also its messengers, happily (or unknowingly) transferring their own real life into digital format and in the process they surrender their identity…To be clear, digital technologies by themselves are not harmful or “evil” and this is not an argument about technology, but about how digital technologies are abused today to create undesirable outcomes for so many free individuals. This is what Aaron Swartz died for, this is why numerous activists and journalists are trapped/incarcerated, this is what Snowden warned us about, and this is why we all need to wake up and stand for what is ethical!