Against the instrumental argument for surveillance

In my latest Guardian column, 'Cybersecurity' begins with integrity, not surveillance, I try to make sense of the argument against surveillance. Is mass surveillance bad because it doesn't catch "bad guys" or because it is immoral? There's a parallel to torture -- even if you can find places where torture would work to get you some useful information, it would still be immoral. Likewise, I've come to realize that the "it doesn't work" argument isn't one that I want to support anymore, because even if mass surveillance did work, it would still be bad.

One thing that parenting has taught me is that surveillance and experimentation are hard to reconcile. My daughter is learning, and learning often consists of making mistakes constructively. There are times when she is working right at the limits of her abilities – drawing or dancing or writing or singing or building – and she catches me watching her and gets this look of mingled embarrassment and exasperation, and then she changes back to some task where she has more mastery. No one – not even a small child – likes to look foolish in front of other people.

Putting whole populations – the whole human species – under continuous, total surveillance is a profoundly immoral act, no matter whether it works or not. There no longer is a meaningful distinction between the digital world and the physical world. Your public transit rides, your love notes, your working notes and your letters home from your journeys are now part of the global mesh of electronic communications. The inability to live and love, to experiment and err, without oversight, is wrong because it's wrong, not because it doesn't catch bad guys.

Everyone from Orwell to Trotsky recognised that control over information means control over society. On the eve of the November Revolution, Trotsky ordered the Red Guard to seize control over the post and telegraph offices. I mentioned this to Jacob Appelbaum, who also works on many spy-resistant information security tools, like Tor (The Onion Router, a privacy and anonymity tool for browsing the web), and he said, "A revolutionary act today is making sure that no one can ever seize control over the network."

'Cybersecurity' begins with integrity, not surveillance

US federal judges resisting law enforcement demands for electronic evidence

(Photo courtesy of Stephen Smith) - One of the shirts that Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn designed.


Photo via Washington Post, courtesy of magistrate judge Stephen Smith: A t-shirt designed by Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn.

"Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights," reports the Washington Post.

"This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges — the worker bees of the federal court system — has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence."

An interesting footnote observed by Freedom of the Press Foundation's Trevor Timm: "All federal magistrate judges are on a giant email list where they ask each other legal questions."

Facebook "Likes" are protected speech, says court

Joe Palazzolo, at the WSJ: '“Liking” something on Facebook is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, reviving a closely watched case over the extent to which the Constitution shields what we say on social media.'

No new public domain works for US until 2019

At The Economist, Glenn Fleishman laments the freezing of the public domain in America under relentless entertainment-industry lobbying, even as Europeans enjoy an annual movement of cultural history to it: "While much of the rest of the world may take cheer from mass migration of material to the public domain each year, America has not seen one since the 1970s, nor will it until 2019."

EFF Power Up fundraiser: every dollar you give is matched 2-to-1


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is running a fundraising challenge called "Power Up Your Donation," where every dollar donated is matched two-to-one by a group of major donors. My family has put up part of the $140,000 matching fund, because we're living in a world where technology could go either way: it might end up continuing to empower us and improve our lives, or become the agent of an unimaginably invasive corporate surveillance state. Without EFF and groups like it, we don't stand a chance. I worked for EFF for many years, and I've never seen an organization watch the pennies more closely and make a dollar go further.

Power Up Your Donation | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The coming civil war over general purpose computing

Even if we win the right to own and control our computers, a dilemma remains: what rights do owners owe users?

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Internet freedom fighters listed

The Guardian picks its "Open 20" fighters for internet freedom. Included are Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Jacob Appelbaum, and anonymous.

Leaked DHS internet watchlist lists msthirteen.com, skeevy German site about 13yo girls as MS-13 gang news

So I'm going to be charitable here and presume that whoever compiled that internet monitoring watchlist at the Department of Homeland Security thought that "Miss Thirteen," at www.msthirteen.com, was a site about the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang, which originated in El Salvador and now operates in a number of US cities.

It's not.

Quote, mangle-translated from the original German by Google: "Change in our lives, accompanying us from our childhood into adult life. The hormones go crazy and actually everything is always much too confusing."

Perhaps this was the source for the bad link. And perhaps the fact that this site was included in the watchlist tells us something about how the watchlist was compiled, or how reliable its contents are as a disclosure of what the agency's monitoring.

(thanks, Elizabeth Gettelman!)

Previously: Homeland Security Internet Watch List leaked; Boing Boing sadly omitted from list of must-read sites for domestic spying

Update: Probably a more simple explanation -- the content of the site changed over time. The version of the document at Cryptome was published in 2011. The Reuters article that made the rounds today appears to be based on a new version of the document for 2012, which we haven't seen. BB reader Todd Towles says, "According to DNS Stuff, the current msthirteen.com domain was created in Sep 2011. According to the WayBackMachine, the site was about MS-13 on Feb 2010.

Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing

Cory Doctorow on how the copyright wars clue us into an upcoming fight over the destiny of the general-purpose computer.

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TSA defends cupcake confiscation

('Shoop-Illustration: Xeni Jardin)

On the TSA blog, a defense of the recent confiscation of a cupcake at Las Vegas International airport over concerns the tasty morsel was a terrorist threat. Cory blogged about the incident on Boing Boing, and pointed to a parody song about it here. The internet loves cupcakes and hates the TSA, so predictably, this one went very viral.

The federal agency's explanation for the incident focuses on the fact that the traveler's cupcake was transported in a jar:


I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake. If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the “gel” category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar.

In general, cakes and pies are allowed in carry-on luggage, however, the officer in this case used their discretion on whether or not to allow the newfangled modern take on a cupcake per 3-1-1 guidelines. They chose not to let it go.

Read the rest here. It all makes perfect sense now.

Update: Rebecca Hains, the woman whose cupcake-in-a-jar is the tasty center of this international terror emergency, is not impressed with the agency's response. She tells Boing Boing, "The TSA is stooping to misrepresenting the facts about my cupcake in their blog post! TSA response to losing face: misstatements."