GCHQ claims right to do warrantless mass interception of all webmail, search and social media


The UK spy agency GCHQ says it doesn't need a warrant to intercept and store all UK social media traffic, search history and webmail because it is headed offshore, so it's "foreign communications". It had kept this interpretation of English and Welsh law a secret until now, and only revealed it after a protracted legal battle with the excellent people at Privacy International and six other civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, and ACLU.

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Interviewing Leila Johnston about Hack Circus


My latest Guardian column is an interview with Leila Johnston about her Hack Circus project, which includes a conference, a podcast and a print magazine, all with a nearly indefinable ethic of independence and art for its own sake.

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Moonhead and the Music Machine

Fresh from the always-great Nobrow Press and comics creator Andrew Rae is Moonhead and the Music Machine, a surreal all-ages graphic novel that tells the coming-of-age story of Joey Moonhead, whose head is a moon, and whose freak-flag is just starting to fly. Cory Doctorow reviews a fine, funny and delightful tribute to album rock, outcast liberation, and high school social dominance.

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Podcast: News from the future for Wired UK

Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head:

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George Orwell's National Union of Journalists card


From his work with the Tribune. I'm a proud member of the same union.

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Thai shrimp industry runs on brutal slavery and murder


A blockbuster investigative report in The Guardian reveals that the Thai shrimp/prawn fishing industry is powered by a brutal system of slavery through which trafficked workers are bought and sold by captains who starve, beat and murder them in sadistic displays intended to inspire fear in the remaining workforce. The major companies who import Thai prawns, like CP Foods, and their customers, which includes most major grocery stores, admit that there is a problem, but they do not conduct audits that go "all the way to the end of the supply chain." An anonymous Thai government spokesman claims that the problem could be easily dealt with, but there is no political will to do so.

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Backers get gruesomely murdered in crowdfunded Elite novel


BBC presenter Kate Russell's first science fiction novel is Elite: Mostly Harmless, a novelization of the classic video game Elite, whose production was successfully kickstarted last year. One of the backer rewards was to have yourself gruesomely murdered in the pages of the book, and six lucky fans are now enjoying their deaths:

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Real-world wireframes: sculpture from Louise Wilson


Another find from the Contemporary Craft Festival: the beautiful and eerie everyday objects turned into wireframes by Louise Wilson, whose pieces were as much fun to look at and handle in person as you'd imagine from these photos. They were surprisingly robust, too.

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Improbable, beautiful ceramic teapots


Spotted at the Contemporary Craft Fair, the amazing teapots of Rylatt of Wales: improbably shaped ceramics with metallic, dark glazes. I wheedled my wife into getting me one for my upcoming birthday, and it is destined to be a favorite and a source of joy around my office.

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Solidwool: Mid-century modern chairs made from wool-based fiberglass


Solidwool is a company from Devon, England that mixes traditional Devon wool with bioresins to make a wool-based, fiberglass-like composite that can be use in furniture construction. I've just seen some of their midcentury modern Hembury Chairs at the Contemporary Craft Fair in Bovey-Tracey, and they're really beautiful, swirling with abstract fibers and pleasingly smooth and solid. They're finely built, comfortable, and extremely handsome.

Hembury Chair

London property bubble entombs a thousand digger-machines


London's property bubble has got people energetically expanding their property, digging out sub-basements -- and the insane bubblenomics of London housebuilding are such that it's cheaper to just bury the digger and abandon it than to retrieve it. London's accumulating a substrate of entombed earthmoving machinery.

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NSA facial recognition: combining national ID cards, Internet intercepts, and commercial facial databases for millions of people

A newly released set of slides from the Snowden leaks reveals that the NSA is harvesting millions of facial images from the Web for use in facial recognition algorithms through a program called "Identity Intelligence." James Risen and Laura Poitras's NYT piece shows that the NSA is linking these facial images with other biometrics, identity data, and "behavioral" data including "travel, financial, behaviors, social network."

The NSA's goal -- in which it has been moderately successful -- is to match images from disparate databases, including databases of intercepted videoconferences (in February 2014, another Snowden publication revealed that NSA partner GCHQ had intercepted millions of Yahoo video chat stills), images captured by airports of fliers, and hacked national identity card databases from other countries. According to the article, the NSA is trying to hack the national ID card databases of "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran."

This news is likely to be rhetorically useful to campaigners against national ID cards in countries like the UK, where the issue has been hotly debated for years (my own Member of Parliament, Meg Hillier, was the architect of one such programme, and she, along with other advocates for national ID cards, dismissed fears of this sort of use as paranoid ravings).

The development of the's NSA facial recognition technology has been accompanied by a mounting imperative to hack into, or otherwise gain access to, other databases of facial images. For example, the NSA buys facial images from Google's Pittpatt division, while another program scours mass email interceptions for images that appear to be passport photos.

An interesting coda to the piece is that the NSA has developed the capability to infer location by comparing scenery in terrestrial photos to satellite images, which sounds like a pretty gnarly computer-vision problem.

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The English Method: UK taught modern torture to Brazil's dictators


Brazil's 21-year military dictatorship was a torturing, brutal regime -- among their victims was the current president, Dilma Rousseff. At first, the generals tortured by flogging and shocks, but British officials taught them to torture without leaving marks, helping the regime to rehabilitate its international human rights image. The techniques the UK taught to Brazil's torturers were developed for Malay rebels and perfected on Northern Irish Republicans, and these techniques came to be known as "The English Method."

Other governments -- Germany, France, Panama, and, of course, the USA -- also trained Brazil's torturers, but the UK methods were the best. British agents travelled to Brazil to train the torturers personally. More details of the British "foreign aid" program are coming to light as the UK government finally succumbs to the rule of law and releases files from the National Archives at Kew, a move that has been steadfastly refused for obvious reasons.

One document that's come to light is a letter from then-British Ambassador, David Hunt, called "Torture in Brazil," which praises the Brazilian regime for cleaning up its appearance of brutality by "taking a leaf out of the British book."

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Visual gags in comedies: US vs UK

Tony Zhou created this fantastic, 7-minute critique of the visual style of comedy in US films, as compared with UK films (especially the films of Edgar "Shaun of the Dead" Wright). Zhou makes a compelling case for the superiority of British sight-gags and visual comedy -- and the fundamental laziness of US directors in their use of visuals to get a laugh.

For further reading, Zhou recommends David Bordwell's Funny Framings as well as the hilarious Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal video.

(via Kottke)

South London hackspace urgently seeks home


Tom writes, "We're a fledgling makerspace in London (60 members and growing), born from the notion that 'London Hackspace is fantastic but it's a pain to get to from South of the River.' We bootstrapped ourselves in a disused shop earlier this year, have grown quickly and had a second home lined up in a University space for the summer. That deal fell through at the last minute and now we've got just 1 month to find somewhere else. We've got the cash and the income, we just can't find the space! Please help us get the word out. We plan to be London's 2nd biggest community workshop and can't face having our momentum dashed on the cliffs of London's property market."