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Chapter 1: The End

1 min read

...Wake up.

 

A familiar voice!

 

I opened my eyes carefully. The harsh desert light flooded in, bringing on a fresh bout of nausea.

 

Damn. I'm still here.

 

The heat was intense, and a brief gust of wind felt like a blast furnace on my skin. The girders of the tower felt uncomfortable, pressing painfully against a bruised back. For a moment I fought, uselessly, against my bonds before the heat and exertion took away my remaining strength.

 

I laughed.

 

All discomfort, I suppose, is transitory. Soon the sand would be turned to glass, and I, together with the small amount of brown vegetation around me, would be turned to vapour.

 

Looking up, squinting against the sun, I could see the silent silhouette of the bomb against the bright noon sky.

 

As with so many stories, it began with a girl...

So, last night I dreamt a screenplay

1 min read

Nominally set in the Aliens comic book universe; Earth has fallen, the last survivors of marines, scientists and civilians fighting their way up to an evacuation point atop a mile high tower block.

That's not the main part of it, however. The main movie is a heist, where a group land a helicopter at the top of the same tower block, and need crack a safe half way down before the fleeing people and alien beasties catch up with them, and everyone is trying to make it out before the city gets nuked.

Working title concocted by my subconscious brain: Oceans3

Considering the last film I watched was Kung Fu Panda, I'm not entirely sure where this came from. Anyone want to fund my Kickstarter? ;)

WhatsApp, and David Cameron's war on encryption

2 min read

Much has been made about David Cameron's war on encryption, and the Tory government's plans to reintroduce the Snooper's charter.

This Wired article makes some good points, one of them being that this could all just be a political ploy - make a lot of scary noise, but don't give any firm details, so that anything they eventually put forward seems "reasonable" by comparison.

Often mentioned in these articles is WhatsApp, as an example of an end to end encrypted channel that the government can't break into. However, I'd just like to present this datapoint which indicates that the Israeli army routinely intercept WhatsApp traffic, among other things.

This is just one data point, and I make no claims as to which of the two articles is correct, or more likely to be correct, and the 972 article certainly doesn't go into much detail. However, if true, it does make me wonder why it is that WhatsApp is specifically mentioned (together with other proprietary solutions) whenever our media talk about the intelligence agencies "going dark".

I'm not drawing any conclusions, necessarily... but it is... interesting.

Is WhatsApp private and secure? Mmmm... maybe... Point is, as it's a proprietary product, we have absolutely no way of verifying, so you can't really trust it.

What we can say with near certainty is that the bad guys aren't using it, and never were. So, I suspect that this is all just smoke and mirrors, or at least our media landscape trying to make sense of very technically complex and subtle issues.

Something to ponder...

Most privacy and civil liberties campaigning is done wrong, and that's why we're losing.

2 min read

The problem with talking about such matters as government mass surveillance, the end of your right to a private life, rushed data retention laws etc, is that I've so far been forced to engage on a very cerebral level.

I'm forced to discuss things like the balance of risks, fishing expeditions, feature creep, chilling effects, the fact that historically people have more to fear from their own government than any external threat, etc. Peoples eyes tend to glaze over.

Now perhaps I'm particularly bad at talking to people about this stuff, but I notice that a lot of the professional campaigns seem to also be talking in this very dry, logical and abstract way too.

But, all the other side needs to do is say "terrorists will blow you up" or "pedophiles will get your kids", and make some totally unfounded assertions as to the risks, and they instantly win the argument. All this without providing a single shred of evidence as to the necessity or effectiveness of these laws and programs, or even the existence of any kind of threat.

They can do this because they don't make an argument from reason, they make an argument from emotion. This taps directly into our irrational hind brain, bypassing any reason or understanding of the real level of risk.

We, as privacy campaigners need to start framing or objections to connect with people on an emotional level. To really internalise the threat these programs and laws represent to them and their children.

Of course, I'm having a hard time working out how...

Most privacy and civil liberties campaigning is done wrong, and that's why we're losing

2 min read

The problem with talking about such matters as government mass surveillance, the end of your right to a private life, rushed data retention laws etc, is that I've so far been forced to engage on a very cerebral level.

I'm forced to discuss things like the balance of risks, fishing expeditions, feature creep, chilling effects, the fact that historically people have more to fear from their own government than any external threat, etc. Peoples eyes tend to glaze over.

Now perhaps I'm particularly bad at talking to people about this stuff, but I notice that a lot of the professional campaigns seem to also be talking in this very dry, logical and abstract way too.

But, all the other side needs to do is say "terrorists will blow you up" or "pedophiles will get your kids", and make some totally unfounded assertions as to the risks, and they instantly win the argument. All this without providing a single shred of evidence as to the necessity or effectiveness of these laws and programs, or even the existence of any kind of threat.

They can do this because they don't make an argument from reason, they make an argument from emotion. This taps directly into our irrational hind brain, bypassing any reason or understanding of the real level of risk.

We, as privacy campaigners need to start framing or objections to connect with people on an emotional level. To really internalise the threat these programs and laws represent to them and their children.

Of course, I'm having a hard time working out how...

Most privacy and civil liberties campaigning is done wrong, and that's why we're losing.

2 min read

The problem with talking about such matters as government mass surveillance, the end of your right to a private life, rushed data retention laws etc, is that I've so far been forced to engage on a very cerebral level.

I'm forced to discuss things like the balance of risks, fishing expeditions, feature creep, chilling effects, the fact that historically people have more to fear from their own government than any external threat, etc. Peoples eyes tend to glaze over.

Now perhaps I'm particularly bad at talking to people about this stuff, but I notice that a lot of the professional campaigns seem to also be talking in this very dry, logical and abstract way too.

But, all the other side needs to do is say "terrorists will blow you up" or "pedophiles will get your kids", and make some totally unfounded assertions as to the risks, and they instantly win the argument. All this without providing a single shred of evidence as to the necessity or effectiveness of these laws and programs, or even the existence of any kind of threat.

They can do this because they don't make an argument from reason, they make an argument from emotion. This taps directly into our irrational hind brain, bypassing any reason or understanding of the real level of risk.

We, as privacy campaigners need to start framing or objections to connect with people on an emotional level. To really internalise the threat these programs and laws represent to them and their children.

Of course, I'm having a hard time working out how...

Paedophiles 'flocking to dark net'

1 min read

So you're a pedo if you use encryption or tor? Terrible reporting/planted story from The BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27885502

70 Years on... #dday70

2 min read

It's been 70 years since the D-day landings, and the turn in the tide of the war against the fascists.

Politicians and TV networks, this side of the pond at least, have already begun to cash in on our nostalgia - land of hope and glory, trotting out various veterans for various embarrassing "what was the world like in your day granddad" interviews, cut to pretty blonde and a microphone taking VoxPops.

My dad once quipped, when asked to speculate on what the world would have been like had the allies lost the war, that the only difference to us now would be that our national airline would be Lufthansa, and that Margaret Thatcher would be remembered as a liberal reformer.

He was joking of course, since had the Nazis won, neither of us would be here today - our ancestors either worked to death or sent to the gas chambers long ago.

However, consider where we are today; we are, all of us, every man woman and child, under constant surveillance, with a file on us being kept by the secret police (and this is done far more efficiently than it ever could in WW2 Germany). In the UK, we have secret courts, and "Terrorism" has been defined as essentially disagreeing with the government of the day, and trying to do something about it. America has a global network of concentration camps, and a nasty habit of conducting extra-judicial killings. Sections of the population - Muslims, the poor, foreigners - are being singled out and blamed for every economic and social ill that befalls the country, and fascist groups are on the rise everywhere across Europe and the UK.

I'm not trying to make a direct comparison here, that would be silly. But, it would also be silly to say that the brutality that befell the world all those years ago couldn't possibly happen now, just because we have iPhones and can watch Eastenders.

Freedom and liberty are tangible things, which are hard won, but easily lost, and paid for with blood. So today, remember why so many fought and died so you could have these precious gifts. Consider what you are doing to preserve their legacy, and consider that while history doesn't repeat... sometimes it rhymes...

My name is Marcus, and I'm a data addict #resetthenet #snowden

2 min read

I'm going to rehab.

I'm going to start going to Data Addicts Anonymous, because as a programmer who builds online services, "Collect it all just in case" is a hard habit to break.

We all need to get into the habit collecting just enough data, and storing it just long enough, to solve a specific function. Keeping it longer is so tempting, and storage is so cheap, you find yourself thinking "ahh well, I'll store it, it might be useful later", but chances are it never will.

Case in point: In a system I'm working on, we extract EXIF image data from uploaded images (and strip it from the source, so that our customer's privacy is preserved). The only thing the EXIF data is currently used for is to sort out the orientation of thumbnail images, however my instinct was to store it in the database anyway.

Why? Chances are I'll never use this information, and collecting it just means it can be NSLed in the future. If we go so far as stripping it from public images, why store it in the database?

My pledge for : I promise, in the systems I build, to collect only the minimum amount of information to perform a specific task, and to store it only as long as absolutely necessary to perform it.

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear...

2 min read

If any of you are still in the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" camp (and really, I think y'all should be smarter than that), consider the following...

  1. After the EU elections, the far right is on the rise throughout Europe and the UK. In Greece, a neo-nazi party called Golden Dawn is well on the way to becoming the actual government.
  2. All social networks and corporate entities are compelled to comply with law enforcement requests for data in the countries that they operate.
  3. Facebook is the largest database of Jews ever created.

It doesn't matter if you trust your government when they say they won't abuse the blanket surveillance they put everyone under. It doesn't matter if you mind Facebook or Tesco knowing intimate aspects of your life.

It matters because once collected, the data is out of your control. It will be mixed with other data to build up a complete picture of who you are, who you know, where you are and where you've been... and that data will be around forever.

You may trust the people who collected it in the first place, but can you, hand on heart, say that you trust the unknown entities who will have access to the data in the future?

If you answered yes, I'm afraid history is very much not on your side.