Locational Privacy

PDF file

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very good little report on locational privacy, “the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use.”

As usual for EFF, it is written in clear, understandable language and is free-to-access and download.

* I’m going to be away up to the mountains for a couple of days, so there won’t be any more posts here until Sunday at the earliest… next week is a slow one here in Japan as it is O-bon, the Buddhist festival of the dead, and many people go back to their family home and offices are generally closed for some or all of the week. I won’t be doing much in the way of interviewing, but I still have quite a few interviews and visits from the last two weeks to write up.

FBI data warehouse revealed by EFF

Tenacious FoI and ‘institutional discovery’ work both in and out of the US courts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation has resulted in the FBI releasing lots of information about its enormous dataveillance program, based around the Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW). 

The clear and comprehensible report is available from EFF here, but the basic messages are that:

  •  the FBI now has a data warehouse with over a billion unique documents or seven times as many as are contained in the Library of Congress;
  • it is using content management and datamining software to connect, cross-reference and analyse data from over fifty previously separate datasets included in the warehouse. These include, by the way, both the entire US-VISIT database, the No-Fly list and other controversial post-9/11 systems.
  • The IDW will be used for both link and pattern analysis using technology connected to the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF) prgram, in other words Knowledge Disovery in Databases (KDD) software, which will through connecting people, groups and places, will generate entirely ‘new’ data and project links forward in time as predictions.

EFF conclude that datamining is the future for the IDW. This is true, but I would also say that it was the past and is the present too. Datamining is not new for the US intelligence services, indeed many of the techniques we now call datamining were developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). There would be no point in the FBI just warehousing vast numbers of documents without techniques for analysing and connecting them. KDD may well be more recent for the FBI and this phildickian ‘pre-crime’ is most certainly the future in more ways than one…

There is a lot that interests me here (and indeed, I am currently trying to write a piece about the socio-techncial history of these massive intelligence data analysis systems), but one issue is whether this complex operation will ‘work’ or whether it will throw up so many random and worthless ‘connections’ (the ‘six-degrees of Kevin Bacon’ syndrome) that it will actually slow-down or damage actual investigations into real criminal activities. That all depends on the architecture of the system, and that is something we know little about, although there are a few hints in the EFF report…

(thanks to Rosamunde van Brakel for the link)

Protecting yourself from surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Open Society Initiative have created the very useful ‘Surveillance Self-Defense’ (SSD) site. Although the SSD is aimed at US citizens and the legal aspects are therefore more relevant to those living in the States, the general advice and information on risk management and defensive technologies is all worth reading for anyone who uses a computer anywhere in the world.

Essentially this is a kind of care and maintenance of your ‘data double’ concept, which is one response to the growth of surveillance. Of course no-one should think that this kind of ‘personal information economy’ approach is enough and the EFF certainly don’t. There is in any case a general effect that could emerge from this kind of action should large numbers of people start taking the advice of EFF: mass surveillance effectively becomes more difficult, more expensive and less worthwhile. However, things like SSD cannot be a substitute for political action to curb the powers of state and private sector to monitor us and reduce individual liberties and dignity.

Quiet in the Library! Controlling the Internet

For many supposedly liberal politicians and bureaucrats the Internet is just a library of information, and we all know that libraries must be quiet and orderly, used responsibly and under the supervision of trained librarians…

Just a quick one: Boing Boing covered the story of an Australian EFF information rights campaigner, Geordie Guy, who has received a death threat from supporters of the government´s plan to control the Internet – just like so many other states around the world.

Surveillance cameras in Dajuyuan, Shenzhen (Rolling Stone)
Surveillance cameras in Dajuyuan, Shenzhen (Rolling Stone)

It is no accident that the EFF campaign in Australia makes reference to their government´s plan as a ‘great wall’.  The first government to do this was, of course, China with its jīndùn gōngchéng (‘Golden Shield’) system which was exposed by Greg Walton.

As Naomi Klein´s more recent investigations have shown, it seems that western governments and companies are not only deeply involved with supplying equipment and expertise to China´s new surveillance state, but also see the development of the combined physical and virtual surveillance infrastructure being built by the authoritarian Chinese government as some kind of model for their own supposedly more liberal nations.

The Internet seems to worry all sorts of otherwise level-headed and well-meaning people. I was invited to speak at a recent conference in Finland on security in the Baltic states, and I got into a small argument with the rapporteur of one of the working groups, who said that one of their conclusions was that ‘we’ must stamp out hate-speech on the Internet. I asked the rapporteur how they would intend to do this without destroying the structures which enabled the creativity and freedom of the Net, and the response was that stamping out hate-speech was too important and just must be done. I suspect this is how a lot of supposedly liberal politicians and bureaucrats are thinking. For them the Internet is just a library of information, and we all know that libraries must be quiet and orderly, used responsibly and under the supervision of trained librarians. If enforcing order destroys everything that makes the Internet so revolutionary and so important, so what? Order must be maintained. There must be quiet in the library!