New tools for privacy

On-line surveillance, whether by companies, criminals or governments, is a worrying reality of our present time. A recent survey showed that feelings around government surveillance are quite mixed, though I’d say too much in favour. The same survey’s results on privacy (generally not related to government surveillance) seem more heartening but show large disparities between different countries.

In this context of widespread surveillance, I think it is important to have some idea of tools that can help protect oneself while on-line. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a new tool, Privacy Badger, which aims to help protect against third parties tracking your browsing across multiple sites. This should help protect against “canvas fingerprinting” which records your information about your computer (and in Slate) and settings which may allow it to be identified on different sites. Continue reading

Spying leftovers

Sorry for the sparse posting. I’ve been spending time with family and friends over the Christmas/New Year’s period. I was away for New Year’s with some of my family and am currently away again, staying with a friend. I will be home later this week and should then be able to start posting regularly again.

Over the past few months, I took note of a number of stories regarding how the US and UK were spying on essentially everyone. Many of them have already been posted (see here, here, here and here) but I still have a couple more that were not always focussed on the spying themselves or which were particularly interesting in light of the NSA’s actions. I’m posting all of them together here. Continue reading

A step closer to internet right to privacy

The resolution for internet privacy, which I mentioned before, has been passed by UN rights committee and will now head to the UN General Assembly. This is a great step, which is why I’m giving it it’s own post, however, I want to express disappointment at one point.

The US and key allies Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand joined a consensus vote passing the resolution after language which suggested that foreign spying would be a rights violation was weakened.

All I hear there is some countries saying, “Foreigners don’t deserve the same rights as our citizens.” That attitude, that it’s acceptable to spy on other countries’ citizens but not your own, is a problem. That’s a xenophobic attitude. It shouldn’t matter where someone was born. Americans and Iraqis should share the same rights. It’s not okay that we allow governments to say that just because one lives in a foreign country that they don’t get a right to privacy.

Similarly, shouldn’t one be as outraged at passports as at the Apartheid pass laws? Both limit movement according to an arbitrary characteristics. The pass laws according to race and passports according to nationality. Why are country boundaries seen as something so real?

Updates on US spying

Snowden’s leak of top secret US documents has been described as the most serious breach in US history. And it’s constantly brought up that it’s made the US more vulnerable to attack. It’s not often brought up, at least by the US, that their actions made everyone else more vulnerable or why US interests outweigh those of the rest of the world. While one could at least understand the risk of terrorist attacks (although to hear grown ups talking seriously about enemies does seem a bit like what you’d expect on a junior school playground) it’s a lot harder to take seriously the need to spy on allies. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Government spying

Sorry for the lack of updates here. I’ve been very busy helping to organise the human genetics open day, where we show high school kids what we do, and preparing for a postgraduate research day talk, which I presented today. While I try rest a little I’ll share a couple of links I’ve been picking up that are related to the NSA leaks and government spying programmes.

Some people are reporting that the NSA has been bugging the EU and UN, a strange place to look for terrorists. The UN just said that it is protected by international treaties and members are expected to act accordingly.

Not unexpectedly, all the focus on the US spying has damaged people’s trust in US IT companies and fairly large numbers are moving to alternatives. Tech companies aren’t happy about that and this link talks about possible future conflicts with tech companies and government with regards to security and privacy. This is a big thing as Facebook received requests for info on 38 000 users in the first half of this year! Microsoft and Google are even teaming up to sue the US government over the restrictions about what they can reveal about user data requests.

Lastly is a disturbing report that the New York Police Department is labelling entire mosques as terrorist organisations! This allows them to spy on what happens even though they make these designations with apparently no justification, something the FBI refused to do.

Falling nations

To say that, on the whole, the UK and US are falling is perhaps premature. I can, however, say that my opinion of them has certainly fallen quite a bit in the past few weeks. The UK has its problematic porn policy, which you should see as problematic regardless of your view of porn because of the direction it suggests the government is moving in. The UK has also been wrapped up in the, mostly US, issue of extensive surveillance conducted by the NSA. Continue reading