Update: Now that SOPA has been put on the back burner, the next thing to protest is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international treaty which could have massive repercussions on the freedom of the internet.
Update 2 (5 July 2012): ACTA rejected by EU :)
Anyone who follows Security Generation will know that I’m a big advocate of civil liberties and freedom in general. The internet is currently a multicultural and multimedia hub of information, ideas, creativity and innovation, and there is a risk this could be irrevocably changed. Granted there is also a lot of crap on the internet, but freedom works both ways. Whilst the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) intend to reduce piracy on the net, in reality they would hand vast amounts of power over to industry copyright holders, who would then have the ability to have sites blocked and content taken down, inhibit free speech and bring . For more information about all of this, check out this good summary article.
Due to the threat that these acts would pose to the open internet, many large internet companies have stated their opposition including Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, eBay, and Wikimedia, as well as civil liberties groups such as the ACLU and the EFF. On January 18, these and countless other blogs and sites, including Security Generation, will be protesting this legislation by blacking out (read: censor) parts of their sites and educating users about the danger of american censorship.
If you have a blog or website, you’re encouraged to add your voice to the cause. CloudFlare users will be able to easily participate just by enabling the new Stop Censorship app, which will black out large chunks of text on your site, and inform your users about the dangers presented by this type of legislation. WordPress users without CloudFlare can also join in by installing one of the many Stop SOPA/PIPA plugins.
This is my favorite anti-SOPA song so far:
From BoingBoing: “42-year-old Michael Allison of Illinois could spend the rest of his life in prison for recording police in public. He faces five counts of eavesdropping, a class one felony”. That’s the equivalent of rape.
This is absolutely crazy. How law-abiding and tax-paying citizens (who pay for the police) can be harassed for wanting to make on-duty police officers accountable for their actions is beyond understanding. All one has to do is look at the sheer quantity of illegal police behaviour (and more), to see why the free recording of police officers is so absolutely necessary; both for the public’s protection and sometimes the police officers’.
The definition of eavesdropping is “to listen secretly to the private conversation of others”, in this case the police not only
knew they were being recorded (edit: allegedly, if recent reports are true, officers were NOT aware they were being recorded, which is what landed Allison in hot water), but it was a conversation between them and Michael Allison. If police officers are allowed to record audio or video of the public with impunity, the public should be allowed to record the police going about their official duties. 75 years for recording on-duty police officers doesn’t even pass the guffaw test for me, a sensible jury will never convict him, if this ever even goes to court – END OF STORY.
[Updated 7/9/11] If recent reports are true, Michael Allison may also have been stupid as well as unlucky. Apparently he covertly recorded court proceedings (which is definitely illegal), and then lied about it to the judge (also illegal), which is how he ended up with all the additional counts of eavesdropping.
Watch the video below for the full story, it’s a great summary.
In November 2009, Phil Mocek (@pmocek) was arrested by Albuquerque Police at Albuquerque Airport for not providing a piece of identification, and recording the TSA process on camera (video below). In the US, one’s right to fly is guaranteed by Federal Laws and the Constitution, and as long as you do not break any other laws, local or state police cannot legally prevent you from flying.
Mocek was charged with things like criminal trespass, refusing to obey an officer, concealing his identity, and disorderly conduct. On 21 January 2011, he was acquitted on all charges by a jury without the defense having to call any witnesses or provide any evidence. The prosecution’s case simply did not stand up.
In a previous court case against another man who refused to show ID, the TSA admitted that there is actually no law that requires travelers to present ID in order to be able to fly. In the US, it is also perfectly legal to record video in public areas of the airport, despite what signs, staff or police may claim.
This case is reminiscent of John Tyner, who was thrown out of San Diego Airport for refusing the new TSA (grope) patdown. Note that you may want to familiarise yourself with the relevant laws regarding ID and recording in your own country.
Full details are available here. Well done to Phil for protecting his rights, and in the process, all of ours as well. Speaking of TSA security measures, I thought this recent Dilbert comic was particularly fitting.
The biggest news story of this week will most probably be the recent protests currently taking place in Egypt, where the people are fighting to oust existing President Mubarak, and have the right to vote. The current Egyptian government has essentially had dictatorial powers since 1981. Since then Egypt has had a few uprisings, each quashed with the use of force by the government. The latest protests have been sparked by the Tunisian uprising that resulted in the successful ousting of President Ben Ali.
Since the start of the current protests on 25 January 2011, the government has brought in riot police, armored trucks, tear gas, and even called in the counter-terrorism unit. The government announced that all protesters would be immediately arrested, and several protesters and one police office have already been killed. The Associated Press have footage of a protester being shot down by a police sniper.
As the Internet has been the primary form of communication for protesters, Egypt has seen most popular social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, blocked. As of this post, the Egyptian government has apparently been able to largely shut down Internet access for the entire country (apart from one network). A large number of messages are still reaching Twitter, presumably by proxy, as well as videos being posted on YouTube. Some Egyptians who manage to get online have been using Tor to get around the ISP censorship, and people are currently being urged to run Tor Exit Nodes to help out.
On Friday 28th of January, there is expected to be an even larger protest after noon prayers, and there are rumors that the government will be shutting down all landlines, mobiles and the Internet in an attempt to quell organization, as well as calling in further reinforcements. The question is being asked whether this could be the final Revolution.
[Update 11/02/2011] Mubarak removed as president by the military. Congratulations to all Egyptians for persevering in you fight for freedom. You deserve it.
In what can only be described as a small win for freedom and privacy activists fighting an uphill battle in the UK, the government has decided to scale back some of their anti-terrorism laws, which have been one of the most stringent in the western world. Since 9/11, the UK government has had the right to hold terror suspects for up to 28 days before charging or releasing them. The only problem being that the definition of ‘terror suspect’ becoming increasingly wide over the past few years. Following the changes, announced by British Home Secretary Theresa May, the police can now only hold terror suspects for 14 days. The U.S. authorities only have 7, and the French 6 days.
The British police are also no longer allowed to perform random (read: profiled) searches of the public, and can’t prevent people from taking pictures of landmarks on the suspicion of being potential terrorists. The changes also include a proposed reform of the house-arrest style (and Big Brother sounding) Control Orders, which originally imposed a curfew of up to 16 hours with an anklet, limited contact with other people, and banned an individual from using the Internet or traveling abroad. The new renamed plan will enforce an 8-10 hour curfew with anklet, prevent Internet access from a mobile phone, and enforce limited (and presumably monitored) access to websites from a home computer. Suspects could still be banned from meeting with specific individuals, and visiting certain buildings or streets.
Despite the changes, human rights groups are seeing this as a betrayal from the new government that took office in May 2010 after having pledged to restore civil liberties in the UK. There are also a number of other overpowered laws, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), that are repeatedly abused to monitor and police normal citizens.
The recent explosion of Wikileaks and Cablegate has yet again brought the unique power of information to the forefront of the world’s attention. What makes this different from the usual ‘knowledge is power’ debate, is that it highlights the sensitive balance between those wishing to reveal information to the world, and those who, for whatever reason, want to prevent that from happening. Historically it was the role of investigative journalists to look into the activities of companies and governments, however due to the high costs of long-term investigative stories, political affiliations, the chance of government gag orders, and the threat of lawsuits, these have been in decline. It is not only massive government-focused leaks that have been gagged in the past, smaller journalists and even individuals have been prevented from legally reporting or capturing an event. Read more
The backlash against the use of body scanner technology, that I reported on recently, rages on. Following an investigation into the use of body scanners, Gizmodo found that US Marshals saved 35,000 scans, and have leaked some of the images they were able to obtain. The image below is one of those images.
The resolution of these images, taken with a Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner, is extremely low compared to the more advanced (and potentially harmful) ‘naked’ x-ray backscatter technology. The point being highlighted by Gizmodo is not the privacy-invading nature of body scanners, but instead they reveal how images are being stored on the machines despite the TSA assuring everyone that body scanners “cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer.” Clearly isn’t entirely true (surprised?).
I think it points out the particular flaw with blindly allowing governments to implement these and other kinds of surveillance, tracking, and monitoring mechanisms. It’s fine when you trust the government to abide by a set of acceptable rules, and most people say they have nothing to hide (which I agree with in most cases). The issue is that the way those monitoring mechanisms, and personal (borderline private) information about you, are used can be changed at any time, regardless of what the ‘rules’ are meant to be (and laws can be changed – consider post 9/11). If, for whatever reason, a government somewhere down the line decides they want to exert more control over its citizens, the internet, etc, they will just have to turn to the plethora of technologies that are currently in the process of being implemented.
As travelers we’re being treated with more and more suspicion, and people are now starting to put their foot down. Too little too late? Just recently, John Tyner was thrown out of an airport for opting-out of a body scan, and then refusing to the new TSA ‘groin-touching’ pat-down.
The difficult question is how do we allow governments to implement essential and appropriate security mechanisms, in such a way that does not impede the freedom and civil liberties of individuals? In my opinion, non-invasive passive scanning and detection methods would be one way to go, such as more chemical/explosive detection technology. Ultimately if someone wants to get something on board, it is much easier to get it through security in your carry-on than on your person. Obfuscating dangerous items such as non-obvious blades or even explosives into already complex elements such as laptops would probably pass security checks if done properly. And don’t forget that there are many plastic or ceramic-based tools and weapons that can be just as dangerous as knives. At this point I should probably point out that I’m particularly resentful of the pitiful little knives they give us on flights nowadays.
The security of the internet is a similar story. Mechanisms that give governments exclusive control, such as the proposed Internet kill-switch and blacklist, are not the answer, and somewhere down the line will probably be used for more harm than good.
Note: The image of the lady above is not an actual body scan, and is simply there for illustrative purposes to (aesthetically) demonstrate where we’re headed. ;)
Two Miami photojournalists, Carlos Miller and Charles Ledford, attempted to enter the Metrorail system to take pictures of stations and trains, but were instead banned for life from the transit system. Despite getting confirmation from the Head of Security of Miami-Dade Metro that photographing the transit for non-commercial purposes was allowed, the rent-a-cops on the ground that guard each station insisted that photography was banned due to “terrorism reasons”. In the end the police were called as the pair refused to stop recording video outside the station (a public area).
Apart from the obvious futility of banning photography in what is essentially a publicly-accessible environment (from a security perspective), what irks me most is law enforcement’s ignorance of the actual laws regarding photography both in that transit system and in public areas. We all know that anyone taking pictures of a transit system for the purposes of “terrorism” (or any other illegal act) would most likely do so regardless of restrictions, and would most probably do so in an inconspicuous way. In some ways this reminds me of the a message issued by the UK government a couple years ago, encouraging the public to report anyone taking pictures of CCTV installations, as this could be deemed ‘suspicious activity’.
The video below, filmed by Carlos Miller, shows the pair’s attempts at entering the transit system.