We Should Just Start Referring To London As Airstrip One

I bitch about the surveillance state here in the United States but even it has nothing on mum. The United Kingdom (UK) has pretty much become a real life panopticon. This week alone the UK has proposed two major expansions to Big Brother’s gaze. The first proposal is to ban companies from using effective encryption:

Internet and social media companies will be banned from putting customer communications beyond their own reach under new laws to be unveiled on Wednesday.

Companies such as Apple, Google and others will no longer be able to offer encryption so advanced that even they cannot decipher it when asked to, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Measures in the Investigatory Powers Bill will place in law a requirement on tech firms and service providers to be able to provide unencrypted communications to the police or spy agencies if requested through a warrant.

The only way to comply with such a restriction is to put their users’ data at risk. If one unauthorized party can access encrypted data then any unauthorized party potentially can. Weaknesses in cryptographic systems aren’t selective. If, for example, you have a special law enforcement key that all user data is encrypted with anybody who obtains that key will be able to gain access to every user’s data. You turn the system form one where a very limited amount of data can be nabbed if any single key is compromised to one where all data can be nabbed if one of the keys is compromised.

But that’s not all. The UK is also proposing to require all Internet Service Providers (ISP) to keep records on their customer’s Internet usage for one year:

On Wednesday, the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which, if made into law, will force internet service providers to retain the web browsing history of every customer for up to one year. Those records can then be requested by law enforcement.

These two proposals would complement each other well. The first one gives law enforcement unfettered access to user data and the second one ensures data continues to exist for one year. Of course the second proposal pushes notable costs onto ISPs because storing that much data for so long isn’t free. But I very much doubt the UK government cares about such things.

More and more it’s obviously why 1984 took place in London. I won’t be surprised if (I should probably say when) a law is proposed in the UK that makes it a criminal offense to utilize strong cryptographic tools like Tor, PGP, OTR, etc.

The Surveillance State Starts At Home

As a man in his early 30s I like I’m too young to start with the, “Back in my day,” business. But back in my day kids had some semblance of privacy.

Many of my friends are at a point in life where they’re running into undiscovered territory as parents. When this happens they often post on Facebook to crowd source ideas from parents who have already blazed the path. Reading the recommendations posted by these parents, frankly, scares the shit out of me.

One of my friends has decided to get iPhones for his children. Because he’s not terribly familiar with electronics he asked Facebook for advice on what to do. I told him to ensure his kids put a password on it to protect the device contents (serious) and explain to them that cell phones are voluntary tracking devices so leave them at home when they’re doing something illegal (tongue in cheek).

What some parents posted was frightening. One parent advised my friend to enable Find My iPhone but not tell his kids about it (then explained how this helped her catch her kid lying about sleeping over somewhere one night). Another parent told my friend to prohibit his kids from setting a password and to periodically read through their messages. In fact reading through messages was advice posted by several parents. Yet another parent advised that he require his kids to hand over their phone every night so he can “charge” it (I used quotation marks here because charge is merely an excuse to perform a thorough nightly snooping mission).

If these parents’ Big Brother tendency stopped at personal electronics that might be one thing. But I’ve also seen parents comment in other threads about how they took the door off of their kids’ bedrooms.

Admittedly I’m not a parent but I was a kid and had parents. My parents were and continue to be cool. One thing I greatly appreciate is that they’ve always trusted me. I not only had a door on my bedroom but the door had a lock. They never required me to give them the passwords to my computers or online accounts. The only time they became snoopy is when I did something that justifiably betrayed their trust.

But its seems a lot of parents don’t trust their children. They treat their children like suspects under an investigation. Why you snoop through your kids’ communications, prohibit them from securing devices in a manner you cannot access, or take the door off of their bedroom you’re saying you don’t trust them. That’s an environment that’s bound to breed unhealthy paranoia and distrust in the very people they’re supposed to trust. I believe the mantra of “Innocent until proven guilty,” applies in all aspects of life. If your child has done something to betray your trust then there are grounds to perform an investigation. But I can’t imagine how treating your child like a suspect even when you have no reason to be suspicious is helpful to them.

The Decentralized Internet

“Internet provision is a natural monopoly!” How many times have you heard some economic illiterati say that? I’m sure you’ve heard it a few times even though the entire concept of natural monopoly is a myth. To demonstrate this I’m going to provide a couple of examples of decentralized Internet architectures. First we’re going to look at the corporate world where one Internet Service Provider (ISP) has decided centralized infrastructure isn’t fulfilling all of its needs:

Well T-Mobile wants to fix all that… by putting an LTE tower in your house. Yes, the unconventional carrier has announced a 4G LTE CellSpot that it says will offer 3,000 square feet of LTE coverage for your home or business. Plug it into the wall outlet, connect it to the internet, and your LTE connection will get a boost anywhere T-Mobile has spectrum. The CellSpot supports up to 16 calls at a time, and will work with any 3G, 4G, and LTE device on T-Mobile’s network.

T-Mobile’s biggest limitation is coverage. Improving coverage isn’t easy for a cell carrier because building towers is expensive and the bureaucracy between them and their customers is significant (my hometown kept denying AT&T permission to build a new tower simply because the city council didn’t want travelers to see an “ugly” tower when they passed through town). Being able to install a lot of microcells is a lot easier than building a tower simply because the carrier doesn’t have to buy land and get permission from local bureaucracies.

Two mistakes T-Mobile is making, in my opinion, is only allowing its customers to install these CellSpots and not paying people who choose to install them:

And the price is right too — eligible Simple Choice customers can get the LTE CellSpot for free (with a refundable $25 deposit), and keep it as long as they are customers of T-Mobile.

I bet T-Mobile would quickly find itself enjoying spectacular coverage if it paid anybody willing to install one of these in their home or business a little kickback (these microcells, after all, are consuming electricity and using bandwidth). For the right price (which means enough for me to make a little bit of profit) I’d be willing to install one of these in my home and I’m not even a T-Mobile customer.

Admittedly relying on a centralized ISP, even if they’re utilizing a decentralized architecture, isn’t exactly demonstrating that Internet provision isn’t a natural monopoly. Fear not! T-Mobile isn’t the only game in town:

When you live somewhere with slow and unreliable Internet access, it usually seems like there’s nothing to do but complain. And that’s exactly what residents of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, were doing in late 2013. Faced with CenturyLink service that was slow and outage-prone, residents gathered at a community potluck and lamented their current connectivity.

“Everyone was asking, ‘what can we do?’” resident Chris Brems recalls. “Then [Chris] Sutton stands up and says, ‘Well, we can do it ourselves.’”

When somebody says, “Well, we can do it ourselves,” you know they’re on the right track:

Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.


Back in 2013, CenturyLink service was supposed to provide up to 1.5Mbps downloads speeds, but in reality we “had 700kbps sometimes, and nothing at others,” Brems told Ars. When everyone came home in the evening, “you would get 100kbps down and almost nothing up, and the whole thing would just collapse. It’s totally oversubscribed,” Sutton said.

That 10-day outage in November 2013 wasn’t a fluke. At various times, CenturyLink service would go out for a couple of days until the company sent someone out to fix it, Sutton said. But since equipping the island with DBIUA’s wireless Internet, outages have been less frequent and “there are times we’re doing 30Mbps down and 40Mbps up,” Brems said. “It’s never been below 20 or 25 unless we had a problem.”

A better, more reliable service for less. What more could one ask for? Anybody who lives in a rural area knows the struggle of getting fast, reliable Internet access. Unfortunately many people in rural areas turn their frustrations into political campaigns. By the time they’re done they have higher taxes and promises from the local, state, or federal government that go unfulfilled. Had they taken the money they invested in political shenanigans and instead built a network they would have fast, reliable Internet connectivity. This is why you should listen to the person who says, “Well, we can do it ourselves,” instead of the idiot who tries to start a political campaign.

Internet provision isn’t a natural monopoly. A community can come together and build their own network and attach it to the Internet. This is even easier now that wireless connectivity is no longer slow or outrageously expensive.

What To Be Treated Like A Criminal? Work For The Government!

Are you working for an employer who doesn’t require you to submit to loyalty tests, lie detector tests, drug tests, and any number of other tests that are performed under the assumption you are a criminal? Is that constant lack of being treated like a criminal making you miserable? If so I have some good news. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon begin treating its employees even more like criminals:

The House passed legislation on Monday to mandate the Department of Homeland Security to establish a program to identify and mitigate insider threats from rogue employees.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the bill’s author, gave examples of Edward Snowden releasing classified information about national surveillance programs, U.S. Army P.F.C. Bradley Manning providing classified documents to WikiLeaks, and contractor Aaron Alexis killing 12 people during a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 while holding a security clearance. He suggested each case could have ended differently had they been under more scrutiny.

You know what this means, right? Loyalty tests for everybody!

The DHS is facing the same problem every criminal organization faces: members ratting them out for their illegal activities. Snowden and Manning, despite the State’s already numerous controls, ratted out their employer’s criminal activities. As with most criminal organizations the State is focusing on how to ensure more members don’t rat it out instead of focusing on not committing criminal acts.

As an anarchist I take great joy in seeing actions like this from the State. The more miserable it makes the working environment of its employees the more difficulty it will have with recruiting talented employees.

Volkswagen Gives Americans What They Want, Americans Buy Volkswagens, Statists Confused By Markets

A lot of electrons have been annoyed by people writing about the Volkswagen scandal. In an effort to give customers the performance they want while still passing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unrealistic tests Volkswagen wrote some clever software. It’s no surprisingly Volkswagen sales increased in the month of October. Well, it’s no surprise unless you’re a statist who doesn’t understand how markets work:

There is a world in which consumers swiftly punish Volkswagen where it counts — the coffers — for its massive, systematic deception of the Environmental Protection Agency in which it cheated its way around diesel emissions tests for half a decade.

This isn’t that world.

Volkswagen of America just reported its October sales, the first full month of reporting since the scandal broke, and guess what? Sales are up 0.24 percent year over year, likely thanks in part to enormous discounts being offered to prop up volume. Now, perhaps they would’ve been up more in the absence of the scandal. But if consumers haven’t outright rewarded VW for deceiving them, they certainly haven’t done much to punish the automaker, either.

I don’t really know what to do with this. Governments and law firms around the world are rearing to shake VW’s piggy bank, but it’s a little confusing to me that car buyers wouldn’t be looking elsewhere while this all plays out (and it is very much still playing out). Are these buyers just not following the news? Are they not concerned, because America is generally less excited about diesel engines than Europeans? (Note that Volkswagen has suspended sales of its 2016 diesels, pending approvals, so Americans have made up the sales difference versus October 2014 with additional gasoline and hybrid purchases.)

Consumers only punish manufacturers when they feel they’ve been wronged. Why should I, as a consumer, be angry if I know an automobile manufacturer can’t sell its product in the United States without passing random government tests that demonstrates nothing of value (more on this in a second) and find out the manufacturer cheated the test to give me a better product? On the other hand I, as a consumer, have ever right to be angry when the government attempts to interfere with my acquisition of a desired product. The EPA tests, as I mentioned above, aren’t even testing real-world conditions so there’s no reason for consumers, even those who are dyed in the wool environmentalists, to give two shits about them.

And don’t make the mistake of construing this increase in sales with consumers not caring about environmentalism. Most consumers care greatly about environmentalism, which is why fuel mileage is advertised to heavily these days. Generally consumers want a balance between performance and fuel efficiency (of course the EPA’s fuel efficiency tests, like its emissions tests, aren’t accurate but that’s a different can of worms). If a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is too low consumers face undesirable increases in their fuel bills. But market forces are something statists don’t understand so they become confused by situations like Volkswagen’s sales increase and come to the faulty conclusion that it means consumers don’t care about environmentalism (and use that conclusion to argue the necessity of the EPA).

What we’ve learned from this Volkswagen scandal is that producers, when faced with idiotic regulatory tests, will find creative ways to give consumers what they want and be rightly rewarded. If you want to be angry with somebody be angry with the EPA. It’s been feeding the public bad data for decades and using that data to restrict availability of goods, which has forced manufacturers to cheat in order to fulfill the wants of their customers.

Setting Up An XMPP Server, Check Back Later

Between recovering from the plague, some server issues on the old server, and setting up an XMPP server I didn’t have time to get posts up.

Setting up XMPP is interesting. The first task is finding a server of which there are surprisingly few good ones to choose from. Originally I was going to use ejabberd as I’ve used it long ago. But I saw the developers have split it into “community” and “business” editions with the former lacking a lot of features (such as compatibility with other instant messenger services). My second choice was Openfire, which I settled on. The downside of Openfire is that it’s written in Java and I’m not of fan of installing Java on systems anymore (because I hate Oracle). Java aside, Openfire is pretty solid. The initial setup is a bit of a pain because it’s not available in any CentOS repositories and you have to do a little manual setup for the MariaDB database. After that you gain access to a web interface that makes everything else simple.

Because the universe likes to make my life stressful the virtual machine I initially setup became corrupted when VMWare fucked up a snapshot operation. So I had to redo all of the work mentioned above again.

Right now I’m doing a beta test with friends. Once I’m satisfied it’s solid I might make it available for others.

Competing Slave Labor Organization Courts Minnesota

I saw several of my friends excited by the fact Minnesota has, so far, not taken Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) up on its offer to reopen and operate a closed prison:

Like many states in the “tough on crime” era, Minnesota is struggling to reduce overcrowding in its prisons and jails. For now, the state’s government is paying counties to house over 500 incarcerated people that its prisons can’t hold. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the notorious private prison operator, says they have a long-term solution for Minnesota.

But Minnesotans, backed by the criminal justice reform movement sweeping the country, are responding with “No thanks!”

CCA wants to reopen the shuttered Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, MN, and lease space to the state.

My friends have attributed this to this states great progressive nature. Truthfully the reason CCA hasn’t been taken up on its offer is likely because the Minnesota government already operates a slave labor organization and CCA would just provide competition. Why would the organization that already monopolized slave labor let a third-party involve itself in the racket? Especially with CCA’s track record of charging states that fail to provide their contractual obligation of slave laborers?

CCA has made a fortune off of slave labor but their influence is waning because many state governments realize having a middleman complicates matters. Maybe CCA will find a sweetheart deal that will convince Minnesota to allow competition to MINNCOR but I doubt it.