A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for March, 2016

A Lack Of Transparency Is Killer

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Yesterday Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze would not be charged in the death of Jamar Clark:

No charges will be filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death last fall of Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday, citing DNA and other evidence showing Clark had a hand on one officer’s gun during a struggle and was not handcuffed when shot by a second officer.

This decision has gone over about as well as anybody could have expected. Those who wanted the officers charged are angry because they don’t believe justice was served. Those on the side of the officers are happy and believe justice was served. In the end the announcement served primarily to galvanize both sides’ biases.

Which side is right? Therein lies the problem. Because of how the investigation was handled it’s hard to know. It was another case of “We investigated ourselves and determined that we did nothing wrong.” The investigation was headed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), both of which are law enforcement organizations. In a time when public trust in law enforcement is at a notable low the fact that both investigating organizations are involved in law enforcement cannot go without mention. But the biggest problem is that the investigation took place behind an iron curtain.

The lack of transparency is ultimately what makes the announced findings questionable. Jury trails are by no means perfect but they do take place in the public realm (members of the public can sit in and view court cases) so all evidence and arguments are not only made available but can be witnessed as they are presented. Since the investigation into Jamar Clark’s death took place entirely behind closed doors there’s no way to verify the process that lead to the findings. Without neutral witnesses to that process there is no way to verify whether the announcement was arrived to through honest analysis of the evidence at hand or through an editing process biased in favor of the officers.

Saying an investigation came to a decision is meaningless if the integrity of the investigative process cannot be verified.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 31st, 2016 at 10:00 am

How The State Makes Us Less Secure Part MLVII

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The State, by claiming to provide for the common defense and declaring a monopoly on justice, has a conflict of interest. Providing for the common defense would require it to disclose any vulnerabilities it discovers but it’s reliant on those vulnerabilities to obtain evidence to prosecute individuals accused of a crime.

Adding a new chapter to this ongoing saga is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) decision to fight a court order to reveal a vulnerability it used to uncover the identify of Tor users:

Last month, the FBI was ordered to reveal the full malware code used to hack visitors of a dark web child pornography site. The judge behind that decision, Robert J. Bryan, said it was a “fair question” to ask how exactly the FBI caught the defendant.

But the agency is pushing back. On Monday, lawyers for the Department of Justice filed a sealed motion asking the judge to reconsider, and also provided a public declaration from an FBI agent involved in the investigation.

In short, the FBI agent says that revealing the exploit used to bypass the protections offered by the Tor Browser is not necessary for the defense and their case. The defense, in previous filings, has said they want to determine whether the network investigative technique (NIT)—the FBI’s term for a hacking tool—carried out additional functions beyond those authorised in the warrant.

People around the world rely on tor to protect themselves from tyrannical regimes. Journalists living in countries such as Iran, China, and Thailand are only able to continue reporting on human rights violations because Tor protects their identities. Sellers and consumers of verboten drugs, neither of whom are causing involuntary harm to anybody, successfully used Tor hidden services to make their trade safer. Victims of domestic abuse rely on Tor to get access to help without being discovered by their abusers. By refusing to publish the vulnerability it used, the FBI is putting all of these individuals in danger.

On another point, I must also emphasize that that the FBI is claiming the defense doesn’t need to know this information, which speaks volumes to the egotistical nature of the agency. Who is the FBI to decide what the defense needs to know and doesn’t need to know? Being the prosecuting party should already disqualify the FBI’s opinion on the matter due to its obvious conflict of interest.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Civil Forfeiture Is Back

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In December of last year the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that would be suspending payments under the Equitable Sharing Program. There was much rejoice. But anybody familiar with statism knows that rules can change at the whim of a bureaucrat to no victories are permanent. The DoJ has just announced that it will resume payments again:

The Justice Department had suspended payments under this program in December, due to budget cuts included in last year’s spending bill.

“In the months since we made the difficult decision to defer equitable sharing payments because of the $1.2 billion rescinded from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the financial solvency of the fund has improved to the point where it is no longer necessary to continue deferring equitable sharing payments,” spokesman Peter J. Carr said in an email Monday.

While he didn’t specify exactly where the new funding came from, Carr noted that the program is partly funded by the cash and other property seized under the program.

Civil forfeiture is one of the most brazen efforts by the State to redistribute wealth from the people to itself. Usually the State wraps its theft in justifications of providing services and due process. But civil forfeiture isn’t used to build roads or fund schools and spits in the face of due process by presuming guilt instead of innocence.

Due to the massive amount of pushback it wasn’t surprising to hear the DoJ announce it was suspending the program. The State likes people to believe its theft isn’t theft and public opinion was going against that fiction with civil forfeiture. It’s also not surprising to see the decision reversed, especially now that the media attention has died down, since civil forfeiture is one of the DoJ’s favorite tools to enhance the power of its law enforcers. And as we all know, a heavily armed law enforcer is a happy law enforcer and a happy law enforcer is much more willing to steal for their employer.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

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The second worst casualty of a major attack is the presumption of innocence. Too often people are demanding heads to role and assume anybody questioned, arrested, or charged because of an attack should be hanged. This leads to a lot of stupidity such as the xenophobia that began running rampant immediately after the attack in Brussels. Investigations take time and a lot of initial judgements based on preliminary evidence are proven wrong as this story illustrates so perfectly:

BRUSSELS — The Belgian authorities on Monday conceded another enormous blunder in their investigation into the attacks last week on Brussels. They freed a man they had charged with terrorism and murder, acknowledging that a witness had mistakenly identified as a bomber in a dark hat and white coat in an airport surveillance photo.

The man, who was arrested on Thursday and charged on Friday, was released after three days in custody, during which some officials publicly vilified him as a terrorist. On Monday, the police said that the real attacker, one of the men who blew up a departure hall at Brussels Airport, remained at large, and they issued a new plea to the public to help identify him.

The release of the man — who has been identified by the Belgian news media and Belgian officials as Fayçal Cheffou, who has called himself a freelance journalist — is a stunning setback for the Belgian authorities, who have struggled for more than a year to get a handle on the growing threat of Islamic State militants.

A lot of people were demanding gallows be built so Cheffou could be immediately executed. Had they gotten their way an innocent man would have been dead and nobody would have been any closer to determining who else was connected to the attack in Brussels. This is why the presumption of innocence is important, especially in high profile event such as this one.

I know everybody hates to hear it but the only appropriate way to respond to the aftermath of an attack is to have patience. Nothing is gained by rash responses. In fact rash responses often cause the same thing as the initial attacks: innocent people being injured or killed.

For Statists The Only Response Is Attacking Individual Freedom

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When a problem, perceived or real, arises there is only one response for statists: attacking individual freedom. As I noted last week, the knowledge that the Paris attackers used burner phones instead of encrypted communications would likely inspire useless legislation aimed at prohibiting burner phones. Jackie Speier seems hellbent on proving me right because she has introduced legislation to do exactly that:

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat representing California’s 14th district, has introduced a the “Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016,” or HR 4886, which will require people who purchase a prepaid device to provide proper identification.

“This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery,” Speier said in a blog post. “The ‘burner phone’ loophole is an egregious gap in our legal framework that allows actors like the 9/11 hijackers and the Times Square bomber to evade law enforcement while they plot to take innocent lives. The Paris attackers also used ‘burner phones.’ As we’ve seen so vividly over the past few days, we cannot afford to take these kinds of risks. It’s time to close this ‘burner phone’ loophole for good.”

Regardless of Speier’s claims, burner phones are not a significant gap in the State’s ability to prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, or modern-day slavery. Setting aside the fact that most acts of terror, negative aspects of drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery are created by the State, we’re still left having to accept the fact that pervasive communication technology has rendered any ability to control communications practically impossible.

Burner phones are just one method of communicating in a way that’s difficult to surveil. The same effect can be achieved with cloned subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Furthermore, registrations are easy to bypass. The firearm community is well aware of the term straw purchase. It’s a term that describes having somebody who isn’t prohibited from purchasing firearms to purchase one for somebody who is prohibited. By having somebody else purchase a phone for you you can avoid having that phone tied to your person. Getting somebody to purchase a cell phone for you would be even easier than a firearm since few people see a cell phone as a destructive device. There is also the fact that burner phones from overseas can be smuggled into the country and sold for cash.

Legislation aimed at prohibiting something only accomplish one thing: creating a black market. Not a single piece of legislation aimed at prohibiting something has been successful. This bill will be no different.

German Gun Laws

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Regardless of what the opponents of self-defense claim, buying a gun in the United States is subject to numerous regulations. But even we have it easy compared to people living in other countries. Jörg Sprave has a fascinating channel on YouTube where he devises some of the craziest slingshots known to man. He’s also an avid gun enthusiast. That being the case, I was glad to see him record a video explaining exactly what the gun laws in Germany are. While they’re far more draconian than here in the United States, they’re also not nearly as bad as in many other countries.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Monday Metal: 30 Pieces of Silver By Theocracy

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Written by Christopher Burg

March 28th, 2016 at 10:00 am

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Checkpoints All The Way Down

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The investigation into the Brussels attack hasn’t concluded yet but politicians are already calling for actions to be taken to prevent such an attack from happening here:

Security experts, politicians and travelers alike say the Brussels bombings exposed a weak spot in airport security, between the terminal entrance and the screening checkpoint.

“If you think about the way things were done in Brussels — and have been done in other places — literally people only have to only walk in, and they can attack at will,” said Daniel Wagner, CEO of security consulting firm Country Risk Solutions.

These idiots will be putting security checkpoints before the security checkpoints if we let them:

Wagner suggests U.S. airports establish pre-terminal screening before travelers enter the facility.

“That is a common approach in many countries around the world — you cannot even get in the terminal until your bags and your person have been pre-screened,” he said. “That is, through an X-ray machine both for the bags and for the individual.”

It’ll be checkpoints all the way down. What none of these stooges have stopped to consider is that the checkpoints themselves are attractive targets. Checkpoints are chokepoints. They forces large numbers of people to gather in a single place so they can slowly (very slowly in the case of Minneapolis’ airport) be filtered through by security. If a suicide bomber wants to kill a lot of people they need only step in the checkpoint line.

Adding an additional chokepoint or moving the current one doesn’t fix the problem. Reducing the amount of damage a terrorist can cause in an airport requires dispersing people, which means making major changes to current airport security practices. The long security lines have to go. This can be done by simplifying the screening process, making it consistent (anybody who travels frequently knows that the orders barked by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) goons can change drastically from day to day), and increasing the number of checkpoints. None of those measures will be taken though because the idiots who make the policies know nothing about security.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 25th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Paranoia I Appreciate

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My first Apple product was a PowerBook G4 that I purchased back in college. At the time I was looking for a laptop that could run a Unix operating system. Back then (as is still the case today albeit to a lesser extent) running Linux on a laptop meant you had to usually give up sleep mode, Wi-Fi, the additional function buttons most manufacturers added on their keyboards, and a slew of power management features that made the already pathetic battery life even worse. Since OS X was (and still is) Unix based and didn’t involved the headaches of trying to get Linux to run on a laptop the PowerBook fit my needs perfectly.

Fast forward to today. Between then and now I’ve lost confidence in a lot of companies whose products I used to love. Apple on the other hand has continued to impress me. In recent times my preference for Apple products has been influenced in part by the fact that it doesn’t rely on selling my personal information to make money and displays a healthy level of paranoia:

Apple has begun designing its own servers partly because of suspicions that hardware is being intercepted before it gets delivered to Apple, according to a report yesterday from The Information.

“Apple has long suspected that servers it ordered from the traditional supply chain were intercepted during shipping, with additional chips and firmware added to them by unknown third parties in order to make them vulnerable to infiltration, according to a person familiar with the matter,” the report said. “At one point, Apple even assigned people to take photographs of motherboards and annotate the function of each chip, explaining why it was supposed to be there. Building its own servers with motherboards it designed would be the most surefire way for Apple to prevent unauthorized snooping via extra chips.”

Anybody who has been paying attention the the leaks released by Edward Snowden knows that concerns about surveillance hardware being added to off-the-shelf products isn’t unfounded. In fact some companies such as Cisco have taken measure to mitigate such threats.

Apple has a lot of hardware manufacturing capacity and it appears that the company will be using it to further protect itself against surveillance by manufacturing its own servers.

This is a level of paranoia I can appreciate. Years ago I brought a lot of my infrastructure in house. My e-mail, calendar and contact syncing, and even this website are all being hosted on servers running in my dwelling. Although part of the reason I did this was for the experience another reason was to guard against certain forms of surveillance. National Security Letters (NSL), for example, require service providers to surrender customer information to the State and legally prohibit them from informing the targeted customer. Since my servers are sitting in my dwelling any NSL would necessarily require me to inform myself of receiving it.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 25th, 2016 at 10:00 am

How The State Makes Us Less Secure Part MLVI

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Statists often claim that the State is necessary for the common defense. If this were the case I would expect it to do what it can to make everybody safer. Instead it does the opposite. In its pursuit of power the State continues to take actions that make everybody under its rule less safe.

The latest chapter in this ongoing saga revolves around the iPhone of Syed Farook. After trying to get a court to force Apple to write a custom firmware for Farook’s iPhone that would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to brute force the passcode, the agency postponed the hearing because it claimed to have found another method to get the data it wants. That method appears to be an exploit of some sort but the Justice Department has classified the matter so we may never know:

A new method to crack open locked iPhones is so promising that US government officials have classified it, the Guardian has learned.

The Justice Department made headlines on Monday when it postponed a federal court hearing in California. It had been due to confront Apple over an order that would have forced it to write software that would make it easier for investigators to guess the passcode for an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.

The government now says it may have figured out a way to get into the phone without Apple’s help. But it wants that discovery to remain secret, in an effort to prevent criminals, security researchers and even Apple itself from reengineering smartphones so that the tactic would no longer work.

By classifying this method the Justice Department is putting, at minimum, every iPhone 5C user running the same firmware as Farook’s phone at risk. But the exploit likely reaches further and may even put every user of every iOS device at risk.

Since Farook’s iPhone is in the State’s possession there is no risk of its firmware being upgraded. That being the case, there’s no reason for the Justice Department not to disclose the vulnerability its exploiting. Even if the exploit is disclosed the agency will still be able to use it to gain access to the data on Farook’s phone (assuming the exploit works as implied). But disclosing it would allow Apple to patch it so it couldn’t be used against the millions of innocent people using iOS devices.

There is a conflict of interest inherent in statism. The State is supposed to provide for the common defense of those within its territory. At the same time it’s charged with investigating crimes and dispensing justice. In order to fulfill the latter goal it must be able to gain access to whatever information it deems pertinent to an investigation. Ensuring that access is available conflicts with providing for a common defense since an effective defense against foreign aggressors, especially as it relates to protecting data, is also an effective defense against the State.