A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘1984 was a Warning not a Blueprint’ tag

Land of the Free

without comments

My feelings for government agents are well known but even among such a rogues gallery Jeff Sessions stands out as particularly loathsome. I often compare him to a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He’s a two dimensional character who seem to be evil for the sole sake of being evil. In his latest disregard of common decency he has decided once again that the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four were the heroes and should be emulated:

Sessions, however, refuses to accept this reality. Instead, he has claimed that the agreement caused 236 murders. He points to a journal article written by Paul Cassell, a former federal judge, and Richard Fowles, that asserts the reductions in stop-and-frisk encounters from 40,000 a month to 10,000 a month caused the additional murders in 2016. While the report accurately states the reduced number of stop-and-frisk encounters and the spike in murders in 2016, it provides no causal link between the two events.

The authors essentially suggest that a huge number of random stops will reduce crime because no one will ever know when they might be stopped and, therefore, will not carry weapons. Apparently, they are fine with randomly stopping hundreds of thousands of people, a practice with a greater than 84 percent error rate.

Remember when films portrayed Nazis and Cold War Eastern European guards asking for papers as bad guys? Those were the days! Speaking of Nazi Germany and Cold War Eastern Europe, those governments taught us that even if you establish the most ruthless police state imaginable, crime will still be rampant. Random harassment teaches people to avoid law enforcers, nothing more. Needless to say, with such an education a policy of randomly stopping and frisking individuals can only manage to catch the dumbest criminals.

When the Government Is Big, Private Businesses Want to Do Business with the Government

without comments

I find that a lot of people don’t think their positions through very thoroughly. For example, I know a lot of people who advocate for a large, powerful government but then become upset when they read stories like this:

SEATTLE — In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new online service that could help identify faces and other objects in images, offering it to anyone at a low cost through its giant cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services.

Not long after, it began pitching the technology to law enforcement agencies, saying the program could aid criminal investigations by recognizing suspects in photos and videos. It used a couple of early customers, like the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, to encourage other officials to sign up.

See this capitalist shit? This is why we need socialism, comrades!

The supreme irony here is that most of the people I mentioned above fail to realize that the very thing they advocate for, a larger and powerful government, is what convinces businesses to pursue government contracts. It’s true that Amazon is operating on the capitalist principle of seeking profit. However, in a country where the government is large and powerful the most profitable contracts are often government contracts. If the governments in the United States were weak and poor, Amazon would have no interest in pursuing contracts with them. But they’re powerful and wealthy so Amazon, like everybody else, wants a piece of the pie.

Tracking Your Pieces of Flair

without comments

Some people mistakenly believe that if they don’t carry a cell phone, government agents can’t track them. While cell phones are convenient tracking devices, they aren’t the only tool in the State’s toolbox. Law enforcers have been using license plate scanners for years now. Such scanners can track the whereabouts of every vehicle in the department’s territory. And since license plate scanners are technological devices, they are improving in capabilities:

On Tuesday, one of the largest LPR manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to “allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time.”

Plus, the company says, the software is now able to visually identity things like a “roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal.”

Even obscuring or changing your license plate won’t work if you have, like so many Americans, covered your car in unique pieces of flair.

I’m sure some people, thinking that they’re very clever, have already come up with the strategy of not driving their vehicle. After all, if you don’t have a cell phone or a personal vehicle, the government can’t track you, right? Wrong again.

Make the Slaves Carry Their Tracking Devices

without comments

Mobile phones are useful for both us and government. For us they provide almost instant communications with any of our contacts across the globe as well as access to the collective knowledge base of humanity. For government they provide real-team location information and a potential goldmine of evidence, which is why one British judge thinks that there are benefits to forcing individuals to carry their cell phones at all times:

A senior British judge has highlighted the benefits of legislation that obliges people to carry their mobile phone at all times.

Sir Geoffrey Vos QC, Chancellor of the High Court and former head of the Bar Council, raised the prospect of compulsory mobe-carrying in a speech to the Law Society (PDF).

His speech hypothesized a future where everybody is required to carry their cell phone and how that would lead to easier criminal prosecutions. It’s also not an implausible future, especially in Britain. The island is already a surveillance state. Legally requiring individuals to carry a tracking device at all times probably wouldn’t even be noticed in the pile of other tracking technologies already being employed by Big Brother. Moreover, once everybody is legally required to carry their cell phone, another law could easily be passed that mandates that all cell phones have a “law enforcement mode” that allows law enforcers to secretly active a phone’s microphone and camera to collect evidence. That would, after all, make life easier for law enforcers, which seems to be what this judge is interested in.

We live in an time where Nineteen Eighty-Four is not only technologically feasible but is easily implementable thanks to the fact that most people already voluntarily carry around a device that can collect evidence against them.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 15th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Eight Percent of the Time It Works Every Time

without comments

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is the embodiment of government incompetence. It has failed 95 percent of red team exercises, which doesn’t bode well for the agency’s general ability to detect weapons before air travelers are able to enter the “secure” area of an airport. However, the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on government incompetence. The United Kingdom (UK) also has its own program that has a failure rate of 90 percent:

A British police agency is defending (this link is inoperable for the moment) its use of facial recognition technology at the June 2017 Champions League soccer final in Cardiff, Wales—among several other instances—saying that despite the system having a 92-percent false positive rate, “no one” has ever been arrested due to such an error.

Of course nobody has been arrested due to a false positive. When a system has a false positive rate of 92 percent it’s quickly ignored by whomever is monitoring it.

False positives can be just as dangerous as misses. While misses allow a target to avoid a detection system, false positives breed complacency that quickly allows false positives to turn into misses. If a law enforcer is relying on a system to detect suspects and it constantly tells him that it found a suspect but hasn’t actually found a suspect, the law enforcer quickly ignores any report from the system. When the system does correctly identify the suspect, there’s a good chance that the law enforcer monitoring it won’t even bother to look at the report to verify it. Instead they’ll just assume it’s another false positive and continue sipping their tea or whatever it is that UK law enforcers do most of the time.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 9th, 2018 at 10:00 am

It’s Not Your Phone, Pleb

without comments

The Fourth Amendment is often cited whenever a legal issue involving privacy arises. While I recognize that the “rights” listed in the Bill of Rights are actually temporary privileges that are revoked the second they become inconvenient to the government, I think that it’s worth taking a look at the language:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

What’s noteworthy in regards to this post is the fact that nowhere does the Fourth Amendment state that measures have to be taken to make information easily accessible to the government once a warrant is issued. This omission is noteworthy because a lot of the political debates revolving around computer security are argued as if the Fourth Amendment contains or implies such language:

Dubbed “Clear,” Ozzie’s idea was first detailed Wednesday in an article published in Wired and described in general terms last month.

[…]

  1. Apple and other manufacturers would generate a cryptographic keypair and would install the public key on every device and keep the private key in the same type of ultra-secure storage vault it uses to safeguard code-signing keys.
  2. The public key on the phone would be used to encrypt the PIN users set to unlock their devices. This encrypted PIN would then be stored on the device.
  3. In cases where “exceptional access” is justified, law enforcement officials would first obtain a search warrant that would allow them to place a device they have physical access over into some sort of recovery mode. This mode would (a) display the encrypted PIN and (b) effectively brick the phone in a way that would permanently prevent it from being used further or from data on it being erased.
  4. Law enforcement officials would send the encrypted PIN to the manufacturer. Once the manufacturer is certain the warrant is valid, it would use the private key stored in its secure vault to decrypt the PIN and provide it to the law enforcement officials.

This proposal, like all key escrow proposals, is based on the idea that law enforcers have some inherent right to easily access your data after a warrant is issued. This idea also implies that your phone is actually the property of the various bodies of government that exist in the United States and they are therefore able to dictate in what ways you may use it.

If we are to operate under the assumption that law enforcers have a right to easily access your data once a warrant is issued, we must necessarily admit that the “rights” outlines in the Fourth Amendment doesn’t exist since the language offers no such right to law enforcers.

Overt Internet Censorship

with 2 comments

The Internet, especially the free speech that it has enabled, was fun while it lasted but it has become obvious that the governments of the world will no longer tolerate such a free system. Of course few governments wants to admit to attacking free speech so they are using euphemisms. For example, the United States government isn’t censoring free speech, it’s fighting sex trafficking:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agencies have seized the sex marketplace website Backpage.com as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a posting on the Backpage website on Friday.

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. But some internet and free speech advocates warned the action could lead to harsh federal limits on expression and the press.

Notice how they managed to throw the “for the children” get out of jail free card in there? Shutting down Backpage wasn’t about prostitution, it was about human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children. It’s just like how the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) is being sold as a law against sex trafficking but it’s really about opening the door to censoring any online material that offends the political class.

Fortunately, there are new frontiers. Tor Hidden Services and I2P offer a mechanism for server operators to keep their location concealed, which makes taking them down more difficult than taking down a standard Internet service. As the precedent being set by SESTA expands, more Internet service operators will find themselves having to utilize the “dark web” to avoid being censored.

He’s Making a List, He’s Checking It Twice

without comments

Few things are as frightening as government lists. No good ever comes from a government list and if you’re one of the individuals who is listed, your future is probably a bleak one, which is why journalists may be facing rather unhappy times in the near future:

In today’s installment of “I’m Not Terrified, You Are,” Bloomberg Government reports on a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the relatively benign-sounding subject “Media Monitoring Services.”

The details of the attached Statement of Work, however, outline a plan to gather and monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers and are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide.

[…]

Meanwhile, the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and “top media influencers,” which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they’re putting out to the public.

I can’t think of any reason why the Department of Homeland Fatherland Security (DHS) would want a list of all “media influencers” that aren’t horrible. Every regime in history who has created and maintained such a list has done so for the specific purpose of eliminating (either through intimidation, disappearing, or outright murder) media personnel who fail to push the approved agenda.

Since this is a DHS program, it’s being advertised as a method of tracking foreign media personnel. However, I think recent history with the National Security Agency has shown that government surveillance programs aimed at foreign entities tend to get aimed at domestic entities in short order. So while this database of media personnel may be advertised as being aimed at foreigners, if it isn’t already, it will shortly be aimed at domestic medial personnel as well.

On the one hand, this is rather unsettling. On the other hand, I do appreciate that the political class is finally being overt about its intentions.

Fahrenheit 451 without the Fire

without comments

The government of China, like most communist regimes, isn’t big on free expression. Expressing ideas that go against the state’s teachings can result in anything from spending some time in a reeducation camp to being outright executed. Although the Chinese government’s image has softened quite a bit since the days when Mao was killing millions, it still isn’t a teddy bear by any regard. For example, the regime is now cracking down on booksellers who traffic banned titles:

Lam Wing-kee knew he was in trouble. In his two decades as owner and manager of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, Lam had honed a carefully nonchalant routine when caught smuggling books into mainland China: apologize, claim ignorance, offer a cigarette to the officers, crack a joke. For most of his career, the routine was foolproof.

[…]

On Oct. 24, 2015, his routine veered off script. He had just entered the customs inspection area between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was ushered into a corner of the border checkpoint. The gate in front of him opened, and a phalanx of 30 officers rushed in, surrounding him; they refused to answer his panicked questions. A van pulled up, and they pushed him inside. Lam soon found himself in a police station, staring at an officer. “Boss Lam,” the officer cooed with a grin. Lam asked what was happening. “Don’t worry,” Lam recalls the officer saying. “If the case were serious, we would’ve beaten you on the way here.”

[…]

Over the next eight months, Lam would find himself the unwitting central character in a saga that would hardly feel out of place in one of his thrillers. His ordeal marked the beginning of a Chinese effort to reach beyond the mainland to silence the country’s critics or their enablers no matter where they were or what form that criticism took. Following his arrest, China has seized a Hong Kong billionaire from the city’s Four Seasons Hotel, spiriting him away in a wheelchair with his head covered by a blanket; blocked a local democracy activist from entering Thailand for a conference; and repatriated and imprisoned Muslim Chinese students who had been in Egypt.

I have a lot of respect for individuals to trade in prohibited information. They’re the ones who ensure that any attempt at censorship fails in the long run. However, a lot of them often die before the information becomes so widely disseminated that censorship efforts are no longer feasible.

As China continues rising to dominance, it’ll be interesting to see how it attempts to expand its power outside of its borders. With how big of a market China is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it attempts to put pressure on international publishers in the future by refusing to allow them to sell any of their titles inside of the country if they publish a single undesirable title outside of the country (I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is already happening and I’m simply unaware).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 5th, 2018 at 10:30 am

A Glimpse of America’s Future

without comments

Britain used to be the country towards which I looked when I wanted to see what creepy surveillance technology was soon coming to the United States. The British government has a long, proud history of surveilling everything its subjects do. But Britain is falling behind the surveillance game. There’s a new king in town and that king is China:

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

China’s Social Credit System is the next step in surveillance. Britain and the United States have been doing something similar. For example, in the United States the information gathered about you by the government can land you on a no-fly list, which then prevents you from boarding aircraft. However, these efforts have been chump change compared to what China is doing. Unfortunately, what China is doing is technologically feasible by both Britain and the United States. All of the required surveillance technology is already in place. All that is needed is tying those surveillance devices into a domestic social credit system.

I won’t be surprised if the United States implements a similar system within a decade. The country has certainly been moving in that direction since at least the beginning of the Cold War and has pushed the pedal to the metal since 9/11.