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I'd rather be swimming with sharks

Column I trust no one these days, except sharks
Fri Sep 20 2013, 16:06

A LONG TIME AGO, make that a very long time ago, you could probably rely on people and businesses for discretion. There was trust.

These days there is no discretion and no trust. People and their business are wide open for inspection. Much of this is their own fault.

I did think that personal sharing side was the worst part of the modern privacy problem, but it seems that whatever is shared already is not enough, and governments all around the world have put their beaks into the internet and demanded more and more access.

There are a variety of reasons behind the snooping. The main excuse seems to be 'anti-terrorism'. It's difficult to argue against efforts to stop terrorism, but easy to object to the means in practice.

Thanks to Edward Snowden we have found out that US and UK governments want and demand access to all of our personal data, and get it. And worse, they forbid anyone involved to adequately talk about it.

It's been a while since I felt any affinity for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but this week I started to warm to him.

Zuckerberg's Facebook like other technology firms has petitioned the US FISA court for the right to properly disclose national security requests, and this week the hoodied CEO said that the NSA is making things very difficult for everyone.

I'm not on Facebook and I'm not a fan of it, but I can sympathise with anyone that has bashed their head against government authority, set their feet down, cemented their stance and pressed onward.

Young Zuckerberg's Facebook is not the only web outfit to complain about NSA and FBI overreaching and some firms, Lavabit for example, have shut down rather than face the peering pressures.

I don't like the sharing that comes with social networks, and I definitely do not like the oversharing that apparently is forced on the technology companies that we deal with on a daily basis.

George Orwell said that if you wanted to see an image of the future you should "imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever". He was right. We have sleepwalked into a society where our every movement is under scrutiny. It's not a boot to the face that we have to worry about. It is chloroform and a mugging.

I'd like to have some trust, some faith in the services that I use, but I can't. Thanks to Snowden we have learned that there are backdoors in most of the software and security that we use. Encryption and our perception of it is busted.

"These frightening revelations imply that the NSA has not only pursued an aggressive [programme] of obtaining private encryption keys for commercial products - allowing the organization to decrypt vast amounts of Internet traffic that use these products - but that the agency has also attempted to put backdoors into cryptographic standards designed to secure users' communications," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in response to revelations about backdoors.

That is one response. My suggestion would be that you should delete all of your online accounts and gather up all of your hardware. The hardware should be burnt, then encased in concrete. After that you should cover the concrete in broken bottles and place it in the middle of a shark tank.

It means that you won't be able to communicate other than person to person with anyone, but I think that that is probably a sacrifice worth making. Not doing that leaves you open to regular inspection.

The last time I checked you could trust that a shark would bite you if it wanted to and you got too close to it. We are just learning now that our governments want to bite us too. At least the sharks are transparent about it.

Already a tide has turned, and already people are walking away from technology services. According to the Cloud Security Alliance 56 percent of polled non-US citizens would avoid dealing with a US cloud provider in light of recent revelations about government access to customer information.

And it isn't just us punters that have to worry. Ladar Levison, the boss of the closed Lavabit, a secure email service, said that he had been plunged into a Kafkaesque nightmare since he won the attention of men in suits.

Even Belgacom, the large Belgian ISP has been touched, and the most recent snooping revelations place the blame for an assault on its servers squarely at the feet of the UK's GCHQ.

It is important to remember that these are the organisations that are supposed to protect us and serve us. It doesn't look like that is their main thrust anymore. Something, somewhere, has to give. µ


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