Protesters in Istanbul Rioted to Save Their Internet
This year, Turkey’s protesters have turned their attention from small, endangered urban parks to the slightly more on-trend issue of online freedom.
The reason is that a new law was announced over the weekend that would award the Turkish government tighter control over the internet, allowing it to block websites without seeking a court ruling first. Considering that the government already controls the country’s mainstream media, it’s no surprise that news of these restrictions on the country’s primary source of objective information didn’t go down very well.
On Saturday, internet-freedom activists took their anger to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s Gezi Park demonstrations. Much like 2013’s protests, Turkish state police were out in force, spraying crowds with water cannons, trying to demolish their barricades, and chasing protesters off down Istikal Avenue with paintball guns. Yet the crowds regrouped and began building up more barricades down alleys and sidestreets, before police attacked them again with water cannons and gas bombs. The clashes continued late into the night, with demonstrators chanting, “Hands off my internet!”
"If I don’t stand here and protest, we will lose all our freedom," said Ceren, a 24-year-old college student. "With Turkish mainstream media under [government] control, we only have the internet. If we lose the internet, nobody in the world would even be hearing about this protest."
A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Online Life More Private in 2014
On March 12 of last year, Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper point blank if the NSA collected bulk data on Americans. In front of a Senate Intelligence committee, Clapper replied, “No, sir… not wittingly.” Roughly three months later, Edward Snowden took a flight to Hong Kong and dumped a shitload of NSA secrets, simultaneously proving Clapper a liar and pushing the word “Orwellian” closer toward redundancy.
Despite the critical mass of outrage since then, nothing has changed—NSA surveillance has gone on unabated, and will continue to do so at least until the end of March. So if you believe that your data is now safe on your laptop or smartphone thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s editorial crusade, you are wrong. It is not. As Anton Kapela, a security expert at world-leading data storage company 5NINES, said, the only real privacy is in disconnecting. “There is a way to be private and secure, but at substantial cost and limited practicality,” Kapela says. “Minimize all use of the internet on laptop, desktop, and mobile, because you’re 100 percent fucked.”
The Police Can Probe You if They Think You Have Drugs
This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs. On November 5, a local news station reported that David Eckert was suing the city of Deming, Hidalgo County, and the officers and doctors responsible for his mistreatment during a January incident. Eckert was pulled over by officers because he didn’t come to a full stop while trying to exit a Walmart parking lot. At some point during their interaction, the cops decided that Eckert seemed to be “clenching his buttocks,” and their dog indicated it smelled drugs under Eckhart’s seat. According to Eckert’s recently filed lawsuit, local cops and state troopers got permission from a judge to send him to the hospital to get intimately probed for narcotics. Reportedly, a doctor at one hospital declined to search on ethical grounds, but the folks at Gila Regional Medical Center weren’t so concerned. Though he never consented to the search, Eckert spent the next 14 hours being X-rayed, got anally probed twice, and was given an enemathree times then forced to defecate in front of cops and doctors. None of this uncovered any drugs, but Eckert was billed for all these procedures, which cost thousands of dollars.
A startlingly similar story comes from Timothy Young, who was stopped by New Mexico state deputies in October of last year after he neglected to use his blinkers while turning. The very same dog that smelled drugs on Eckert also “found” some contraband in Young’s car, so he too was taken to Gila Medical Center and subjected to a similar battery of anal probing and X-rays. The team at KOB 4, the local news station, discovered that the dog isn’t even certified in the state of New Mexico, but Jacob Sullum at Forbes pointed out that dogs can continue to be used as drug detectors even if they are wrong most of the time, just so long as the cops say that the canines are doing their jobs.
Does It Matter That Ronan Farrow Is Gay?
On Sunday, the New York Times published an amusing profile of Ronan Farrow, son of Mia Farrow and either Woody Allen or Frank Sinatra. In a lengthy feature on the Farrow clan in Vanity Fair earlier this month, Mia tantalized readers with the possibility that Ronan is actually the son of Sinatra, her first husband and intermittent lover. In any event, Farrow is a cherubic 25-year-old boy-genius who graduated from Yale Law School at the age of 21, won a Rhodes scholarship, served as a diplomat for the Obama administration, signed a major book deal with Penguin, and is now is hosting a weekday show for MSNBC.
He’s also gay, according to friends of mine who have slept with him, but you wouldn’t know that from reading either Vanity Fair or the New York Times. Why the reticence? Neither publication seems very interested in protecting Farrow’s privacy—the articles reveal bracingly personal details about Farrow and his family, including lurid speculations about paternity and painful references to the drawn-out custody disputes with Allen. Why a veil of secrecy for this particular detail? Is “outing” even a thing that publications worry about anymore?
Jacob Appelbaum Doesn’t Have Much Hope for the Future of Privacy
Jacob Appelbaum has been called the “most dangerous man in cyberspace.” But he’s not, and it’s a label that pisses him off. In reality, Appelbaum is a renowned cybersecurity expert who happens to be one of the developers for the Tor Projec,; a WikiLeaks collaborator who recently co-authored a book with Julian Assange, and a trusted friend of Edward Snowden confidant Laura Poitras, with whom he’s working on the NSA links forDer Spiegel.
In 2010, Jacob became a target of the US intelligence services due to his links with WikiLeaks; he’s been detained and had his electronic equipment seized a number of times. Not particularly fond of the persecution he was facing, Appelbaum moved to Germany, where he has been approached by almost all the main German political parties as a computer expert, and has been consulting on films dealing with cybersurveillance and the current digital-rights climate.
On the day of our interview, his colleagues at the Chaos Computer Club—Europe’s largest hacking collective—managed to break the security on Apple’s iPhone 5 fingerprint scanner. And, Appelbaum promised, there were to be more big developments on the horizon for the Tor network. We sat down for a chat about whether or not the possibility of individual freedom has all but disappeared in the modern world.
VICE: What would you say is the best way to understand the internet, rather than thinking of it as just “cyberspace”?
Jacob Appelbaum: There’s no real separation between the real world and the internet. What we’ve started to see is the militarization of that space. That isn’t to say that it just started to happen, just that we’ve started to see it in an incontrovertible, “Oh, the crazy paranoid people weren’t crazy and paranoid enough,” sort of way. In the West, we see extreme control of the internet—the NSA/GCHQ stuff like the quantum insertion that Der Spiegel just covered… the Tempora program. Really, these aren’t about controlling the internet, it’s about using the internet to control physical space and people in physical space. That is to say they’re using the internet as a gigantic surveillance machine. And because you can’t opt out of the machine anymore, it’s a problem.
Obviously it’s an imperfect system, though, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten caught.
I agree that there’s something to be said about how they’re not perfect, but that’s the whole point; they present this all-seeing eye as if it’s the perfect solution, but it’s actually not a perfect solution and has some serious existential threats to democracy itself. You can’t have the largest spying system ever built and also say that somehow it won’t be abused.
Is the only alternative to that a system where anonymity is entirely guaranteed, even if you’re committing fraud or something?
It’s important to recognize that there are different kinds of anonymity. For example, here we are in this restaurant in Berlin, and neither of us has a cell phone on. Geographically, we’re anonymous, but we’re not going to defraud this restaurant. Likewise, on the internet there’s no reason my ISP should know the websites that I visit and where I’m located, and at no point does that necessitate that anything bad will happen. Though you will have some undesirable behavior, there is a larger undesirable behavior to consider, which is that the internet as a gigantic global spying machine is not what we want for human society.
The Police Can Legally Kick You Out of Your Home
Police officers are accused of violating the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments all the time, but even the most ardent civil libertarians tend to forget that the Third Amendment exists. So it’s surprising that a lawsuit filed by a family in Hendersonville, Nevada, last week alleges that police broke into their two houses back in July 2011 in violation of their constitutional rights not to be forced to quarter soldiers in their homes.
Anthony Mitchell claims he refused SWAT officers’ request to use his home in order to observe a domestic abuse standoff, but the cops forced their way inside his house anyway, pepper-spraying him and his dog. The lawsuit further alleges that Anthony’s parents, Michael and Linda, were treated roughly and forced from their home. Michael and Anthony were arrested for obstructing justice (these charges were later dismissed), and the family is suing the officers involved and the department in Las Vegas on various charges, including violations of their Third, Fourth, and 14th Amendment rights.
Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy law blog says that odds are the lawsuit doesn’t have much of a shot on Third Amendment grounds, since no matter how militarized cops have become, they’re not “officially” soldiers. (Not that the Founding Fathers had any concept of modern policing when they wrote that.) But considering how almost completely the legal system has ignored the Third Amendment—even in relevant cases—it may be interesting to watch what happens to this lawsuit. In a semijust world, it might spark a discussion about how (and if) cops differ from soldiers, and force some higher-court judge to make a ruling about how the constitution applies to militarized police. This probably won’t happen. Unless the war on drugs ends and the behavior of cops, prosecutors, judges, and politicians changes for good, police departments will continue to occupy that sweet spot where they have the technology and mindset of soldiers in war zones, and very few restrictions on where they’re allowed to patrol.
Hiding Your Calls and Texts from Big Brother
The recent news reports that the US government can pull whatever data it wants from the internet and has free rein to peek at your phone records might have been shocking initially, but really they just underscored something already known (or at least assumed) by lots of people—we’re being watched pretty much all the time. Thanks to all the technology we casually use every day, everyone from corporations to government intelligence agencies to petty criminals have the opportunity to snoop through our stuff on a level that would have been unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. There are some measures you can take to hide from the NSA, but one of the most aggressive ways to guard your data is using the products available from Silent Circle, a tech start-up that sells software that encrypts calls, texts, emails, and files. The company, which has been around since last year, employs well-known cryptography experts like Jon Callas and Phil Zimmermann, the creator of the widely used PGP email encryption program, and they also own servers in Canada and Switzerland, where the laws are more privacy-friendly than those of the US. Even if they did open their servers to law enforcement or other government agencies, they say, there’s little to find there—the keys to decipher their customers’ encrypted calls and messages are generated on the users’ own devices and automatically deleted shortly afterward.
Obviously, a company providing a way for individuals—and potentially criminals—to communicate in secret might worry law-enforcement agencies. But Silent Circle isn’t worried about that, and they say that they abide by the laws while giving people an edge over data-gathering busybodies. I recently chatted on the phone with CEO Mike Janke and CTO Jon Callas about the right to privacy, what I got wrong in a previous article, and why even the FBI is buying their products.
VICE: Surveillance is in the news because of the NSA stuff. But obviously, the government isn’t the only one monitoring people and collecting information. What are some common non-NSA threats to people’s privacy?
Jon Callas: The first obvious one is the Chinese government, who do an awful lot of spying, particularly on people who do business. Then there is the usual gang of identity-stealing criminals usually based in Eastern Europe. And there are a lot of cases when, if you’re in business, there are specific people who might engage in espionage against you. There are a lot of industries where the companies spy on each other all the time.
Mike Janke: For the average citizen, it’s not just about the threat of criminal hackers. Many other countries in the world have organizations similar to our NSA with very similar mandates, and many of those operate without the same type of oversight the US has, if you want to call it oversight. Also, how do you feel from a personal privacy perspective that your texts, the websites you shop on, the calls you make—whether it’s to an illicit lover or for a business deal—the pictures you share, and the documents you send are being collected, collated, repackaged, and sold as data? Where is your version of privacy and what do you use to reign [surveillance] in?
Do you think that this is a moral question? Do we have a fundamental right to keep our communications private?
Jon: Absolutely. In my view, in Silent Circle’s view, every person in this world, regardless of their station in life or religion, should expect a level of basic human privacy. And many of the people on the internet have no understanding on what level they are giving that up.
Uncovering the “Truth” Among the Conspiracy Theorists at the 2013 Bilderberg Fringe Festival
Every year, the Bilderberg Group—a collection of some of the world’s most powerful people—gets together to discuss how to keep on being powerful. Now, considering that the past couple weeks haven’t been great ones for democracy (shouts to Turkey and the NSA!), I don’t blame you if the prospect of powerful government officials holding a closed-door meeting with the financial elite gets your goat a little. Especially since while the big swinging dicks gathered in Watford, England, last weekend, unemployment in the UK continued to rise, cities in Turkey kept on burning, and the war in Syria remained the stuff of nightmares.
While you might look at these worldwide messes and see a lot of basic human weakness and error, conspiracy theorists read the news, see the word Bilderberg, and immediately start connecting the dots: the puppet masters are poisoning the water supply, they’re enslaving your mind—bad events aren’t the result of human weakness or error at all, but a malicious plan being orchestrated against humans by a New World Order of aliens from space. You can argue that with a guestlist that includes David Cameron, IMF chief Christine Lagarde (one of 14 women among 134 delegates), David Petraeus, and the heads of BP, Goldman Sachs and Shell, the Bilderberg Group should make its high-level discussions open to the public. Unfortunately, the legitimate demand for allowing media inside the conference gets discredited by the swarms of conspiracy theorists who show up at the event each year to stand outside the gate and scream stuff about secret occult societies.
Sure enough, when the Bilderbergers arrived at the five-star Grove hotel in Watford, they were joined by the biggest crowd of conspiracists to date. In fact, the protesters had decided to create an official event and so the inaugural Bilderberg Fringe Festival was born, complete with a campsite, makeshift press tent, security, and the biggest names in the conspiracy world, including David Icke and Alex Jones. So what’s the latest in secret truths dreamt up by the powerful to fuck us? I went down to the Grove to test the (fluoride-saturated) waters.
When I arrived, the police had put a one-in, one-out policy in place. “The event has already exceeded capacity,” they shouted. “We intended to have 1,000 people there; there are now 2,000. Please keep off the grass.”
"Keep off the grass? Is that what we’re paying our taxes for?" one guy shouted, to whoops and cheers from the crowd. I waited patiently for my turn to get closer to the fringe festival, along with a bunch of totally legit media organisations, like InfoWars, WeAreChange, and Truthjuice. Everyone seemed nervous and the air smelled ofCannabis Cup-winning weed. I wondered whether these two phenomena might be connected in some way.
Yes, the NSA Can Spy on Every American
On June 9th, two reporters from the Guardian newspaper announced to the world the source of one of the most significant classified document leaks in history. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old national security contractor from Hawaii, revealed that he was compelled by conscience to inform the world about a massive abuse of authority perpetrated by the US National Security Agency. According to the documents Snowden provided, which have been authenticated, the US government has been systematically collecting the phone records and online communications of millions of American citizens.
Both the media and the public were shocked by the news that the NSA had such broad digital surveillance capabilities. A program utilized by the agency, code-named “PRISM,” provides intelligence analysts with the ability to intercept almost any form of online communication, from any person. Government officials claim the program cannot be used to target US citizens. However, US intelligence agencies have planned to implement this type of program domestically for years.
We learned earlier this year that the FBI’s top priority for 2013 is to increase their online surveillance authority. This directive—they claim—developed from an ever-widening gap between existing wiretap laws and the accelerated growth of online communications. According to the FBI, the limitations on their surveillance powers may now pose a “threat to public safety.” This problem is officially referred to by the bureau as “Going Dark.”
In 2011, before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, then General Counsel of the FBI Valerie Caproni made the following statement: “…the FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications.” It isn’t a stretch to describe the scenario given as fictitious taken recent revelations about the true power of the FBI to intercept our data.