All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Cybersecurity: Beware Untrustworthy Partners

RGBStock.com LockBefore the ink had time to dry on his February 12 executive order “promoting private sector cybersecurity information sharing,” US president Barack Obama launched a campaign to re-write history and make the case for trusting government to bolster network security and data privacy.

“The Snowden disclosures,” Obama told Re / code’s Kara Swisher in an interview the next day, “were really harmful in terms of the trust between the government and many of these companies.”

Well, no. It was the government — Obama’s administration and its predecessors — which betrayed the trust of American enterprise, the American people and the world. Edward Snowden is mere heroic messenger, telling us what we should have already known: That any such trust was misplaced.

The executive order itself raises two key questions: Does Obama not understand network security and data privacy issues? Or is he insincere in his claims to want improved network security and data privacy?

The obvious answer, based on decades of experience, is yes to both questions. Obama’s assurances, “with almost complete confidence, that there haven’t been abuses on US soil,” don’t pass the laugh test.

The US intelligence community has a long history of doing its best to hobble communications security, going back at least as far as 1977’s “Federal Information Processing Standard,” adopted only after the National Security Agency talked IBM into hobbling its Data Encryption Algorithm to make it more vulnerable to the kinds of brute force attacks that NSA could bring to bear.

As the 20th century drew to a close, NSA fought losing rear-guard actions to prevent widespread access to and adoption of strong cryptography. Among the Snowden revelations was that coming out of that period, NSA took its efforts to a stealthier level, spending billions to subvert the crypto they couldn’t stop.  For example, we learned that a leading encryption company (RSA) worked at NSA’s behest to “[i]nsert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks, and endpoint communications devices used by targets.”

Anyone who believes that these efforts stopped at any point,  don’t continue to this very day, or won’t continue into the foreseeable future  is living in a fantasy world. The US government always has been, and remains, the single worst global  and domestic threat to network security and data privacy. Those two laudable goals are inherently incompatible with trust in Barack Obama or the organization he represents.

If American politicians want real privacy/cybersecurity reforms, here are some suggestions:

First, dismantle the Department of Homeland Security, drastically cut the budgets of US intelligence agencies, and levy draconian penalties for rogue operations targeting Americans for any reason or foreign “cyber warfare” operations absent a congressional declaration of war.

Secondly, repeal the US PATRIOT Act, “Know Your Customer” rules, and other laws putting personal  and business information at risk by requiring its transmission to government.

Finally, forbid government interference or “consultation” in development of private sector encryption standards or algorithms.

That would be a start. Anything less is mere theater.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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“Hate Crime” Means ThoughtCrime — #everylifematters

RGBStock.comBloodIt’s a scene played out all too frequently: Gunfire shatters  a neighborhood’s quiet routine. Screams echo through its streets or the halls of one of its apartment complexes. Sirens wail. An ambulance hauls away the bodies, a police cruiser hauls away a handcuffed suspect or suspects. Later: A trial, a verdict, a sentence. Some lives are lost, others forever changed.

On Tuesday, February 10, that story line came to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Three young people — Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha — lie dead. Their suspected killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, stands charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

It’s an ugly thing. Unfortunately, instead of mourning the victims and seeking justice versus their killer, many seem caught up in disputes over motive. Were these three killed over a parking space? Or were they killed because they were Muslims?

If the latter, some assert (and, unfortunately, have the legal power to back the assertion with charges) that the victims enjoy special status because their murders constitute a “hate crime.”

That assertion and the laws associated with it go 180 degrees against the US Constitution, and against the goal of a just social order, in several ways.

Under “hate crimes” laws, if a victim belongs to any of various “protected classes,”  and if the criminal’s motive is demonstrably connected to the victim’s status as a member of such a class, additional charges may be laid and additional penalties or punishments levied.

Those conditions are repugnant to the 14th Amendment’s requirement that all Americans enjoy equal protection of the law. They designate some victims as more valuable than others, and some criminals as more culpable than others,  with respect to the same crimes.

“Hate crimes” laws also do damage to the 1st Amendment’s enshrinement of our rights to think, speak and worship as we please. Only the violent act may be prohibited. The underlying idea, no matter how ugly or hateful, is sacrosanct. While ugly and hateful ideas are rightly subject to criticism and social pressure and preferencing (who but another Ku Klux Klansman wants to make friends with a Klansman?), “ThoughtCrime” must never be forbidden, let alone punished, by law.

The blood of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha cries out from the ground. It cries for justice versus their killer, not for vengeance versus their killer’s beliefs or motives. We the living should heed that cry. #everylifematters.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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“Right to be Forgotten?” Fuhgeddaboudit.

RGBStock.com WWWLast May, the European Union Court of Justice asserted a “right to be forgotten,” ordering Google and other search engines to remove “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” personal information from search results on demand.

Glossing over the difficulty of objectively deciding what kind of information might be “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” Google promptly complied. The web search giant created an application process through which individuals could quickly and easily register their demands that EU web users be forcibly made a little dumber. Maybe even as dumb as European Union Court of Justice judges.

Or maybe not. Turns out the EU’s censors want Google to implement their Orwellian “memory hole” globally. After all, EU web users, who on average run smarter than European Union Court of Justice judges, know they can bypass Google.fr and go to Google.com for information their masters don’t want them to have.

To its credit, Google is resisting the idea, citing the recommendations of an “advisory board” it put together for the express purpose of recommending such resistance.

But I wish Google would take matters further and simply tell web censors and other bad Internet actors to go pound sand.

Some governments are better than others when it comes to respecting Internet freedom. Unless governments act to stop them, users in any given country can reach sites hosted in any other country. And a company boasting $60 billion annual revenues carries enough weight to make offers of substantial value.

Google should move its headquarters and main server farms to two countries (splitting its servers and running redundant backups across both sets) on an offer like this:

“We’ll double, maybe even triple, your national GDP, bring substantial information infrastructure improvements, follow your labor and environmental regulations, and pay a reasonable tax rate on our revenues. Only one condition. You don’t regulate our content or sign international treaties requiring you to let others regulate our content. Ever.”

Latvia and Jamaica, perhaps. Or Iceland and Paraguay. Two countries, so that if one regime tries to back out on the deal Google can back out as well without missing a beat.

After which, of course, Google could show its middle finger to the European Union Court of Justice and other tyrannical institutions and tell them “if you want to censor, do it yourself.”

Freedom of information is too valuable to let governments screw around with. Time for some tough love.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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