2842 – Watching The Detectives

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Jul 302014

You know me, I’m strictly opposed to the prevailing totalitarian idea, that surveillance, if done thoroughly enough, will prevent all crimes and make people happy and safe. It doesn’t. It just makes controlling the masses easier, and in order to sell it to the electorate, our politicians always have to ramp up the hysteria about terrorists and child pornographers. Meanwhile, what really happens is, that all that data gets abused by bored officers and by the corporations that have collected it in the first place. End of rant 😛

Photographically this image is proof of how far we have come with Micro Four Thirds. The sky was bright, the camera was not lit from the underside, thus it was an extremely high-contrast situation. This is not HDR, it’s just a regular RAW file with plenty of dynamic range to take advantage of. You see me smile 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Watching The Detectives” by Elvis Costello. I’ve used it more than six years ago for another image title. Incredible how time goes by. Hear it on YouTube.

1584 – Everybody Knows

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Feb 162011

I’ve read Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” last summer, while we were in Italy. In between I have only read Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, a finally slightly disappointing, but nevertheless very interesting novel about post-9/11, from the point of view of a young Pakistani having studied and worked in the US, and then of course the three glorious books by Vikram Chandra.

While India / Pakistan have been the focus of my attention for half a year, I frequently think of Heinlein’s book and about the idea, that the most important thing in a constitution is not to list the government’s duties, but to restrict its possibilities by exactly enumerating what it is allowed to do, and to completely rule out everything else.

“The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” is a book about a revolution (an optimistic one at that), and of course when I come back to it, I am triggered by much of what currently happens in the Arabian world. But not only that. Let me explain.

There is much talk about an “Internet Kill Switch” among politicians, and we have just seen in Egypt what the only reason for a government to want such a “switch” can be: to stop a revolution. Well, they failed, Algeria might fail as well, but that does not prevent our politicians to desire such an ability. And that’s exactly why we have to stop them.

And there’s more. As much as I understand the concerns about Egypt and how the fall of Mubarak might impact stability in the Middle East, we must realize, that we can’t always lecture on the merits of democracy, and at the same time deny it to those who seek it. The western world has a long tradition of relying on totalitarian dictators abroad, and that is one of the reasons, why every revolution is seen as dangerous. Everybody in those suppressed countries knows, that we use Doublespeak and that we can’t be trusted. Everybody knows what hypocrites we are and everybody knows that our first desire is to betray them and rip them off. Why should they, once free, ally with us?

But it’s not only them, it’s us as well. Our governments hysterically try to keep the status quo, and in order to do so, they take away our freedom. The power to take down the Internet, total monitoring of communication, we can’t give it to them. We must not. What’s next? There are already politicians (lots of them!) who openly argue against publicly available cryptography and against anonymity on the Internet, who want to require some proof of identity, which would ultimately mean a license to communicate, a license that can be granted, denied or revoked, tied to conforming behavior. Everybody knows that this is largely driven by the media cartels and the fact that they don’t care for freedom and democracy, as long as they can stop file sharing, but still, this is the same infrastructure that can be used by a totalitarian state to prevent a revolution. And this is a bad thing.

If you take away a people’s ability to revolt, to turn down those in power, you have effectively given up on democracy. Democracy needs change, and ultimately this can be the forceful change brought by a revolution. To make a revolution impossible, effectively means totalitarianism, and exactly that is the importance of Heinlein’s credo. We must severely limit what a government is allowed to do, and the most important thing to take out of their grasp, is their ability to perpetuate their reign.

The Song of the Day, “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, offers a much darker vision. But then, even in Heinlein’s optimistic utopia the dice are loaded. It’s only that they’re loaded by the good guys.

See a video from the London concert on Yandex, a Russian video site I’ve never heard of until now 🙂

Feb 012011

It’s Tuesday night, this image is the only one that I made yesterday, and although I intended to use one of the river images instead (there are still a few left), today’s news made me reconsider.

Today we have found out, that Austria’s government has plans for an “Internet Kill Switch”.

Of course they didn’t announce it publicly, but when it made the news (here’s the news report, here the original source, both German only, sorry), the government tried to weasel out. As all the time when a government tries to restrict our rights, it is supposed to be “only for our best”.

They argue it is necessary to protect us from cyber warfare, violent virus outbreaks and terrorist attacks over the Internet.

Have you ever heard of such BS??? To protect the network infrastructure, they want to shut it down???

Well, I’m only too willing to accept their incompetence as an excuse, but not in such a blatant case. No, I am sure they know exactly what they are proposing, and I am sure that it is not to protect us from outside enemies, it is to protect THEM from US. After all, there is only one, only and EXACTLY ONE REASON imaginable, why a government would like to clamp down on communication. Look at what happens in Egypt, and then you know it.

OK, let’s assume they are only idiots. So now once again for idiots: The network is the resource that needs protection. Shutting it down would be about as clever as committing suicide for fear of being shot. It’s absolutely the wrong thing, right?

Now that this is clear, let’s look at what really needs to be done.

Remember Stuxnet, the virus, that was constructed to damage a certain very specialized kind of machinery, that is mostly used in nuclear power plants, and there in the process of creating nuclear material that can be used in a bomb? Rumor has it, that it was a joint effort of Israel and the USA, designed to take out a weapon factory in Iran.

Well, since that event some months ago, it is fashionable in political circles to rant about cyber warfare, and of course they have all the metaphors wrong.

A cyber war, if it happens, cannot be likened to the dropping of bombs. The Internet was designed to withstand all sorts of catastrophes and even wars, it began as a military network after all. It does so by being highly de-centralized. In order to implement something like a “Kill Switch”, we would have to centralize control, and that would be the very thing that would make it vulnerable. Instead of protecting us, a “Kill Switch” would make it easier for any attack.

Two things need to be done:

  • de-centralized redundancy needs to be extended
  • critical resources need to be taken off the Internet

The first measure would just strengthen the network’s built-in resilience, and the second is, what I expect a responsible government to do. There is no reason why critical power plants need to be networked over the Internet. There is also no reason why those resources should run on Microsoft Windows, the #1 target for all hackers and script kiddies alike.

Sure, it’s cheaper, but we all know how vulnerable computers are. It is stupid to unnecessarily expose power plants and oil refineries to risk, just to save some money. Take them off the Internet. Use isolated networks inside of those resources. Don’t rely on firewalls and virus protection, isolate them physically.

Well, this is just what I can come up in a few minutes, but it would protect our country’s critical infrastructure much better than every “Kill Switch”. That’s what has to be done if the government really wants to protect us. Shutting down private and commercial communication would only lead to chaos, and their desire, to be able to do so, is nothing but suspicious.

A few day ago I saw an image with the slogan “If your government shuts down the Internet, shut down your government”, and that is exactly what we should do.

The Song of the Day is “Clampdown” from the 1979 Clash album “London Calling”. A fine match, I think. “Revolution Rock” from the same album would have been fitting as well 🙂

Hear it on YouTube.