Open Ballot: Big Brother

Open Source

America's National Security Agency has come under fire for demanding data from many phone and web-based companies. This side of the pond, things aren't much better. Though the "Snooper's Charter" looks like it won't come through, EU law still requires all communication providers (e.g. ISPs and telephone companies) to:

  • trace and identify the source of a communication;
  • trace and identify the destination of a communication;
  • identify the date, time and duration of a communication;
  • identify the type of communication;
  • identify the communication device;
  • identify the location of mobile communication equipment.
for all communications and store this for up to two years so they can make it available to national authorities. What the national authorities do with it is up to them.

It seems that many of us are living under the spectre of massive state surveillance. So, dear readers/listeners, what to you think of this? Let us know in the comments and we'll read them out in our upcoming podcast.

Do you think:

  • If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear
  • It's OK, Obama said: "no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient." and he seems like a stand-up chap.
  • We need to give the state power to protect us. As Theresa May said: "... we can absolutely say for certain is that, if the Communications Data Bill [aka snooper's charter], with the safeguards that were agreed in the last session of Parliament, was introduced, then it would be very likely to prevent some attacks of this kind [the Woolwich murder] in the future."
  • "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Benjamin Franklin
  • It's an Orwellian nightmare: "Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself." from 1984
  • It's time to arm ourselves for a fight. Since we can no longer rely on the law to protect us, we need to use free and open source software to create secure online systems that big brother can't casually tap into.

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Your comments

not gonna affect me or you or you or you

No one uses a telephone except to make a call on mother's day, and no matter how freaky my web browsing habits are, millions of Americans will be more suspicious than me so who cares.

This is going to be long ...

As I think Jon said in an earlier podcast: I've not heard a compelling philosophical argument for personal privacy.

And until I do, I'm going to question my assumptions. Of course the idea of peoples' communications and activities being monitored bothers me. But I can't work out *why* it bothers me.

If an intelligence agency is trustworthy (which is, I realise, a massive 'if') then isn't it in our best interests, assuming we accept the rule of law, that they collect as much information as they can? Otherwise we're asking that service to be artificially inefficient.

I think most of us accept the necessity of having a security service. And I think it's obvious that a security service has to operate largely in secret. Unfortunately I think the US constitutional position forces the US security agencies to lie, rendering oversight ineffectual. I think the position is slightly healthier here in the UK where we just sort of trust them to get on with it and don't ask too many questions.

It's a difficult thing for a modern liberal democracy to deal with. I just don't think absolute individual freedom/privacy and the necessity for a covert domestic security service can be reconciled - something's got to give.

Broadly, I don't think desire for personal privacy (from each other, at least - from the state/corporations is a different matter) is a healthy desire, I think openness is a far better proposition. But nor do I think universal surveillance of citizens (and the distrust that implies) is a healthy thing for a state to be doing.

So I remain unable to meaningfully rationalise this and hope one day to find a philosophical basis to work from.

One of the worst platitudes

One of the worst platitudes is "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear".

Everyone has elements of life they wish to keep private, whether it is a relationship crisis, an illness, sexual orientation. Data can be misused, either maliciously (police stalking ex-partners) or through accidental exposure, or even the deliberate-but-unthinking (Wikileaks and named Afghan informants).

The particularly bad element of Prism is the lack of oversight - Obama and Cameron have both claimed that there are "checks and balances", yet our own elected representatives knew nothing and were unable to exercise those claimed checks and balances.

Whether you are attempting to preserve legitimate personal privacy, or hide your own criminal activity, everyone is entitled to due process, fair treatment and protection from abuse. The state should not become the abuser.

Good Start

No one seems to care about what comes out of my mouth these days unless it's vomit and they're sitting next to me on an airplane. So yeah, I'm glad at least the US government will listen to my beautiful songs and fervent rants.

No comment

I have an opinion on the matter but I am going to keep it in a shoebox under my bed where the NSA cant get to it... at least I think they cant

Just a thought ...

Why are the most vehement proponents of Open Source also the most vehement proponents of privacy.

Surely the reliability, honesty and security inherent within Open source would be just as relevant to open lives

You have the software use it.

I no longer rely on email providers, file storage or cloud services.
I have installed my own mail.server, file storage and access that everyone in my family now uses. (server)
I know it is not 100% secure because the mail and files still have to pass through my ISP but all files and emails are encrypted.

I have deleted all Google accounts and services.

Generally web use is now done through a socks5 - secure browsing.


It seems they want this data to prevent terrorism. I have not seen any suggestion that this kind of data has been any help in preventing attacks.

While every death is a tragety, it seems that the money would be better spent reducing deaths on the roads, and encouraging people to eat healthily and exercise. Once we have got deaths due to these causes down to the levels caused by terrorists, we can start focussing on that.

I suspect we are being lied to and it is less about terrorists and more about control.

If the innocent have nothing to fear...

If the innocent have nothing to fear, why are these governments being so secretive?

I Bet on the Wrong Book

I remember first reading Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World in grade school. I made the call then that there was no way a culture of fear like 1984's would be sustainable, and surely our pleasure and comfort seeking nature would do us in instead.

Recent events have... challenged my confidence in that prediction. If I had to guess as to the future, the revelation of such oversight programs here in the US won't spurn enough people to action. Instead, it'll take a specific use of wrongdoing to turn the tide of the ship. For example, a political campaign needs to be sabotaged with this network, or an innocent pop star needs something private exposed, or an entire town's data needs to publicly fall into the wrong hands.

Freedom is too abstract an idea to create change in America anymore. Which is a shame, because I think there are few threats to freedom as clear as this one.

It's an ineffective waste of your tax dollars.

The NSA didn't stop 9/11 with its snooping. Nor did it stop the Boston Marathon Bombings. It hasn't stopped any mass shootings. I don't know what they're succeeding at but the pay off is small. It's too much for too little benefit.

The NSA is ineffective and should be dismantled on that fact alone. Disagree? Prove it. You can't. Because no one knows what the NSA does.

In the same way that open sourcing an encryption algorithm does not degrade its effectiveness, our government can be open and transparent. (We do want the transparency our President has promised repeatedly.)

Our government does not understand the difference between exposing procedure and exposing secrets. "Jim made six phone calls to Jane" is a secret. How you collect that data or even the fact that you collect that data should not be a secret. How our government operates should not be a secret.

Our government is operating under the false pretence that the need to keep secrets applies equally to the data and the actions taken to collect it. There *may* be a need to keep data secret. There is no need to keep actions, procedures, and policy secret.

So there's two big problems. 1. They're ineffective at using the data (there's no justification for collecting it). 2. They're anything but transparent about what they're doing.

Final thought: If our government is doing nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide, right?

How are the "western

How are the "western democracies" going to snub China and others for spying on its own citizens after something like this?

Call Will

I'll call Will Smith and Gene Hackman and ask them how to deal with it. But they'll know I've called them, oh no :(

Oh the joys of lacking any appreciation of HISTORY!

"It's time to arm ourselves for a fight. Since we can no longer rely on the law to protect us, we need to use free and open source software to create secure online systems that big brother can't casually tap into."

It isn't just now time to be worried about the NSA. The NSA has been around since the 1950s. This sort of collection activity has been happening since before there was an Internet. Back then, international telegraph and telex traffic was collected and it was handed over to the NSA by the relevant companies.

The modes of communication may have changed but the collection activity has not. President Harry Truman, a Democrat, created the agency in secret back in the 1950s. During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, it was more publicly acknowledged during the Goldwater military legal reforms when it was designated a "Combat Support Agency". The head of NSA is dual-hatted as Commander of US Cyber Command nowadays too. Even though the paperwork has changed over the years, they're still doing the same things they have since the middle of the 20th century.

If this truly worries you, GnuPG is shipped by default with nearly all Linux distributions except for maybe Tiny Core Linux and Linux From Scratch. It is rather useful for more than just digital signatures, ya know. You should be using Tor. You should be concerned about over-sharing on social media. You should be concerned about that little tracking and surveillance device you carry with you daily otherwise called a cell phone. The tools to do something are already there but do need an uptick in usage.

George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World were both meant as warnings...not instruction manuals...

Spooks are our silent protectors

Whilst @Arthur Warthur has a few valid points about where taxpayers money ought to be spent, I must disagree with his view that he has "not seen any suggestion that this kind of data has been any help in preventing attacks". Unless Mr Warthur is employed by the security services (or was until he wrote on this forum), I doubt he will have seen any such data.

Anyone who watches Spooks (or MI5 if you're in the US) will know that this fictional TV series addresses the issue of keeping dangerous threats out of the public view as much as possible. More importantly, many of the bad guys and attacks are often thwarted (I love that word) before anything bad actually happens. I know this is fiction, but if the real security services here in the UK and over in the USA operate along similar lines, then the effectiveness of such agencies is conspicuous by the absence of major public attacks on our citizens on a day-to-day basis.

The only time you hear about "security blunders" is when an attack is occasionally successful... but we never hear about the ones that were successfully thwarted. This leads me to surmise that information gathering activities by the security services is probably VERY ESSENTIAL to our general safety and well-being. Yes, our privacy is being chipped away, but hopefully by those who we rely on the most... our duly elected governments and the agencies they employ to help them.

This is such an awesome question. Thank you.

You know what to do

Governments will always want to know what their citizens are doing. When this new broke, my first thought was "Meh, how is anyone surprised?" I still stand by that, pretty sure I expected this to be going on even before it went public.

If this really bothers you, live in a cave. Job done.

only fine if applied equally to everyone

What bothers me most is that ordinary people are held to a higher standard of transparency than our authoritarian overlords.

If Obama wants to know everyone that I call, then I want to know everyone that Obama calls. If he wants to read my emails, then I want to read his emails.

Lets see how quickly a supposedly democratic government passes such legislation in future if it applies to the politicians as well.

The depressing thing is that there's basically nothing we can do to fix this, short of having a violent armed uprising.

Big Brother

Got nothing to hide. If it can prevent a terror-atttack like it has done with the planned attack on danish newspaper Jyllandsposten, then ok with me.


Your civil rights are like muscles - if you don't use them they atrophy. I don't give a flying @#! if you've got nothing to hide, you NEED to be concerned that your freedoms (and your fellow citizens) are being infringed or they will only continue to erode. I became ashamed of the citizens of my country (I'm American) following 9/11. So many people were willing to give up so easily the personal freedoms and protections that so many fought and died for, all in the name of perceived safety. Safety at any cost? I don't think so. I'd rather live free and dangerous. Even without the Patriot Act and all that has come after I'd still have a better chance of winning the lottery than being a victim of a terror attack.

Chilling Effects

The phrase from Animal Farm applies, All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". Because there is no oversight of the snooping those people WILL abuse their power, and with time that abuse will grow.

If the only way we have to know what is happening is through the action of whistle blowers, and those people are treated like Bradley Manning and Julian Assangue, those who would blow the whistle are small. How many everyday abuses are happening now do you think!

Police State

The issue is that with the loss of privacy the room for radical thought is removed. If your every move is being watched, that modifies your behaviour.

Big Brother

Big Brother is crap, I stopped watching it years ago.

Trust is earned with respect, they don't respect our privacy they don't get our trust or our votes.

ReBig Brother

I have sent my comment via post. I will mail you the decoder ring from another office tomorrow. Hopefully it will reach you in time for podcast.

A waste of time

Probably they're spending much of their time watching someone naked photos.
If there is anyone who wants to hide his web activity he probably knows how to do that...(tor, bitmessage, truecrypt)

Cloudy cloud cloud cloud

It's the latest thing in cloud storage!

Think about it... Your hard drive fails the day you're due to back up. What to do? Call the NSA! They'll have a copy!

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