Surveillance

Kiss Your Right to Communicate Freely Goodbye

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“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.” – As told to Richard Feynman (Theoretical physicist) by a Buddhist monk.

The search query Bill C-51, leaves me wondering how quickly the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) will come to know about my curiosity. Other than that simple search term what else do they know, or what else do they think they know? What more can they find out about my interest in the subject?

IMG_3907Like thousands of other Canadians, by attending a weekend rally that was vociferously against the attempt to pass this omnibus bill, I’ve knowingly exposed myself even further to the mechanisms of State surveillance. I’ve been surveilled without context. It’s just like searching the internet is now an act of being surveilled without context.

Think back in history, even before surreptitiously cracking a wax sealed envelope and peaking into its contents, communication technology and surveillance have long been strange bedfellows.

Ultimately the mechanisms of State surveillance are rooted in the manipulation of, and projection of power.  “The increased power of officials is an inevitable result of the greater degree of organization that scientific technique {communications technologies} brings about. It has the drawback that is apt to be irresponsible, behind-the-scenes, power, like that of Emperors’ eunuchs and the Kings’ mistresses in former times. To discover ways of controlling it is one of the most important political problems of our times” – Bertrand Russell (The Impact of Science on Society – 1953)

This “Act (Bill C-51) that may be cited as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015” is being fast tracked to becoming (in it’s own words),  “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.”  This is a significant legislative overhaul. This will make us no safer nor more secure tomorrow that we already are today. This is nothing more than a security services power grab.

Bill C-51 is full of murky definitions and offers a troublingly broad definition of what constitutes “threats to the security of Canada.” According to our Prime Minister’s hyperbole ““Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality,” Harper said at the announcement. “It seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities and in our neighbourhoods through horrific acts.”

Yet, let’s look for these sources of terror. This ominous spectre of terror that’s lurking in shadowy corners and looming over our country, the terrorist threat we all need to fear according to CSIS, is the one that’s “emanating from Al-Qaeda-inspired extremism… Despite recent successful operations targeting Al-Qaeda Core, the Service continues to see support for AQ causes in Canada. Of particular significance is the above-mentioned investigation into an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked plot to attack a train in Southern Ontario, which led to the arrest of two individuals in April 2013.” It’s important noting that this lone terrorist plot was foiled using today’s current surveillance methods and within today’s legislative framework.

I accept that Google, Facebook, and Apple possess a potential treasure trove data points about me. I can accept what these corporations know about me because they can’t bankrupt me; they can’t incarcerate me; they can’t potentially ruin my life. The state can.

I’m not keen on feeling powerless to defend myself against the mechanisms of our State surveillance and security authorities. What does the Canadian State surveillance and security system know about me right now? It’s haunting to think that a faceless and nameless bureaucrat can take shards and fragments of information, of metadata and create a story that’s not mine. The state can create their own narrative for each of us. One day we might find ourselves no longer free to create and communicate our own narrative.IMG_3902

This story of safety, security, and terrorism is supposed to be about trusting our government. We’re supposed to believe that giving up more freedom and privacy is good for us. How is the imposition of self-censorship good for us? Do I have to consider how framing a dissenting perspective about the federal government could be taken out of context? Can my suggesting that we have a government that’s displayed total lack of environmental stewardship while schilling our natural resources to interests that best suit a myopic and greedy fiscal agenda, be potentially deemed a “threat to the security of Canada?”

IMG_3915As well, this state abuse of communications technology could further curtail our freedom of movement. The no-fly list is nothing new, but under the new version of this law authorities will be permitted to use undisclosed secret evidence against suspects. Again we’ll be left powerless to defend ourselves.

The internet is a door that opens two ways. While we can see a world of good and evil, we also have to allow for the reality that this door also lets both walk through it too. One of those evils should not be our own supposedly democratically elected government. Echoing Edward Snowden, government needs to recalibrate it’s relationship with us. That relationship can not be defined as those ruling the ruled; it must be one that’s between the electorate and the elected. Bill C-51 is about being ruled. It’s the real looming spectre of terror that’s in our midst today.

“There can be no doubt that behind all the pronouncements of this court, and in my case, behind the arrest and today’s inquiry, there exists an extensive organization […] And the purpose of this extensive organization, gentlemen? It consists of arresting innocent people and introducing senseless proceedings against them, which for the most part, as in my case, go nowhere. Given the senselessness of the whole affair, how could the bureaucracy avoid becoming entirely corrupt?” (Kafka – The Trial)

REFLECTING ON 2014: THE BIG ISSUE, THE BIG IDEA, AND THE BIG WIN

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Every Canadian technology startup that’s delighting and delivering value to its customers, while creating a meaningful workplace culture, is a story worth sharing. Every entrepreneur earning the opportunity to keep the lights on another day deserves a high-five.

I’m not big on picking favourites. So with a twist on the usual list-bait, here’s a look at the year that was by reflecting on the biggest issue, the biggest idea, and the biggest win.

These words are homeless without the internet. Despite being 25 years old, the promise of an open and free internet seems like a pipe dream. The architect of the world’s information network, Tim Berners-Lee, believes that “we need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” Yet the social value of today’s internet is being challenged and undermined everyday by the actions of deceitful of governments and plundering corporations. OpenMedia-11-of-17-1050x700

Former Google developer advocate Tim Bray has lent his voice to this biggest of issues, and his words resonate throughout: “It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.

I imagine being with my kids and marvelling at the beauty of a rainbow revealing itself after the dark deluge of a winter storm blasts through, and it passes as our conversation about climate change. Talk about fleeting and borderline delusional thoughts. I do imagine a world where our relationship with fossil fuels isn’t driving the climate change debate.

Rather than just imagining how such a world will look, Dr. Michel Laberge and his General Fusion team is working towards delivering “the Promise of Clean Energy.” This is not only the biggest idea of 2014, but it’s possibly the most meaningful endeavour for our children I’ll never know.

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It was a shot in the dark, emailing info@ in the hopes in securing an interview with one of Vancouver’s more successful startup entrepreneurs. On the heels of raising $42 million in new funding for a business completely off my radar, I figured the odds of catching up with Stewart Butterfield to get the story of Slack was firmly entrenched between slim and negligible.

The personal reply from Butterfield caught my attention. More so, our conversation left an impression and no accompanying sense of shock when the news dropped he’s now leading Vancouver’s newest billion dollar company. Raising $120 million for this new communication platform counts as the biggest win, and confirms “This Guy’s No Slacker.

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Orange jumpsuits aren’t my idea of high fashion. I’m fond of suggesting good entrepreneurs have to be rule breakers, or makers of new rules. Just not breaking them to a felonious point. Being true to my word and breaking my editors rule, there’s a fourth Vancouver startup story that’s of the big “pie-in-sky” variety.

Actually, it’s a two big HD cameras in the sky story that caught my attention. Like our tenuous and tempestuous relationship with the internet or re-imaging the powering of our world, Urthecast is changing how we can see our planet. Maybe if we look at our world from a different point of view we’ll start treating it and ourselves better. Let’s move forward into 2015 taking action for good and being most mindful that “We’re All in This Together.”

This story was originally published in BetaKit

“It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.”

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OpenMedia.ca invited a group of people from Vancouver’s technology, philanthropy, and social enterprise community to join an evening conversation entitled, “Propelling our Connected Future Forward.”

The community-based organization is focused on safeguarding the possibilities of the open Internet. They’re creating informed and participatory digital policy by engaging hundreds of thousands of people in protecting our online rights. They support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy based on five basic principles set out in the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

Read Also: Canadian Indentity-Privacy Pioneer Austin Hill Has a Message for the Founders of Whisper and Secret

Michael Tippett (co-founder of NowPublic, now director of new product for HootSuite) and Tim Bray (former developer advocate for Google, cofounder of Open Text Corporation and Antarctica Systems) lead the conversation.

Tippett was very clear about his reasoning for being part of the evening. Thinking back to the late ‘90’s and being part of one of Canada’s first digital agencies Tippett said, “I’m part of this GenX malaise, thinking life is gloomy and we’re going to be worse off than our parents. A real bummer. And then the internet came, and it was like we’re saved!”

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The early internet days were seen as a kind of utopian vision. It represented an open, free, democratic, and revolutionary force. Tippett added, “it changed a lot of lives, my life, and is now changing my kids’ lives. The reality is that those heady days are behind us, and that original vision is under threat. A great internet is more than just having fast download speeds for a better Netflix experience, it’s about ensuring we have an open, free, and democratic society.”

Bray said “there’s a lot of things we need to do to make sure the internet stays open. We have to worry a lot about things like net neutrality, pricing, and bandwidth. The one thing that worries me most of all is privacy. You can’t have an open internet unless you can close down parts of it, namely the parts you don’t want to share with everyone else in the world.

Having private by default internet, one which can be truly open and people can be themselves without fear doesn’t have to be a utopian vision. Ultimately, there needs to be a counter position to those who think, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you need privacy anyhow.” Wanting privacy isn’t about having nefarious intentions.

According to Bray, “it’s ok to be pro-privacy without being a crook, pervert, or terrorist.”

The people who are spying on us on behalf of your government are just people. Most are well-meaning, underpaid, dedicated public servants who passionately believe they are protecting you and me from bad guys who want to do terrible things. However, a small proportion of them are inevitably stupid, insane, corrupt or just crazy. People who are in that position with that much access to information can wreak havoc on your life in a lot of different ways. Thus it needs to be regulated, watched, and the amount of snooping needs to be minimized. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for that.”

With the proliferation of mass surveillance and an emergence of an accompanying sense of police statism, Bray suggested that “while we have to cherish and protect the members of our law enforcement community, we also have to watch them like a hawk. We have to limit their actions, and preserve our privacy, because by default there’s nothing wrong with being private. Most of us are not terrorists.”

Read Also: BetaKit at #SXSW: Kiwi Wearables Does Not Want to Perform Science Experiments On Your Personal Data

The supposed goal of all of this pervasive surveillance is to protect us, and prevent bad things from happening to us. Yet as Bray said, “if you look at all of the bad things that could happen to us and the amount of money, resources, and technology being put into pervasive surveillance, it’s ridiculously out of balance. This record and watch, read, or listen to everything later is profoundly not cost effective no matter how you look at it.”

“Privacy is not a means to an end. Privacy is an end itself. It is a virtue of civilization, as opposed to living in a primitive culture,” Bray concluded. “We should cherish and protect it, and we shouldn’t ever have to explain why.”

It makes one question our current government priorities, when they’re in the process of building a new spy palace. By some estimates elevating the role of our surveillance state will cost the Canadian taxpayer somewhere between $1.2 billion, and $4.2 billion dollars. Curious what kind of investment is being made to help close our growing digital divide, and improve our national productivity and competitiveness?

It’s not the Orwellian Big Brother vision that’s worrisome. With government invading our privacy it’s the Kafkaesque version of this story that raises the biggest concern. When I close the door to my home I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Yet, when I open my laptop or turn on my phone, that expectation is completely violated. While corporatism isn’t necessarily making the world a better place, at least Google, Facebook or Twitter can’t audit, indict, prosecute, jail or break me.

He realized at once that he shouldn’t have spoken aloud, and that by doing so he had, in a sense, acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions.” Kafka – The Trial

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Photos by Tyson Dziedzic (http://klixphotography.com)