Wikileaks has just released a first part of a series of what purports to be a large collection of CIA documents documenting their hacking tools. See Vault7, as they call the whole leak. Numerous news organizations like the New York Times are reporting on this and saying they think they might be “on first review”.
I’ve just come across some important blog essays by David Gaertner. One is Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities where he argues that colleagues from Indigenous literature are rightly skeptical of the digital humanities because DH hasn’t really taken to heart the concerns of Indigenous communities around the expropriation of data.
From Slashdot a story about an FBI game/interactive that is online and which aims at Countering Violent Extremism | What is Violent Extremism?. The subtitle is “Don’t Be A Puppet” and the game is part of a collection of interactive materials that try to teach about extremism in general and encourage some critical distance from the extremism. The game has you as a sheep avoiding pitfalls.
From the BBC a story about US start-up Geofeedia ‘allowed police to track protesters’. Geofeedia is apparently using social media data from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to monitor activists and protesters for law enforcement. Access to these social media was changed once the ACLU reported on the surveillance product. The ACLU discovered the agreements with Geofeedia when they requested public records of California law enforcement agencies. Geofeedia was boasting to law enforcement about their access. The ACLU has released some of the documents of interest including a PDF of a Geofeedia Product Update email discussing “sentiment” analytics (May 18, 2016).
Frome the Geofeedia web site I was surprised to see that they are offering solutions for education too.
Bill Robinson has penned a nice essay Marking 70 years of eavesdropping in Canada. The essay gives the background of Canada’s signals intelligence unit, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) which just marked its 70th anniversary (on Sept. 1st.)
The original unit was the peacetime version of the Joint Discrimination Unit called the CBNRC (Communications Branch of the National Research Council). I can’t help wondering what was meant by “discrimination”?
Unable to read the Soviets’ most secret messages, the UKUSA allies resorted to plain-language (unencrypted) communications and traffic analysis, the study of the external features of messages such as sender, recipient, length, date and time of transmission—what today we call metadata. By compiling, sifting, and fusing a myriad of apparently unimportant facts from the huge volume of low-level Soviet civilian and military communications, it was possible to learn a great deal about the USSR’s armed forces, the Soviet economy, and other developments behind the Iron Curtain without breaking Soviet codes. Plain language and traffic analysis remained key sources of intelligence on the Soviet Bloc for much of the Cold War.
Robinson is particularly interesting on “The birth of metadata collection” as the Soviets frustrated developed encryption that couldn’t be broken.
They know is a must see design project by Christian Gross from the Interface Design Programme at University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam (FHP), Germany. The idea behind the project, described in the They Know showcase for FHP, is,
I could see in my daily work how difficult it was to inform people about their privacy issues. Nobody seemed to care. My hypothesis was that the whole subject was too complex. There were no examples, no images that could help the audience to understand the process behind the mass surveillance.
The answer is to mock up a design fiction of an NSA surveillance dashboard based on what we know and then a video describing a fictional use of it to track an architecture student from Berlin. It seems to me the video and mock designs nicely bring together a number of things we can infer about the tools they have.
Feminist Frequency has posted an excellent Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment. This is clearly written and thorough discussion of how to protect yourself better from the sorts of harassment Anita Sarkeesian has documented in blog entries like Harassment Through Impersonation: The Creation of a Cyber Mob.
As the title suggests the guide doesn’t guarantee complete protection – all you can do is get better at it. The guide is also clear that it is not for protection against government surveillance. For those worried about government harassment they provide links to other resources like the Workbook on Security.
In her blog entry announcing the guide, Anita Sarkeesian explains the need for this guide thus and costs of harassment thus:
Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment was made necessary by the failure of social media services to adequately prevent and deal with the hateful targeting of their more marginalized users. As this guide details, forcing individual victims or potential targets to shoulder the costs of digital security amounts to a disproportionate tax of in time, money, and emotional labor. It is a tax that is levied disproportionately against women, people of color, queer and trans people and other oppressed groups for daring to express an opinion in public.
How did we get to this point? What happened to the dreams of internet democracy and open discourse? What does it say about our society that such harassment has become commonplace? What can we do about it?
Ars Technical has a series of interesting articles about doxing including an article about how the Islamic State doxes US soldiers, airmen, calls on supporters to kill them . How long before IS starts identifying the Canadian special forces sent to advise in the war in Iraq and Syria. Or … imagine the doxing of drone operators as a form of retaliation.
Doxing and other troll tactics seem to be entering the mainstream. Gabriella Coleman in Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy writes about Anonymous and their use of various tactics for often admirable causes. She goes further and suggests that trolling may be form of resistance suited to the emerging surveillance state,
Anonymous is emblematic of a particular geography of resistance. Composed of multiple competing groups, short-term power is achievable for brief durations, while long-term dominance by any single group or person is virtually impossible. In such a dynamic landscape, it may be “easy to co-opt, but impossible to be co-opted,” (location 5691 of 8131)
She also sees in Anonymous and trolling the tradition of the trickster. “Trickster tales are not didactic and moralizing but reveal their lessons playfully.” (Location 511 of 8131) It wasn’t long before the tricksters got attacked as the tactics spread. See Dox everywhere: LulzSec under attack from hackers, law enforcement.
The GamerGate controversy showed a much darker side to trolling and how these tactics could be used to bully as much as to resist. The people doxed were mostly women and so-called “social justice warriors” who annoyed certain gamers. Those doxed were hardly the powerful or Big Brother watching us. Now (women) academics who study gaming are being identified. How long before we have to train our graduate students in Anti-doxing strategy as part of preparation for research into games?
Is it Research or is it Spying? Thinking-Through Ethics in Big Data AI and Other Knowledge Sciences has just been published online. It was written with Bettina Berendt and Marco Büchler and came out of a Dagschule retreat where a group of us started talking about ethics and big data. Here is the abstract:
How to be a knowledge scientist after the Snowden revelations?” is a question we all have to ask as it becomes clear that our work and our students could be involved in the building of an unprecedented surveillance society. In this essay, we argue that this affects all the knowledge sciences such as AI, computational linguistics and the digital humanities. Asking the question calls for dialogue within and across the disciplines. In this article, we will position ourselves with respect to typical stances towards the relationship between (computer) technology and its uses in a surveillance society, and we will look at what we can learn from other fields. We will propose ways of addressing the question in teaching and in research, and conclude with a call to action.
One of the key issues raised by Snowden is whether all this surveillance works. The Washington Post has a story from a year ago reporting that NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says. This story is based on a report:
- Bergen, P., Sterman, D., Schneider, E., and B. Cahall. (2014). Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists? Report from the International Security Program of the New America Foundation.