Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Whistleblowing Cognitive Dissonance

I'm not a fan of over-government.  I'm not a fan of security theatre.  I'm not a fan of the product of over-government and security theatre, which is a fair description of the recent public disclosure of the security services data collection apparatus.  So it might surprise you to know that I'm not a fan of Edward Snowden.  And to put all my cards on the table, I'm also not a fan of Julian Assange.

So why do I have this cognitive dissonance - the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.

I have to look at who really benefits, who really pays, and who gets hurt along the way.

In the specific security cases that are in the news today, who primarily benefits is easy - the whistleblower.  There is no doubt that Julian Assange has managed to create and nurture a cult of personality around himself to the point that even WikiLeaks are distancing themselves from him.  It is equally true that none of us would have ever heard of Edward Snowden.  But both of these gentlemen have manipulated the media into thrusting them into the international spotlight.

Remember that the mission of the NSA is to do exactly what they are doing.  As is GCHQ and DSD.  The public mission statement of DSD is "Reveal their secrets, protect our own".  The subtle part of this is to use the secrets that are revealed to grease the wheels of international diplomacy.  The recent disclosures have manifestly damaged international diplomacy, so not only have we as a society not benefited from them, we've actually been hurt instead.

The irony is that the outraged public also have a level of cognitive dissonance here.  It's fine for us to spy on the untrusted foreigners, but it isn't fine for us to spy on our own.  We are all foreigners to someone!

Real whistleblowers that do it for the public good - like Erin Brockovich - stay and fight for what they believe in.  They don't immediately flee and seek protection in non-extradition countries.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer
@philkernick www.cqr.com

Friday, 5 July 2013

If a Bear and a Shark had a fight, who would win?

If a bear and a shark had a fight, who would win?  It's a philosophical conundrum indeed, and there are many thousands of web pages, videos and even Facebook sites dedicated to it.  In case you were wondering, opinion is almost exactly split on the matter.

But amazingly this question is relevant in an information security context.  Today, the bear is the NSA and the shark is the MPAA.

If we assume that it is true that all the world's intelligence services are gobbling up every packet that passes across their borders, then they are accumulating the greatest trove of copyright material on the planet.  What about notorious torrent sites like The Pirate Bay?  Not even close.  Every movie, TV show and music track ever downloaded by anyone is sitting on a government server somewhere, because it was in the bitstream.  The security services won't want for Game of Thrones episodes any time soon!

Is this wholesale piracy acceptable in the support of fighting terrorists?  I remember seeing an anti-piracy message on a DVD that said that piracy funded terrorism!  Ah, the irony.  I predict that soon the giant media companies will start to raise trillion dollar lawsuits against the governments for stealing all their material.  With the level of statutory damages that could be levied they could bankrupt a nation state.

The law is not simple.  It is not consistent.  And it doesn't apply the same to all of us, no matter what our politicians say.

The intersection of surveillance and copyright is murky water indeed, so at this stage I'm giving it to the shark.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer
@philkernick www.cqr.com