“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
What if you could fight a war without the need for armies and large scale military operations? What if you could fight these wars proactively, before your enemy even attacks? What if you were able to identify potential enemies and neutralize them before they even organized? What if you were able to achieve near complete situational awareness, not just on the scale of your immediate surroundings, but on the scale of entire nation states? What if your definition of “enemy” was not limited to foreign agents but anyone who questions your total dominance?
What if your definition of enemy included your own citizens?
What if there was no one to stop you?
This is the situation humanity now faces with the US Government and technology.
Back in the days of knights and archers, castles were the primary force multipliers. A well-built and well situated castle would allow a small garrison of soldiers to fend off a much larger foe. The castle allowed for efficient and targeted use of force. Today intelligence is the ultimate force multiplier. The better your intelligence is on a target, the more efficiently you can apply targeted force. Just as the atomic bomb represented a paradigm shift in conventional warfare, so does the internet represent a paradigm shift in surveillance and intelligence gathering.
A government’s power rests on its ability to use violence to enforce its will. Note that I said “power” and not “legitimacy.” People sometimes confuse the two and mistakenly believe a government gets its power from the people when in fact it only gets its legitimacy from the people; but what does legitimacy matter when you have the power to eliminate those who say you’re illegitimate?
A government’s power in an operational theater (domestic or foreign) is limited by how quickly and effectively it can exert organized violence, usually through either a military or law enforcement.
At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted the technology was such that the exercising of power usually took the form of infantrymen with muzzle-loading muskets. The founding fathers understood the relationship between the ability to exercise violence and power. England had just attempted to exercise its power through violence on the colonies; hence why they codified into law a people’s right to bear arms. A populace without the final recourse of violence is a populace without the final say. To take away that populace’s ability to check government power (violence) with their own power (violence) is to take away all their power. They are then made subservient and can only hope that those with the power will consent to changes if only the populace asks nicely enough.
The problem we face now is that government’s ability to exercise violence has vastly outstripped the populace’s ability to check that violence. Instead of muzzle-loading muskets, we now have flying robots that kill people, including American citizens without trial.
A side note on the accountability of government and the false dichotomy of liberal/conservative with regards to this issue:
This problem transcends the liberal/conservative paradigm everyone is used to. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Liberal vs conservative is a false dichotomy encouraged by those in power to distract you from the fact that you have no rights and no real say over what the government does. No matter who you vote for, the government always wins. If voting actually changed anything it’d be illegal.
Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to believe the government is ultimately subject to its own laws. It writes the laws. Trying to defend your “rights” within the US legal system is like playing a football game against a team that wrote the rules of the game and can alter or ignore those rules at will. The fact that the president can and has extrajudicially executed American citizens without trial is a recent example of the government’s immunity to its own laws. This attitude is nothing new. Nixon stated “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Well when the government does something, it’s not illegal. Any thinking person knows that just because something is legal or illegal doesn’t make it just or unjust.
(Possible videos of interest: Judge Napolitano was fired from Fox News for this 5 minute speech he gave pointing these facts out. The late standup comedian George Carlin explains here how “rights” are a myth. Recently making a lot of waves, Russell Brand explains in an interview why the current system is impervious to “approved” political outlets like voting.)
How does all this violence and politics relate to the internet?
Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s important to understand the context of what you’re up against as a person who wishes to maintain their rights to privacy and personal liberty.
The internet is the force multiplier, like a castle, but is the most powerful force multiplier ever constructed. With modern surveillance techniques the government, who is effectively answerable to no one, can record practically everything you do: Where you go online, what you buy with your credit cards, who you call with your cell phone, even where you travel. The CIA is even preparing to spy on you with your home appliances.
How do they do this?
The key concept is what’s called “Data linking.” Through programs like PRISM, SIGINT, and BULLRUN, the government will record as much information about you as they can. Often they will ask companies like Verizon and Google to hand over all the information they have on you. If the company refuses, which they rarely do, the government just hacks the company and takes it. They then store this data in centers like the Utah Data Center, a $1.5 Billion dollar facility built specifically to house 100 years’ worth of data on everyone on the planet. They then use all this data on you, credit card purchases, who you messaged on facebook, cell phone text messages, phone calls, GPS location, etc to create a matrix of dots. Each dot is a point of data. Jacob Appelbaum, a security research, privacy advocate, and member of the TOR anonymity project gives a great example of this during a digital anti-repression talk. Here’s the part where he introduces the concept of data-linking: 5:56-8:23
To watch the whole talk, and you really should if you want to understand what you’re up against, you can start from the beginning here.
They’re doing this to protect us from terrorists, plus, I’ve got nothing to hide!
“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
The government will often use “we’re protecting you” as an excuse for power grabs. It could be something as simple as the mayor of NYC attempting to ban big sodas “for your protection” to something as massive as invalidating the 4th Amendment with the “Patriot” Act and super-secret FISA courts.
In reality, the government is protecting itself. In addition to “we’re protecting you from terrorists”, you will often hear “we’re protecting the children!” as an excuse to take away your liberties. Think of all the cries for repelling the 2nd amendment after the Sandy Hook shootings. As if disarming an entire populace would somehow make people safe against lone shooters. Another example: UK prime minister David Cameron implemented a nation-wide ban on internet pornography. Starting in 2014, all new broadband accounts will come with mandatory pornography filters. “To protect the children.” Do you think pornography is the only thing these filters will be searching? (Hint: The answer’s NO.)
Do not be surprised if you hear the government label people who wish to maintain their right to privacy as criminals, terrorists and peddlers of child pornography. Just like guns, there will always be a few people who use a technology for unjust purposes, but this does not warrant attempting block everyone’s access to that technology. Those who still want to take a technology away from everyone more often than not have their own unjust motives for doing so.
But the government would never abuse this power and target political adversaries…right?
It’s the classic scenario: Would you do something you knew was wrong if you knew you wouldn’t be caught and punished? I would hazard to guess that most average people would say no, but then again average people aren’t the type of people to get themselves in positions of power like politicians, generals, and spies.
It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ~Douglas Adams
Think about it. You’re the government. You are god. No one will punish you except yourself, and that’s not about to happen any time soon. You have this secret power to spy on anyone in the world. The public, hell even most of congress, doesn’t know about your secret abilities. If they do, you’ll pull the “terrorism” card or the “child pornography” card. Who wants to be labeled as “pro-terrorist child rapists?”
Do you do it?
OF COURSE YOU FUCKING DO IT! Are you serious? Every government ever has always sought to spy on their political adversaries. It’s like statism 101! The US government is no exception and has a long and rich history of spying on civil rights leaders, students, activists, anyone that didn’t fit with the party in power. Abusing power isn’t reserved for just political adversaries, the employees at the NSA even used their illegal powers to spy on spouses and ex-lovers!
What’s worse, all this spying has not provided any tangible benefits! In June of 2013, NSA director Keith Alexander sat in front of congress and flat out asserted that they had stopped 54 terrorist attacks as a result of illegally and unethically spying on 300 million Americans (and the rest of the world).
But guess what… he was lying.
Last month Alexander admitted as much. Instead of 54, Alexander said they had stopped “only perhaps one or two.”
Let me tell you a little story about a man arrested for drinking and driving. The officer pulled him over and asked him how many drinks he had that night. When the man replied “one or two” the office asked him to take a breathalyzer test and found that he was over the limit. When the man asked the office how he knew that he had been drinking heavily the office responded with “If you had had only two beers you would have remembered exactly how many you had.”
And that’s ladies and gentlemen yet another reason why the NSA (and Keith Alexander) is full of shit.
What are the risks?
Besides living in an Orwellian police
state world (the internet knows no national boundaries and nor does their spying) where you automatically suspect and guilty until proven innocent, they’ll break the internet.
Most people don’t understand how the internet works. They get on a computer and it’s just there. Sadly, a lot of people in government don’t understand how the internet works either. As a result, they’re doing things that will destroy the internet on a fundamental level. Their short-sided goals of cracking down on political dissidents has led them to break common encryption methods used for things like whenever you purchase something from amazon with your credit card. They’ve also leaned on software developers to put back-doors (allowing the NSA to spy and steal information) into various programs and websites. (Most notably, Skype and Facebook)
One of the (many) big issues with this is that the government is not the only one who will be able to take advantage of these back doors and broken encryption. They’re basically smashing down the door to your house, ransacking the place to try and incriminate you, then leaving. Meanwhile the door to your house is still smashed in and anybody can just walk right in when they find that opening. When they break the ability to encrypt transactions online, they break the trust people have in online commerce. Imagine if nobody felt safe buying anything online anymore. What would that do to the world economy? According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans, just Americans alone, are projected to spend $327 BILLION online by 2016. That’s just Americans. Can you imagine what the total figure is for that plus the rest of the world? Now imagine what would happen if that disappeared? What would happen to the world’s economy? It would fucking crash in a catastrophic fashion. There is a serious threat now of Balkanization of the internet. When Snowden revealed just how massive the NSA’s spying is, countries started talking about segmenting themselves off from the internet. This will undermine the internet’s core concept: inter-connectivity. Can you imagine a country by country internet?
The internet is arguably the most amazing technological advancement in the history of humanity. The ability to communicate and share ideas instantaneously has produce a Cambrian explosion like advancement in science, commerce, and culture. There has never been anything like it. Unfortunately, there’s now a real risk that it will die. If it does die, die too does humanity’s chance to escape the bonds of its past and any hope for a brighter future. The fight for the fate of the internet is really a fight for the fate of humanity. It is perhaps the most important fight in human history.
So what can you do?
I hope you know by now that writing letters, calling your representatives, marching around in the cold with signs, and voting (all the socially “approved” outlets) are futile. They’re an illusion to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something when in fact you’re not. Instead the only thing you’re accomplishing is venting your frustration in a sterilized (non-violent) way. As far as the government is concerned, you can do that all day. What really matters to them is that you don’t challenge their power with your own.
So if the approved outlets are pointless and you’re unable to out-violence the government, what can you do to protect yourself from the monster of a surveillance state we’ve created? What will save us?
End to End Encryption
Our only hope for salvation lies in end to end encryption of all internet traffic. Why? Remember how all government power rests on violence?
No amount of violence can solve a math problem. ~ Jacob Appelbaum
End to end encryption is based off of a complex math problem. (If you’d like to see a really clever and easy to understand explanation of encryption, check this video out.) Whenever you communicate with someone over the internet (or go anywhere for that example), unless you’re using end to end encryption to encrypt all your traffic, you’re basically having the equivalent of unprotected sex with the internet. You’re not anonymous and it is easy for someone, especially an oppressive government, to monitor your activity. Pretty Good Privacy was one of the first publicly available encryption methods. (Funnily enough, the US Government tried to throw it’s creator in prison for spreading a technology that would prevent them from spying on people.)
In addition to end to end encryption, another source in combating oppressive regimes online is to utilize open-source software. What’s open source software? It’s software that is created by anyone who releases the source code of the program for everyone to see. For example: A private company might write a program and sell it. They don’t want to give the program away for free, so they don’t show the source code. This way you have no idea what else is hidden in the program. It’s possible for governments and other entities to hide things inside the program that do things other than what the program is being sold to do.
Open-source, however, has the source code out there for all to see. This actually increases security as everyone can look to see if something bad is hidden in the program. It also opens the program up to peer review. People can often contribute to an open-source project and improve upon it, whereas a close-sourced project is restricted only to the people who originally wrote it.
Lastly, you can use some tools to help obscure your identity online. TOR is a browser, much like firefox or google chrome, that lets you surf around the web. TOR, however, obscures your traffic by sending it through multiple different paths before coming back to you. In addition, you can also use a VPN service that will act like a middle man. Say you want to go to a website, but you don’t want someone watching your internet traffic to see that you’re going to that website. If you use a VPN, the VPN provider will go to that website for you, and then forward everything to your computer. This way someone watching will only see the VPN provider going to that website and not who’s on the other end looking at it. An example of a VPN provider is Private Internet Access.
Encryption is so dangerous to the government precisely because it renders them powerless. You can bet your ass they’re going to do everything they can to demonize encryption, anonymity, and attempt to prevent its wide-scale adoption. It’s for precisely this reason that it’s so important to implement and popularize security measures like this. The fate of humanity depends upon it.