Tuesday December 22nd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Why we must learn net-stealth

I recently pointed out that we have a civic duty to learn about encryption, anonymization and other such techniques that we should use, by default, to hide our information, however innocent, from unethical government intrusion. I would like to give some further reasons.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, more commonly known as ASIO, has the right to detain a person, even when they are not suspected of a terrorist offence, for at least seven days if it is believed that they can “substantially assist in the collection of intelligence”. The Attorney General (an entirely political appointee, be it noted, nothing to do with the judiciary – in the Prime Minister’s pocket, in essence) must consent to the application for a warrant. The application is made to certain magistrates and judges who have volunteered for this job, but these seemingly judicial persons do not act in their judicial capacity, just as designated persons. The application is made without the prospective detainee being present, and the detainee is not informed of the reasons for the application. If the detainee wishes to challenge the sufficiency of the grounds, their legal adviser is not allowed to see any of the supporting documentation; the detainee, in any case, does not in fact necessarily have a right to legal advice, or even to contact anybody at all.

On top of this vile law, it has been made an offence to disclose that someone is subject to such a warrant; journalists are not allowed to report the existence of a warrant, even when trying to expose abuse or misuse of the system. ASIO and the AFP have made themselves into laughing-stocks over, for instance, the Haneef case, so we can be quite certain that sooner or later these powers will be abused again.

In the face of such severe threats to our safety, it would be helpful if we all know how to publish anything that we know about such things, whether we are reporters, friends of the detained or just concerned about human rights. We should know how to publish any information anonymously, to do our best to ensure that ASIO and the AFP are held to account. It is, however, ethical but illegal.

 See the Australian Human Rights Commission for more details.

But do remember, it is legal to know about these techniques, it is unethical for ASIO and the AFP to have such powers, but if you actually publish information such as the existence of the kind of warrant mentioned above, you are breaking the law. I cannot urge you to do it.

Monday December 21st, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Reporters without borders weigh in

 “Australia is becoming the Iran of the South Pacific”

Crikey tells us that Reporters Without Borders has written to the PM urging him to abandon the invidious filtering scheme:

Quoting from Crikey:

The letter, signed by RWB Secretary-General Jean-Francois Julliard, spelled out the organisation’s disquiet with the broad criteria and uncertain goals of the censorship plan. In particular, they felt the lack of judicial oversight was a key problem:

Firstly, the decision to block access to an ‘inappropriate’ website would be taken not by a judge but by a government agency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Such a procedure, without a court decision, does not satisfy the requirements of the rule of law. The ACMA classifies content secretly, compiling a website blacklist by means of unilateral and arbitrary administrative decision-making. Other procedures are being considered but none of them would involve a judge.

Read more through the link above. Remember, this is not about the few unpleasant things they are talking about banning now – it is about the way they want to take power to secretly ban anything they feel like. Fascism is an easy insult, but it it not an exaggeration here.

You might also enjoy and learn from this spoof site.

Thursday December 17th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Government info-grab

So the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy has announced that he will introduce legislation before next year’s elections forcing ISPs to block a secret blacklist of “refused classification” (RC) websites for all Australian internet users.

The debate, thank goodness, has got vigorous. The issue, of course, is not the tiny number of sites – probably revolting and abhorrent in many cases – that are the ostensible target of this move. OK, there is indeed a question as to whether any information should ever be blocked – perhaps it should not. If we grant, for argument’s sake, that it should there is indeed a question as to whether we grant the little catholic boy Stephen Conroy the right to control the choice of what that blocked information is – in fact I don’t. And there are questions about whether it will bring any significant gains in terms of its ostensible target – probably it will be almost useless. And again, indeed, there is a question as to whether it will also block perfectly acceptable sites – the evidence suggests that it will.

But these are trivial questions. They suggest that the proposals are useless and stupid, and that makes us smell a rat.

The truly worrying thing is the proposal that the government will arrange, in secret, for otherwise public information to be banned, for reasons that it will keep secret. We will not be told what we are not allowed to see. An unelected committee will not tell us what is banned or why. We will be led to believe that, for instance, the blocks are being applied to child pornography. But further down the line, perhaps not under this government or even the next, you can just bet that some special circumstances will require a “small, temporary, provisional” extension of the blocked material. “National security” will demand, for instance, that sites explaining government involvement in environmentally unsound projects are blocked; or that sites that challenge the reasons for going to war will be seen as traitorous – WMDs, anyone? Perhaps sites with pictures of the PM cavorting naked with his/her illicit lover will be blocked; and we will not be allowed to know where it will end.

We therefore have a civic duty to learn about and use the technical tricks needed to circumvent these things. We should learn to encrypt the most innocuous e-mails, learn to anonymise ourselves when we wish our aunt a happy birthday. Otherwise we are conniving in the government cover-ups of the future. Does anybody believe they won’t want to?

Saturday October 3rd, 2009. Posted by Alex:


I just took part in the “Soapbox” public speaking competition, a little part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House.

Well I didn’t get past the first round, but it was huge fun. The “facilitators” in the red, green and yellow hats (if you were there, you’d know what I mean) did a terrific job of making it go well.

Anyway, in order not to waste my speech, here is the text:

Democracy demands terrorist software

We know that the government’s proposed Internet filters are half-baked and unpopular – but worse than that, they are really the very opposite of what we should be doing.

We know that power looks after power– the law is framed that way. And we know that money looks after money – by and large, the rich stay rich. Those in power can lose huge amounts of other peoples’ money and still grow their own millions. Just think of Telstra or Goldman Sachs.

Those in power now want to get their hands on our information so that they can control us. Elsewhere at this festival David Mutton is putting forward the appalling idea that – I quote – “intrusive, coercive surveillance” is somehow a good thing, and that – again I quote – “issues of privacy, informed consent and free will are irrelevant“. Now that’s what I call a really dangerous idea!

Those in power, in this case represented by the Minister for Broadband, Stephen Conroy*, want to stop us from having free access to information. But at the same time, security organisations now want to intercept and store every electronic message that we send. They want to track the author of every bit of information that is out there.

Those in power want to do this because they think they can. The Gestapo and the KGB also wanted to record the thoughts of ordinary people. And for very much the same reason.

Are we serious about democracy? Then we need genuinely free exchange of information. That means we need privacy and security software that
·        protects the identity of people who publish,
·        that gives us free access to information, and
·        stops spies from snooping on our conversations.

We must do research into privacy software, not into filters! 

*I wanted to quip “… or should that be Minister for Narrowband, or even Minister for Narrowminds”, but I didn’t have spare seconds in the two minutes.

Sunday June 21st, 2009. Posted by Alex:

The "One Nation" party is …

… a bunch of people who think that Australia’s national anthem is “Advance Fairskinned Australia”.

Or so it is said.

Sunday June 14th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Global Free Information?

First off, a declaration that this thought started with an article by Gary Feuerberg in the Epoch Times; the article also refers to a site concerned with undermining democracy.

Feuerberg’s article summarizes a report entitled “Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians,” released on Capitol Hill, June 4 – the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – sponsored by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia. Its 80 pages find that four authoritarian states—China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela—are setting forth a new authoritarian model for countries to follow, and that they have the resources and sophistication to be highly influential in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Continue reading Global Free Information?

Saturday June 6th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Shame on doctors

A report in the SMH tells that the number of mental health patients forced to undergo electroconvulsive therapy in NSW has doubled in the past decade – the figure is now around 600 involuntary (yes) treatments a year – about one person in ten thousand. I call it barbaric.

Tuesday June 2nd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Lies, true lies, and advertising

There I was, watching Channel 10 at 20 past the hour, when an advertising slot started. Fair enough – that’s what pays for the film.
Don’t go away!“, they say, promising that the break will only last 60 seconds. Not bad, I thought. I believed them – I’ve even measured it in the past, and it’s true. Impressive.

But this time, I kept my eye on what happened. Yes, the break was only one minute long. Then we had four (yes, just four) minutes of program, followed by another ad-break. This time it lasted three-and-a-half minutes. The channel did not boast about the length of that spot!

Saturday May 23rd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

There aren't enough Germans here

Particularly not in the Government of New South Wales. They would know better than to let this happen.

Yesterday Richard Ackland wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on Bikie laws sideline the rule of law. In order to appear to be “doing something” the Rees government has rushed in new laws. This is because there is criminal activity here – hardly a surprise, with 4 million people in Sydney alone. Some of those criminals are in “bikie gangs”. Yes, I know, some are also in bowls clubs, but be reasonable, they are not so noticeable. Now we do have laws against beating people to death here, and there are laws against criminal organizations. But the existing laws against crime are not always well enforced. (Anyone for a debate on resources? OK, maybe not.) But bringing in some new laws that give the police yet more power to act, with greater freedom, with less supervision, with greater secrecy and with fewer of those irritating stumbling blocks like the annoying “right of appeal” in the way – now that’s a vote catcher!

Now the precise way in which this new legislation sidesteps the basic protections of civilized and humane society is just a tad subtle, and I urge you to read the article itself (link above). It would also be good to read the paper referenced by Ackland, said to be on Nicholas Cowdery’s website – Nicholas Cowdery is the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. So far I have not found it – can anyone supply the link?

Germans, whether from the east with more recent memories of the “Ministry for State Security (Stasi)”, or from the west with memories of the earlier 20th century, would be more likely to realize how precious the rule of law is, and how insidiously citizens’ rights can be chipped away as the powers of the police and other security forces are reinforced to deal with difficult situations. The road to hell is proverbially paved with good intentions. There are people in power too short-sighted to see that this proverb is serious.

Friday May 22nd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Australians in particular might need this

The Australian Government considers that knowledge about good methods of voluntary euthanasia should be forbidden, and would like to ban this website about the use of nembutal. Take note before it’s too late!

I guess I’m not entirely sure what I feel about euthanasia, but I’m quite sure that I don’t concede my right to know about these things to the government, or to a list that it draws up in secret.