in Politics

Something horrible happened and you’re now afraid of the dark, everyone has to understand that. You can’t just switch on the light in the dark because the light would blind you. So you start to place lights wherever you can so it won’t get dark anymore. But you just can’t place lights everywhere, no matter what you try. There will be darkness, too much darkness and you fear the dark. Night vision gear is the answer to that so that is what you do because you will never be in the dark again, no human being can expect you to remain in the dark after the horrible things that happened to you.

Although you still can’t see everywhere and there is still darkness in many places, at least you can see where you have placed lights and where you can use your night vision gear. But you don’t know where to look, there is so much to see. Too much to see so you bring in more people to have more eyes so you can see, you have to see it all after the horrible things that happened to you. And more light and more night vision gear, because you have to see so those horrible things can never happen again. You need to see more but people still create darkness. So you start to drill holes in their walls because you have to see everything and everywhere. You must see, it is for your own protection and for their own protection. Only those who have something to hide will object to it because those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from you watching them. Everywhere, all the time, no matter what they do, you have to watch them.

You see more and more, there is too much to see and you just don’t have enough eyes and minds to understand everything you see as it happens. So you start to record everything you see so you can look at it later. But it still isn’t enough, horrible things still happen and you can only prevent it by seeing everything. You must see more! You want to use everything that has a camera and be able to see whatever is seen through those camera’s. You force some manufacturers to give you access to the devices they build and with others you just hack your way in. Because you have to see, you have to see everything and only those who want to harm you have something to hide so nobody has the right to object to it. It doesn’t matter if this is legal or not because you do it for the protection of everyone, it is for their own safety. More, you must see more, you must see everything. Bad things have happened so you have to. More, more, more, more, more, until you see everything!

Mass surveillance is implemented to monitor all calls, messages, emails, chats, everything that goes on through internet, mobile networks and wired communication. Special programs are developed and deployed to gain access to devices even when turned off. Whatever is done to protect your privacy, backdoors and taps will enable access anyway. And when all fails, massive computer farms will generate enough computing power to allow brute force decryption almost in real-time. The result of this is that there is too much information to even remotely be able to analyze it all and adequately determine potential threats.

If only all those efforts were made just to identify threats but that is not the case. We have learned that so called “special interest groups” are far from limited to potential threats. Companies are monitored and infiltrated for economic purposes. Politicians and Governments of befriended nations are spied upon. All under the cover of mass surveillance for the sake of safety and prevention. Whatever you say, read or write, someone somewhere is capable to eavesdrop in on it and the odds are someone actually does or at least it is stored so someone can do so later, no reason needed. Just because they can, that is all the reason they need.

What we learned from Edward Snowden

When Edward Snowden started to spill the beans on the mass surveillance programs, we learned 3 important things:

  • Although we assumed there was some level of mass surveillance, the actual spread and level of penetration goes far beyond our wildest imaginations.
  • The actual mass surveillance goes far beyond any legal and constitutional bases combined with funding which is not formally approved for this purpose by the responsible governments, which might even be done on purpose to hide its existence.
  • Outsourcing has exposed us and our privacy far beyond governmental agencies.

esnowdenSo everything we do is monitored, stored and exchanged between nations based on agreements we are not even allowed to know the full content of and all this for the sake of our safety. Privacy is no longer a human right because governments have decided that there is a higher priority in safety and prevention and for that we all have to sacrifice our privacy. For that, it doesn’t matter that someone we don’t know can, and most likely does, read our private conversations or listen in on our calls. It is for our own protection that someone is able to access our systems, read our documents, see our pictures. Our safety makes it necessary that everything we do is registered and stored. Legal authorization isn’t needed because all is only done for our protection. That is at least what we should believe…

Paris, Beirut, St. Petersburg mourn

So how can it be, that despite all these efforts and overwhelming budgets and resources, time after time events can take place without our omnipotent intelligence agencies being aware of it and most importantly, are apparently incapable of preventing these events from happening? There are various influences which create this situation in which access to everything and everyone is possible and still the worst can happen without knowing or preventing them.

The horrible events in Paris and the horrible attack on Flight 7K9268 have shown us that mass surveillance doesn’t bring us any step closer to safety. Those who want to hurt us, can do so at will and that is neither influenced by encryption nor by mass surveillance.

If we are to believe the media reports and statements by responsible politicians, security agencies have overheard an UNENCRYPTED conversation in which the attack on Flight 7K9268 was discussed PRIOR to the attack. Nevertheless, this intercepted conversation did not lead to preventing the death of the innocent victims on board the plane.

The aftermath of the attacks on Paris have showed us that known terrorists were able to travel freely through Europe and plan and execute their attack without being caught before their attack on innocent people. And if we are once again to believe the media reports and statements by various officials, these cowards also used UNENCRYPTED communication BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the attack.

encryption3These are two horrible examples where innocent people were killed in cowardly attacks on civilians and in which encryption played no role whatsoever. The communication about these attacks prior to the attacks were in at least one case intercepted but this didn’t prevent the attacks from happening. Despite mass surveillance or should we say due to mass surveillance? Was this intercepted communication not properly identified because it wend under in the enormous amount of information? Is it possible for known terrorists to freely move around Europe and execute their terror because they too go under in mass surveillance of “special interest groups”?

Here is a very simple example:

  • We expect a shipment of meat so I call you to ask if you are still interested.
  • Will you have steaks? I’m only interested in steaks.
  • We have a special offer for steaks this weekend.
  • That is good to know, I am having guests over so I need more steaks than usual.
  • How much steaks are you thinking about?
  • I would say 20 when the price is right.
  • We can make you a special price for 20 steaks.
  • That sounds very good, give me an idea of the special price.
  • We can offer you 20 steaks for the price of 18.
  • Make it 20 for 17.
  • Ok, 20 for 17 but then you will have to pick them up.
  • Deal, I will have them picked up from your shop.

What seems to be a casual conversation about meat and a special offer of steaks only makes sense once you understand the code words used:

  • Shipment: incoming supply of heroine, in this case a sea container to be delivered in the harbor.
  • Meat: heroine in different qualities where the type of meat is linked to quality levels and cuts.
  • Steak: high quality (almost) uncut heroine.
  • Special offer: large quantities to be bought below “street prices” and distributed to dealers by the buyer.
  • Guests: known dealers who have the cash available to buy kilogram and upwards.
  • Special price: ratio between the common street price and buyer price.
  • Shop: sea container at the harbor in which the heroine arrived.

Let’s have a look at the same conversation again:

  • We expect a shipment of meat so I call you to ask if you are still interested.
  • Will you have steaks? I’m only interested in steaks.
  • We have a special offer for steaks this weekend.
  • That is good to know, I am having guests over so I need more steaks than usual.
  • How much steaks are you thinking about?
  • I would say 20 when the price is right.
  • We can make you a special price for 20 steaks.
  • That sounds very good, give me an idea of the special price.
  • We can offer you 20 steaks for the price of 18.
  • Make it 20 for 17.
  • Ok, 20 for 17 but then you will have to pick them up.
  • Deal, I will have them picked up from your shop.

This “casual conversation about meat and steaks” is in reality the transcript of an encoded conversation in the 80’s discussing the price and delivery of 20 kilo of heroine and confirming the deal. Pre-agreed codes were used and mixed into a casual conversation were the supplier wasn’t aware that he was talking to an undercover policeman. The undercover policeman had spent 2 years infiltrating the criminal organization by posing as the head of a dealer network.

Being able to read doesn’t mean being able to understand!

Encryption is more than the technical means of hiding communication, encryption is also the usage of codes and agreed signals which won’t have any meaning without content and knowing these codes or signals. Being able to understand what these codes mean takes time and effort and in most cases also a certain amount of luck, too! Technical encryption certainly makes this more complicated but the revelations in the past 2 years make clear that this is not an impossible hurdle and various agencies are more than capable of decrypting this in real-time.

The true complication is the amount of communication that is monitored and interpreted. From targeted surveillance of suspects, government agencies have switched to mass surveillance of all communication without the need of suspicion. In addition to mass surveillance of the masses, there is targeted deep level surveillance of “special interest groups”. We have learned that those “special interest groups” are far from limited to criminals and threats to our security. Companies for the sake of economic interests are under surveillance, even politicians and diplomats of befriended nations are “special interest groups”.

All this surveillance of the masses and of “special interest groups” consumes resources and generates enormous flows of information. With each effort to create new technical means of encryption, there are even more efforts made to find ways to decrypt this and so far, those efforts all seem to be successful. Whatever you say, whatever you write, whatever you read, someone, somewhere is able to eavesdrop on it and looking at the reported budgets and amount of efforts, we can even assume that someone does!

Are we not better off with dedicated skilled eyes which looks in the dark with a flash light? Are we not much better protected when we focus on those who intend to harm us instead of wasting resources and budgets on “special interest groups”? We have learned from Paris and Flight 7K9268, that mass surveillance doesn’t protect us and will also not protect us in the future. Given the fact that unencrypted communication was (at least also) used, prohibiting encryption will also not bring us closer to safety from cowards who want to harm innocent people.

There are many more examples since the escalation of mass surveillance which show that this isn’t working and we can assume that the resources and budgets which are allocated to mass surveillance of all of us actually hinder intelligence agencies from properly focusing on identifying developing events and possible threats. So it isn’t about our security because it isn’t contributing to our security. It isn’t about the allegedly prevented attacks, it is about the attacks which could and should have been prevented but weren’t. It isn’t about sacrificing our privacy for the sake of security and safety because we can’t safely fly, because we can’t safely visit a concert and we can’t safely visit a bar or a restaurant.

Lights everywhere, cameras everywhere and still we didn’t see it coming…

We pray for Paris because all the mass surveillance in the world didn’t prevent this from happening. We pray for Flight 7K9268 because it wasn’t stopped. We pray for Flight MH17 because it wasn’t prevented. We should also pray for the innocent victims in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya where such terrorist attacks happen almost on a daily basis and mass surveillance isn’t preventing it.

blinded-by-the-lightFirst, there is the amount of accessible information resulting from mass surveillance which makes it close to impossible to interpret and analyze everything properly. Secondly, there is the false sense of effectiveness as a result of believing to be able to intercept everything by the means of mass surveillance. As the “casual conversation” shows, there is no value whatsoever in overhearing this conversation without the proper context and understanding. In short, being capable of tapping into this conversation brings you ZERO knowledge of the actual intentions. And being capable of tapping into every conversation leads to missing the important conversations. Paris showed that. Beirut showed that. Flight 7K9268 showed that. Flight MH17 showed that.

“Lights everywhere, cameras everywhere” is just a metaphor for the mass surveillance of everything and everyone and the amount of information which is so huge that there is no change whatsoever to analyze it all. So much information that even when the war in Ukraine escalated into the skies over Ukraine, the threat wasn’t identified until it was too late for Flight MH17. There is so much information that Beirut was attacked like so many other places without being prevented. Hindsight is always too late, as the attacks on Flight 7K9268 and Paris have shown.

Lessons learned is that mass surveillance and prohibiting encryption isn’t about our safety and security. That leaves us with a simple question: Why do we have to sacrifice our privacy when it doesn’t provide us safety and security?