The proposals by David Cameron, the UK prime minister, to criminalise forms of encryption that would block intelligence services from reading messages from terrorist suspects have been criticised in Davos by a group of Harvard professors. Read more
The Associated Press has just released a fascinating piece of investigative journalism about US psy-ops in Cuba, the plan being to use a Twitter-like service to foment social unrest and weaken Havana’s communist regime.
The story is a must-read that shows how the world of espionage is changing in today’s internet-driven world, and how that espionage can fail for new reasons. It may also hand other governments, such as those in Turkey, Russia or Venezuela, an excuse to crack down on social media using the argument that the misinformation spread is all part of a terrible imperialist plot. Read more
“Journalist changes jobs” is not usually the kind of headline that merits much attention. But the news that Glenn Greenwald is moving from The Guardian to a new media venture, funded by a Hawaii-based billionaire with libertarian views, is something that the British and American governments have reason to worry about.
Greenwald is the reporter who has acted as the conduit for Edward Snowden’s leaks about the US National Security Agency. Most of the NSA stories have been published by The Guardian – with the New York Times also publishing a fair amount that the Guardian has shared with it. However, as Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, pointed out recently on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, the Times has actually chosen not to publish some of the Snowden cache, on grounds of national security. As Abramson explained – “Quite a bit has not yet been published… Responsible journalists care, as citizens do, about national security.” The Guardian has also considered national security in choosing what to publish. However, it seems quite likely that Greenwald will be rather less constrained in his use of the Snowden material when he gets going on his new venture. Read more
Protesters in Berlin compare US President Barack Obama with the former Eastern German secret police, the "Stasi" (Getty)
Washington would like to brush aside European indignation with a spot of Latin.
The Obama administration is coming under intense criticism from many parts of Europe after Der Spiegel reported the US has been bugging various European Union offices. European politicians have accused the US of treating the EU as an “enemy” and of a return to “Cold War practices”.
The reaction in Washington has been to invoke the international law doctrine known as “tu quoque”, which translates as “you, too” or as the Pentagon described it during a similar late-90s bout of European anger about US spying: “A nation has no standing to complain about a practice in which it itself engages.” Read more
A recent cartoon in the China Daily depicted the Statue of Liberty holding a listening device instead of a torch and a tape-recorder in place of a legal tablet. The Global Times, in both its Chinese and English editions, noted what it said was US “aggressiveness in cyberspace” and its “hypocrisy in saying one thing and doing another” – a reference to Washington’s demands that China stop its nefarious hacking campaign. The Global Times even suggested Beijing keep Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked information about US domestic and international information-gathering activities, and milk him for all the information he’s worth. “This concerns China’s national interest,” it said. Read more
Edward Snowden has now made it clear that he intends to stay in Hong Kong and fight extradition to the US through the local courts. Legal experts there seem to reckon that – if Hong Kong’s courts operate normally, then Snowden will probably be put back onto a plane to America.
However, Hong Kong is actually part of the People’s Republic of China. And, although under “one country, two systems”, the Hong Kong legal system is independent, China has the final say on matters affecting national security and foreign policy. So, if Beijing chose to classify the Snowden extradition in this way, it definitely could intervene to prevent it. The question is, how will the government in Beijing play this? Read more
News that the US government monitors vast amounts of private communications data has divided opinion at home and caused outrage in Europe. But what lengths do other countries go to in order to keep tabs on their citizens?
It has been a requirement since 2009 for communication service providers to hold information about their customers’ use of communications for at least a year. (CSPs are a broad group that can include telephone companies, Skype and search engines).
The spy base at RAF Menwith Hill in north Yorkshire, England (Getty)
The government proposed further legislation that would require CSPs to collect additional information generated by third-party CSPs based outside the UK in order to access services like Gmail. The communications data bill was rejected by the Liberal Democrats, who were concerned that it would infringe civil liberties.
However, a recent terror attack in Woolwich, London, in which an army fusilier was killed in an apparent attack by Islamist extremists, prompted calls for the coalition government to resurrect its proposals. Read more
The US government’s secret internet surveillance programme, codenamed Prism, began when the National Security Agency signed up Microsoft as its first partner on Sept 11, 2007, less than a month after the passing of the Protect America Act which authorised it.
♦ Yahoo was added on 12/3/2008, Google on 14/1/2009, Facebook on 3/5/2009, PalTalk on 7/12/2009, YouTube on 24/9/2010, Skype on 6/2/2011, AOL on 3/3/2011 and Apple in October 2012, , according to a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Guardian and the Washington Post .
♦ The companies liaise with the NSA through the FBI’s data intercept technology unit. Twitter is conspicuously absent from the list. Read more
A kind of digital shiver went across the internet on Tuesday, after the Associated Press sent out a message saying two explosions had taken place at the White House, and that Obama was injured. Several things were suspicious about the tweet, and within minutes, AP announced that their official account had indeed been hacked:
While markets recovered their losses almost immediately, the incident leaves troubling questions about the capabilities of the group that claimed responsibility for the hack: the so-called ‘Syrian Electronic Army’. As one former US official involved in cyber security told the FT’s Michael Peel and Geoff Dyer on Wednesday:
“When you start to do things that have a big impact on the stock market, you are getting away from hacking and moving much closer to something that resembles an actual cyber attack on the US – which takes things into a different area altogether.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the SEA have become good at what they do. They were already in full swing two years ago, when Max Fisher and Jared Keller looked at their efforts for The Atlantic.
“The SEA has aggressively engaged in a wide range of online activities to punish perceived opponents and to force the online narrative in favor of the Assad regime… their primary means of attack has been to overload the social networking profiles of government institutions and Western media outlets…”