Conspiracy Theory

Docklands March 2010 103I am not normally a great friend or spinner of conspiracy theories. However, the fact that right now and out of the blue so-called intelligence emerges, informing of immediate and severe terrorist threads, based on intelligence gathered from intercepted communications, I find that highly suspicious.

Right now, the US and most other countries need to justify their insane Big Brother attitude, and we are going to loose out big time, no matter how it ends. We of course means us, people who believe in the freedom of speech and that an mass-gathering of data and blanket observation without well-defined and published rules of who against whom, when and how and all that… You and me, Ed Snowden, and quite a few but not enough others.

Assume nothing happens in the Yemen or somewhere else in the middle-east, Africa or elsewhere, one of these days. I guess they’ll say that they have successfully warned and defused the threat. I suppose a whole month or so without any anti-US thread or protest is unlikely in the extreme, so they’ll use that to argue that they need to intensify their spying. Whichever way, they will use it to demonstrate that more surveillance is needed and Ed Snowden needs punishing.

Who would have thought we’d find ourselves so quickly in a steadily widening totalitarian regime? I never did, but I fear that we might.


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Blissful Ignorance

mailbox Many people in Britain are concerned because the government will ask them, eventually and in all probability, to carry an identity card. Basically, the police will be able to stop you, ask for your Id card, and thus know who you are.

While the privacy concern about Id cards goes a bit further than that, I am baffled about the almost total lack of public discussion and concern about the many privacy issues related to email. I think much of the world is in a state of blissful ignorance in this regard. Did you know the UK governments plans to make your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to keep record of all your emails for a year, starting in March this year? Probably all under the popular anti-terrorism umbrella-excuse. It won’t work, not if you do as I say anyway, but that’s almost beside the point.

A long post today, but it is in the public interest. Really. Especially if you read this thinking Oh techno babble I won’t understand this. You must try.  It’s important. Here’s what most people should know, or decide to ignore, about email privacy:

Most private individuals use a ‘free’ email service such as Hotmail, Googlemail, Live Mail, or one of many others. There is no free lunch. These providers may scan emails, at least for the purpose of targeted advertising, and they may include little pictures at the end of a message, which allow tracking down the recipient to the exact PC where the message is being read.

Most people send and receive emails using insecure connections. Meaning, anyone between you and your email server could read your emails, and potentially scan them.

Almost everyone sends email messages without a digital signature. I should know, because my signed email messages cause confusion with some recipients. Only a message with a valid digital signature it guaranteed to originate where it claims to come from. People selling junk in my name won’t have my digital signature.

Almost nobody sends anything without an envelope in good old snail mail, but almost every email message gets exchanged unencrypted. This is the equivalent of discussing personal or business matters on a postcard. The difference is that the email message can be electronically read by many more machines than just your postman checking Autie’s holiday greetings from Florida.

I don’t mean to be a scaremonger. Most email providers don’t do the evil thing, but the point is that they could, and that –apparently- the government can introduce ever bigger Big Brothers without many people even noticing.

So, for privacy’s and sanity’s sake, please:

  • Check if you can use secure connections when reading and writing emails.
  • Prefer a real email account, such as the one provided by your ISP or by many independent providers, over a ‘free’ service.
  • Consider using a digital signature to sign your messages. Even free SSL certificates are better than nothing.
  • Think about what you send by email. Financial details, personal details or business details have no place in unencrypted emails.
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