Category Archives: Privacy

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”


“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

The own goal of Okcupid

The ousting of Brendan Eich from his post as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation is seen by many as a blow against intolerance. It is in fact the opposite, and if gay rights groups expand such ‘outings’ as a tool to suppress opposition, they risk deepening the antagonism and resistance by people who view them as a threat to our culture.

Let us start by examining Eich.  Eich is a well regarded software developer, one of the numerous people whose brilliant inventions have made the Internet the powerful, revolutionary tool it is.  In 1995, he was hired by Netscape to produce a tool for an upcoming release.  Rather than producing the limited implementation that his bosses had envisioned, Eich invented a new scripting language, now known as Javascript.  Javascript allowed local browsers to execute code to control browser behavior.  It revolutionized the Internet; rather than browsing through static web pages served by an overworked server, it allowed a website to push logic such as form validation to a user’s computer, allowing web pages to become dynamic entities that interacted with a user.  Javascript continues to be actively developed and is used universally to this day. Anyone who spends more than a few hours on the Internet a week is almost certain to benefit from it, and thus is the beneficiary of Eich’s wonderful invention.

Given his nearly two decades of experience in maintaining and improving a critical piece of the Internet infrastructure, Eich was a logical choice to lead the Mozilla foundation.  The flagship product of this non-profit is the Firefox browser, which traces its lineage to the Netscape browser, and Eich had been one of the people who had shepherded the project as it grew like a phoenix from the ashes of a defunct company.

Now let us turn to the OKcupid complaint that was served to people using Firefox.

Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.

Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there’s a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we’re asserting ourselves today. This is why: we’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together. If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.

If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site.

However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid.

Now, let us be clear: the complaint against Eich had nothing to do with his job. Firefox was not an anti-gay software platform.  In fact, I doubt that it’s codebase contains any logic pertaining to sexual orientation.

The Mozzilla Foundation produces open source tools that allow people to publish informsation and communicate with each other via the Internet.  If anything the Mozilla Foundation has and will continue to help members of marginalized groups or groups that are discriminated against to connect with and support each other.

That wasn’t going to change with Eich at the helm.

So, OKCupid wasn’t upset at the way Eich was doing his job, they wanted to fire him because they hated that he had once supported a political movement they hated. They wanted nothing but failure for him.

But what was his crime?  The political movement he had given $1,000 to that lost in the courts.  Proposition 8 cratered.  Completely.  And with changing demographics, it will be decades before something like it has a chance of winning at the polls and being upheld by the courts.

In short what the senior officers of OKCupid were hoping to do was to intimidate the opponents of gay marriage into silence.  Rather than being gracious victors who foster peace, they wished to continue fighting.  And in doing so, they will only embolden their opponents in the culture war to fight harder.

Most of the opponents of gay marriage fear the cultural upheaval that would result from such a massive change to an institution that they see as the foundation of society.  The way to get them to accept the change is by showing them that the inclusion of homosexual relationships in the set of legally sanctioned unions will not destroy society, that their lives will continue, their communities prosper, and their children will be allowed to grow to realize their potential.

Attempting to destroy their livelihoods and drive them out of civil society will go against that goal.  Persecuting them will only harden their hearts against those who persecute them.   OK Cupid did not strike a blow for tolerance.  Rather, they flamed the fires of intolerance, and who knows what those flames will consume should those fires burn out of control.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.


Last week at United Liberty, Alice Salles posted a very disturbing article about the NSA and GCHQ intercepting and storing webcam images from supposedly private web chats. Between 3 to 11 percent of these images contain sexually explicit content. What would the NSA and GCHQ possibly want with these images apart from a few individual agents getting their jollies?

According to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it seems that these images are to be used to embarrass any would-be critics of the NSA, GCHQ, or anything else the federal government doesn’t want the citizens to get too uppity about. Glenn Greenwald explains:

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

Greenwald is in no way being hyperbolic here. Some of this might sound like some kind of Alex Jones nonsense, but these conclusions are based on actual leaked documents he shared in the article itself (I highly recommend everyone read these). Here are two leaked Power Point slides that I found to be very revealing and disturbing:


Pay special attention to the last bullet point on the second slide: “The 4 D’s: Deny / Disrupt / Degrade / Deceive.”

These are the tactics that are to be used against American critics of the federal government! The federal government is using the internet via social media to destroy lives and reputations (for national security?). As outrageous and Orwellian as this all is, as I learned reading Jesse Walker’s latest book, these tactics are not new. J. Edgar Hoover had a program called COINTELPRO, and there was a similar CIA program during the Nixon administration dubbed “Operation CHAOS.” The only difference now is the technology to carry out these operations is vastly improved.

In the light of these blatant, strategic lies, how can we ever trust anything we are told by the federal government? It seems the “Innocence of Muslims” video deception Obama’s Ministry of Truth tried to sell us during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was only par for the course!

This revelation made possible by the hero and patriot Edward Snowden* should serve as a warning to us all any time the government accuses anyone of being a terrorist or a traitor to take such accusations with a great deal of skepticism.

*And yes, he is a hero and a patriot make no mistake about that.

BOOK REVIEW: The United States of Paranoia

Conspiracy theories are only believed by people on the fringe of American politics? Not so says Reason’s Jesse Walker in his latest book: The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. Walker argues quite the opposite in his opening chapter: “The Paranoid Style is American Politics”:

By the time this book is over, I should hope it will be clear that when I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. (p. 24)

For those who are hoping that this is another book in which the author’s goal is to prove or disprove any particular conspiracy theory, Walker makes is clear that this is not what this book is about (for the most part). He also makes a point to acknowledge that some conspiracies have been proven true (ex: Watergate among these, see Chapter 7 for more examples), “At the very moment you are reading this, someone somewhere is probably trying to bribe a politician. The world is filled with plots both petty and grand…” (p.21). Instead telling the reader what to believe, Walker tells a history about what people have believed on this continent from colonial times to now and how these beliefs have shaped the political debate and very the culture itself.

Among the earliest examples of American conspiracies shaping politics and culture resulted in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600’s. According to the belief at the time, witches conspired together and with the Devil to bring evil to the land. Disease and other misfortunes the colonists suffered were believed to be the direct result of these alleged Satanic rituals. Men and women were accused, tried, and executed with little or no evidence. The legacy of Salem continues today. When some public official is accused with wrongdoing, credibly or not, the accused and his or her defenders inevitably will call the proceedings a “witch hunt.”

Soon after the colonies won their independence from Great Britain and became the United States of America, the citizenry turned its distrust of power inward. Who could be trusted to lead this new nation and how could the people keep another tyrant or a cabal of tyrants from taking control? As it turns out, many of these fears were quite legitimate. Not everyone was satisfied with the Articles of Confederation. There were actual conspiracies afoot to overthrow existing system under the AOC in which the several states had most of the power while the national government had little. An attempted military coup called the “Newburgh Conspiracy” was stopped when George Washington convinced his fellow soldiers that overthrowing the government by force was not the right way to go about changing the political system.

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