- Thermal Audit
Governmental Spying in
Newfoundland and Labrador
First the good news: The provincial government is far too understaffed and unequipped to spy other than for trivial things like looking up a high school transcript or traffic records. Now the bad news.
Federal agencies worldwide, including Canadian agencies, spy on innocent citizens, trade this information amongst themselves, use it to blackmail politicians to enact laws that are not in our interests, and otherwise abuse it. The paranoid among us are having an "I told you so" moment now that Edward Snowden sacrificed all to release top secret United States documents outlining the surveillance state.
The latest disclosures focus on the NSA (the US National Security Agency), but due to inter-agency cooperation such as the 5 eyes (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and USA) Canadians are equally affected.
- All phone metadata is saved. This includes who you called, when and the duration. Verizon had been providing data for years, and despite the recent controversy, permission has been extended. Verizon wants to come to Canada.
- NSA collects a billion telephone calls, e-mails and text messages per month.
- All e-mails are saved for future analysis. Now that Memorial University has switched to g-mail, copies of all student e-mails are already in the hands of the NSA.
- Microsoft has ensured that office encryption can be bypassed by the NSA, so no documents created with Microsoft products are safe. How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages
- All internet traffic is captured, including all searches and the results returned.
- Cell location data (for smart phones with a GPS) is saved.
- Skype audio and video has been compromised
- Networks of contacts are derived from social networking sites like Facebook via NSA backdoors.
- Special treatment for politicians - The last G8 had bugs in hotel rooms, fake internet cafe's for them to connect to, blackberry hacking, phone taps.
Potential for Abuse
As soon as a politician becomes important (such as when Barack Obama became a senator), they are studied. Most politicians have likely said something embarrassing on the phone, had an affair, physically been somewhere that looks bad (or at least their phone was), received monies from questionable sources, called a mental health hot line etc. When the time comes up for them to ratify some agreement (Canadian Copyright Bill C-11 and its secret lobby campaign, EU trade deal etc.) their misdeeds and personal problems will come up if they hold out for a fair deal for their constituents.
Anyone that attempts to expose government corruption or calls a hot line risks being labeled a "terrorist" for aiding an enemy, which unbelievably, is the very citizenry that elected it. Anyone perceived as a potential threat to the continued abuses is targeted for analysis. Journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Michael Hastings are certainly not safe, and the surge in whistle blower prosecutions is having a chilling effect on the free press. Canada also stomps on those that expose bad behavior, e.g. EI Wistleblower suspended without pay.
Even former officials at the highest levels acknowledge the problem. Former President Jimmy Carter has said "the US currently has no functioning democracy at this moment. Former Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey wrote to Edward Snowden "I believe you have done the right thing in exposing what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution". Although these quotes are American, it would be wise to assume Prime Minister Harper does whatever he is told, just like his counterparts in almost every country.
Serious Implications for Newfoundland and Labrador
When large deals (e.g. Muskrat Falls, or EU trade) which are not in the best interests of the general population are pursued nevertheless, a realistic possibility (other than sociopathic behavior or ignorance) is that the politicians involved have been compromised.
If this province is to have a bright future for its residents, the status quo must fundamentally change. This includes land reform, alternative housing, changes to tax structures and resource utilization, pushing back on federal abuses and much more. The people who lead this change are our future. Changes to business as usual are threats to those in power and the information collected via spying will be used to crack down on the very people we so desperately need.
Provincial governments need to condemn this behavior. However, rhetoric without action is meaningless. They also need to take concrete actions to protect the privacy of their constituents, as well as protecting their ability to govern.
- Government and public university e-mail systems must be local (e.g. not g-mail hosted)
- Memorial University must be told to revert to its original in-house e-mail system
- No out-of-province outsourcing of any IT functions should be permitted.
- Immediately switch to open source products for government operations wherever possible. This would include Linux, open source office and web server products
- Government planning for significant negotiations (such as trade deals) must be face to face. Anything said on the phone (cell or otherwise) is already known to the negotiators.
- Public awareness sessions are needed to introduce safe computing, using products like Truecrypt, GPG, Tor Browser and open source products like Linux / Open Office.
- No personal data on citizens should be recorded electronically unless there is a compelling reason. Electronic access is convenient, but it also guarantees that the data will permanently end up in a commercial database. This is especially a problem for high value data such as medical records (life insurance companies will pay for them).