Our Technology Advantage and Freedom of Information

Hackers, whistleblowers, conspiracy theorists, Anonymous; none of these are new to us, yet we’ve found ourselves in amongst some of the most interesting times in the fight for and against transparency of information.

…or perhaps the same things have been happening for hundreds of years, in the same swelling and falling pattern that information seems to flow with. The difference being – and naturally this is what’s piqued my interest – in recent times the fight is digital.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, but for someone like me – someone who likes patterns and puzzles and finding out how people and things work – it’s a very curious subject. Information is such a seemingly spurious notion; one person’s heartfelt account of events is another person’s angry loon in need of some medication.  Yet now there are ways to find out if original sources have been tampered with, amateur video recordings during or seconds after big events, and an apparently sizable number of people hungry for the truth.
Psychologically speaking, it’s a minefield. Stray too far into the world of those seeking to know how our governments control their and our information and you find conspiracy theorists aplenty. YouTube is rife with videos claiming both the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Sandy Hook Shooting to be hoaxes with no real injuries, planned by the US Government in order to scare the nation and implement Martial Law.

Sounds crazy and exceedingly disrespectful, right?

There are hundreds of comments passionately stating the same thing on these videos, and yet the theorists don’t back down, they come back with more ‘evidence’. Some of it can be easily dismissed (if you’re interested, here‘s an example), yet some of it begins to look a little suspect if you choose to delve down that particular rabbit-hole…

 

However, unless you have original information from a proven source, how can anyone judge fairly on what is real and what is faked?

Bring in the whistle-blowers and hackers! Edward Snowden, Julian Assange et al have given us substantial proof from source that our Governments willfully withhold information, have a penchant for listening in on us, and commit atrocities ‘for the greater good’. So perhaps we have good reason to listen to those who choose to question what’s on the surface.

In fact our quest for reliable, untampered information has gotten so big and sophisticated it’s becoming even more difficult for those that want to keep things buried. Government and Big Corps(TM) do not have the technological infrastructure to withstand our combined curiosities; they never have. The only difference is that in recent years people have started seeing it as a threat.

In the early days of computer hacking, Kevin Mitnick and even Assange hunted for the truth and were caught by authorities who passed them off as just curious kids. In Mitnick’s biography there are several instances in those hacker halcyon days where people just laughed at his exploits.

You wouldn’t find your LEA doing that today – Assange and Snowden are both in asylum, and hackers all over are being found and either turned informant or imprisoned, it’s no wonder that the hackers of the old days now all work as Security Analysts. Computers are no longer the joke they were back in the 80′s and 90′s – everyone’s wised-up to the fact that they are SRS BSNS.

But as the technologies and social engineering skills required for stopping or tracing and catching hackers, whistleblowers and those on quests for freedom of information advance, so too do the technologies and soft skills that ensure validity of information, and the means of communicating it.  As a shining example, the anonymous communications network project Tor only became something known to the general public through the fall of the Silk Road Marketplace in October 2013. In fact, Tor was initially developed by a US Naval Research Laboratory and continues to be used by them as well as various LEA today. Somehow, Silk Road itself had been operating for six months before a tip was given to the FBI.

If you’re reading this post, you can be anonymous and browsing one of the alternative marketplaces to Silk Road in around 5 minutes, given a Google search and very little need for advanced computer literacy (N.B. If you were actually to engage in illegal activities you would need advanced skills, and I am not in any way condoning any illegal use!).

Governments clamping down against freedom of information, personal privacy, and protesting rights in the digital world only serves to drive it further underground, not eradicate the problem. However, it does produce a very interesting side-effect.

 

In the world of Anonymous – and I’m sure you’ve heard lots about them – there exists an action called ‘doxxing’.  If you’ve not heard of this, it’s simply the act of collecting personal information about someone and usually making it public in some form, but perhaps also to use as blackmail material.  In the beginning Anonymous used doxxing to fight what a majority would call the good fight: naming pedophiles and those involved in producing child pornography, targeting corruption and oppression, and in the course of their involvement in ‘good causes’. Of course a lot was also done for the lulz, in true style when you can be anyone on the internet.

But then the FBI started turning some Anonymous members that they had quietly plucked and threatened with severe arrest penalties, most notably the key LulzSec member Sabu. Doxxing between Anon members had always been around, but with Sabu’s information leading to five V&s and two UK arrests, it seemed to stir up a nest of people who can dox, who like the challenge of doxxing, and remain probably the biggest problem to Anonymous today; themselves.

There are some still out there fighting ‘the good fight’ – proving that the technology is there to remain Anonymous. However scattered above are good examples that go to show people don’t like to stay Anonymous, even subconsciously. Doxxing proves that people leave a trail, and besides Ed Snowden wasn’t worried about Stylometry for nothing.

It’s fascinating, psychologically speaking, how many Anonymous members like to boast about their accomplishments, use pseudonyms, and build on-line alliances, friendships and even romances. They appear to break their anonymity quite easily; do they believe their exploits are illegal, or do they know and not care?

Through all these groups of people, the common threads are of the freedom and flow of information and the notion of the ‘greater good’. These folks believe we are receiving false information, and that Governments aren’t the only ones who can act in the interests of the people.

They’re currently facing a clusterfuck, both from LEAs and from inside, and it’s difficult to know what side to be on.  The best advice I can give anyone who is interested in learning more about anything I’ve covered in this post, is to stay informed and make your own decisions, but keep yourself in check; if anything sounds radical, don’t be easily sucked in.

Also please don’t do anything illegal, even anonymously. I’m not condoning breaking any current laws, merely looking at those who do for the greater good, as well as predicting big things coming in the worlds of digital privacy, security and information. It seems the hive is angry.

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One Response to “Our Technology Advantage and Freedom of Information”

  1. Gordon

    I’ve heard you talk about this stuff but have to admit it took a couple of readings of this post to fully ‘grok’ it (I’m so geek!).

    What do you see are the ‘big things’ that are coming next? Follow-up post??

    Reply

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