The EU is trying to take steps to curb Bitcoin. Why? Here’s the long version:
And the short:
Recently I was invited to be on the global council of a new tech policy intitiative called the Good Technology Collective, based in Berlin.
~ Founded by a group of technology enthusiasts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Leretaille, the GTC will serve as a crucial European forum for piloting technological advances in the 21st century. Through its Expert Council, it will bring together leading founders, engineers, scientists, journalists, and activists, who will research, generate conversation around, and offer counsel as to the societal impact of AI, virtual reality, Internet of Things, and data surveillance.
“We believe that there are ethical questions concerning how frontier technologies will affect our daily lives,” Leretaille said. “As a society, Europe deserves broad and accessible discussions of these issues, hosted by those who appreciate, understand, and worry about them the most.” ~
The Good Technology Collective (GTC), a new European think-tank addressing ethical issues in technology, will officially open its doors in Berlin on December 15th. The grand opening will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Berlin and I shall be one of the guest speakers.
Invitations are limited for the grand opening. Those interested in attending should contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; or, fill in the invitation form at: https://goo.gl/Xpndjk.
And here is an introductory interview I did for GTC recently:
Why We Must Fight for Privacy
We live in a society where shadowy figures influence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.
We live in a system where corporations and the state work together to take control of our information, our communications, and potentially even our future digital souls.
So we do not merely have the right, but rather the obligation, to fight for our privacy.
It is a simple human right that is essential for a functioning democracy.
But we are a long way away from having that right guaranteed, and we have been for a long time.
My Time as a Spy
I spent six years working with MI5, the British domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of relative peace after the Cold War and before the horrors of September 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Terror.
And even then, I was horrified by what I saw.
There was a constant stream of illegal wiretaps and files kept on hundreds of thousands of our citizens, activists, journalists, and politicians.
Innocent people were sent to prison due to suppressed evidence in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London. IRA bombings that could have been prevented were allowed to take place, and the MI6 funded a plot to murder Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi using Al Qaeda affiliates. He survived, others did not.
This is just part of the corruption I saw intelligence and security agencies engage in.
The public and many politicians believe these agencies are accountable to them, but that is simply not how things work in reality. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.
State Manipulates News and Politics
I witnessed government agencies manipulate the news through guile and charm, at times even writing it themselves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media coverage using various methods.
This was the case in the analogue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.
In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, knowing that it would end my career. My partner and I resigned, and we went into hiding.
We spent years on the run for breaching the UK Official Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.
We fled Britain in 1997, spending three years in a French farmhouse and a location in Paris. My partner went to prison, twice, and we learned indelible lessons about state power along the way.
Learning the Value of Privacy
We also learned the value of privacy.
As high-value targets, we knew our communications and relatives were monitored.
So when I called or emailed my mother, I had to self-censor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.
Our friends were pressured into cooperating with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our privacy, corroding our spirit.
You lose trust in everyone around you, and you do not say anything that could give you away.
Surveillance Has Moved with the Times
That was then. Today, surveillance is part of our daily lives, on the Internet and in the street.
Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of government surveillance. And it is mind-boggling.
The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 percent of the people in the United Kingdom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have privacy, then in a way it does not matter if someone is watching us. We will self-censor anyway. Just in case.
This has a tangible impact on society. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.
Legitimate activists know they can be watched. This means that protestors may think twice before getting involved with pressing issues. Surveillance is a sure-fire means of stifling democracy.
We Are All Being Watched
Snowden revealed that Internet companies opened their doors to the U.S. National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He also disclosed that British intelligence was handing over information on Europeans to American intelligence agencies.
Both government agencies can access our video communications. Apparently their personnel were forced to sit through so many explicit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive counseling.
It might sound amusing. But it shows that the state is regularly invading our privacy.
And that is just government agencies. The corporate world is surveilling us, too. Companies have been granted exceptional powers to see who is sharing information and files across the Internet.
When the FBI Is a Corporate Tool
In New Zealand, Kim Dotcom developed MegaUpload. It did have legitimate users, but the fact that some distributed pirated intellectual property led to an FBI raid on his home.
Likely under the influence of the FBI, the New Zealand authorities permitted surveillance to bolster the U.S. extradition case against him. In October 2012, Prime Minister John Key publicly apologized to Dotcom, saying that the mistakes made by New Zealand’s Government Communications and Security Bureau before and during the raid were “appalling.”
This was all a massive infringement on New Zealand’s sovereignty. One must wonder how the corporate world can wield so much influence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entrepreneur on foreign land.
This is not how government agencies are meant to work. It is a pincer movement between the corporations and the state.
This Is the Definition of Fascism
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini defined fascism as the merging of the state and the corporate world. And it is becoming increasingly clear that we are heading in this direction.
We are all constantly connected through our smartphones and computers. Incidentally, any hardware, even USB cables, produced after 1998 probably comes with a backdoor entry point for the government.
We also freely provide information on Facebook that would have taken security and intelligence agencies weeks to assemble before the era of digital communications.
We need to know who is watching that information, who can take it, and who can use it against us.
Research conducted today may one day lead to our entire consciousness being uploaded into a computer. Humans could become software-based. But who might be able to manipulate that information and how?
It is vital for us to start thinking about questions such as these.
Secret Legislation Can Change Our World
In Europe, we are seeing the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legislation through which corporate lobbyists can negatively affect 500 million people.
Its investor-state dispute settlement clause grants multinational corporations the legal status of a nation-state. If they feel government policies threaten their profits, they can sue governments in arbitration tribunals. The treaty paperwork is kept in a guarded room that not even politicians working on the legislation can access freely.
Similar projects were attempted before, but they were overturned by the weight of public opinion. The public spoke out and protested to ensure that the legislation never came to pass.
We must protect our right to democracy and the rule of law, free from corporate intervention.
A Perfect Storm for Privacy?
A perfect storm against privacy is brewing. A debate continues over how much control the state should exercise over the Internet amid the threat of terrorism, which has become part of modern life.
Add to this the increasing tension between the United States and Russia and climate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.
We need privacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these topics, and discuss them. We cannot rely on the mainstream media alone.
We need privacy to be proper citizens. This includes the right to lobby our politicians and express our concerns.
We also have to be aware that politicians do not know what the intelligence and security services are doing. We need to take our privacy into our own hands.
As a start, we must all begin using encryption, open-source software and other tools to make sure we have privacy. If we do not, we will lose our democracy.
It took our ancestors hundreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to privacy.
We must defend that legacy.
Yet again Wikileaks has come good by exposing just how much we are being spied upon in this brave new digital world — the Vault 7 release has provided the proof for what many of us already knew/suspected — that our smart gadgets are little spy devices.
Here are a couple of interviews I did for the BBC and RT on the subject:
I’ve done a few more interviews this month for RT, on a variety of issues:
US boots on the ground in Iraq
The extradition case against Megaupload’s founder, Kim Dotcom
And the launch of the UK’s new Cyber Security Centre, soon after the new Investigatory Powers Act (aka the “snoopers’ charter”) became law
Now, I speak all over the world at conferences and universities about a whole variety of interconnected issues, but I do want to highlight this conference from earlier this year and give a shout out for next year’s. Plus I’ve finally got my hands on the video of my talk.
Webstock celebrated its tenth anniversary in New Zealand last February, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak there. The hosts promised a unique experience, and the event lived up to its reputation.
They wanted a fairly classic talk from me — the whistleblowing years, the lessons learnt and current political implications, but also what we can to do fight back, so I called my talk “The Panopticon: Resistance is Not Futile”, with a nod to my sci-fi fandom.
So why does this particular event glow like a jewel in my memory? After expunging from my mind, with a shudder of horror, the 39 hour travel time each way, it was the whole experience. New Zealand combines the friendliness of the Americans — without the political madness and the guns, and the egalitarianism of the Norwegians — with almost equivalent scenery. Add to that the warmth of the audience, the eclecticism of the speakers, and the precision planning and aesthetics of the conference organisers and you have a winning combination.
Our hosts organised vertigo-inducing events for the speakers on the top of mile-high cliffs, as well as a surprisingly fun visit to a traditional British bowling green. Plus I had the excitement of experiencing my very first earthquake — 5.9 on the Richter scale apparently. I shall make no cheap jokes about the earth moving, especially in light of the latest quakes to hit NZ this week, but the hotel did indeed sway around me and it wasn’t the local wine, excellent as it is.
I mentioned eclecticism — the quality of the speakers was ferociously high, and I would like to give a shout out to Debbie Millman and her “joy of failure” talk, Harry Roberts, a serious geek who crowd-sourced his talk and ended up talking seriously about cocktails, moths, Chumbawamba and more, advertising guru Cindy Gallop who is inspiring women around the world and promoting Make Love Not Porn, and Casey Gerald, with his evangelically-inspired but wonderfully humanistic talk to end the event.
All the talks can be found here.
It was a fabulous week. All I can say is thank you to Tash, Mike, and the other organisers.
If you ever have the chance to attend or speak at the event in the future, I seriously recommend it.
And here’s the video of my talk:
For the first time a serving head of a major intelligence service in the UK, Andrew Parker the Director General of the UK domestic Security Service, has given an interview to a national newspaper.
Interestingly, he gave this interview to The Guardian, the paper that has won awards for publishing a number of the Edward Snowden disclosures about endemic illegal spying and, for its pains, had its computers ritually smashed up by the powers that be.
The timing was also interesting — only two weeks ago the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (the only legal body that can actually investigate allegations of spy crime in the UK and which has so far been an unexceptional champion of their probity) broke ranks to assert that the UK spies have been illegally conducting mass surveillance for 17 years — from 1998 to 2015.
This we could all deduce from the disclosures of a certain Edward Snowden in 2013, but it’s good to have it officially confirmed.
Yet at the same time the much-derided Investigatory Powers Bill has been oiling its way through the Parliamentary system, with the culmination this week.
This “Snoopers’ Charter”, as it is known, has been repeatedly and fervently rejected for years.
It has been questioned in Parliament, challenged in courts, and soundly condemned by former intelligence insiders, technical experts, and civil liberties groups, yet it is the walking dead of UK legislation — nothing will kill it. The Zombie keeps walking.
It will kill all notion of privacy — and without privacy we cannot freely write, speak, watch, read, activate, or resist anything future governments choose to throw at us. Only recently I read an article about the possibility of Facebook assessing someone’s physical or mental health — potentially leading to all sorts of outcomes including getting a job or renting a flat.
And this dovetails into the early Snowden disclosure of the programme PRISM — the complicity of the internet megacorps — as well as the secret back doors what were built into them.
It will be the end of democracy as we (sort of ) know it today. And, as we know from the Snowden disclosures, what happens in the UK will impact not just Europe but the rest of the world.
So how does this all link into the MI5 head honcho’s first live interview? Well, the timing was interesting — ahead of the Investigatory Powers Bill passing oleaginously into law and with the ongoing demonisation of Russia.
Here is an interview I gave to RT about some of these issues:
I have for a number of years now been involved with a global group of whistleblowers from the intelligence, diplomatic and military world, who gather together every year as the Sam Adams Associates to give an award to an individual displaying integrity in intelligence.
This year’s award goes to former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s illegal torture programme, but was the only officer to go to prison — for exposing CIA crimes.
Last year’s laureate, former Technical Director of the NSA Bill Binney, is currently on tour across Europe to promote an excellent film about both his and the other stories of the earlier NSA whistleblowers before Edward Snowden — “A Good American”.
The film is simply excellent, very human and very humane, and screenings will happen across Europe over the next few months. Do watch if you can!
This is a film of the panel discussion after a screening in London on 18th September:
Here is a recent interview I did for the RT UK’s flagship news channel, “Going Underground” about the horrors of the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill — the so-called “snoopers charter” — that will legalise previously illegal mass surveillance, mass data retention, and mass hacking carried out by GCHQ in league with the NSA:
My interview starts at 19 minutes in — there is Brexit stuff first, about which I shall write more about soon.…
This is an (abbreviated) version of my contribution to a panel discussion about human rights in a digital age, hosted last December by Professor Marianne Franklin and Goldsmiths University in London:
My written evidence to the Scrutiny Committee in the UK Houses of Parliament that is currently examining the much-disputed Investigatory Powers Bill (IP):
1. My name is Annie Machon and I worked as an intelligence officer for the UK’s domestic Security Service, commonly referred to as MI5, from early 1991 until late 1996. I resigned to help my partner at the time, fellow intelligence officer David Shayler, expose a number of instances of crime and incompetence we had witnessed during our time in the service.
2. I note that the draft IP Bill repeatedly emphasises the importance of democratic and judicial oversight of the various categories of intrusive intelligence gathering by establishing an Investigatory Powers Commissioner as well as supporting Judicial Commissioners. However, I am concerned about the real and meaningful application of this oversight.
3. While in the Service in the 1990s we were governed by the terms of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 (IOCA), the precursor to RIPA, which provided for a similar system of applications for a warrant and ministerial oversight.
4. I would like to submit evidence that the system did not work and could be manipulated from the inside.
5. I am aware of at least two instances of this during my time in the service, which were cleared for publication by MI5 in my 2005 book about the Shayler case, “Spies Lies, and Whistleblowers”, so my discussing them now is not in breach of the Official Secrets Act. I would be happy to provide further evidence, either written or in person, about these abuses.
6. My concern about this draft Bill is that while the oversight provisions seem to be strengthened, with approval necessary from both the Secretary of State and a Judicial Commissioner, the interior process of application for warrants will still remain opaque and open to manipulation within the intelligence agencies.
7. The application process for a warrant governing interception or interference involved a case being made in writing by the intelligence officer in charge of an investigation. This then went through four layers of management, with all the usual redactions and finessing, before a final summary was drafted by H Branch, signed by the DDG, and then dispatched to the Secretary of State. So the minister was only ever presented with was a summary of a summary of a summary of a summary of the original intelligence case.
8. Additionally, the original intelligence case could be erroneous and misleading. The process of writing the warrant application was merely a tick box exercise, and officers would routinely note that such intelligence could only be obtained by such intrusive methods, rather than exploring all open source options first. The revalidation process could be even more cavalier.
9. When problems with this system were voiced, officers were told to not rock the boat and just follow orders. During the annual visit by the Intelligence Intercept Commissioner, those with concerns were banned from meeting him.
10. Thus I have concerns about the realistic power of the oversight provisions written into this Bill and would urge an additional provision. This would establish an effective channel whereby officers with concerns can give evidence directly and in confidence to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in the expectation that a proper investigation will be conducted and with no repercussions to their careers inside the agencies. Here is a link to a short video I did for Oxford University three years ago outlining these proposals:
11. This, in my view, would be a win-win scenario for all concerned. The agencies would have a chance to improve their work practices, learn from mistakes, and better protect national security, as well as avoiding the scandal and embarrassment of any future whistleblowing scandals; the officers with ethical concerns would not be placed in the invidious position of either becoming complicit in potentially illegal acts by “just following orders” or risking the loss of their careers and liberty by going public about their concerns.
12. I would also like to raise the proportionality issue. It strikes me that bulk intercept must surely be disproportionate within a functioning and free democracy, and indeed can actually harm national security. Why? Because the useful, indeed crucial, intelligence on targets and their associates is lost in the tsunami of available information. Indeed this seems to have been the conclusion of every inquiry about the recent spate of “lone wolf” and ISIS-inspired attacks across the West – the targets were all vaguely known to the authorities but resources were spread too thinly.
13. In fact all that bulk collection seems to provide is confirmation after the fact of a suspect’s involvement in a specific incident, which is surely specifically police evidential work. Yet the justification for the invasive intercept and interference measures laid out in the Bill itself is to gather vital information ahead of an attack in order to prevent it – the very definition of intelligence. How is this possible if the sheer scale of bulk collection drowns out the vital nuggets of intelligence?
14. Finally, I would like to raise the point that the phrase “national security” has never been defined for legal purposes in the UK. Surely this should be the very first step necessary before formulating the proposed IP Bill? Until we have such a legal definition, how can we formulate new and intrusive laws in the name of protecting an undefined and nebulous concept, and how can we judge that the new law will thereby be proportionate within a democracy?
I just want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of the 10th Webstock Festival in New Zealand earlier this month — definitely worth the interminable flights.
This is a tech-focused conference that very much looks at the bigger picture and joins a whole number of different societal dots.
Plus they look after their “inspirational speakers” exceedingly well, with scary coach trips out of Wellington and up the cliffs, a chance to appreciate the finer aspects of bowling at a NZ working men’s club, and a rip-roaring party at the end of the festival. It was great to have the time to chat with so many amazing people.
Oh, and I experienced my first earthquake — 5.7 on the Richter Scale. Slightly distant, but still impressive when you’re in a swaying 5th floor hotel room. I initially thought a bomb might have gone off in the basement.… Thankfully, NZ hotels are made of pliable, if stern, stuff.
I was also shunted on to Radio New Zealand for a half hour interview, discussing whistleblowers, spies, drugs and surveillance. Here it is — it was fun to do — so thank you NZ.