The week in techno-liberty

Varying things a little again, here’s a digest of the top events of the past week in techno-liberty. These will be more substantial pieces than the “newsbits” I tried earlier, but not as extensive as full articles. If it works out, I’ll alternate these with essays. Let me know what you think.
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A bumpy week in government surveillance

William Binney (Wikimedia)It’s been quite a week. It may well be true that Trump was wiretapped, even if he was making it up. NSA whistleblower Bill Binney said, “I think the president is absolutely right. His phone calls, everything he did electronically, was being monitored.” Contrary to Trump’s charge, there’s no evidence Obama had anything to do with it. The intelligence agencies are a power of their own, apart from what any administration tells them to do.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks claims that “the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal.”

WikiLeaks says the archive appears to have been circulated among former government hackers and contractors, one of whom provided WikiLeaks with portions of it. The website says the CIA hacking division involved “more than 5,000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other ‘weaponized’ malware.”

These reports confirm the impression that not much changes in the intelligence world, regardless of who is in office. The “Deep State” goes on. It provides stability, but it creates power centers that no one can do much about. Whether the intelligence agencies barge ahead independent of executive control or Trump replaces the leadership of the intelligence agencies with people loyal to him, it’s bad.

The reports tells us that the intelligence agencies need to resort to exploiting security holes to get information. That’s good news, in a way. It confirms that they don’t have widely usable backdoors into systems. Encrypted applications such as Signal and WhatsApp are still secure, as far as I can tell.

It’s clear that the CIA has its own security problems. We should be glad it doesn’t have backdoor code, or there’s no telling who’d have it by now.

This breach just adds to the reasons to take security seriously. Whether it’s the CIA or some free-lance crook trying to get into your devices, you want to keep them out. This means the usual array of precautions: Use strong passwords, don’t run suspicious attachments, use security software, beware of USB sticks in the mail, set up a firewall, etc. There’s no reason to have high tech just for its own sake, especially considering how many “Internet of Things” devices have utterly sloppy security.

When doing anything on the Internet, remember the words of Barty Crouch, Jr., in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” Especially against Barty Crouch, Jr.

Communication without borders

The Internet has torn down communication borders, in spite of the efforts of governments. It’s easy to send an email message to or have a voice conversation with someone in a distant country. It costs next to nothing to make an international Skype call. Compare that to 1927, when a three-minute call from New York to London cost $75 in much bigger dollars than today’s. If you choose the right messaging system, you get the benefit of privacy. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on your communications.

The New York Times tells us that millions of people who leave for a new country use WhatsApp to keep in touch with their families and friends back home. Even people with limited assets can get a cheap smartphone and install a messaging app on it.
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