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GNU News (December-January)

Posted in FSF at 5:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: GNU, FSF, and Free software news from the past month or so


A GNU To Be Thankful For

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux at 6:20 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Richard Stallman

Summary: Thanksgiving reminder for those who want to receive freedom-respecting presents or wish to give freedom-respecting presents

EARLIER TODAY we wrote GNU/Linux devices or computers that can be purchased on Black Friday. Well, the FSF has a new “Giving Guide”, which basically highlights the need to avoid DRM-laden products and other such malicious ‘gifts’ [1] that can merely imprison their receiver. One must remember that GNU/FSF advocates abundance, which in itself is a gift [2]. There is no need to buy and sell stuff when something can be shared for free [3]. When Richard Stallman created Emacs he wanted to share his work, not necessarily profit from it; that’s where the GPL licence comes from. Emacs continues to develop to this date (a WYSIWYG GUI might be coming [4]) along with essential low-level GNU libraries [5] which make up the basis for a lot of those “Linux” gadgets that are on sale this Black Friday. We oughtn’t forget that if it wasn’t for the foundations laid out by GNU, Linux would still be proprietary and probably never take off.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Free Software Foundation encourages shoppers to ‘Give Freely’ with new Giving Guide

    The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced its 2013 Giving Guide, a resource for conscientious shoppers looking for geeky gifts that respect users’ freedom. Many holiday shoppers will be turning to gadgets and online services as gifts for friends and family, but these gifts are often rife with proprietary software, anti-features, or Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), all of which restrict how the gift can be used.

  2. Gnu: toward the post-scarcity world – the Free Software Column

    It is 30 years since Richard Stallman announced that he was going to write a complete UNIX-compatible software system called GNU, pioneering the idea of free and open source software, but the struggle continues

  3. Is it legal to sell GPL software?

    Marco Fioretti answers a TechRepublic member’s questions about charging fees for software that’s made available under the GNU GPL License version 2 or 3.

  4. Richard Stallman decides Emacs should go WYSIWYG

    GNU daddy Richard Stallman seems to have found an old To-Do list behind the sofa, because he’s posted a message on the GNU forums reviving an old ambition for the venerable EMacs text editor.

  5. GLib 2.38.2 Adds Workaround for Buggy D-Bus Daemons


Learning Who Steve Jobs Really Was

Posted in Apple, FSF, Patents at 2:36 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

i i i me me me ! ! !

Steve Jobs
Image by mylerdude

Summary: The man who helped glorify arrogance and selfishness is not to be put up on a pedestal anymore

SOFTWARE innovator and activist (with international reputation) Richard Stallman got a lot of flack for saying negative things about software ‘thief’, patent aggressor (over ideas that he had ‘stolen’, to use his own terminology), and selfishness advocate Steve Jobs — the man who loved to hoard and restrict, not to share.

As Linux spreads to hundreds of millions of users through Samsung (with no signs of stopping) Apple is suing, as usual, as part of Jobs’ nuclear legacy.

“Jobs colluded with Microsoft at least twice in the past, liaising against arguably common threats like Netscape and Android/Linux.”A few weeks ago the British press published the article “Steve Jobs: Apple founder a sexist bully, a skinflint and a liar says Chrisann Brennan, former partner” (Apple enthusiasts in deep denial would not even click the link).

Read the article to learn about the real Steve Jobs, not the legend which the corporate media (which is indirectly funded by the likes of Jobs) is trying to tell us about for its own agenda and self-serving reasons. Heck, those submissive publicists would even try to tell the world that Donald Trump is a generous and polite gentleman. All they look for is sponsorship through complicity (if there is no sponsorship already).

All we have left from Jobs (other than a bunch of people inspired by selfishness and arrogance) is a ‘Linux debt’ of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars (legal fees aside). To quote this one new report: “An eight-person jury was picked yesterday, and today the Apple v. Samsung damages re-trial swung into full steam, moving through opening statements and speeding through four witnesses.”

Steve Jobs was a smear on this planet and the fact that people were inspired by him was always truly worrisome. Jobs colluded with Microsoft at least twice in the past, liaising against arguably common threats like Netscape and Android/Linux. I wholeheartedly agreed with Stallman’s remarks about Steve Jobs when he made them. What he told me personally is a better explanation of why. I am planning to meet Stallman next Friday at Lincoln and hopefully this will give an opportunity to ask some more questions, then share the answers.

Richard Stallman Explains ‘Hacking’ to Judge

Posted in FSF at 2:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Richard Stallman
By NicoBZH from Saint Etienne

Summary: Richard Stallman writes a letter to Judge Preska, whose prosecution against (and demonisation of) Jeremy Hammond shows a common misunderstanding/misconception

ON A COUPLE of occasions last week (and on other occasions quite recently) we wrote about the Hammond trial [1, 2], which oddly enough had appointed as its judge the spouse of a Stratfor client. Here’s Richard Stallman’s letter, which was quoted by a news site [1] the other day:

Dear Judge Preska
I’ve been proud to call myself a hacker since 1971. That’s when I was
hired by the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab to join the team that
developed the lab’s operating systems — for which the unofficial job
title was “system hacker”. My subsequent hacking career has included
developing the GNU operating system, which is often erroneously called
“Linux”, and the legal hack of “copyleft” which uses copyright law to
ensure that all users of a program are free to redistribute it and
change it. I’ve received numerous awards and doctorates for my
hacking, and have been invited twice to publish articles in law

Being a hacker means practicing and enjoying playful cleverness. (See
stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html.) It does not particularly have
to do with breaking security. Indeed, no one ever broke security on
the AI lab’s system, because we decided not to implement any.

That decision, made by the original team members who became my
mentors, was not taken lightly: it was the result of careful political
and philosophical thought. Instead of keeping most users (those
without “privileges” — which already sounds like a prison) shackled
so that they could not hurt each other, we thought the lab members and
guest users could learn to get along as a community, choosing not to
hurt each other. And they did!

This example is not unusual for hackers. From the beginning, hackers’
taste for playful cleverness has often gone along with a sense of
social responsibility, concern for others’ well-being. Jeremy Hammond
is a fine example of a socially responsible hacker. He found a clever
way to expose the many nefarious deeds that Stratfor was planning and

People should not be allowed to enter others’ computers without
permission; but when punishing someone for virtual trespassing, we
ought to consider his motive. Those who trespass as part of a
nonviolent protest, either physically or virtually, should not receive
severe punishments. Those who act neither for gain nor for malice
should not receive severe punishments. Imagine where our country
would be if the civil rights and antiwar sit-ins had been punished by
years in prison! If we do not want the US to be like Putin’s Russia,
imposing long sentences on protesters, we must steer clear of doing
so. That applies to virtual protests as well as physical ones.

I therefore respectfully suggest that Hammond be sentenced to
community service. To make use of his skills and abilities, this
service could consist of helping nonprofit organizations protect their
personal data.
Richard Stallman
Lead developer of the GNU system (gnu.org)
President, Free Software Foundation (fsf.org)
MacArthur Fellow
Internet hall-of-famer (internethalloffame.org)

Stallman helped create what many of us call “Linux” now. He also fought for civil rights in the digital age, including privacy (see this article from October [2]). Thanks to GNU, which he founded 30 years ago, we now have Octave [3] (which I used a lot for work) and GCC (which a lot of companies use all the time). The latter project is still a leading example of GNU’s huge impact (see news in [4,5]) and despite Java’s advantages [6] GCC is walking away from it [7], probably due to Oracle’s behaviour.

Without GCC, where would C and C++ be today? It is rather sad that the biggest innovators are being characterised as criminals in the corporate media, whereas the biggest criminals are being portrayed as saints, heroes, and sometimes innovators too.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Here’s Richard Stallman’s letter to Stratfor hacker’s judge demanding lesser sentence

    Foundation president Richard Stallman tried to get Stratfor hacker Jeremy Hammond’s judge to only hand down a community service sentence. Hammond, instead, received 10 years in jail today.

    Stallman provided VentureBeat with his letter in full, which you can find below.

  2. GNU’s novel proposal: A cloud that puts privacy first

    As Richard Stallman’s GNU Project turns 30, the Free Software Foundation aims for a cloud that foils state-sponsored snooping

  3. GNU Octave – a Great Time Saver

    Finding the best way to process your data can be complicated. I recently became involved in a project where I needed to filter out data from an RF signal. Because I am not an RF designer with years of experience, I actually had to do a bit of reinventing the wheel. With a recording of data in hand, one option was to try and feed that data into a microcontroller, write up some test code, and then analyze the results. Another option was to use GNU Octave.

    GNU Octave is a MATLAB-type environment that allows for numerical simulation. Information about the history of GNU Octave can be found here. MATLAB is an interpreted language that is coupled with the program by the same name. The main difference between MATLAB and GNU Octave is that MATLAB costs many thousands of dollars, whereas GNU Octave is an open-source program.

  4. Intel Cilk Plus Support Continues For GCC
  5. GCC 4.9 Continues Piling On New Features
  6. Surprise! Java is fastest for server-side Web apps

    In benchmarks, Java-based frameworks enjoy a big performance lead

  7. GCC Looks To Turn Off Java, Replace With Go Or ADA

    GCC developers from multiple companies are beginning to reach agreement that it’s time for Java to be turned off by default in GCC. The Java compiler support in GCC is in the form of GCJ, but it doesn’t see much active development these days with more of the Java work happening in OpenJDK. Developers are looking to disable Java from the default GCC build process but to potentially replace it with the Go or ADA languages.


The Linux Foundation Emphasises Technical Aspects, Not Freedom

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux, Kernel at 3:53 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Linux alone is not enough for freedom


Summary: Analysis of some of the latest news about Linux, the world’s most widely used kernel

OWING TO (or due to) increasing corporate control over Linux, user-hostile mechanisms and “Trusted Computing” are being phased in, requiring user intervention [1]. This isn’t a new problem, just a continuation thereof. See, now that Linux development [2] takes centre stage [3,4] and a bug-free Linux is foreseen [5,6,7] (part of Torvalds’ vision [8,9] as of late, having moved from technical issues [10,11] to more strategic and managerial issues), there is more emphasis on quality (often referred to as pragmatism) and not much on freedom. Some more blobs are being added to Linux, making it less freedom-respecting than ever before. Linux-libre, whose mascot is Freedo (shown above), is trying to fight back against those blobs.

The Linux Foundation, run by corporations which make proprietary software for the most part, has an enormous influence over Linux [12,13,14] and unlike the FSF it has not much interest in freedom, just in practical benefits of the kernel (file systems and such [15,16,17,18,19]). Lennart Poettering keeps changing Linux in controversial ways [20] which make it to the core [21] and groups which include Microsoft are now entering the Linux Foundation’s sphere of influence [22,23]. Leaping ahead to Linux 4.x, development of 3.0 is already being neglected somewhat [24].

When talking about Linux always remember that technical merit — not freedom — is the top priority. It probably doesn’t bother so many people, but the fact remains that those who wish to maximise computing freedom should follow the FSF, not the Linux Foundation.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Disable “Trusted Computing” Chip in Linux!
  2. Tales from Linux Kernel 3.11 Development – The Kernel Column

    Jon Masters summarises the happenings in the Linux kernel community around the release of the 3.11-rc1 kernel

  3. September 2013 Linux Kernel News

    Linus Torvalds closed the 3.12 merge window when he released 3.12-rc1. tty layer and scalability improvements received a special mention in the release announcement. The tty layer cleanups lead to per-tty locking which will result in better performance on some work-loads.

  4. Linux Kernel News – October 2013
  5. Linux 4.0 may have only bug fixes, no new features

    Linux operating system creator Linus Torvalds has proposed that Linux 4.0, an upcoming release of the open-source software, should be dedicated to stability and bug fixing.

  6. Bug-Free Linux 4.0?

    Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, but Linux founder and “keeper of the flame”, Linus Torvalds, has put developers and the rest of the world on notice that a Linux 4.0 is coming sooner rather than later, “I don’t want us to get to the kinds of crazy numbers we had in the 2.x series, so at some point we’re going to cut over from 3.x to 4.x, just to keep the numbers small and easy to remember. We’re not there yet, but I would actually prefer to not go into the twenties, so I can see it happening in a year or so, and we’ll have 4.0 follow 3.19 or something like that,” said Linus Torvalds in the Linux kernel 3.12 announcement.

  7. Linus Torvalds seeks REDEMPTION for every coded SIN

    Linus Torvalds is going away this week. He’s not saying where he’s going, or why, but “the fact that I’ll be traveling with very bad internet connection next week” was enough for the lord of Linux to push version 3.12 of the kernel out the door on Sunday.

    Torvalds made the announcement that 3.12 is now with us on the Linux mailing list , saying “I didn’t really want to delay the release” despite “a number of driver reverts, and … an annoying auto-NUMA memory corruption fix series, but none of it was really worth delaying 3.12 for.”

  8. Video: Linus Torvalds, Where is Linux Going

    LinuxCon 2013 Europe was this week… and videos from it have started being published. Here’s a video with our favorite Linux leader about the future of the Linux kernel. Enjoy!

  9. 10 Best Quotes from Linus Torvalds’ Keynote at LinuxCon Europe

    Linux creator Linus Torvalds took the stage today at LinuxCon Europe in Edinburgh with Intel’s Chief Linux and Open Source Technologist Dirk Hohndel to discuss the present and future of Linux and answer questions from the community. They covered a range of topics including the upcoming 3.12 kernel release, the ideal characteristics of a kernel maintainer, the issues that keep Linus up at night, gaming on the Linux desktop, and more.

  10. How to run program or process on specific CPU cores on Linux
  11. How to set up web-based network traffic monitoring system on Linux
  12. Linux Foundation To Support The Development Of KVM Hypervisor

    The Linux Foundation has adopted Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) as one of its ‘Collaborative Projects’, to promote the development of the open source hypervisor KVM (kernel-based virtual machine).

  13. How the Linux Foundation is helping the auto industry shift to open source infotainment systems

    If you’re a Linux fan and a car enthusiast, then you might be a little jealous of Rudolf Streif’s job. As the director of embedded solutions for The Linux Foundation, Streif is in charge of helping to foster the adoption of Linux and open source in the automotive industry.

  14. Outreach Program for Women Seeks New Linux Kernel Interns
  15. Trying the “btrfs” file system

    There has been some urging for beta testers to try out “btrfs”. So I did. I tried it on one of my 13.1Beta1 installs. I would have tried it on two installs, except that the UEFI install had already given problems before I got to that point.

  16. Linux Default File-Caching Tune-up
  17. Linux 3.12 Kernel To Bring Faster File-Systems

    With the Linux 3.12 kernel due for release in several weeks time but all major changes behind us now, here are some file-system tests from this forthcoming kernel update. Tested Linux file-systems for this Phoronix article include EXT4, Btrfs, XFS, and F2FS. From these results, there are multiple instances of these file-systems running measurably faster than Linux 3.11.

  18. Linux 3.12 Kernel To Bring Faster File-Systems

    With the Linux 3.12 kernel due for release in several weeks time but all major changes behind us now, here are some file-system tests from this forthcoming kernel update. Tested Linux file-systems for this Phoronix article include EXT4, Btrfs, XFS, and F2FS. From these results, there are multiple instances of these file-systems running measurably faster than Linux 3.11.

  19. Btrfs Gets Performance Improvements In Linux 3.12

    We’re late into the Linux 3.12 merge window and other prominent file-systems were already updated but on Thursday evening the Btrfs updates for the 3.12 kernel were finally published. With the new Btrfs pull does come some notable changes for this next-generation Linux file-system.

    With the Btrfs pull request for the Linux 3.12 kernel merge window are a large number of fixes, performance improvements, and clean-ups.

  20. The Poetterisation of GNU/Linux

    I’ve found a disturbing trend in GNU/Linux, where largely unaccountable cliques of developers unilaterally decide to make fundamental changes to the way it works, based on highly subjective and arrogant assumptions, then forge ahead with little regard to those who actually use the software, much less the well-established principles upon which that OS was originally built. The long litany of examples includes Ubuntu Unity, Gnome Shell, KDE 4, the /usr partition, SELinux, PolicyKit, Systemd, udev and PulseAudio, to name a few.

  21. Systemd 207 Gets Many Bug-Fixes, Minor Additions

    Lennart Poettering has announced the release of systemd 207 and with it comes many changes.

  22. OpenDaylight SDN opens the curtains on its initial release

    The open-source, Software-Defined Networking project, OpenDaylight, is starting to reveal features in its first release.

  23. Linux Foundation announces Open Virtualization Alliance to push KVM

    Linux has become the 800 pound gorilla of the technology world. It is domination every single space it enters (including desktop where Chrome OS is gaining momentum).

  24. After 100 Point Releases, Linux 3.0 Is Being EOL’ed

    Greg Kroah-Hartman announced the release of Linux 3.0.100 on Sunday and with that he intends to end-of-life this long-term kernel series in the coming days.


The Free Software World Helps People Acquire/Regain Privacy

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 2:18 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

DarkMail Alliance

Summary: The “DarkMail Alliance” is announced and other options emerge as freedom- and privacy-respecting means of electronic communication

WITH the exception of some projects like Ubuntu, Free software tends to respect users’ privacy and if it doesn’t, then those users can modify the software to remove privacy-violating code (as some Ubuntu derivatives typically do). The NSA scandal received some special coverage in LinuxCon Europe [1] because it is very relevant to GNU/Linux users. There were attempts to put back doors in Linux.

The founder of the FSFE, who moved on to Kolab some years ago, is now using Switzerland’s unique privacy policies to offer users privacy-respecting and freedom-respecting E-mail [2]. He is not alone. There are several companies, including one of the PGP founder (original developer), which now use the demand for privacy-respecting E-mail to create secure alternatives [3,4] (“DarkMail Alliance”). A month from now in Manchester we’ll also have a CryptoParty with the FSFE, helping people configure their machines for improved privacy. My wife and I will be there for help.

The bottom line is, in this age of Microsoft collusion with the NSA we have some very strong arguments with which to persuade people to embrace Free/libre software. It is about human dignity, not just the ability to modify source code, dodge abusive monopolies, and of course save money. My wife, for example, happily uses KDE and Android, knowing that GNU/Linux is now only technically superior to the alternatives but also more respectful towards her human rights. Techrights was recently designed with emphasis on privacy and the next few posts will deal with privacy alone.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. “The Code Warrior” Confirmed to Discuss NSA and PRISM at LinuxCon Europe

    Today he is Chief Research Officer at F-Secure in Finland and a just-confirmed keynote speaker for LinuxCon/CloudOpen Europe taking place October 21-23, 2013 in Edinburgh. Hypponen will be talking about the biggest computer security story of the year, that of the NSA and PRISM, in a talk titled “Living in a Surveillance State.” He is also expected to talk about the role the Linux community can play in ensuring the security and privacy of the Internet and mobile devices.

  2. Kolab creates a privacy refugee camp in Switzerland
  3. Silent Circle and Lavabit launch “DarkMail Alliance” to thwart e-mail spying

    Silent Circle CTO: “What we’re getting rid of is SMTP.”

  4. Silent Circle, Lavabit unite for ‘Dark Mail’ encrypted email project

    Dark Mail will provide end-to-end encryption, including email metadata

  5. Manchester CryptoParty with FSFE

    Edward Snowden revelations of mass spying programmes such as PRISM and Tempora show that something needs to be done to protect our private online activities from the prying eyes of GCHQ and the NSA. There’s currently a great deal of interest surrounding these issues and as a result people are seeking to find tools which will help them protect and secure their email, instant messages and web browsing.

    This can be done, to an extent, through the use of encryption technology, so on 7th December, we’ll be teaming up with Free Software Foundation Europe to organise a Cryptoparty in Manchester.


British Prime Minister David Cameron Takes His War on Press Freedom Even Further, Japan Follows Suit

Posted in Asia, Europe, FSF at 7:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Shinzō Abe
Shinzō Abe (Japanese Prime Minister); Photo from G8 UK Presidency

Summary: Freedom of the press is under attack not just in the West but also in Japan, potentially affecting public scrutiny of corporations as well as governments

The ‘British Snowden’, an MI5 whistleblower who is not able to return to Britain safely (essentially a fugitive now), speaks about the new Snowden Web site [1]. I had the pleasure of speaking with her and she is very widely quoted by the media right now (except in the British media). See, here in the UK there is a war on the media [1, 2, 3] amid an EU blunder which jeopardises Britain’s status in the European Union [2]. It turns out that spying on your allies on behalf of some distant superpower (the United States) is not a good thing to do.

The Japanese Prime Minister and our own Prime Minister David Cameron have quite a lot in common now [3,4], having to deal with that ‘nuisance’ which is The Guardian [5] giving the population this thing called facts. There is a new bombshell about the extremely debt-saddled Japan and the NSA [6] (possibly spying on China and neighbours for distant world powers). In Japan, a former occupier and a vicious empire which slaughtered many people in neighbouring countries, the politicians are trying to gag the press using new laws [7].

“Standing up for Snowden is standing up for the rule of law, justice, and ethics.”Where do we go from here? Well, the Free Software Foundation takes action [8]. We need to defend the disclosure of all this information. Snowden’s leaks revealed (back in August) where trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money (or national debt to which they’re tied) are going [9] and these leaks also give a very strong challenge to US law, potentially banning some of the NSA’s current actions, which are already against the law anyway [10].

Standing up for Snowden is standing up for the rule of law, justice, and ethics. No more need people be barred from basic information about how public money is spent. Espionage is not “cool” and stabbing continental Europe in the back is not what British citizens would consider a policy that they can support. If the US uses Japan and other small countries (Korea for example) to weaken Indochina while also using the UK (and Sweden among others) to spy on Russia and the European Union, how does one justify unions? Unless we assume that all ethics and good values are derived from US culture we should rethink all these collusions among G8/NATO members.

If laws are being passed to ban freedom of the press (or seriously restrict it), then who is going to cover what Japanese companies and authorities hide from the public ahead of a cancer epidemic [11,12] or after BP barred the press from assessing the real impact of its long-lasting pollution [13]? It’s one thing to bar journalists from publishing what’s being labeled “state secrets”; using the same laws we may find people who publish corporate secrets (evidence of harm or misconduct) criminalised as well. Down the slippery slope we go.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Edward Snowden Website

    And here’s another aide mem­oire of the dis­clos­ures so far. The impact of these dis­clos­ures is global. Edward Snowden is simply the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern history.

  2. US Trojan horse: NSA scandal shows Europe would be better off without Britain

    “While leading politicians of other European countries and officers of the EU itself were keen to express their concern over the latest revelations of US spying on its allies – the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said that US secret services were ‘out of control’ – British Prime Minister David Cameron has only said that he thought that the EU statement on the matter was ‘good and sensible’ and that he agreed with it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Cameron ‘silently acquiesced” to the statement. At a press conference, Cameron refused to comment about the recent NSA revelations.

    “The muted British reaction to what is a truly outrageous scandal, is proof, if indeed any further proof were needed, of what Britain’s main role in the EU is: to act as a Trojan horse to defend and further the interests of the government of the United States of America.”

  3. David Cameron makes veiled threat to media over NSA and GCHQ leaks

    Prime minister alludes to courts and D notices and singles out the Guardian over coverage of Edward Snowden saga

  4. Britain’s Cameron says may act against newspapers over spy leaks
  5. Three degrees of separation: breaking down the NSA’s ‘hops’ surveillance method

    You don’t need to be talking to a terror suspect to have your communications data analysed by the NSA. The agency is allowed to travel “three hops” from its targets – who could be people who talk to people who talk to people who talk to you. Facebook, where the typical user has 190 friends, shows how three degrees of separation gets you to a network bigger than the population of Colorado. How many people are three “hops” from you?

  6. NSA asked Japan to tap regionwide fiber-optic cables in 2011

    The U.S. National Security Agency sought the Japanese government’s cooperation in 2011 over wiretapping fiber-optic cables carrying phone and Internet data across the Asia-Pacific region, but the request was rejected, sources said Saturday.

  7. Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

  8. FSF joins thousands in DC to tell NSA: “Stop Watching Us!”

    On Saturday, October 26, 2013, the FSF joined more than three thousand privacy advocates in Washington, DC to call for an end to mass surveillance conducted by the NSA.

  9. Snowden Reveals First Ever Public Disclosure Of Secret Black Budget Programs
  10. Legislation Unveiled to Bar NSA’s Bulk Phone Metadata Collection

    The legislation has support from Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, and from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and National Rifle Association. But the USA FREEDOM Act’s passage into law remains uncertain.

  11. Fukushima horse breeder braves high radiation levels to care for animals

    Despite the departure of all his neighbours and the unexplained deaths of some of his stock, Tokue Hosokawa refuses to budge

  12. A Quake Revives Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare
  13. BP’s ‘widespread human health crisis’

    Toxicologists ‘predicted with certainty’ that Gulf of Mexico residents and clean-up workers would become severely ill.


Richard Stallman: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand?

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux at 8:03 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights. To recover our freedom and restore democracy, we must reduce surveillance to the point where it is possible for whistleblowers of all kinds to talk with journalists without being spotted. To do this reliably, we must reduce the surveillance capacity of the systems we use.

Using free/libre software, as I’ve advocated for 30 years, is the first step in taking control of our digital lives. We can’t trust nonfree software; the NSA uses and even creates security weaknesses in nonfree software so as to invade our own computers and routers. Free software gives us control of our own computers, but that won’t protect our privacy once we set foot on the Internet.

“Thanks to Edward Snowden’s disclosures, we know that the current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights.”Bipartisan legislation to “curtail the domestic surveillance powers” in the U.S. is being drawn up, but it relies on limiting the government’s use of our virtual dossiers. That won’t suffice to protect whistleblowers if “catching the whistleblower” is grounds for access sufficient to identify him or her. We need to go further.

Thanks to Edward Snowden’s disclosures, we know that the current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights. The repeated harassment and prosecution of dissidents, sources, and journalists provides confirmation. We need to reduce the level of general surveillance, but how far? Where exactly is the maximum tolerable level of surveillance, beyond which it becomes oppressive? That happens when surveillance interferes with the functioning of democracy: when whistleblowers (such as Snowden) are likely to be caught.

Don’t Agree We Need to Reduce Surveillance? Then Read This Section First

If whistleblowers don’t dare reveal crimes and lies, we lose the last shred of effective control over our government and institutions. That’s why surveillance that enables the state to find out who has talked with a reporter is too much surveillance—too much for democracy to endure.

“Opposition and dissident activities need to keep secrets from states that are willing to play dirty tricks on them.”An unnamed U.S. government official ominously told journalists in 2011 that the U.S. would not subpoena reporters because “We know who you’re talking to.” Sometimes journalists’ phone call records are subpoenaed to find this out, but Snowden has shown us that in effect they subpoena all the phone call records of everyone in the U.S., all the time.

Opposition and dissident activities need to keep secrets from states that are willing to play dirty tricks on them. The ACLU has demonstrated the U.S. government’s systematic practice of infiltrating peaceful dissident groups on the pretext that there might be terrorists among them. The point at which surveillance is too much is the point at which the state can find who spoke to a known journalist or a known dissident.

Information, Once Collected, Will Be Misused

When people recognize that the level of general surveillance is too high, the first response is to propose limits on access to the accumulated data. That sounds nice, but it won’t fix the problem, not even slightly, even supposing that the government obeys the rules. (The NSA has misled the FISA court, which said it was unable to effectively hold the NSA accountable.) Suspicion of a crime will be grounds for access, so once a whistleblower is accused of “espionage,” finding the “spy” will provide an excuse to access the accumulated material.

“Surveillance data will always be used for other purposes, even if this is prohibited.”The state’s surveillance staff will misuse the data for personal reasons too. Some NSA agents used U.S. surveillance systems to track their lovers—past, present, or wished-for—in a practice called “LoveINT.” The NSA says it has caught and punished this a few times; we don’t know how many other times it wasn’t caught. But these events shouldn’t surprise us, because police have long used their access to driver’s license records to track down someone
, a practice known as “running a plate for a date.”

Surveillance data will always be used for other purposes, even if this is prohibited. Once the data has been accumulated and the state has the possibility of access to it, it may misuse that data in dreadful ways.

Total surveillance plus vague law provides an opening for a massive fishing expedition against any desired target. To make journalism and democracy safe, we must limit the accumulation of data that is easily accessible to the state.

Robust Protection for Privacy Must Be Technical

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations propose a set of legal principles designed to prevent the abuses of massive surveillance. These principles include, crucially, explicit legal protection for whistleblowers; as a consequence, they would be adequate for protecting democratic freedoms—if adopted completely and enforced without exception forever.

However, such legal protections are precarious: as recent history shows, they can be repealed (as in the FISA Amendments Act), suspended, or ignored.

“If we don’t want a total surveillance society, we must consider surveillance a kind of social pollution, and limit the surveillance impact of each new digital system just as we limit the environmental impact of physical construction.”Meanwhile, demagogues will cite the usual excuses as grounds for total surveillance; any terrorist attack, even one that kills just a handful of people, will give them an opportunity.

If limits on access to the data are set aside, it will be as if they had never existed: years worth of dossiers would suddenly become available for misuse by the state and its agents and, if collected by companies, for their private misuse as well. If, however, we stop the collection of dossiers on everyone, those dossiers won’t exist, and there will be no way to compile them retroactively. A new illiberal regime would have to implement surveillance afresh, and it would only collect data starting at that date. As for suspending or momentarily ignoring this law, the idea would hardly make sense.

We Must Design Every System for Privacy

If we don’t want a total surveillance society, we must consider surveillance a kind of social pollution, and limit the surveillance impact of each new digital system just as we limit the environmental impact of physical construction.

For example: “Smart” meters for electricity are touted for sending the power company moment-by-moment data about each customer’s electric usage, including how usage compares with users in general. This is implemented based on general surveillance, but does not require any surveillance. It would be easy for the power company to calculate the average usage in a residential neighborhood by dividing the total usage by the number of subscribers, and send that to the meters. Each customer’s meter could compare her usage, over any desired period of time, with the average usage pattern for that period. The same benefit, with no surveillance!

We need to design such privacy into all our digital systems.

Remedy for Collecting Data: Leaving It Dispersed

One way to make monitoring safe for privacy is to keep the data dispersed and inconvenient to access. Old-fashioned security cameras were no threat to privacy. The recording was stored on the premises, and kept for a few weeks at most. Because of the inconvenience of accessing these recordings, it was never done massively; they were accessed only in the places where someone reported a crime. It would not be feasible to physically collect millions of tapes every day and watch them or copy them.

“To restore privacy, we should ban the use of Internet-connected cameras aimed where and when the public is admitted, except when carried by people.”Nowadays, security cameras have become surveillance cameras: they are connected to the Internet so recordings can be collected in a data center and saved forever. This is already dangerous, but it is going to get worse. Advances in face recognition may bring the day when suspected journalists can be tracked on the street all the time to see who they talk with.

Internet-connected cameras often have lousy digital security themselves, so anyone could watch what the camera sees. To restore privacy, we should ban the use of Internet-connected cameras aimed where and when the public is admitted, except when carried by people. Everyone must be free to post photos and video recordings occasionally, but the systematic accumulation of such data on the Internet must be limited.

Remedy for Internet Commerce Surveillance

Most data collection comes from people’s own digital activities. Usually the data is collected first by companies. But when it comes to the threat to privacy and democracy, it makes no difference whether surveillance is done directly by the state or farmed out to a business, because the data that the companies collect is systematically available to the state.

The NSA, through PRISM, has gotten into the databases of many large Internet corporations. AT&T has saved all its phone call records since 1987 and makes them available to the DEA to search on request. Strictly speaking, the U.S. government does not possess that data, but in practical terms it may as well possess it.

“Purchases over the Internet also track their users.”The goal of making journalism and democracy safe therefore requires that we reduce the data collected about people by any organization, not just by the state. We must redesign digital systems so that they do not accumulate data about their users. If they need digital data about our transactions, they should not be allowed to keep them more than a short time beyond what is inherently necessary for their dealings with us.

One of the motives for the current level of surveillance of the Internet is that sites are financed through advertising based on tracking users’ activities and propensities. This converts a mere annoyance—advertising that we can learn to ignore—into a surveillance system that harms us whether we know it or not. Purchases over the Internet also track their users. And we are all aware that “privacy policies” are more excuses to violate privacy than commitments to uphold it.

We could correct both problems by adopting a system of anonymous payments—anonymous for the payer, that is. (We don’t want the payee to dodge taxes.) Bitcoin is not anonymous, but technology for digital cash was first developed 25 years ago; we need only suitable business arrangements, and for the state not to obstruct them.

A further threat from sites’ collection of personal data is that security breakers might get in, take it, and misuse it. This includes customers’ credit card details. An anonymous payment system would end this danger: a security hole in the site can’t hurt you if the site knows nothing about you.

Remedy for Travel Surveillance

We must convert digital toll collection to anonymous payment (using digital cash, for instance). License-plate recognition systems recognize all license plates, and the data can be kept indefinitely; they should be required by law to notice and record only those license numbers that are on a list of cars sought by court orders. A less secure alternative would record all cars locally but only for a few days, and not make the full data available over the Internet; access to the data should be limited to searching for a list of court-ordered license-numbers.

The U.S. “no-fly” list must be abolished because it is punishment without trial.

“The U.S. “no-fly” list must be abolished because it is punishment without trial.”It is acceptable to have a list of people whose person and luggage will be searched with extra care, and anonymous passengers on domestic flights could be treated as if they were on this list. It is also acceptable to bar non-citizens, if they are not permitted to enter the country at all, from boarding flights to the country. This ought to be enough for all legitimate purposes.

Many mass transit systems use some kind of smart cards or RFIDs for payment. These systems accumulate personal data: if you once make the mistake of paying with anything but cash, they associate the card permanently with your name. Furthermore, they record all travel associated with each card. Together they amount to massive surveillance. This data collection must be reduced.

“Internet service providers and telephone companies keep extensive data on their users’ contacts (browsing, phone calls, etc).”Navigation services do surveillance: the user’s computer tells the map service the user’s location and where the user wants to go; then the server determines the route and sends it back to the user’s computer, which displays it. Nowadays, the server probably records the user’s locations, since there is nothing to prevent it. This surveillance is not inherently necessary, and redesign could avoid it: free/libre software in the user’s computer could download map data for the pertinent regions (if not downloaded previously), compute the route, and display it, without ever telling anyone where the user is or wants to go.

Systems for borrowing bicycles, etc., can be designed so that the borrower’s identity is known only inside the station where the item was borrowed. Borrowing would inform all stations that the item is “out,” so when the user returns it at any station (in general, a different one), that station will know where and when that item was borrowed. It will inform the other station that the item is no longer “out.” It will also calculate the user’s bill, and send it (after waiting some random number of minutes) to headquarters along a ring of stations, so that headquarters would not find out which station the bill came from. Once this is done, the return station would forget all about the transaction. If an item remains “out” for too long, the station where it was borrowed can inform headquarters; in that case, it could send the borrower’s identity immediately.

Remedy for Communications Dossiers

Internet service providers and telephone companies keep extensive data on their users’ contacts (browsing, phone calls, etc). With mobile phones, they also record the user’s physical location. They keep these dossiers for a long time: over 30 years, in the case of AT&T. Soon they will even record the user’s body activities. It appears that the NSA collects cell phone location data in bulk.

Unmonitored communication is impossible where systems create such dossiers. So it should be illegal to create or keep them. ISPs and phone companies must not be allowed to keep this information for very long, in the absence of a court order to surveil a certain party.

This solution is not entirely satisfactory, because it won’t physically stop the government from collecting all the information immediately as it is generated—which is what the U.S. does with some or all phone companies. We would have to rely on prohibiting that by law. However, that would be better than the current situation, where the relevant law (the PATRIOT Act) does not clearly prohibit the practice. In addition, if the government did resume this sort of surveillance, it would not get data about everyone’s phone calls made prior to that time.

But Some Surveillance Is Necessary

For the state to find criminals, it needs to be able to investigate specific crimes, or specific suspected planned crimes, under a court order. With the Internet, the power to tap phone conversations would naturally extend to the power to tap Internet connections. This power is easy to abuse for political reasons, but it is also necessary. Fortunately, this won’t make it possible to find whistleblowers after the fact.

Individuals with special state-granted power, such as police, forfeit their right to privacy and must be monitored. (In fact, police have their own jargon term for perjury, “testilying,” since they do it so frequently, particularly about protesters and photographers.) One city in California that required police to wear video cameras all the time found their use of force fell by 60%. The ACLU is in favor of this.

“…journalism must be protected from surveillance even when it is carried out as part of a business.”Corporations are not people, and not entitled to human rights. It is legitimate to require businesses to publish the details of processes that might cause chemical, biological, nuclear, fiscal, computational (e.g., DRM) or political (e.g., lobbying) hazards to society, to whatever level is needed for public well-being. The danger of these operations (consider the BP oil spill, the Fukushima meltdowns, and the 2008 fiscal crisis) dwarfs that of terrorism.

However, journalism must be protected from surveillance even when it is carried out as part of a business.

Digital technology has brought about a tremendous increase in the level of surveillance of our movements, actions, and communications. It is far more than we experienced in the 1990s, and far more than people behind the Iron Curtain experienced in the 1980s, and would still be far more even with additional legal limits on state use of the accumulated data.

Unless we believe that our free countries previously suffered from a grave surveillance deficit, and ought to be surveilled more than the Soviet Union and East Germany were, we must reverse this increase. That requires stopping the accumulation of big data about people.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

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