Russia is using typewriters to prevent leaks

The Telegraph’s Chris Irvine reports that the Russian Federal Guard Service, in charge of protecting secret communications and President Vladmir Putin, is increasing its use of typewriters in order to prevent the kinds of leaks that Edward Snowden brought to light last month:

The FSO is looking to spend 486,000 roubles – around £10,000 – on a number of electric typewriters, according to the site of state procurement agency, zakupki.gov.ru. The notice included ribbons for German-made Triumph Adlew TWEN 180 typewriters, although it was not clear if the typewriters themselves were this kind.

[…]

Unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it.

[…]

Nikolai Kovalev, the former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told Izvestiya: “From the point of view of security, any means of electronic communication is vulnerable. You can remove any information from a computer. There are means of defence, of course, but there’s no 100 per cent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of preserving secrets the most primitive methods are preferable: a person’s hand and a pen, or a typewriter.”

The Economist’s perfect critique of America’s hypocrisy

Ever notice how we start wars in order to “promote democracy” abroad, then use secret courts to limit those same freedoms at home?

All this somehow got me thinking of the doctrine of “democracy promotion”, which was developed under George W. Bush and maintained more or less by Barack Obama. The doctrine is generally presented as half-idealism, half-practicality. That all the people of the Earth, by dint of common humanity, are entitled to the protections of democracy is an inspiring principle. However, its foreign-policy implications are not really so clear. To those of us who are sceptical that America has the authority to intervene whenever and wherever there are thwarted democratic rights, the advocates of democracy-promotion offer a more businesslike proposition. It is said that authoritarianism, especially theocratic Islamic authoritarianism, breeds anti-American terrorism, and that swamp-draining democracy-promotion abroad is therefore a priority of American national security. If you don’t wish to asphyxiate on poison gas in a subway, or lose your legs to detonating pressure-cookers at a road-race, it is in your interest to support American interventions on behalf of democracy across the globe. So the story goes.

However, the unstated story goes, it is equally important that American democracy not get out of hand. If you don’t want your flight to La Guardia to end in a ball of fire, or your local federal building to be razed by a cataclysm of exploding fertiliser, you will need to countenance secret courts applying in secret its own secret interpretation of hastily-drawn, barely-debated emergency security measures, and to persecute with the full force of the world’s dominant violent power any who dare afford a glimpse behind the veil.

Go read the whole article. It’s the single best piece of writing that’s come out of the NSA scandal.

No, we don’t live in ‘1984’

Sorry, We’re Not Living in Orwell’s ‘1984’:

The information leaked by Snowden should cause alarm as should the loose legal oversight governing the NSA’s massive data-mining campaign. Nevertheless, the invocations of Orwell are not unlike Bush-era claims of an emerging strain of American fascism, or the Tea Party’s frequent panting that Obama is indistinguishable from Fidel Castro. A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984.

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In his 1941 essay “England Your England,” Orwell took pains to highlight this distinction. While identifying the United Kingdom’s numerous “barbarities and anachronisms”—and even declaring the country not a “genuine democracy”—he argued that these defects meant that ideas like “democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism” were colossally wrong, employing fallacious “arguments [that] boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.”

Yes, the NSA is collecting a lot of data about our communications. That doesn’t mean we live under a totalitarian state. To claim that we do is overly reactionary and keeps us from looking at realistic reforms.

Why There Will Be More Edward Snowdens

Cyrus Nemadi’s “open letter” to the NSA:

Now, what happens when you raise a generation on a steady diet of data, and then try to keep naughty secrets? They’re going to ask questions. They grew up in a world where information was free, and they took advantage of that fact. They learned more about the world around them than could ever be learned in school, and they went online for the answers to the questions their parents and teachers wouldn’t answer. They grew up not just appreciating that information was free, but expecting information to be free.

It gets worse. Not only are you hiring millennials, for whom secrecy is anathema—you’re hiring millennial hackers. And hacking, as you well know, means finding ways of turning technology to serve a purpose other than its intended one. When information isn’t free, these people have the ability and the will to free it.

So the very people whom the NSA (and other top-secret agencies) have to rely upon to conduct their work are the very people who — at least in this generation — are also more likely to divulge the information they gain access to.

Let’s face it: This isn’t going to be the last time your secrets are aired to the public. It’s probably not even going to be the last time this year that your secrets are aired to the public by another Edward Snowden, because you’ve got countless Edward Snowdens on your payroll whose first—not last—instinct is to blow open your information infrastructure.

Maybe that’s why websites like this exist.

Americans really don’t care about privacy

Majority Views NSA Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-terror Tactic:

A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable. And while the public is more evenly divided over the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism, these views are largely unchanged since 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Think of all the people you know who have said “I’m alright with it, I have nothing to hide,” or “Are you really surprised that the NSA was doing this?”

That’s how most people think about their privacy nowadays.