PGTS Humble Blog
Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering
|When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.|
'Tis The Season For Tech Fails
Chronogical Blog Entries:
Date: Fri, 25 Dec 2015 22:39:40 +1100
Your humble blogger wishes you a Happy Christmas. And offers more humble fare from his most humble keyboard.
There seems to have been quite a bit written about tech fails at the end of 2015.
For example, Farhad Manjoo has a regular column in the New York Time Bits section. On December 23, his column titled "For the New Year, Let's Resolve to Improve Our Tech Literacy", proclaimed that the most obvious "Tech" story for 2015 was the general failure to understand it. According to Farhad, US politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials and the media were chief among those who failed to come to grips with digital technology.
Farhad's article was mainly concerned with celebrities and the public sectors in the USA ... He cited the following examples:
Law enforcement authorities and both major presidential candidates demonstrated their ignorance of how social media and the Internet work in general and how terrorists use them in particular when they called for half-baked, lame-brained contingencies such as shutting down portions of the Internet in order to deal with "Terrorism".
Disruptive digital entities such as Uber and Airbnb were met with resistance by workers and public officials. In response, legislators and politicians in US cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco attempted to rein in these App-driven services and curb their growth. However their efforts to do so were comprehensively rejected by voters and consumers who welcomed the flexibility and convenience of such services.
US regulators failed to anticipate that a testing regime that depended on firmware provided by the manufacturer whose product was undergoing testing could be gamed. It was only after independent testing by a US university that it was realised that there were serious anomalies in the emissions testing data for popular turbo-charged diesel engines (aka: The Volkswagen Scandal).
An army of bloggers and activists armed with smartphones forced mainstream media to start covering police abuse of (esp) minority groups in the USA.
Media pundits who confidently predicted the demise of Donald Trump were continually foiled by his team's apparent mastery of Twitter and Instagram.
All of which your blogger heartily endorses. Well done Mr. Mangoo! Although as far as Donald Trump goes, your blogger might offer his own humble opinion that Mr. Trump might yet discover, in 2016, that those who live by the sword often die by the sword ... And the past year does demonstrate that social media can be a double-edged sword!
Also, in your blogger's humble opinion, we should not let the private sector off too lightly for their performance in 2015. There were several corporate tech fails and military SNAFUs this year, many of them involving technology based entities, who should have known better. Among them:
Ashley Madison - Life is short - Get pwned.. When one considers the nature of the Ashley Madison Agency and the services they purported to offer, the lack of security is breath-taking. Not only did they fail comprehensively to protect mission critical confidential data, they betrayed their clients' trust and to top it off they seriously mis-managed the PR disaster that followed in the wake of the security breach. Just when the management of the company might have been thinking that it couldn't possibly get worse, Gizmodo's Annalee Newitz published an analysis which she claimed proved that the size of the female client base was orders of magnitude smaller than what Ashley Madison claimed it was. This was particularly damaging in light of prior and concurrent claims by many (including the hackers) that Ashley Madison used fake accounts and bots to auto-answer communications from hopeful male clients in order to extract fees for premium services. The overall effect of this was catastrophic for the value of the company (not to mention consumer confidence in their product).
Windows 10 update push - What could possibly go wrong? In case you needed reminding, Microsoft's baneful record includes: The Windows 95 fail (although not widely recognised at the time, arguably the worst tech fail ever), the code red debacle, the blue screen of death, the Xbox red ring of death, Vista and Windows 8 (to mention only the most notorious). So it seems remarkable that the sales and marketing apparatchiks in Redmond still don't appreciate the difference between beta testing and product launch. Nevertheless Microsoft decided to let aspirational sales goals rather than common sense and customer service dictate the tactics of the Windows 10 deployment. After a successful roll-out of the first beta, they decided to aggressively push the premature W10 upgrade via the updates channel on the installed 64-bit base. Many members of the mooing Microsoft herd were unduly excited, disturbed and then panicked and finally enraged about what happened to their installations when they clicked the "update" button without first carefully reading all the disclaimers and fine print. Admittedly today's social media generation are easily enraged and Microsoft have since made amends ... But it is extraordinary that after such inauspicious prior form, they thought it was a good idea in the first place. Obviously they have not learned from the W8 fiasco that it's better for overall "good will" if you gently cajole your customers into loving you or at least learning to live with you rather than forcing your intentions upon them. Microsoft have once again demonstrated to bemused onlookers how a corporate giant might snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory. (Will the next patch be called Windows 12?)
There were several other tech failures mentioned online: hover-boards that didn't actually hover but would halt and catch fire ... Other devices that might over-heat and catch fire. And a stylus that would permanently disable expensive digital devices if put back the wrong way up. All of these could probably have been avoided with a bit more good old-fashioned quality control. But none of these were as egregious and deadly as the failures which lead to the US airforce attacking an MSF hospital in Kunduz. A report released in November, attributed the failure to human error. But the report also cited significant technical failures that contributed to the tragedy. These were equipment malfunctions and network and communications failures. (For more information, google: kunduz hospital airstrike investigation)
Such was the landscape in (American) social media. And the things that we all talk about online.
In Australia we have our own tech fails that are peculiar to our sunburnt political arena and the great distance electrons must travel to get to the antipodean regions of the world.
On October 13, The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 took effect. And it seems to have taken effect very quietly and inoffensively and disappeared completely from the public radar. Now dear reader, your blogger realises that your attention span might be rather short (or nonexistent?) when it comes to issues such as the retention of metadata, especially if you, like our Attorney-General are not really sure what metadata is.
So here is a brief summary so far.
The germ of the original idea has floated around in political circles for decades. But this current incarnation took seed in 2014, when two leading Liberal dimbulbs, Messrs Abbott and Brandis demonstrated deep and profound ignorance in their public pronouncements about the Internet in general and metadata in particular. Such a hair-brained scheme was bound to attract the support of the influential right wing of the party, who as far back as 2003 had supported legislation that banned pornography on the Internet ... Now this may come as a surprise to you dear reader. You may not realise that the Howard Liberal government banned Internet pornography that long ago. And your blogger must say it is a jolly good thing that they did ... <sarcasm> Just imagine how serious the problem might be today if they hadn't banned it ! </sarcasm> ... The legislation was passed and then left to rot on the vine ... Which it did, slowly atrophying into legislative cruft until it was harvested by Labor Senator Conroy who wished to distill it for his ill-advised Internet Filter in 2008. He stuck with the proposal doggedly until it unravelled in 2012.
Now it might be that Mr. Turnbull would rather not take on the right-wing of his party over this issue, or perhaps he hopes that this legislation will just rot in the back paddocks like its predecessor in 2003.
An interesting test for the new legislation will come if communications authorities try to enforce it, when some ISPs fail to meet their obligations.
Your blogger has blogged about this in the past. Here again is a brief summary of some objections to this legislation:
There is a cost for compliance. The cost is more burdensome for smaller ISPs. It is likely that this might drive some of these smaller entities out of the market and increase the trend we can already see, that seems to be towards consolidation into an oligopoly comprised of a few large ISPs. It will disadvantage local ISPs and, of course, (if strictly enforced) drive up the cost of Internet services in Australia.
The data would be an attractive target for unauthorised users who wish to misuse it for nefarious purposes or privileged users who might abuse it for personal, political purposes or commercial gain. There is also nothing about Australia that makes your humble blogger confident that telecommunications and law enforcement will do any better at protecting confidential information than Ashley Madison did.
It is a slippery slope. The history of such attempts at mass surveillance is damning. The most most likely (official) use of such data is that of silencing and/or intimidating political opponents ... Most often those who oppose the very same unreasonable powers of surveillance used to gather the information in the first place.
It could have a chilling effect on free-speech. There has been a lot of recent legislation with draconian provisions, prohibiting discussion of topics such as refugees (esp the inhuman treatment of them), often these prohibitions have been justified with the dubious claims of "National Security" and/or "Commercial in Confidence". Metadata retention laws if strictly and universally applied, could be used to pursue whistle-blowers and journalists, a pursuit that would be near and dear to (some of) our political masters' firmly held convictions ... And not in the public interest. There is a serious danger of a chilling effect ... Unless of course the whistle-blowers happened to be young and tech-savvy and they only communicate with young tech savvy journos (see below)
It could be easy to circumvent. For those who are motivated and have the necessary technical skills, it is fairly easy to instigate counter-measures. This might be true for whistle-blowers and journalists but it would also be especially true for young tech savvy would-be jihadists ... Who we are told this legislation will protect us from. ... This contradicts the arguments put forward by proponents of this legislation, who cite Islamist terrorism as their primary justification.
This issue may have slipped off the public radar for the time being, but your humble blogger hopes that it can get back onto the public agenda in time for the upcoming election. The fantasy of controlling and regulating the Internet is a long sad history of tech fails, wasted time, wasted resources and unintended consequences. And there are some sections of society who just will not let it lie. Having failed to convince us about the need for such measures to stop child pornography, the argument now is that they will "stop terrorism" ... Which is simply not true. The metadata retention bill may stop many things but terrorism is not one of them.
This bill is in fact the same old shambling monstrosity freshly arisen from its grave. It is time for us to put garlic in its mouth, decapitated it with a ceremonial sword, put it back into its coffin, hammering a stake through its rotten heart and nailing the lid firmly shut with silver-plated nails dipped in holy water ... And if we succeed in burying it again, we must resolve to bury it very deep this time ... So deep that some future pack of right wing drongos do not dig the bloody undead corpse up again and attempt to revive it.