|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] linux survalience and networking
Treating Surveillance as Damage and Routing Around It
Posted: Aug 30, 2013
Even as the U.S. security state becomes more closed, centralized and
brittle in the face of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks,
civil society and the public are responding to the post-Snowden
repression by becoming more dispersed and resilient.
That’s how networks always respond to censorship and surveillance.
Each new attempt at a file-sharing service, after Napster was shut down
— Kazaa, Kazaa lite, eDonkey, eMule, The Pirate Bay — was less
dependent on central servers and other vulnerable nodes than the one
before it. Wikileaks responded the same way to U.S. government attempts
to shut it down: Besides being hosted on backup servers around the world
— some in countries less than friendly to the U.S. government —
it responded to seizure of its domain name by publicizing its numeric IP
address. Thousands of Wikileaks supporters around the world published
its IP address or mirrored the site. One Wikileaks mirror site is hosted
by Center for a Stateless Society, the think tank that pays me to write
The Firefox Browser, in response to both U.S. government administrative
seizures of so-called “pirate site” domains, and to proposed
legislation that would generalize the practice, created plug-ins that
would automatically direct users to the IP address of any website whose
domain name had been shut down.
Networks, as the saying goes, treat censorship as damage and route
around it. And the same is true of surveillance.
This is brilliantly illustrated by the public response to the Edward
Snowden story. In the period after Snowden exposed the NSA’s
domestic surveillance of American email, the daily adoption rate for PGP
(Pretty Good Privacy) email encryption tripled.
But aside from the mainstreaming of encryption which always follows
prominent news stories about state surveillance, those with a
professional interest in thwarting government eavesdroppers have —
as you might expect — adopted encryption at a much higher rate.
Australian Crypto Party founder Asher Wolf noted, “those who want to
break the law have already probably learnt cryptography.” That’s
true not only of ordinary criminals and terrorists, but of dissidents,
activists and whistleblowers of all kinds.
Snowden can probably thank the fact that he became the object of a
manhunt only after The Guardian printed the leaked documents, and not
before, to his use of the TOR’s anonymizing power. Wikileaks
reportedly uses TOR to protect whistleblowers. And of course it’s
widely used by traffickers in drugs, arms and pornography.
It’s since come out that the FBI has targeted TOR with malware to
expose the identity of its users. But if you look more closely, it only
bears out the general point. First of all, the malware was aimed at
Firefox’s TOR browser bundle — not “the onion router”
itself. It targeted earlier versions that were replaced by secure
versions in July. Further, it was targeted at users of the Windows
Now, people whose living — or life! — depends on evading
surveillance usually aren’t all that stupid. They respond to stuff.
The Linux operating system, which was immune to the FBI’s anti-TOR
malware, is used by a fairly small share of the population. But it was
already in use by a disproportionately large share of anarchists and
other activists, and of the kind of information freedom geeks who tend
to support leaking on principle. And this latest news is likely to drive
new adoption. Likewise, dissidents and activists who value secrecy are
apt to respond by shifting to versions of TOR that are more secure.
This is yet another example of a broader rule: The superior agility and
resilience of networks compared to authoritarian hierarchies, and the
ability of freely cooperating individuals to devise new ways of evading
surveillance and control faster than authoritarian institutions can
devise ways of controlling us.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society
and holds the Center's Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a
mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes
Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A
Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A
Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online.