proxiesTag Archives

Update on the USA Freedom Act

The USA Freedom act was approved by the House Judiciary Committee at the end of April, 2015.  There is a hope and indeed many human rights organisation have stated that the Act should be passed as soon as possible to stop the collection of bulk communications data, the expanse of surveillance and improve transparency of the US intelligence services.

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The USA Freedom Act is designed to stop the domestic bulk collection of both communication and phone records.    Over the last few months and largely thanks to Edward Snowden, the US government has been collecting millions of phone records of innocent civilians justified by a very loose interpretation of the USA Patriot Act (section 215 specifically).

It’s not a complete solution but merely a first step towards reining in the huge surveillance program that is currently in place in the USA.   the mass violations of people’s privacy may have continued without our knowledge if it wasn’t for the revelations of Edward Snowden which began now nearly 2 years ago.   There are still many areas of concern for human rights, which the USA Freedom Act doesn’t begin to address, at least there will be a statutory foundation for future reforms.

Human Rights Watch spokespeople urged the Act to be passed as soon as possible, without any modifications which would weaken it’s protection.    The situation is further complicated by the fact that section 215 of the USA PAtriot Act is set to expire on June 1st 2015, but it is expected without the Freedom Act that the Patriot Act would be extended without implementing any further privacy provisions.

There are of course concerns that the bill won’t be passed at all, in fact several versions of the Freedom act have been introduced and debated heavily in Congress.  Most of these happened in 2014 and they were not enacted, fortunately most of the key reforms involved in the 2014 Act have been carried over to the 2015 version.

Section 215 gives intelligence authorities the power to acquire data and records which could be relevant to an investigation.  This is of course a very loose definition and is subject to huge variations in interpretation.  Imagine that someone uses a VPN to encrypt their connection or simply to watch something like Hulu or the BBC iPlayer like this system – http://iplayerusa.org/index.php/proxy-to-access-bbc-iplayer-abroad/. This example could use by the agencies to investigate the encryption involved in using these tools, or simply include the records because they are being actively hidden. Millions of innocent people use these tools every day, are they relevant to such investigations because of this.

The Act strengthens these requirements, so that wholesale mass collection becomes much more difficult. The idea is that a specific selection term must be defined – that is a term which identifies a specific account or personal device which is deemed to be linked with some sort of terrorism or criminal activity.

Further Information: Source

VPN Services Purged by Chinese

China is blocking VPN services that let users evade on-line censorship of popular sites such as Facebook and Google amid a broader crack down on on-line advice, specialists and technology businesses said.

The virtual private network supplier Golden Frog wrote on its website the managements have hit a broad swath of VPN services. The favorite supplier Astrill told its users that its VPN protocols for Apple cellular devices to access services like Gmail have been blocked.   It’s been happening for years, but in some instances the Chinese have turned a blind eye to many of these services particularly the basic ones.  But last year there was a significant escalation with even the onion-routed service, TOR being targeted with specific nodes being blocked and also the commercial Smart DNS services like this.

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The Chinese government blocks tens of thousands of sites to prevent from reaching Chinese users what it deems politically sensitive info. VPNs reroute and encrypt Internet traffic in order that censors can not tell what is being obtained.

“This week’s assault on VPNs that changed its citizens and other VPN suppliers is more complex than that which we have found previously.”

For controlling the Internet, the Chinese government’s bureau didn’t promptly react to questions.

China-based entrepreneur Richard Robinson said the managements have especially hurt small- and medium-sized foreign businesses that depend on VPNs. Many bigger businesses can afford direct connections to servers outside the state, he said.

Over the previous weeks, Chinese censors have blocked what staying access there’s to Gmail and other Google products. Google services limited or have been occasionally blocked since 2010 when the firm said it would no longer collaborate with the censors in China.

“These smaller companies, they are dependent on Gmail,” Robinson said.

“That to me is a really definitely associated fact together with the quantity of political gossips and data related to China’s high politics showing up in sites beyond China.”

Additional Resources

http://thenewproxies.com/british-ip-address/

http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/

US Racial Discrimination Still a Problem

Most Americans say racial and ethnic discrimination is “a huge issue” in America and many consider the nation’s race relations have gotten worse under President Barack Obama, based on another survey.  It is disturbing considering this was expected to be one of the President’s primary goals during his time in office.  In fact it is actually quite difficult to find any significant sector of society who believes that there has been any improvement in both racial and ethnic discrimination during the last decade.

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African American respondents were almost equally split on the question while whites were most prone to say things had gotten worse. Latinos were more likely than whites hadn’t changed since Obama was elected president.

The same was said by somewhat less than half.

There are of course lots of other issues that can effect  these findings, including any significant events happening around the time of the surveys.  These will always have a huge impact on results and can seriously skew data.  It is also worth remembering that the last decade has brought even more developments in communication like social media.  People communicate on a global level now, particularly with Smart DNS tools like this –  anyone can watch the news or media in any country they like merely by changing a couple of settings on their router.

Racism and race have dominated politics and news headlines in the White House for much.

Large scale demonstrations have been activated by the killing of several unarmed black men by white police officers in recent months and conclusions by grand juries to not indict the policemen throughout the United States.

Additionally, there is prevalent racial inequality in the American criminal justice system. Based on a study one out of every three black males will probably be sentenced to prison in their life. The amount for white males is estimated at approximately one in seventeen will be sentenced to any prison term (again this will vary widely on location, social status).

Additional Reading/Resources

Hide IP Software –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2wPPJ7T64w

Internet Discrimination – A Real Issue

When the internet first came along, it was pretty wild, disorganized and often very hard to find stuff you were looking for.   The search engines were in their infancy, sometimes they’d help you find the information you were looking for but more often than not would propel you into completely random unrelated areas.

It was fascinating and exciting, probably largely because the concept was new and amazing.   I remember well having a chat with a welder from Houston in Texas about computers, using a very simple IRC client (Internet Relay Chat).  The concept was incredible, that my words were being transported down my telephone wires and almost instantly being read by a bloke called Alan sitting across the Atlantic.  Of course our children take all this for granted, and in some senses it’s kind of sad that  they missed out on that ‘moment of realization’ which many of us remember vividly.

Now my children have as many digital friends across the globe as they do in their local town.  It’s simply commonplace to communicate with people across the globe using a host of digital devices.   Search engines are increasingly efficient and usually home in on the information you need with minimal fuss, albeit with a growing sense of commercialism.

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However not all aspects of the internet have improved, and one of the most worrying trends is the growing level of filtering and censoring that is occurring.   In the first few years of the internet, it was virtually irrelevant  where you were located, we were all simply internet users.  I could see exactly the same from the UK as if I had logged in from Thailand, USA, China or Japan.  This is far from true nowadays where for a variety of reasons, the internet can look very different depending on where you log in from.

Blocks, filters and discrimination are common place – sometimes based on commercial reasons – others based on Government control.    The result is that your experience of the internet is greatly influenced by your physical location.  Do you want to watch all the latest movies on a the website Netflix, well you’ll need more than a subscription to the media giant – you’ll need to be in the USA.

Of course, the anarchic elements of the internet are constantly working hard to provide ways to work around these filters. You can use an American DNS for Netflix and fool it’s redirection, you can connect through a secure proxy to side step Government black lists.  It takes a little effort and some expenditure, but the unfettered version of the internet is still available if you try.  The problem is that for many even the inexpensive tools are out of reach, so for some living in places like China or Iran,  what you see online will be controlled by your Government.

It’s sad certainly that something that was once accessible to all, without distinction or discrimination is becoming like the rest of the world.   Slowly but surely tiers of internet access are  being established, due to blocks, filters and even access to infrastructure.  I might feel happy that I can use a VPN client and watch Channel 4 Online when I’m on holiday in Spain, but the reality is that it’s only available because I have the disposable income to buy  these tools.

 

So What About Digital Equality

For many  the phrase digital equality has very little meaning, but for others it’s an important concept.  If you look at the news events for any given week you’ll normally find some examples of how are access to free communication over the internet is being curtailed somewhere and somehow.  Take for instance Turkey, at the moment there is growing discontent with the Turkish Prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan primarily for allegations of corruption. His response has been typical not of a democratic republic but more of a dictatorship, at least as far as the digital world is concerned.

In Turkey as we speak, Twitter is banned and YouTube is being actively blocked, this is together with one of the biggest lists of blocked sites in the democratic world. A person accessing the internet in Turkey does not have the same access and rights as someone in the USA would. The justification given for blocking these sites, is very weak but in essence it comes down to one thing – these social networking sites are being used to spread the corruption allegations and the government don’t want people to talk.

There are of course much worse places than Turkey to access the web, in reality most of the blocks implemented there don’t work anyway. Just as people will circumvent all sorts of restrictions there are lots of ways to bypass the Turkish blocks, my sister relays her connection through a Canadian proxy server run by a friend of hers. Turkey is a relative well connected country and the citizens are mostly able to afford things like proxies and vpns to bypass even the best filtering attempts. If you try and access the net in China it’s a different story as it’s actually quite hard work bypassing some of the Chinese blocks (of which there are many!).

The trouble is that in China and restrictive regimes like Iran and North Korea, they have actually spent a lot of time an money in making sure people don’t have free access to the internet. Sure proxies and UK VPNs still work – like this iPAd VPN service, but with enough resources being put into tracking these methods you would have to keep changing. China for example have even been found to track and block TOR outlet nodes which is not an easy task in itself.

So this is the problem, the internet is arguably the greatest advance in communication since the telephone. Yet for many it’s still dictated and controlled by the people who run the country they are in. Most democratic governments have no need or inclination to block access to the internet and social networking sites but for many regimes it’s often a priority. An invention that should bring us closer together and make our rulers more accountable is often just another inequality that some people have to suffer.