A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Shut Up Slave’ tag

You Can’t Take the Sky from Me

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The United States government suffers from delusions of grandeur. The latest of these delusions is the belief that it owns space:

The story behind the missing live feed is a muddy bureaucratic affair. It appears that NOAA has recently decided to start interpreting or enforcing a decades-old law in a new way. The agency says SpaceX and other commercial space companies must apply for a license to broadcast video from orbit.

“The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit,” NOAA said in a statement last week. “Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions.”

If you launch something into orbit with the ability to broadcast a signal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, perhaps the agency with the title containing the most hubris considering it states that the agency can administer nature) believes that you have to pay it for a license. Apparently it’s position as an agency of the United States government gives it command over all of space.

This decree would be irrelevant except the individuals who are launching payload into orbit are stuck on the ground where government goons can get them. Fortunately, there are tracts of land run by goons who are less deluded. Were I interested in launching rockets into space, I’d do so from one of those tracts of land. While NOAA might be able to enforce it’s delusion in the United States, it would have a harder time enforcing it in, say, India.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 12th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Reinforcing the Status Quo

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Cop apologists are quick to say that the time to resist a “bad apple” isn’t when they’re violating your so-called rights or curb stomping your face, but in the courtroom after the interaction is concluded. Were the courts just, such advice may be valid. However, the courts are not just and more often than not affirm that heinous acts performed by law enforcers are legal:

The Supreme Court just ruled that a police officer could not be sued for gunning down Amy Hughes. This has vast implications for law enforcement accountability. The details of the case are as damning as the decision. Hughes was not suspected of a crime. She was simply standing still, holding a kitchen knife at her side. The officer gave no warning that he was going to shoot her if she did not comply with his commands. Moments later, the officer shot her four times.

[…]

As Sotomayor argued in dissent, the court’s decision means that such “palpably unreason­able conduct will go unpunished.” According to seven of the nine Justices, Hughes’ Fourth Amendment right to not be shot four times in this situation is less protected than the officer’s interest in escaping accountability for his brazen abuse of authority. According to Justice Sotomayor, “If this account of [the officer’s] conduct sounds unreasonable, that is because it was. And yet, the Court [] insulates that conduct from liability under the doctrine of qualified immunity.”

Worse yet, this decision wasn’t a surprise. And it certainly isn’t an aberration.

This is yet another in a long list of Supreme Court cases that affirm that officers have the privilege to shoot whomever they want for whatever reason they want. This is also why I call bullshit on the earlier mentioned argument commonly made by cop apologists.

If you wait to resist a “bad apple” until a later court case, you may be permanently disabled or even dead. To make matters worse, the court will be more likely side with the “bad apple” than you. Of course fighting with a “bad apple” carries its own risks. The “bad apple’s” buddies will likely join their comrade in beating your ass or summarily executing you. Furthermore, if you do survive, you will likely be tossed into a cage by a court. When you’re so-called rights are being violated by a law enforcer, you’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place and have to decide how to proceed based on the information at hand at the time. However, your list of options shouldn’t consist solely of rolling over and letting a man in a muumuu later affirm that what the officer did to you was perfectly legal.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 11th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Overt Internet Censorship

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The Internet, especially the free speech that it has enabled, was fun while it lasted but it has become obvious that the governments of the world will no longer tolerate such a free system. Of course few governments wants to admit to attacking free speech so they are using euphemisms. For example, the United States government isn’t censoring free speech, it’s fighting sex trafficking:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agencies have seized the sex marketplace website Backpage.com as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a posting on the Backpage website on Friday.

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. But some internet and free speech advocates warned the action could lead to harsh federal limits on expression and the press.

Notice how they managed to throw the “for the children” get out of jail free card in there? Shutting down Backpage wasn’t about prostitution, it was about human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children. It’s just like how the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) is being sold as a law against sex trafficking but it’s really about opening the door to censoring any online material that offends the political class.

Fortunately, there are new frontiers. Tor Hidden Services and I2P offer a mechanism for server operators to keep their location concealed, which makes taking them down more difficult than taking down a standard Internet service. As the precedent being set by SESTA expands, more Internet service operators will find themselves having to utilize the “dark web” to avoid being censored.

He’s Making a List, He’s Checking It Twice

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Few things are as frightening as government lists. No good ever comes from a government list and if you’re one of the individuals who is listed, your future is probably a bleak one, which is why journalists may be facing rather unhappy times in the near future:

In today’s installment of “I’m Not Terrified, You Are,” Bloomberg Government reports on a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the relatively benign-sounding subject “Media Monitoring Services.”

The details of the attached Statement of Work, however, outline a plan to gather and monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers and are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide.

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Meanwhile, the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and “top media influencers,” which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they’re putting out to the public.

I can’t think of any reason why the Department of Homeland Fatherland Security (DHS) would want a list of all “media influencers” that aren’t horrible. Every regime in history who has created and maintained such a list has done so for the specific purpose of eliminating (either through intimidation, disappearing, or outright murder) media personnel who fail to push the approved agenda.

Since this is a DHS program, it’s being advertised as a method of tracking foreign media personnel. However, I think recent history with the National Security Agency has shown that government surveillance programs aimed at foreign entities tend to get aimed at domestic entities in short order. So while this database of media personnel may be advertised as being aimed at foreigners, if it isn’t already, it will shortly be aimed at domestic medial personnel as well.

On the one hand, this is rather unsettling. On the other hand, I do appreciate that the political class is finally being overt about its intentions.

The Power of Transmutation

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It turns out that black men have the power of transmutation:

It does not matter what it was to begin with. A wallet. A pipe. A cellphone. It makes no difference. The phenomenon remains the same every time.

In the morning, it is very clearly a cellphone. Anyone who looks at it can see it.

In the afternoon, it is still very clearly a cellphone. It sends texts. It makes calls. Its screen lights up.

But in the evening, the transformation occurs. A police officer sees the cellphone, sees that the hand holding it belongs to a black man, and suddenly, quite without warning, it becomes a gun.

When a law enforcer shoots a (usually black) man who is holding something that is obviously not a weapon, cop apologists will quickly claim that one doesn’t have time to determine whether the object in an individual’s hand is a cellphone or a gun in a potentially life or death situation. The first problem with that argument is that it doesn’t hold for nongovernmental agents. Were I to shoot a man holding a cellphone, I would have a difficult time arguing that I was justified in the use of deadly force. The second problem with that argument is that it assumes the situation was life or death before the officer decided that the cellphone had transmuted into a firearm. Most situations entered by law enforcers don’t start as life or death. They might start off rather tense but they usually only escalate to a life or death situation with time. Oftentimes, the situation seems to escalate because of the law enforcer’s actions, not the individual they’re interacting with.

If this kind of situation only happened rarely, it could easily be explained as law enforcers legitimately mistaking a harmless item a hand for a weapon. But it happens with not insignificant frequency, which indicates that there may be a trend of law enforcers claiming that they believe harmless items are weapons so they can act on their desire to use violence.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 10th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Fahrenheit 451 without the Fire

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The government of China, like most communist regimes, isn’t big on free expression. Expressing ideas that go against the state’s teachings can result in anything from spending some time in a reeducation camp to being outright executed. Although the Chinese government’s image has softened quite a bit since the days when Mao was killing millions, it still isn’t a teddy bear by any regard. For example, the regime is now cracking down on booksellers who traffic banned titles:

Lam Wing-kee knew he was in trouble. In his two decades as owner and manager of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, Lam had honed a carefully nonchalant routine when caught smuggling books into mainland China: apologize, claim ignorance, offer a cigarette to the officers, crack a joke. For most of his career, the routine was foolproof.

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On Oct. 24, 2015, his routine veered off script. He had just entered the customs inspection area between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was ushered into a corner of the border checkpoint. The gate in front of him opened, and a phalanx of 30 officers rushed in, surrounding him; they refused to answer his panicked questions. A van pulled up, and they pushed him inside. Lam soon found himself in a police station, staring at an officer. “Boss Lam,” the officer cooed with a grin. Lam asked what was happening. “Don’t worry,” Lam recalls the officer saying. “If the case were serious, we would’ve beaten you on the way here.”

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Over the next eight months, Lam would find himself the unwitting central character in a saga that would hardly feel out of place in one of his thrillers. His ordeal marked the beginning of a Chinese effort to reach beyond the mainland to silence the country’s critics or their enablers no matter where they were or what form that criticism took. Following his arrest, China has seized a Hong Kong billionaire from the city’s Four Seasons Hotel, spiriting him away in a wheelchair with his head covered by a blanket; blocked a local democracy activist from entering Thailand for a conference; and repatriated and imprisoned Muslim Chinese students who had been in Egypt.

I have a lot of respect for individuals to trade in prohibited information. They’re the ones who ensure that any attempt at censorship fails in the long run. However, a lot of them often die before the information becomes so widely disseminated that censorship efforts are no longer feasible.

As China continues rising to dominance, it’ll be interesting to see how it attempts to expand its power outside of its borders. With how big of a market China is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it attempts to put pressure on international publishers in the future by refusing to allow them to sell any of their titles inside of the country if they publish a single undesirable title outside of the country (I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is already happening and I’m simply unaware).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 5th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posse Comitatus Act

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Trump announced that he intends to deploy the United States military along the Mexican border to guard it until his proposed wall is built:

(CNN) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he’s calling on the military to guard the US-Mexico border until his long-promised border wall is complete.

“I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful, your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border and we are going to be doing some things, I spoke with (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, we’re going to do some things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step,” he said during a luncheon with leaders of the Baltic states.

According to the Posse Comitatus Act, neither the Army nor the Air Force can be deployed to enforce laws within the United States without an act of Congress. The Department of the Navy has also created regulations that make the Navy and the Marines operate under the same rules.

However, does the Posse Comitatus Act matter this day and age? Congress has already granted the president the power to wage war without a congressional declaration of war, which is required under the United States Constitution. Since Congress has ceded that power, I see no reason to believe it won’t cede its powers granted by the Posse Comitatus Act. As an aside, if Trump does follow through with his plan, it may be the first time that the Third Amendment gets some love.

But all of this may be a moot point. There isn’t a strong correlation between what Trump says and what he does. He’ll say he’s going to do something one day then seemingly forget all about it the next day.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 4th, 2018 at 11:00 am

A Glimpse of America’s Future

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Britain used to be the country towards which I looked when I wanted to see what creepy surveillance technology was soon coming to the United States. The British government has a long, proud history of surveilling everything its subjects do. But Britain is falling behind the surveillance game. There’s a new king in town and that king is China:

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

China’s Social Credit System is the next step in surveillance. Britain and the United States have been doing something similar. For example, in the United States the information gathered about you by the government can land you on a no-fly list, which then prevents you from boarding aircraft. However, these efforts have been chump change compared to what China is doing. Unfortunately, what China is doing is technologically feasible by both Britain and the United States. All of the required surveillance technology is already in place. All that is needed is tying those surveillance devices into a domestic social credit system.

I won’t be surprised if the United States implements a similar system within a decade. The country has certainly been moving in that direction since at least the beginning of the Cold War and has pushed the pedal to the metal since 9/11.

We’re at the Mercy of Service Providers

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Yesterday I mentioned the changes Microsoft made to its terms of service and touched on the one sided licensing agreements to which users must agree in order to use Microsoft’s services. Today I want to take the discussion one step further by explaining the dangers these one sided agreements have to users integrated into entire company ecosystems.

Imagine that you, like many people, are heavily tied to Microsoft’s ecosystem. You have an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One. You play games online with your Xbox Live Gold membership. Your home computers all run Windows 10. You use Outlook.com for e-mail. You’re a developer who relies on Visual Studio to do your job and utilize One Drive and Office for online collaboration with coworkers. When you’re traveling to customer sites, you rely on Skype to keep in touch with your family. Your Microsoft account pretty much touches every facet of your life.

Now let’s say you’re on a work trip. While talking to your wife on Skype you say and offensive word and somebody at Microsoft just happens to be monitoring the session. Perhaps this individual is a stickler for the rules, perhaps they’re just having a bad day. Either way they decide to exercise Microsoft’s right under the terms of service to which you agreed to terminate your Microsoft account right then and there. Your Skype session terminates immediately. You can no longer access your e-mail. Your entire trip to the customer site is wasted because you no longer have the tool you need, Visual Studio, to do your job.

The trip was a complete loss but the pain doesn’t stop there. When you get home and decide to blow off some steam by tearing apart people online, you find that your Xbox Live subscription has also been terminated. You aren’t even able to play offline games because you purchased them all via the Xbox One Store and the licenses for those purchases were tied to your user account, which was terminated. Much of your life has come to a grinding halt because one Microsoft employee monitoring your Skype session decided to terminate your account.

While one could accuse me of hyperbole for concocting this scenario, it is a very real possibility under the terms of service to which you agree when signing up for a Microsoft account. The terms of service give you no power and Microsoft absolute power. Microsoft can make whatever rules it wants whenever it wants and your only options are to submit or not use its services.

Microsoft isn’t even unique in this regard. The same one sided agreements are made when you create a account with Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, or pretty much any other service provider. The sad truth is that most of us rely heavily on accounts that we have no real control over. Your Google account could be suspended tomorrow and with it would go your Gmail account, any apps you’ve purchased for Android via the Play Store, revenue derived from YouTube ads, etc.

The licensing model ensures that we don’t actually own many of the things that we rely on. The one sided agreements to which we agree in order to access services that we rely on ensure that we have no recourse if our accounts are suspended. We’re effectively peasants and our lords are our service providers. What makes this situation even worse is that it’s one we helped create. By submitting to one sided agreements early on, we told service providers that it’s acceptable to take all of the power for themselves. By being willing to license software instead of owning it, we told developers that it’s acceptable to let us borrow their software instead of purchase it. We put ourselves at the mercy of these service providers and now we’re finally faced with an absurdly high bill and having regrets.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 28th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Embracing the Darknet

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Big changes came to the Internet shortly after Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). SESTA, like most legislation, has a name that sounds good on the surface but actually conceals some heinous provisions. One of those major provisions is holding website owners criminally liable for user generated content. This resulted in some drastic changes to sites like Reddit and Craiglist:

So far, four subreddits related to sex have banned: Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers, and SugarDaddy. None were what could accurately be described as advertising forums, though (to varying degrees) they may have helped connect some people who wound up in “mutually beneficial relationships.” The escort forums were largely used by sex workers to communicate with one another, according to Partridge. Meanwhile, the “hooker” subreddit “was mostly men being disgusting,” according to Roux, “but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith.”

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Reddit yesterday announced changes to its content policy, now forbidding “transactions for certain goods and services,” including “firearms, ammunition, or explosives” and “paid services involving physical sexual contact.” While some of the prohibited exchanges are illegal, many are not.

Yet they run close enough up against exchanges that could be illegal that it’s hard for a third-party like Reddit to differentiate. And the same goes for forums where sex workers post educational content, news, safety and legal advice. Without broad Section 230 protections, Reddit could be in serious financial and legal trouble if they make the wrong call.

The passage of SESTA set a precedence that will certainly expand. Today Section 230 protections can be revoked for user generated content about sex trafficking. Tomorrow it could be revoked for user generated content involving hate speech, explaining the chemistry and biology behind how prohibited drugs work, showing the mechanics of how a machine gun operates, and so on. User generated content is now a liability and will only become more of a liability as the precedence is expanded.

Will this rid the world of content about sex work, drugs, and guns? Of course not. It will merely push that content to anonymized servers, commonly referred to as the “darkweb.” As laws make hosting content on the non-anonymized Internet a legal hazard, Internet users will find that they need tools like I2P and the Tor Browser to access more and more of the content they desire. The upside to this is that it will lead to a tremendous increase in resources available to developers and operators of “darkweb” technologies. Eventually the laws passed to thwart unapproved behavior will again make restricting unapproved behavior all but impossible.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 27th, 2018 at 11:00 am