Dear Ms Merkel
I understand that the U.S. Government has been listening in on your “private” phone calls. You have my sympathy. You see, it seems that the Government here has decided to spy on everyone. ( I used to say “My Government”, but since the pathologically named “Patriot Act”, that seems increasingly out of touch with reality. This is no longer a government “of the People. by the People, for the People”. It is now a government of the well connected elite for the purpose of increasing their power and wealth. If that involves trampling your “privacy”, well, small price to pay for domination…
It does not matter much if they are a ‘Progressive / Aso-Liberal (American Social Liberal, a kind of socialist – as opposed to the Classical Liberal of the U.K.) / Socialist / Leftist’ or whatever other name that group has cooked up for themselves lately. (They have a long history of re-branding and trying to be a new fresh advertizing name in front of the same package of failed Central Authority & Control. It is always the same old Marxist stale fail crap. Yes, minor variations like Lenin pushing for a single Global Socialism while Hitler pushed for a smaller National Socialism – your country already experienced those modes…) nor does it matter if they are a bought and paid for Right Wing Nut happy to fund Rich Evil Bastards in their drive to trample regular folks under foot. (Like GE getting a light bulb ban on cheap lights, with a nice loophole for ‘colored lights’, where they just happen to have a special bulb ‘Reveal’ that doesn’t get banned. Drastically increasing light bulb profits on the loss of our freedom to choose…). In the end, powerful folks always want More Power, especially concentrated in one nice place where they can buy / bully or blackmail it. So Central Authority just grows. Until it fails catastrophically.
So in Europe, y’all (that’s a USA south thing… “you all”. Functionally the same as a “you-plural” as opposed to “you-singular”. A useful adding to English, IMHO) have had a long history of playing with the Socialism Shiny Thing in many variations. (And repeatedly crashing, BTW). You also have a long history of The Evil Bastard Dear Leader. From the Roman Empire, to the Byzantine Empire, to the Holy Roman Empire, to the Spanish Empire, to the French Napoleon Empire, to the British Empire, to the Ottoman Empire, to the Austo-Hungarian Empire, to the present EU Empire In The Making. Remove power from the people. Concentrate in a few hands. Push the borders out. Works well for a little while, until it falls to corruption and the eventual malaise that leads to easy conquest from outside. Y’all do love your Evil Bastards and your Central Power and Authority.
We had done a pretty good job of avoiding all that for a couple of hundred years. Then, about the time Ike told use to worry about it, we started down that path too. Didn’t matter which party. FDR kicked it off with the “New Deal” (before Ike) but Nixon kept it going with his “Progressive” policies and creation of Central Authority agencies. Every President since has “moved the ball” more toward the same goal. More Central Authority. Obama is just the latest (capturing heath services into the Federal Mandate and Mangle model). Baby Bush (the younger President Bush) did his share with the Patriot Act and with moving Federal medical care into drugs with “Medicare Part D” drug plans.. Daddy Bush (the older President Bush) expanded government into fuel control and more spending on education and childcare – two things that have no business at a Federal level. Clinton and his supporters in Congress captured real estate lending with a load of anti-redlining laws and mandates that banks had to make bad loans. Republicans demanded that their Big Bank Buddies get a repeal of the law that forced separation of retail banks, from ‘investment banks’ (think stocks and bonds and brokerage houses like Goldman), from insurance companies. That has all blown up in their collective faces; but they have done a marvelous job of pretending they didn’t cause this mess in the first place. Even leveraged it into even more intrusive control of corporations with a load of new laws and regulations (with names like SarBox and more. Trying to prescribe from the top a ‘one size fits all’ fix to the problems caused by the government in the first place.)
So now, a good 30 or 40 years into the American slide into Central Authority & Control (whatever you call it, and if ‘left’ or ‘right’ labeled), we have a nice comfortable Police State. The Police State, like the farm, is a very comfortable, secure, and well fed place, with nice cages to live in; right up until the Farmer gets hungry… Well, a great information hunger sprung up in Washington during the Cold War. When that ended, a load of folks needed to justify their existence. Along came “Terrorism”… Our latest fun fraud is the idea of having a war on an idea. Like a “War On Drugs” or a “War On Terrorism”, or any one of dozens of other “Wars On Thoughts” or “Wars On Stuff”. You can only have a war WITH another Person or collection of persons. Somehow this truth is uncomfortable for The Powers That Be. Likely because they find an amorphous idea easier to war with in perpetuity, than a war on an actual people… Someone might ask the embarrassing questions, like, if all the “terrorists” are muslims, why isn’t it called a ‘war on muslims’?…
Now we are nearing the end game. Collapse of cultures and Empire moves slowly some times. It can take decades, or even centuries. But the end game tends to the same profile. The People discover they are in comfortable cages, but not being fed as well nor protected as well as they thought. The see a very few with untold power and wealth abusing their position. Folks are forgiving, and some are a bit slow, but eventually the day comes where they realize they are not getting all that good a deal. Well, that’s all it takes, really. Not some giant revolution. A few folks will make that happen. The major part of the collapse is hidden below the water line. That is the simple “failure to support” the power structure. Little things, like me talking to my son about volunteering for the military. Which way that conversation goes depends on the larger context. Or the willingness to get up and go to work every day. If, as a grunt, you get about the same ration of chow in the slop trough if you pull the plough or just lay around the pen, well, laying around the pen looks more pleasant. Like the conscripts in Italy who had a mediocre performance under Mussolini (and his “Bundle” / Fascist flavor of Socialism – with focus on labor unions (the ‘bundle’) and Central Control of businesses – the first “Third Way” or “Market Socialism” – currently being resurrected as the darling of The Left under a new name).
Every day, someone has to make the machine we call civilization work. That works best as a “Self Organizing System”. A distributed set of independent actors. Private enterprise. FREE Markets (not ones regulated to death and under Central Control). Individual contributed welfare via things like churches. (not the bogus lie based ‘contributions’ that are forced from folks by law and taxes – any ‘contribution’ that is not voluntary is NOT a contribution, it is an extortion…) We simply must have those ‘bottom up’ self organizing systems or we will fail. Look at all of history. Central Authority grows until it fails, then it fails spectacularly. Every single time. Usually in wars, often with failure of food production and distribution, frequently with a great reduction in the “Elite”… (Remember the “French Haircut” of the French Revolution…) It takes a lot to reach that point, but well before then, folks just stop showing up to crank the machine. Or they work it only enough to avoid punishment; but well below what a free people will do. As Central Control grows, the regular folks struggle for a while, but then just adapt. It doesn’t take much to keep us happy, and we can do that for ourselves. Unlike power hungry Central Authoritarians, we don’t need admiration from anyone (above or below), nor vast wealth, nor power driven ego. We like things like chocolate chip cookies, beer, a bit of TV, maybe a video game, and some time in bed. Pretty easy to do that, even “all on your own”. Basically, we don’t need them. They need us. We can just walk away.
Back At Phones
So, Ms Merkel, you have just discovered that as far as the Obama Government is concerned, you are a chattle and not a Farmer Of Men. Welcome to the club.
You ought to have expected it. There is NEVER room at the top for more than One Evil Bastard. Even if it starts out as a collective effort. Even if there is initially a Senate telling the Caesar where his limits stand, eventually the pull of Empire is too great and Caesar decides to be Emperor… “Some are more equal than others”, and you, dear Angela, are not in the anointed. After all, you run one of those minor ‘not quite a country any more’ departments of the E.U. Empire. About as important as a Governor of a State in the USA. Since the E.U. has usurped the role of Central Authoritarian in Europe, the Westphalian Nation States are more or less destined for destruction and that means you are irrelevant. Sorry. But “welcome to my humble home”.
As a house warming gift for you, in your role as “one of us”, I present a ‘self organizing system’ solution to your desire to have a private phone call. Yes, pointing this out will also give it to the ‘Terrorists” of the world (but they already know it). Besides, I’m having a harder time deciding which is worse, the terrorists or the cure… “We have to destroy our country in order to save it”? What is America if we have no privacy, no self determination, no FREE markets for goods or ideas?
The basic solution is encryption. But since we’ve seen that someone (likely the NSA) has leaned on commercial software companies to bugger their software such that folks with large hardware could break encryption, you need ‘strong encryption’ from private “self organizing” free software sources. This will involve a bit of work on your part to learn some tech, or paying a bit of money to your own guy to build it for you (and verify it is clean – the NSA will be trying to bugger this code too and likely plant some broken versions around, so learn to compare hash codes and maybe even compile from source code). That’s the bad news. You need to do a bit of ‘roll your own’.
Though I must point out: There’s an opportunity here for Germany to manufacture certified encrypting phones that have strong encryption built in. Overnight you can sell to the entire world (since the NSA is snooping on the whole world.). No fear of competition from the USA either, as this government will not approve any phone that breaks their data sniffing ability and will demand US makers leave holes in their security.
So what is this software?
There are several choices, and you can mix and match some parts as you like it. The good news is that some folks, even more security aware (‘paranoid’ was what we were called prior to the NSA leaks showing we were under stating the reality…) than me have already worked on this. That’s the beauty of a self organizing system. Always some guy somewhere whacking away on something that may be irrelevant, but just as often changes the world. Like Steve Jobs and Woz in the garage. Not something Central Planning can ever do. So the heavy lifting is already done.
In some ways, this is like using Skype. But Skype has been buggered so that it is not secure. We need to put encryption back into the process, but in a secure way. It’s best to do this on a dedicated platform that can be locked down (read only software) to prevent it being hacked by NSA / other TLA (Three Letter Agency) folks. But for initial bring up and testing you can use any old computer.
First off, look at Zfone or Zphone. The same Zimmermann who brought us PGP went on to look at telephony. His stuff is very well thought out. It is already built into some products. I expect it will be built into a whole lot more pretty soon… Maybe one with a German name on it? Hmmm?
There is a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) software package that is open source. Asterisk It lets you do fun things like have a single phone number, then someone must put in an extension to get each person in the home. Yes, you can give a private extension to your kid so only their phone rings when someone calls for them. It also lets you put up a challenge (i.e. enter the pass code) or the person goes to voice mail. This kills SPAM callers. Turns out that the Asterisk folks have already built in the Zphone protocols. ZRTP Oh, and it will run on a Raspberry Pi, so you have about a $35 price tag. Nice, eh?
There’s another interesting product, called Twinkle, that offers “soft phone” functionality. That is, it makes a computer into a phone and has similar PBX ability, including ZRTP . It is likely the first one I’m going to get working. It looks a bit quicker to bring up and simpler to configure.
Now all these things have two significant limitations. Each end needs to have a gizmo to do them. So this will work best if it comes built in on a new generation of phones and if a lot of folks adopt them for use (or ‘roll their own’ at home). That was the major hurdle for the last decade or two. Somehow I think we may be moving past the ‘lack of interest’ barrier now… The second problem is that if the platform under the software is compromised, so is the software (in that a hacker can insert a broken version of the encrypting engine). That’s why putting it on Microsoft Windows or even Google’s Android is not likely to be secure. They are both VERY much under the thumb of Central Government Approval. To my eye, it looks like there’s a fair number of “security exposures” in each that are not trivial exploits, but weaknesses that a TLA with funding could exploit. Android is a bit better in that the source code is available and a lot of folks play with it; but it has explicit data gathering behaviours that are “not good”. IMHO, a dedicated and secure Linux base is the best choice. Built from source code, then written to a locked media (like a locked SD card or CD-ROM). At most, a reboot assures a clean system for each new secure use. The nice thing is that this is very easy to do with Linux and a lot of “BBC” Bootable Business Card CD Rom releases exist that could also be run from locked SD cards.
OK, so you can likely talk your friends and family into using encrypting gear if you care about privacy,. and “pretty soon” there will be standard “mixes” of encrypting phone Linux on the net – being spread around by things like Bittorrent and TOR if nothing else. I’m going to be doing a ‘roll my own’ from sources just to be sure I know what’s in it. Details will be posted here. Likely a bit slowly, but still, it will be done. Frankly, I think we may well find a Raspberry Pi encrypting phone download before I can even get a posting done that lists the links to what I’ve already found. It would take about one long weekend for someone familiar with the parts.
So, Dear Angela, you could always just get one of the large number of Linux guys in your country to cook this up for you. It would be amusing to see you demonstrate the use of it while at a conference with Obama… Heck, gets some Swedes on the team and you could likely get it packaged into an Ericsson handset. (Or Nokia from the Fins…). Yes, you will have folks pushing you to not do this, asserting that all the phones of the world need to be running bare ass naked to the TLAs of the world. Do realize that the Bad Guys already know how to do this. It is public knowledge; and now that the fact of the snooping is known, the fix will be applied. You can lead, or you can bring up the rear with your friends in the NSA… I’m sure they can provide “motivation” for you to stay on their side via something you said over the last few years… Your choice, though. Lap dog or leader. Besides, the farmer rarely eats the lap dog…
OK, I was going to put the “Tech Talk” in here. But this is already a bit long. So I’m going to put the links to tech stuff with discussion in a second posting to come up a day or two after this one. That way folks can choose which they want. The background, or the How To.
Here I’ll just put some links for you to dig through.
A decent write up from Forbes:
DIY phone scrambler
Some bits on various PBX and related things:
I’ve not vetted this bit of software, but it looks like a nice encrypted alternative to FTP:
From Europe, Francophones need privacy too ;-)
Open source soft phone
Some generally useful and interesting R.Pi tricks.
Using an IP based encrypting phone that runs through a VPN to a remote phone line out can nicely hide things like contact trace information and location. It also means that someone tracking the phone, now has to find a second place to attack (where the VPN tunnel comes out, that could be inside a private home in a different legal jurisdiction and with the phone then going to an extension, so not on a public net) AND they need to break two levels of encryption with different technologies (so if one is buggered, the other may not be).
A generally good file and system encryptor, TrueCrypt. If you travel through customs at all or therough the TSA, you need to run an encrypted file system, and not the one from Microsoft…