Latin America ranks lowest in security / Venezuela most dangerous (Bolivia & Peru not much better)

Gallup published a study last month that found residents of Latin America/Caribbean, among global regions, the least likely to feel secure. Gallup’s Law and Order Index is based on confidence in local police, feelings of personal safety and self-reported incidence of theft. The region’s most insecure countries after Venezuela were Bolivia then Peru, whose score of 48 was the same as Syria’s.

Gallup image - Venezuela worst

Maria Moors Cabot awardee

It was a great week. Columbia U. announced this year’s recipients of the oldest award for international journalism given in the United States. It’s for excellence in coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean. There’s an Oct. 15 awards dinner in New York.

The last winner from The Associated Press (in 2000) was Eloy Aguilar, the late, great Mexico and Central America bureau chief (past winners). I’m in very distinguished company.  And we’ve certainly come a long way from 1965, when the men’s club lineup included AP’s LatAm editor. 1965 Maria Moors Cabot

 

 

 

 

The week’s tweets included this circa 1997 photo ,posted by daughter Luna, in my Bogota office. It had bullet-proof glass surrounded by a thin wooden frame. The Cali cartel was coming apart in those days but FARC rebels were overrunning military bases right and left and parents of my kids’ school chums were getting extorted by the guerrillas.

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Safeguarding the Fourth Estate

Good to see The Citizen Lab’s Knight News Challenge entry for teaching digital security to journalists. There is far too much resistance, ignorance and indifference in newsrooms to securing communications. Journalists understand, I think, that online and telephone newsgathering are easily monitored by multiple actors but most do nothing to protect themselves and their sources. Good also to see the focus for The Citizen Lab is the global south, where I work.

It is not only urgent and essential for journalists to understand how to protect themselves in communications with sources. It is also vital that sources understand how to use these tools. Just today, I spoke to a newsmaker who has been targeted by state and corporate espionage and yet had no means available of communicating with me securely. I had to bring it up. I said, “You and I both know that this phone conversation is almost certainly tapped.” He laughed. But the shared understanding also put a chill into the conversation. And so we’ll need to go offline to discuss the important stuff.

And that takes more time, and requires physical meetings, slowing down the process of gathering and disseminating information. The well-funded spooks win, again.

There are 667 entries in this round of the Knight News Challenge. The round is all about strengthening the Internet for free expression and innovation.

Bitcoin: More about philosophy than finance

Alan Feuer got it right in today’s NYTimes. The virtual digital currency Bitcoin was not chiefly created as a money-making venture.

“To its creators and numerous disciples, bitcoin is — and always has been — a mostly ideological undertaking, more philosophy than finance,” he writes.

All that we’re reading about Bitcoins getting stolen from digital wallets is not anywhere near as interesting as who is recognizing them as currency.

Bitcoin is news because it is disruptive. It embodies a throwing down of the gauntlet by a person or persons (Satoshi Nakamoto) fed up with how the global banking system _ comprised of “fiat” currencies created by nation-states – had fallen prey in 2008 to the machinations of greedy bankers and spineless politicians.

Satoshi was simply fed up with the banks deemed “too big to fail” that failed us all and whose bailout we bankrolled. Stateless digital currencies _ electronic cash as David Chaum envisioned it when he patented the idea in 1982 _ will allow us to develop new models for making payments that cut out the usurious middleman and democratize the economy.

And the key, of course, is public-key cryptography. Want to geek out on how a Bitcoin transation works?  Try this illustration from IEEE Spectrum: “The CryptoAnarchists’ Answer to Cash.”

 

Brazil’s about ready to poke out the “Five Eyes”

A Twitter wag asked today why Glenn Greenwald doesn’t just unload all his Snowden-endowed dirt on who is spying on Brazil in one article. I thought of the old journalistic saw: “Why to sell newspapers, of course.” Sounds quaint, eh?

The Canadians reportedly busted open encryption to have their way with Brazil’s mining ministry. We’d already heard that the NSA spied on Petrobras and President Rousseff’s inner circle. Still to come: Details on how Brazil spies on its citizens. Have patience. Brazilian colleagues are surely working it.

It will be time soon for an update on the divorce Rousseff is preparing from the U.S.-centric Internet. Plenty of experts think that’s a bad idea and will only encourage Balkanization by really nasty regimes already bent on inhibiting the free flow of  information.

 

The Most Important Snowden Documents Yet

I have always trusted Bruce Schneier, author of the much-respected 1996 “Applied Cryptography.”

Glenn Greenwald showed Schneier some of the Snowden documents that featured in today’s stories by The Guardian, The New York Times and Propublica. They are the most important, upsetting revelations to date from the Snowden trove. Without doubt.

The NSA, says Schneier, has been breaking most of the encryption on the Net.  He says the U.S. government has betrayed the Internet and we need to take it back.

Schneier summarizes what the NSA has done to make the Internet a more dangerous place and five ways to stay safe online:  Hide in the network. Encrypt your communications. Assume that while your computer can be compromised, it would take work and risk by the NSA – so it probably isn’t.  Be suspicious of commercial encryption software, especially from large vendors. Try to use public-domain encryption.

The NSA was told in the mid-1990s that it could not have the Clipper Chip, the backdoor it wanted into our digital lives . Silicon Valley and Bill Gates objected. By 1996 the Clipper Chip was defunct. So the NSA decided to begin breaking-and-entering on its own. Without our approval.

Greenwald/Snowden gave the public some time to prepare today’s disclosure. First, give it a series of primers on the extent to which the NSA is spying on the American public (not to mention allies). Then unload this zinger.

I want more details. What exactly is compromised? Is everything I do using SSL on my Mozilla Firefox browser compromised?

Boing Boing tweeted KEEP CALM AND USE OPEN SOURCE CRYPTO. Excellent advice. Time to revise my anti-surveillance toolkit.

Two small encrypted email services down. Hire the lawyers.

The Snowden backlash is only just beginning. And so is the resistence. Expect U.S. tech companies that have given the National Security Agency direct access to your data to suffer commercially.  How badly, hard to say. Depends on how deep the public outrage. Three of  Germany’s biggest Internet services, one of them Deutsche Telekom, announced they’ll encrypt customers’ emails.  Unfortunately, their encryption appears to be a bad joke. Here’s Chaos Computer Club release (German).

Phil Zimmermann

The U.S. government forced the hand of a small Texas-based email service,  It seems clear that Lavabit’s owner, Ladar Levison, shut down rather than agree to grant the government access to the data of customers. Snowden is reported to have been among his users. Levison has set up a legal defense fund and is accepting contributions. He likely received a National Security Letter, a search warrant or a subpoena with a gag order attached. He can’t say but he says he’s preparing an appeal to the 4th Circut.

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States,” The New York Times quoted Levison as saying.  I can’t find an image of him online.

The other U.S. email service that preemptively shut down belonged to Silent Circle, a company co-founded by Phil Zimmerman, creator of Pretty Good Privacy encrypted email. It says it wiped the discs containing all that email. The encryption keys were on the servers. Not so with the keys that Silent Circle uses for its text-messaging, video and voice comms services. They are end-to-end secure. The encryption keys are erased when the communcation ends.

Now, which big U.S. tech companies will join the legal challenge in defense of First and Fourth Amendment rights?

Yahoo is the only one known to have challenged a gag order of the type Levison apparently got.

The Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle, an Internet giant committed to nothing less than providing “universal access to all knowledge,” successfully fought a gag order and is one of the few people who can openly discuss what it’s like to get a National Security Letter.  Read here the New Yorker’s interview with him about it.
Meanwhile, more and more people are posting PGP public keys to servers.