Giving evidence on the Edward Snowden revelations at the German Bundestag

On 1 December 2016, I had the honour of being invited to give evidence to Germany’s Bundestag Committee of Inquiry on the subject of international mass surveillance, as revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This is the only major over-arching inquiry into Snowden’s revelations of NSA/international mass surveillance. Sorrily for the Committee, it became interested in evidence on what the UK’s agencies have been up to and what the recent legislative process (the Investigatory Powers Act) had been like.

It was a good opportunity to reaffirm that the UK’s new surveillance legislation must not be seen as world-leading because it is not compliant with human rights law and only entrenches and extends, rather than remedies, mass surveillance.

The video of my oral evidence is here, and a transcript is posted below:

 

 

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Another terrorist attack, another assault on our freedoms

Published on Liberty’s blog, 31 March 2017

By Silkie Carlo.

Last week’s terrorist attack was horrifying. From our office in Westminster, the sudden sound of sirens, racing police cars and then helicopters was chilling. As news came in of the lives lost, London was stunned to a sort of silence.

But the aftermath is characterised by the solidarity and British resilience we rely on for national healing.

The Prime Minister’s defiant statement reminded us that Parliament was targeted because of the values it represents: “democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law”. She reassured us in no uncertain terms: “any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure”.

But it wasn’t long before those values were put at risk.

The Home Secretary’s assault on WhatsApp in the wake of this appalling terrorist attack is draconian and misguided in equal measure

Last weekend, Home Secretary Amber Rudd proffered yet another enlargement of the surveillance state, branding secure messengers like WhatsApp “completely unacceptable”. She called any messenger that gives users privacy a “hiding place for terrorists” – apparently forgetting that she uses one herself.

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We warned you: smart TVs are watching you

WikiLeaks recently published CIA documents detailing the agency’s array of hacking tools – including the ability, developed in partnership with MI5, to hack smart TVs in order to subvert them into covert listening devices.

The leaks also revealed ongoing projects such as the development of hacking technologies for car software, raising questions as to the risks of fatal outcomes.

Few of the security and intelligence agencies’ practices are more disturbingly Orwellian than the subversion of TVs to covertly spy on households.

 

In this short discussion on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme, I explain why hacking TVs is a bad idea, why you need to be concerned about it, and what Liberty is doing to fight the UK’s own capabilities to hack citizens en masse. Also in the discussion are computer security expert Robert Shifreen, and the BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera.

The full programme is available here (expires 7 April 2017): BBC Radio 2

 

How the UK Government can hack your personal data

Originally published by Mashable, 18th February 2017

By Gianluca Mezzofiore

 

From the moment you set foot on British soil, your personal data could easily be accessed, or even hacked, by the government.

New invasive legislation has been dubbed by critics as one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy.

The Snoopers’ Charter — aka the Investigatory Powers Act — was passed into law at the end of last year. It arguably removes your right to online privacy.

In short, it forces internet companies to keep bulk records of all the websites you visit for up to a year and allows the UK government to coerce tech companies to hand over your web history with a retention notice and remove encryption, upon request.

If you think all of this sounds rather alarming, it’s because it is.

So what happens if you’re an unsuspecting visitor blissfully unaware of mass surveillance in the UK? Here’s a provisional guide:

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A Law That Treats All Citizens As Suspects

This is a video interview with Euronews, published on 27th January 2017, discussing how the Investigatory Powers Act (‘Snooper’s Charter’) affects us, and the onset of Liberty’s legal challenge to the mass surveillance powers.

Full video here: The UK’s new surveillance powers treat all citizens as suspects

 

 

 

Join Our Legal Challenge Against Our Authoritarian Surveillance Regime

By Silkie Carlo

Originally published on The Huffington Post, 10 January 2017

Your visit to this website will be logged.

Since the Snoopers’ Charter – or Investigatory Powers Act – passed in November, everything you’ve done online, every phone call you’ve made, every text message you’ve sent, every place you’ve been with your phone has been stored in a database by order of the British Government. And it’s been made accessible to everyone from the taxman to the Department for Work and Pensions – as well as other governments, like that of the United States.

Under the new law, authorities have also been granted powers to hack thousands of devices at once – without any reason for suspicion – simply to make sure they can keep listening in on everything you do, all the time.

All this surveillance is supposed to keep us safe from terrorists who want to attack our democracy – but what could be more undemocratic, more dangerous, and more defeatist than treating all British citizens like suspects and tearing apart the freedoms that define us?

These are digital stop and search powers with unprecedented secrecy and sophistication – on steroids. The potential for discrimination, persecution and abuse is unthinkable.

President-elect Trump has already committed to using his arsenal of mass surveillance powers against all Muslims and anti-racism activists. What might the UK Government of today or moreover, tomorrow, do with such totalitarian-style powers?

We have long expected to be able to correspond, meet, telephone one another, read newspapers, enjoy radio and films, join political parties, explore faiths, visit libraries, travel, demonstrate, seek medical advice, take and share photographs, and express ourselves freely and without the watchful eye of the state. But with our daily lives increasingly digitised, pervasive surveillance under the Snoopers’ Charter rips those freedoms away and reshapes British values for the future, almost beyond recognition.

Ironically, the Snoopers’ Charter not only attacks our democratic values, but jeopardises our cybersecurity. The Government can now force tech companies like Apple to remove encryption and weaken the security of their own products in total secrecy. This means easy mass surveillance for the State, but an increased risk of criminal hacking for us.

Meanwhile, internet providers are now forced to create records of our every online move – what websites we visit on our computers, what apps we use on our phones – and store them, ready for the State to access. TalkTalk wasn’t even able to protect its customers’ credit card details from hacking last year.

So whose hands will your internet history end up in, exactly? If you thought the Ashley Madison hack was bad, I fear you’ve seen nothing yet.

If this worries you, you’re not alone. Since the Snoopers’ Charter was passed by Parliament in November, over 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for its repeal. The Government dismissed those who signed, refusing to debate the Act further.

But the Government cannot dismiss human rights. And the Government cannot dismiss 200,000 people with human rights law on their side.

Just before Christmas, Liberty and Tom Watson MP won a legal challenge against the Government’s previous surveillance law at the EU Court of Justice.

The Court declared that the mass hoarding of our communication logs and internet histories is unnecessary and “cannot be considered to be justified, within a democratic society” – rendering the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act unlawful. The Court also ruled that allowing the police to authorise their own access to our personal information, and to do so without any suspicion of a serious crime, was a breach of rights.

This was a massive victory for our civil liberties in the digital age.

The Snoopers’ Charter re-introduced the same powers that have just been declared illegal – and added new, even more intrusive, ones. But creating a new law for 2017 cannot let the Government circumvent the human rights law that protects us.

So today Liberty has launched The People vs the Snoopers’ Charter – a legal challenge against this authoritarian surveillance regime, backed by the ordinary people subjected to its gaze.

Liberty will be representing the many thousands of people who are determined to stand up for civil liberties. We’ll be challenging new powers to hack our devices en masse, to listen in on millions of innocent people’s communications, collect our phone records, and watch our every move online.

This is a rare chance to be part of a movement that defines our freedoms – not just today, but for the future. Liberty has defended human rights and civil liberties for 80 years, but we must all work together to keep defending them in the digital realm. This could be the beginning of the end for mass surveillance in the UK, The most authoritarian law ever passed in this country will be defeated by the people.

Protect your privacy by moving to the dark web

By Silkie Carlo

Originally published in WIRED World 2017 magazine and available online, 8th January 2017.

The new IP Act will turn us all into security experts this year.

Proud technophobes and self-confessed Luddites: if you care about protecting your communications, your time has come. In 2015, it was revealed in the course of court proceedings that UK intelligence agencies had been unlawfully monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients in cases against the state. According to the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office, police spied on more than 100 journalists and almost 250 sources between 2011 and 2014.

The Government’s response is the Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill. Security services claim their powers from laws scattered around various antiquated statutes. Passed by MPs in March 2016, the Bill received Royal Assent after being passed by the House of Lords in November 2016, putting their activities on a statutory footing.

The IP Bill makes bulk interception – tapping and storage of phone calls, emails and other communications – explicitly legal. As security services increasingly cannot acquire the data they want through these methods – because messages on phones are more commonly encrypted – they will also be empowered to use a new method, “bulk equipment interference”, or hacking.

The IP Bill also contains another substantial new power. It requires internet service providers to store what are known as “internet connection records”. These records, designed for police rather than the security services, include each person’s browsing history, user names and passwords, location data, billing information, address, device identifiers and volumes of data exchanged – in short, everything you do online.

Whether this is workable is unclear. A similar initiative in Denmark was abandoned in 2014, after seven years in which it had helped with only a single investigation. There are also concerns over data security – what would happen if this vast database was subject to hacks? But the government wants to press ahead. The paradigm of surveillance has shifted. Whereas once it focused on specific threats, now it is speculative and suspicionless.

Which is why 2017 will be the year many people turn techie. They will have to. Without security, they will no longer be able to guarantee their privacy; or, in the case of journalists or lawyers, sources’ and clients’ anonymity.

Security can be achieved with hardware. Edward Snowden has co-designed an iPhone case that monitors cellular, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and shows when a device leaks data. A prototype should be ready in 2017.

More immediately, we are likely to see more web users turning to Tor, the free software for browsing the internet anonymously, especially as Tor is now available on smartphones. There’s Orbot for Android, and an iOS version is in development. We are likely to see this trend grow.

There are some obstacles to Tor’s growth. Email providers such as Gmail and security services such as CloudFlare make life difficult for Tor users, logging them out automatically or asking them to enter endless CAPTCHAs. But if the IP Bill pushes people towards anonymity, they will be forced to end their hostility. For many users, 2017 will be year the dark web becomes the web.

Silkie Carlo is technology policy officer at Liberty. She co-wrote Information Security for Journalists.

The WIRED World in 2017 is WIRED’s fifth annual trends briefing, predicting what’s coming next in the worlds of technology, science and design