Today is Freedom Day! The long promised day where the government would finally take its knee off our necks and let us breath again.

Except of course it’s not.

Like a narcissistic abuser, they promised it would be different this time. Dangling hope in front of us, before snatching it away. At the last minute, they oh so apologetically found an oh so convenient excuse, with clearly cherry picked data, and moved the goal posts once more.

As everyone knew that they would.

“The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.” 

Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs

Freedom day is now July 19th, except nobody seriously expects these compulsive liars to keep their word this time either. They never have in the past. Indeed, a leaked Whitehall document outlines this has been the plan all along – to drag this out until the winter, where the inevitable rise in cases will force us back into full lockdown again.

Why, when the country has one of the highest uptakes of the vaccine anywhere in the world, and we’ve clearly demonstrated that we have broken the link between case rises and deaths? Oh, I’m sure there will be a new “concerning” variant appearing, or some rise in cases that will be “alarming”, which will be trotted out closer to the time as a post hoc justification for a decision that has already been made.

Who knows why they’re doing this, but I rather think that – like any abuser – the pencil necked bureaucrats in government and in SAGE (who are clearly running the show) rather like having power and the ability to micromanage our lives. SAGE and government ministers now get to determine who we can see, what we wear on our faces, how we greet each other, where we can travel, and who can dance at a wedding. They get to determine who we can have in our homes, what kinds of businesses can trade, what activities you are allowed to enjoy, or how close you can stand next to someone you’re not living with.

Sitting at a restaurant table, is ok, but don’t you dare stand up without putting a mask on, because SAGE tells us this will murder a granny!

Do the rules seem capricious and contradictory? Is it maddening how often they change? Can’t make firm plans or commitments, lest the whims of SAGE change without warning? Shut up! Science Denier! Don’t you dare try and divine the wisdom of the almighty SAGE!

If this sort of abuse were levelled against another person, in an intimate relationship say, then the police would rightly be involved. However, it seems the country is in the grips of a massive case of Stockholm syndrome, and can’t see the blatant absurdity of all of this, and the obviousness of the abuse.

Hey UK, blink twice if you’re in trouble!

“But you see my love, it’s because of the virus! Can’t have you meeting up with your friends, they might be dangerous! Oh, and I definitely can’t have you galavanting around the globe, you have to stay here with me!”

Except, of course, if you have a diplomatic passport.

I’m a big behaviourist. Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do… actions never lie.

G7 leaders from around the world, and their entourage, all jetted in to Cornwall last week for a summit. Of course it was vitally important that they all meet face to face. None of these vitally important conversations could have been conducted over Zoom, that would just be silly in the midst of a global pandemic.

Did they do the mandatory two weeks of house arrest for quarantine that SAGE insists is vital for everyone’s safety? Did they even have a test? Do you seriously believe that Joe Biden had a swab stuck up his nose before he got off Airforce one?

No, of course not. As soon as the socially distanced press photo was taken, and the cameras were thought to be off, the masks were ripped off and the champagne started flowing. Definitely no social distancing, and I’m pretty sure there were more than two households mixing.

It looked almost as if they were on holiday! You know, that thing that SAGE tell us riffraff we’re definitely not permitted to have.

This is nothing new, of course. Every day a precession of masked up ministers walk into No. 10 and rip the rag off their face as soon as they think the cameras are not on them.

It’s almost as if our elites don’t think Covid is all that big of a concern anymore, eh? It’s almost as if we’re being played for fools. Shouldn’t be a surprise… if it wasn’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all.

“But you see, my love… it’s all those vaccine refuseniks that are to blame! It’s them making me do this to you!”

Despite the UK having one of the highest uptakes of the vaccine anywhere in the world, our abuser is trying to shift the blame. Trying to shift our attention away from their own flouting of the oppressive, ever changing capricious restrictions, which they force us to live under. Instead, they encourage us to turn on each other… divide and rule, got to love a classic!

You must loudly proclaim that you can’t wait until you’re called up to get your shot! … lest someone think you’re a dreaded antivaxer, denounce you, and blaming you for all their suffering. Be sure to post a selfie of you in your mask to Instagram, proudly showing off the bandaid on your arm, and don’t forget to update that Facebook profile picture with a vaccine badge!

Believe your abuser, who has lied to you throughout, and listen carefully when they tell you that the vaccine is perfectly safe. Believe them, despite there being no possible way they could know what the long term health effects of an entirely new and experimental vaccine technology will be, when rolled out on such a massive scale. Believe them, even though the longitudinal data simply does not exist, so there are no grounds to make any claim beyond “it seems to work ok so far, so long as you don’t look at the yellow card report too closely”.

Do you have questions as to whether it’s necessarily a good idea to conduct perhaps the largest public health intervention in human history, on essentially the entire global population, using an experimental drug technology, all without even stopping for breath? Act in haste (or in this case fear), regret at leisure. Maybe you have concerns about taking a drug, for which the long term health effects are entirely unknown, when you are in a very low risk category for the virus itself?

Having questions or concerns like this is clearly insane, and not at all what any rational person would ever do, our abuser tells us.

Our abuser informs us sternly that this is WrongThink, and people who think like that are crazy antivaxers who all believe the Illuminati and the lizard people are using the vaccine to implant everyone with 5G tracking chips made by Microsoft!

Our abuser tells us there is no sane reason to refuse to have the vaccine, and that anyone who does so is a crazy conspiracy theorist who wants to murder your grandma! Our abuser tells us that of course they would never lie to us, and that they only want the best for us! You must have imagined all those times they’ve lied before, you’re so silly like that!

So, put aside any silly worries you have about taking an experimental drug when you’re neither elderly or clinically vulnerable. The new chicken tikka flavour of Covid is super duper extra special dangerous, which is why you always see me wearing my mask and standing two meters away from everyone, when the TV cameras are on me at least!

Don’t you listen to anyone who asks questions as to the sense of all of this. Don’t listen to anyone who points out that new variants of viruses happen all the time. Don’t worry your pretty little head with those silly little logical deductions, like if the criteria for freedom is “no new variants”, then that basically means “never”.

Don’t notice things like the way the herd immunity threshold has constantly crept up ever higher, or that it is always conveniently just above where we are now. Did I say you’ll have your freedom back when we’ve vaccinated the elderly and vulnerable? Na, you must have imagined that, you know how bad your memory is, silly! When we’ve vaccinated the over 50s? No, you must have imagined that too.

You remember? I said I can only give your freedoms back after we have vaccinate everybody, didn’t I. I’ve always said that from the beginning! You must have imagined all the times I said anything different. So remember, it’s that healthy thirty year old who has concerns as to why they are being pressured into an experimental medical procedure by people who lie all the time… they’re the reason I’ll have to lock you in your house this winter! They’re the reason I’m going to have to cancel Christmas again! It’s not that it’s an entirely political decision, or that the hospitalisations and deaths from Covid are at a record low and falling, or that power is an end in and of itself, or anything silly like that.

You know you shouldn’t listen to them. Just do what you’re told, you know I know what’s best for you.

“Darling, I love you! Why do you make me hurt you?”

Our abuser cries, as they beat us.

I asked this question over on Hacker News, as well as Quora, but I thought I’d also ask it here…

The UK plans to intercept all electronic communication. They currently don’t plan to snoop on content, but as noted elsewhere connection data is just as invasive.

To me this is both a civil liberties and business risk problem. I view my list of business contacts as confidential information and I don’t trust the government not to leave this information on a train somewhere.

Legal solutions are one thing, but the snoops keep raising their heads, so my feeling is that we need to actually find a way to make this sort of thing technically impossible.

Content encryption is already largely solved, although for email we still need a critical mass of people using PGP or similar.

VPNs just seems to push the problem to another jurisdiction, and if this is an agenda all governments will one day pursue, this will become decreasingly useful.

What can an individual do to protect content and connection data? Onion routing for mail servers? Do technical solutions rely on everyone doing it and so are unlikely to get much traction?

So what are your thoughts? What can we build?

The other day I took the decision to delete my Facebook account.

There has been a lot about Facebook and privacy in the tech press over the past few weeks – making live chats public, the ABC bug, criminalising violations of their terms of service, etc.

Facebook has a clear habit of leaking data, and a general disdain for their user’s privacy. As we can see by the changes to their Terms of Service and default privacy settings over time this is a deliberate strategy, which makes perfect sense since Facebook’s entire business model depends on their users sharing everything.

There’s a problem here of course, because even if you delete your account or were never on Facebook to begin with, the chances are you still are on Facebook.

Crowd sourced surveillance

Facebook crowd sources its intelligence gathering by encouraging your friends to continually update it with fairly sizable amounts of information about you, even if you are not a member. The simplest example of this would be the invite system… Facebook user Alice uses the Facebook interface to invite Bob, who is outside of Facebook, to a party… innocuous at first glance, until you consider that Alice has just told Facebook (and by extension: advertisers, government agencies, application developers etc) that Alice knows Bob (expanding the social graph) and has informed them of Bobs email address.

Image tagging presents another interesting problem. Facial recognition has reached a stage where by a machine can tell whether a face belongs too the same person from picture to picture. This feature was included in the latest version of iPhoto for example, but even without facial recognition, a tagged photo provides confirmation that a group of people were together at a certain time – and with geotagging enabled – in a certain place.

Facial recogniton is on Facebook now (via a third party app – although I would imagine Facebook will be developing their own version), Google is also following similar lines of research.

Of course, the algorithm can’t know who you are…

… until someone helpfully tags you of course. At which point you can be identified in any image on Facebook and the wider internet.

Governments have access to this technology as well of course (biometric passports anyone?), and we have already seen moves to incorporate this sort of face tracking and recognition technology in the next generation of CCTV cameras allowing automated tracking of people throughout our cities.

Anyone considering wearing a mask or similar as an obvious countermeasure should take note that the wording of the “burka ban” law recently passed in Belgium… which does not specifically ban the burka, rather bans any clothing that conceals the wearers identity. French and German MEPs are pushing for similar laws throughout the EU.

… first they came for the hoodies, then they came for the Muslims…

Question of ownership

I could easily be accused of being paranoid, but all this is perfectly possible and is an extrapolation of current trends.  It also serves to underline two central problems; first, that information is collected and added about you regardless of you do, and second, that this data is not considered to be yours – leading to unintended outcomes should the people holding the data change how they use it.

So much data is collected about you through the usage of online systems. Facebook in particular has extended this intelligence gathering capability out into the wider internet with its seemingly innocuous “like” button, or by secretly installing applications (which have full access to your profile) when you visit Facebook enabled websites (decidedly less innocuous).

Each bit of information gathered is fairly harmless on its own, but when aggregated over time present an incredibly detailed picture of your life – online and offline.

This information is packaged and sold.

That this data doesn’t belong to the person its about – even if it is of a deeply personal nature – is, I think, a rather corrosive assumption. Unfortunately we see this assumption at work all over the place both in government and the private sector, and although I’ve focussed particularly on Facebook in this post, it is only one part of a much wider problem.

Question of control

Fundamentally if you don’t own your data, you can’t possibly control what is done with it. Privacy controls and the like are at best a comforting placebo.

For this reason, I am suspicious of “free” services as money must be being made somewhere, and if it is not a direct fee then where?

So how can you keep control?

This is actually a very hard problem, because the obvious solution – not using the services in the first place – increasingly handicaps you.

Facebook has made a push to become the social architecture of the web with their “like” button, which isn’t the end of the world. However, more and more sites are using Facebook, Twitter etc for logon. Linking sites around the internet together and forming a more complete picture of your online habits.

If I want to use Microsoft’s online word processor Docs.com, my only option is to sign in with Facebook. Google docs needs a google account etc..

As Twitter, Facebook and Google etc all compete to be “You” on the internet you will see this kind of thing happening more and more.

Can I live without these services? Possibly. But what if a client uses them to share a specification document, can I refuse to view it? I guess it depends on how understanding your client is.

Is privacy dead?

Privacy is important, and anyone who says that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” should be encouraged to read Anne Frank’s diary.

However, we now live in a world were both online and offline we are encouraged to give away more and more of our private information. What information we don’t give away is obtained by monitoring our actions or provided by others – “Marcus was so wasted at Dave’s party last week, look here’s a picture of him passed out on the floor! LOL”

So much of this is out of your control, and what data is generated is not yours, but at the moment you still have a little wiggle room – if only because all these systems are still rather fragmented.

However, I believe that privacy is going to be one of the main societal battle grounds of the 21st century, and the first salvos have already been fired.

Privacy may not be quite dead yet, but it is certainly missing in action.

Image from ICanHasCheezburger