A Dutch thinktank put forth an idea about an annual prize for politicians who manage to stay calm in situations of crisis. After the bombings in Stockholm, Swedish Green deputy Maria Ferm encouraged her parliamentary colleagues to follow the same example.
Since we’re suffering from price inflation, and politicians prefer valuable things over calm, I see few prospects for this thinktank initiative not to fall short of success and indeed the Swedish government is looking to squeeze the maximum amount of tracking out of the Swedish implementation of the Data Retention Directive.
Due to a rather heated Swedish debate about the information society, its consequences on privacy and government information control, the Swedish implementation of the directive has been delayed a number of times and only after the elections the government managed to put forth a proposition to the parliament. The former (and present) government justified its delay by referring to the damage it would have done to the fair electorial process had the proposal been made earlier. I think it’s more weird that the Swedish government, being already a few years behind with the deadline for implementation, didn’t wait for the Commission evaluation of the directive which was due in December this year, but will now be published in March 2011.
Through an MMN-o blogpost with some not unfounded skepticism about authorities I managed to locate a Rick Falkvinge reference to a case in February 2011 where a mobile phone belonging to a ran-away 18 year old male was remotely turned on by the police to assist in locating him through geolocational tracking.
Hidden features of mobile phones are, sadly, not new. Imagine, for instance, that your calls could be intercepted by a foreign entity through a phone functionality present and activated without your knowledge! It sounds far-fetched, but is not. The Richard Stallman refusal to use mobile phones for fear of loss of information control is not paranoia, but a healthy skepticism towards their unknown interiors. For any ordinary user it is of course impossible to keep track of all the undisclosed functionalities attached to our every-day electronics. For a further loss of information control, 9 out of 24 OECD countries now mandate personal ID registration for purchase of prepaid SIMs. Anyway, it is difficult to remedy this problem and a considerably easier way out for the end-consumer is to simply give up trying to claim the right to communication autonomy. That, if anything, is unreasonable and a more open, and more anonymous, information infrastructure is obviously to be desired.
What is so troubling about this is the orgy of interests at play in hidden functionalities. On the one hand, private enterprises shouldn’t normally have an interest in surveilling or monitoring the communications of their customers. On the other hand, Telefónica is doing deep-packet inspection on thousands of their customers in Brazil. For obvious reasons, nation states feel it’s important to track criminals and diplomats of other nation states and will therefore legally, or underhandedly, force manufacturers to put in hidden features. An interesting case I found the other day is on Chinese political influence on the design of the ZUC-crypto. I am sure many people know of equivalent examples from the NSA. I also realise I haven’t even mentioned the situation with India and RIM/Blackberry. On the fourth hand, as the comments to Rick Falkvinges blogpost show, hidden, uncontrollable functionalities of phones seem to be perfectly acceptable to a lot of people as long as they are used for a good cause, like saving sad kittens or scared and abandoned puppies.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to question why the privacy-conscious Swedish population can’t have a consistent ethic in the issue of information control and autonomy: are the kittens worth enough that we are willing to hand over all control of our personal data to nation states and mobile phone manufacturers? Many people care not only extensively, but aggressively, about their right to privacy and anonymity but seemingly without the faintest ability to connect the dots: it’s the hidden kitten protection functionalities that bear the highest risk of being misused as an extensive surveillance mechanism.