Germany Most Spied Upon Country in Europe

Over the years, many of us have laughed and poured scorn on the rise of the surveillance societies.  We have made fun of those countries like North Korea, Iran and Thailand who go to great lengths to monitor and intercept communications made over the internet.    How we giggled at the stupid Chinese internet police who appear on posters in internet cafes reminding people that they’re being watched and telling citizens how to report suspicious or subversive behaviour online.

Chinese Internet Police

EU nations regularly criticize countries like Turkey about their levels of content filtering and human rights issues like accessing the internet.

Yet lately the revelations from Edward Snowden are starting to reveal a much broader scope of surveillance particular in North America and Europe.  The Western democracies of course have strict privacy and data protection laws to protect their citizens from intrusive monitoring, however intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ have discovered a  route around this – they simply ignore legislation and ‘Carry on Spying’.

The latest revelation is that in the NSA spying table, Germany actually come in pretty highly.  The figures come in at an amazing half a billion German telephone calls, emails, web and text messages recorded every month by the American Intelligence services.

This level of surveillance means that the US monitors German citizens on a similar level to China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  A huge invasion of privacy on a country which is not only and ally but has some of the most strict data protection and privacy laws in the world.  This legislation however seems to count for pretty much nothing if you’re a secret service wanting to keep tabs on electronic communication.

Just as the revelations have revealed that the UK intelligence service have set up a surveillance section based in the middle east, the level of snooping that is being conducted by projects like Prism and Tempora is literally breathtaking.

Of course all this surveillance is justified using terms like national security and terrorism.  The huge loss of privacy is therefore deemed a ‘price worth paying’, although the results and effectiveness of this mass surveillance is never identified.

Many advocate international laws being put in place to try and protect people’s privacy, yet it looks unlikely that even these would ever be respected by  the NSA, GCHQ and the other security services across the globe.  Their attitude would seem to match something the Stasi would have come up with to deal with electronic communications.  It seems wrong on many levels that the NSA feels it has the wholesale right to spy on the German citizens simply to protect itself.

 

Turkish Internet Censorship – The Future

Turkey has for many years shown a very strong desire to heavily censor the internet.  They have frequently blocked access to many of the major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress.  Normally these blocks have been short lived due to public and international pressure.

The recent protests in Turkey though have perhaps given as an insight into the views of their government – with the Prime Minister, Recep Erodogan making this ridiculous quote –

“Social media is the worst menace to society”

Of course if you’re incredibly unpopular and are trying to forcefully implement a religious agenda into a secular country then social media is not likely to be your best friend. The reality is social media is merely a form of communication nothing more and nothing less.

I fear that if the Prime Minister in Turkey continues in power, his aggressive mobilisation of the police against peaceful protesters will be followed soon by some serious ramp up in internet censorship. Two years ago a plan was proposed to impose huge restrictions on Turkish internet users.

The idea was that all users would have to select one of four content filtering packages. These were labelled – family, children, domestic or standard – so basically you chose which amount of filtering was applied to your web browsing. The very worst part was that you would never know to what extent you had agreed as the blocked web sites in each list would not be made public. The web sites would be assigned by the Prime Ministry’s Information Technology Board (BTK) and you can be assured that there would be many thousands of sites in these blocked lists.

Update – There are reports that both Twitter and Facebook have been blocked (03rd June), am going to verify this using my Turkish proxy server.

Privatisation of Censorship in China

Here’s a new lucrative, money making profession that could be creating a few millionaires across the globe over the next few years.  It goes under various names like internet scrubbers, online reputation management or image repair – and firms are making lots of money especially in China.

Firms and wealthy individuals are paying specialists to  ensure that any mentions that appear online are all positive and that any negative comments are removed from view.  In China one of the biggest firms of this sort are called Yage Times and are fronted by Gu Genda a 30 year old entrepreneur from Beijing.

In China the number of firms like this are growing.  They work something like this, a big company or person may be receiving bad publicity online – perhaps a rumor or potential scandal is being talked about online.  Of course this is perfectly natural but in a very connected online society like China this can have a huge impact on a company or individual’s reputation.

So they hire someone like Yage Times to ensure that negative content and discussions are removed or at least fade from view rapidly.   This can be very complicated and extremely costly but many firms are willing to pay the price.

Unfortunately it’s not always easy to do this.  There are of course ways to make online pages and posts slowly disappear from view by affecting their ranking in the search engines.  But if a negative story appears on a popular and high ranking news site or block it’s not going to fade away easily – at least not until it’s been viewed by millions of people.

So what can you do?  Well apparently the initial attempts to remove unwanted stories involves bribing the publishers to remove or modify the items.  For bigger sites this wouldn’t always work so Yage Times consultants would then forge Government documents enforcing the removal of specific content from their site.

As the Chinese government actively censor huge sections of the web this would rarely come as a big surprise.  In fact many Chinese people routinely connect via a US or UK IP address to avoid these filters. It’s another huge growth area ironically because of all the restrictions that have been put in place by the Chinese authorities – here’s one that’s extremely popular – best VPN software.

censorship

These tactics have ensured some big profits for companies like these, but not surprisingly the Chinese Government were not impressed – Gu Genda and about 10 others are now in custody awaiting trial for various charges including bribery.

Censorship of the internet is rife in China, but it seems the state would rather keep the monopoly.  The story was raised by a Chinese magazine called Caixin.

It is not without irony that many comments and responses to the Caixin story have been deleted or censored shortly after publication!