Aside

Brazil, Spying, and Decentralizing Forces in Data Storage

Where policy, emerging markets, and data storage intersect–Brazil may take measures, in response to NSA activities, to ensure that certain data is stored locally. And, they are big enough for the market to take note.

The legislation, which is being written by a lawmaker in Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and is scheduled to be completed next week, would force foreign-based internet companies to maintain data centres inside Brazil that would then be governed by Brazilian privacy laws, officials said.

Internet companies operating in Brazil are currently free to put data centres wherever they like. Facebook Inc., for example, stores its global data in the United States and a new complex in Sweden.

Rousseff believes that the change would help shield Brazilians from further U.S. prying into their activities, and she is considering urging other countries to take similar measures when she speaks at the United Nations General Assembly later this month, a senior Brazilian official told Reuters.

“This would be a turning point for these companies,” the official said, naming Facebook, Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. as examples, although they would not be the only companies affected. “If you want to work here, you will have to obey our rules.”

Comments on WaPo’s “Five Myths about Chinese Hackers”

An interesting article about Chinese cyber-hacking makes some great points but also point to an American weakness that concerns me.

The following lines, specifically, point to the lack of moral creativity in the thinking of a comfortable elite in a longtime power, namely us:

The Internet, poorly secured and poorly governed, has been a tremendous boon for spying. Every major power has taken advantage of this, but there are unwritten rules that govern espionage, and China’s behavior is out of bounds.

Out of bounds of what? Oh, yes, the rules we wish to enforce, for our own good. I actually have no problem with that, but I think that we would get farther in our thinking/work on such problems if we acknowledged that we are not the bearers of a grand moral standard. In fact, we are protecting ourselves and our interests.

The writer has enough imagination to understand that the world looks different to the Chinese. He writes:  As one Chinese official put it in recent talks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “In America, military espionage is heroic and economic espionage is a crime, but in China the line is not so clear.

He may not understand just how different the world looks to the Chinese. Calling their actions ‘out of bounds’ is not likely to impress them. If the purpose is to get the American public agitated, well, then that’s a different matter.

Cyber-Attacks on Lockheed Martin

You may have read by now about recent cyber-attacks on defense contractor Lockheed Martin.  The following quote, from Anup Ghosh, “a former senior scientist at the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency who worked on securing military networks” stuck me especially:

“I think it tells us that DHS [the US Department of Homeland Security] doesn’t know much about what’s going on.”

The increasing level of organization of cyber-attacks can surely be met, in some measure, by improved technology and increased vigilance.  But do centralized organizations such as Lockheed attract too much attention to be sustainable in a future in which the barriers to entry for sabotage are lower?  And can weapons of war, for instance, be reliably developed in organizations that are anything other than centralized?

Crowd-sourced Radiation Data from Japan

Here’s a link to the live map (map below is static).

And here’s an interesting piece (from The Atlantic) on the subject.  Key quote:

“It’s one thing to blindly trust the experts. It’s quite another to doublecheck them with a distributed network of 215 Geiger counters — forcing them to earn that trust.”

And this blogger and “Information Visualization enthusiast” wonders if

“grassroots projects like geigercrowd and pachube make progress in closing the data gap [of unreported values].” [brackets mine]

An interesting example of a traditional government function being taken over (in some measure) by the crowd.

The State Department, Your Cell Phone, and You

The US State Department has been developing mobile phone technologies designed to support pro-democracy activists:

A “panic button” that erases mobile phone address books and sends emergency alerts is being developed in the US, which would be of help to pro-democracy campaigners.

The special application can be activated if the smartphone is confiscated by security authorities.

The US State Department is targeting countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the technology, according to a Daily Mail report.

It wants to equip the activists with the tools to fight back against repressive governments, the report said.

Michael Posner, US assistant secretary of state for human rights and labour, was quoted as saying: “We’ve been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments.”

This is a forward-thinking and heartening development.  Whatever our government’s imperfections, this level of trust in citizenry power is something we should celebrate.

China and Gmail

China and Google are currently arguing over who is responsible for the current slowness of Gmail in China.  Naturally, I don’t have any specific information about who is to blame but can report the following technical observations, pursuant to my recent return from China:

  • Unsurprisingly, expats with whom I spoke universally blame the Chinese government for the problems.
  • The problems seem to be manifesting themselves all over the country.
  • I couldn’t open my Google Calendar on several occasions and couldn’t open Google Docs at all during my 8-day trip
  • One investor indicated that much of his fund’s information infrastructure is located on Google and that his firm was accordingly affected negatively.

It was interesting to note that at least one experienced expas seemed to think that the central government would eventually change its policy.  He, a savvy China-based consultant who has lived there for two decades, believed that the Chinese government’s interest in creating a friendly business environment would overwhelm other considerations with regard to the speed of Gmail.