The Ring of Steel 

By Paul Chandler

For me, the only thing worse than being beaten, robbed, stabbed, shot, or violated in any other way, would be for my assailant to escape not only the scene of the crime, but also prosecution in a court of law. If you live in the United Kingdom and this happens to you, the chances of your attacker escaping justice are pretty much slim to none if the assault is carried out in a public place.

For more than two decades now, the people of the U.K. have been living their lives under the microscope of a state controlled all-seeing eye. “Big Brother”, a name commonly used when referring to the CCTV cameras installed throughout the country, has been watching people go about their daily business twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year during this time, and it’s not about to stop either.

Today there are more than 4.2 million CCTV cameras staring down from above onto the streets of Great Britain alone according to a 2006 report to the Information Commissioner by the Surveillance Studies Network. It’s estimated that just being out and about in London alone, that you are likely to come into contact with these cameras an average of 300 times a day.

You would think that this kind of coverage would easily persuade the criminal minded to behave themselves and become model citizens of their community, but the very real truth is, it doesn’t.

Starting in 1997, when the gun control laws were amended to virtually banish private ownership of all handguns, the number of crimes committed in the U.K. involving the possession of a firearm has actually increased, but even so, the number of gun-related deaths reported has dropped.

Statistics also show that the cameras do not deter violent crime as well as the Home office (U.K. version of Homeland Security) had hoped for, but they do effectively aid in the apprehension, prosecution, and sentencing of those involved in crimes with no witness or physical evidence.

Unsurprisingly, these very same cameras can also help in proving the innocence of the wrongly accused when a jury is presented with court evidence that strongly suggests otherwise.

So who or what brought about the transformation of an entire nation into a surveillance society? The answer to this question does not come easily and required many hours of research into the subject of CCTV and its history of use in the U.K.

After sorting through the vast amount of information that is freely available on the Internet and in print, I can tell you that there was no single person or thing that triggered this transformation, but rather a chain of violent historical events (watch video) that left both the citizens and the government of the U.K. desperately needing to feel safe once again.

Once you examine the history of violence in the U.K., it becomes very clear that attacks by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) are most responsible for the move towards the heavy use of CCTV systems in the U.K. by British law enforcement.

Since 1921, Irish Nationalist have been fighting the British over who should control Northern Ireland and its partition from the rest of Ireland by the British government. Ever since this separation, it has been the mission of the IRA to re-unite Northern Ireland with the rest of Ireland nationally, politically, financially, socially, and religiously by whatever means necessary, even if it means resorting to violent measures that more often than not, include civilian casualties.

They are especially fond of bombing crowded mass transit systems and areas where they can inflict damage not only physically, but also economically. The Underground (a.k.a. the tube because of its cylindrical design) and the Mainland Surface Transportation facilities of the U.K. have been a favorite target of the IRA for years simply because of the millions of people who use the system on a daily basis.
Between 1991 and 1998 there were 41 bombs and 6,762 telephoned bomb threats against the railways alone, most, if not all, by the IRA.

When you look at the data, it's no surprise that the rail systems of the U.K. are now littered with state of the art CCTV systems that rival those used in Las Vegas casinos to thwart card counting and other methods of cheating.

The bombing of Bishopsgate (London’s financial district) in 1993 resulted in a massive effort (nicknamed the "ring of steel") by the British police forces to increase the number of CCTV cameras present at entry points into the city and hundreds of other locations.

The expansion effort has continued unabated to this day with ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology being introduced in March of 2006 to the already existing CCTV camera systems present in the towns and cities of London. New technology that will allow cameras to detect anti-social behavior by reading body language is also being developed as well as facial recognition and voice recognition technologies.

Currently the U.K. is recognized around the globe as the world’s biggest user of CCTV cameras, and its long-time practice of conducting live monitoring of citizens has now spilled over into the U.S. (Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Philadelphia as of this writing) and other countries. The question now is, will history repeat itself? It looks like it already has.

Edward Snowden Video Interview with ACLU Attorney Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian

Video: This first live interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was given on Monday March 10th during the 2014 SXSW Interactive Conference held in Austin Texas

Unsecured Wireless Networks: How to Protect Your Data When Using Free WiFi

By Matt Smith

As many people now know, connecting to a public, unsecured wireless network can have serious risks. It’s known that doing this can provide an opening for all manner of data theft, particularly passwords and private information.

The specifics of why an unsecure connection can be a problem is more obscure, however – as are the methods that can be used to beef up your security even when using an unsecured public hotspot. Let’s have a look at the exact WiFi security risks of public networks, and the solutions available to counter those risks.

 Ah! My Airwaves!

The problem of unsecured wireless networks is a part of the way radios work. Unless specifically designed to do so, a radio won’t broadcast in any particular direction. It will send information across the airwaves in all directions.

As a result, anyone nearby can potentially pick up the data sent by a wireless radio, and if that data is unsecured, it can be read. WiFi security works by encrypting the data sent. It can still be picked up, but can’t be easily read because of the algorithm used to scramble it.

Most people understand this broad summary of the issue, but it’s actually a bit misleading, because it seems to imply that someone can simply open a notepad, connect to a public network, and watch passwords drop in. In truth, obtaining data even over a public WiFi network requires a certain level of knowledge about software such as WiFi scanners, and your average person simply doesn’t possess the necessary skills. Yes, there are tools like the FireSheep extension for Firefox that can hijack sessions easily in theory, but in practice some technical knowledge is usually required to do anything truly malicious.

HTTPS Security Is Your Friend

Attempts to read data can sometimes be thwarted by the first line of defense on a public WiFi network – site or service encryption. For example, when you type in and send your password across a network, it does not need to be, and ideally should not be, sent as “plain text”. It should instead be encrypted via HTTPS or SSL. The same goes for all potentially sensitive information.

Many sites will automatically switch to HTTPS when you visit a page that requires the exchange of potentially sensitive information. Some sites, like Google, Twitter and Facebook, give you the option to remain in HTTPS at all times. You can decrease your risk when using any public network by making sure that any site on which you are entering potentially sensitive information is secured. Usually this is as simple as watching for the “https” prefix on the URL. If you’re on a public network, and the site is not secured, then just wait until you’re home before entering any important information.

Use a VPN

Although HTTPS can be great, it does depend on the website’s implementation, which is something you have no control over. A poorly designed HTTPS site could have huge security holes – and it’s never wise to assume that a site has great security just because it’s popular.

A VPN is a great way to make public WiFi secure for your use 100% of the time. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s a method of creating a secured connection even on a network that is public and unsecured. Instead of connecting directly to the Internet, you connect to a specific server, which is itself connected to the Internet. The connection between your device and the server is encrypted, so the information you send is protected even on unsecured WiFi.

There are quite a few different ways to set up a VPN, but the easiest is to use a free VPN service. Free use of a VPN is usually limited to a certain amount of traffic per day or month, after which you’ll have to pay for more bandwidth. The speed of your connection might also be handicapped unless you pay up.

Tunnel For Safety

Another common method of creating a secure connection even on public WiFi is to use tunneling. Leave your shovel in the shed – this method is a server capable of SSH protocol.

Tunneling is the process of placing a packet sent via a specific network protocol inside another packet using a different network protocol. In the case of SSH tunneling, all packets are placed inside SSH packets, which are encrypted. The packets are then sent to the designated SSH server.

This method can also be used to work around attempts to block access to specific websites, which can be handy if you’re on a WiFi hotspot that’s trying to prevent you from accessing certain content without paying up. You can tunnel either by using a virtual server or by using your own server, which presumably would be left at home.


The best way to make sure your information isn’t obtained when using a public WiFi network is to not send any sensitive information over the network. This is not always practical, however, so the methods above can help provide extra security.

Of the three, relying on HTTPS is by far the worst, because only specific information will be encrypted and that information is designated by the site, rather than the user. Still, it’s better than nothing.


DHS wants Persistent Surveillance System Capable of 10 Square Kilometers

By Spencer Ackerman

It’s not just for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars anymore. The Department of Homeland Security is interested in a camera package that can peek in on almost four square miles of (constitutionally protected) American territory for long, long stretches of time.

Homeland Security doesn’t have a particular system in mind. Right now, it’s just soliciting “industry feedback” on what a formal call for such a “Wide Area Surveillance System” might look like. But it’s the latest indication of how powerful military surveillance technology, developed to find foreign insurgents and terrorists, is migrating to the home front.