Melted my Mind during a Mind Meld!

For all dedicated and part time “Trekkies” both young and old it was a sad day this year to learn of the passing of Dr Spock, Leonard Simon Nimoy. Probably the most type cast actor in the history of television.
“Spocky” was capable of conducting a Vulcan mind meld. The Vulcan mind meld was a telepathic link between two individuals, allowing for the exchange of thoughts, thus in essence allowing the participants to become one mind.
Even the fictional character Dr McCoy quoted back in the day “Vulcan mind melds; utter foolishness. Anybody with an ounce of sense wouldn’t share his brain with someone else; would you? I certainly wouldn’t.”
The first real step was taken in 2013 when researchers Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco, completed the first human-to-human mind meld, with one researcher sending a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motion of a colleague sitting across the Seattle campus of the University of Washington
“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains. We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”
Andrea Stocco – University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

This is not a standalone step but rather a progression in the decade’s long research into brain computer interface.
Implications from technological change on the battlefield have always driven innovation and invention.

During the American Civil War, field commanders did not realise the impact the new rifled musket and mini ball would have on tactics.

They persisted in using outdated tactics and the result was over 600,000 deaths and more than 80,000 amputations during its four deadly years.

The longer range had soldiers running into the face of at least three volleys rather than one and rarely coming to grips with the enemy.

The spinning bullet striking any arm or leg would split the bone and invariably require amputation.

Any visit to antique, second hand and curio shops throughout America reveals a multitude of artefacts and inventions used by civil war amputees in the years after the war.
It is not surprising then given the number of amputee veterans resulting from IED’s (improvised explosive devices) during the last decade of America’s military efforts that major funding has come from the U.S. Army Research Office and the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

The primary interest is brain-computer interfaces, in which electrical signals generated from one brain, are translated by a computer into commands that can move a mechanical prosthesis helping paralysed patients regain some power of movement.
But brain to brain experimentation has some bioethicists raising concerns about the more controversial uses.

They have a particular concern with experimentation into brain-networking. This method involves the linking brains together to create a collective network of thought.
For example in recent experiments, Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke University wired the brains of four rats and had the same signal delivered into their brains and when a computer monitor showed their thoughts were synchronised they were offered a reward.

They were able to manipulate the brain patterns of the rats so they shared a collective thought pattern.

The resulting manipulation enabled the minds of the rats to act as an information-processing chain.

In other words they were able to train one rat to produce a brain activity and pass this onto the second rat that in turn passed it onto the third.
Don’t buy any shares in a rat trap company I’m thinking.
They have also demonstrated this with monkeys which don’t bode well for my mates at the pub.
“This is the first demonstration of a shared brain-machine interface (BMI), a paradigm that has been translated successfully over the past decades from studies in animals all the way to clinical applications,” Miguel A. Nicolelis – Director of the Centre for Neuro-engineering at Duke University

Will some futuristic marriage celebrant have a marriage mind meld ritual chip planted in the couples brains as part of the wedding service conducted on a holographic beach complete with virtual guests?

Forever after when your darling asks you “what are you thinking?” You will be truly screwed.
No more nothing, saying nothing will no longer do.

Related Articles:
Scientists achieve first human-to-human ‘mind meld’
Real-Life Mind Meld? Scientists Link Animal Brains
Scientists ‘mind-meld’ a rat and monkey
Researcher controls colleague’s motions in 1st human brain-to-brain interface
Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans


Voyagers Last Voyage

I remember seeing an amazing documentary called painting with numbers. It covered the beginnings of computer graphics. It was around the time when the “Space Race” was in its final days. Modern warfare stimulates technological development tenfold. During the time of the cold war, hindered by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) the “Space Race” provided the modern equivalent of the technological advantages usually confined to the hot wars that preceded it. It did this with only 13 lives lost. Despite the fact the lunar module had only 2 “486” computers on board the technological spin offs lasted for decades afterward. It also left us with the much feared millennium bug awaiting us at the centuries turn. Didn’t that turn out to be a “whimper” rather than a “bang”?  Nevertheless the Space Race was the political sharp end of the Cold war.

Who would get there first? Dogs and monkeys died for the cause. Did the walk on the moon advance our scientific knowledge of the solar system? Not really. Behind all this the NASA project with the potential to advance our knowledge of space, was the Voyager project.

It was not sexy. It was having trouble attracting corporate funds. Even the tax payers were tired. The moon shot had drained the purses of NASA’s big business contributors. Those pesky Russians had got into space first but the US of A got to the moon first and declared themselves winners of the space race and no humans have ever been back since. The Voyager project languished in its aftermath.

In an endeavour to advertise the NASA project some of the first computer graphic artists at Utah University were commissioned to produce a fly by animation showing Voyagers projected journey through our solar system. At the heart of this computer graphic animation was a man considered the father of computer graphics, Jim Blinn. The amazing thing was that the graphic artists were updating their artist’s impressions of the planets with the real details as the images started to come back from Voyager’s cameras. I think it was Jim Blinn in an interview in the documentary who said that in one of the areas on Mars they had put dramatic mountains and valleys only to find the real images showed only long flat, dead and boring plains. They left their impressionist mountains in. They projected the dismay of some future Martian explorer in a “wtf” moment with his Martian map.

This month on September the 12th, Voyager left our solar system. This wonderful little (722 kilogram) space probe on its 36 year long journey is the first manmade object to have left our solar system for the dark depths of interstellar space.

Voyager 1’s departure is an incredible achievement in the context of space exploration. It has covered about 19 billion kilometres since its launch, due largely to the sling-shot action of other planets.” – Warrick Couch (Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.)
“Not even NASA expected the craft to withstand the harsh environment of space for 36 years, much less bring fascinating results back of the kind of environment that exists beyond our solar system.” –  Astrophysicist Alan Duffy (Melbourne University)

Launched on the 5th September 1977 Voyager I had on-board software with less than 40 KB of memory. A 16 GB iPhone 5 has about 240,000 times the memory of the Voyager spacecraft. Designed by pencil and paper in a pre-computer age this amazing little space probe still transmits data back to Earth using a 22.4 Watt transmitter, the equivalent of a refrigerator light bulb. Those signals take 17 hours at the speed of light to reach Earth.

“It’s amazing it’s lasted as long as it has. I don’t know how we could have done things much better than they were done. I mean things do wear out, and we’ve had to switch to some of our backup systems, but fortunately we have backup systems. That was part of the wonderful design of Voyager.” – Edward Stone

The probes plutonium power supply will not run out until somewhere between 2020 and 2025. The darkness of interstellar space renders the on-board cameras useless so they have been turned off.

Si-Fi writers have made much of the gold plated disc placed on the probe. The predictable not very imaginative scenario goes: Aliens find the disc, follow the probes pathway back to earth and wipe us all out. The audio visual disc contains photographs of our life forms, spoken greetings from already forgotten world leaders and a medley of the sounds of earth. This includes a version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode” which is ridiculous in itself but may well keep any self-respecting alien well and truly away. Even when its power supply shuts down it will continue on and in 40,000 years from now approach our nearest neighbouring stars.

Voyagers solitary one way journey was followed by other Voyager and Pioneer probes the last being the New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006. Not only have all these probes given us amazing science and photographs of the planets within our solar system they will eventually help answer the disputed question of where in fact does the solar system end and the unknown begin?

For someone like me who bought their first computer in the 70’s and eagerly awaited each weeks “Star Trek” episode, Voyagers journey mirrors our own journey of discovery with technology into a world now we could never have imagined in 1977. I don’t care if Voyager I turns out to be a modern message in a bottle on an endless sea never to be found or if it brings back a ravaging alien race bent on our destruction, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the designers and operators and commend them on the success of their brainchild as it now leaves us behind for the great unknown.

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Big Bad Drive by Drones

So far it is estimated that the big bad drones in the US targeted killing program have conducted over 300 strikes and killed over 3000 people. Figures on civilian casualties are somewhat hazy.
“Well, the truth is that no one really knows exactly what’s going on with their effectiveness or not, because this is a program that has been wrapped in secrecy. Every aspect of this program is secret, so secret, in fact, that even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be overseeing this program are not able to see even the legal justification for the program.”  – Chris Anders

By declaring the never ending war against terror it is easier to argue its legitimacy under the 2001 AUMF (Authorization of the use of military force) where both republicans and democrats have argued that drone strikes into other sovereign nations without a declared war is legal in terms of self-defence, in targeting individuals actively threatening the United States.
“Yes. Well, that’s part of the issue here is we have an ongoing conflict with a terrorist organization that has declared jihad or war against the United States.” Seth Jones

This policy is soon to be tested by the appointment of a special investigator into civilian deaths by drones within the United Nations. Already the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has begun to debate if robots should be allowed to take human life without direct supervision or command.
“The possible introduction of LARs (lethal autonomous robots) raises far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace. If this is done, machines and not humans will take the decision on who is alive or dies.”  – Christof Heyns (UN special rapporteur)
He went on to say:
“War without reflection is mechanical slaughter. In the same way that the taking of any human life deserves – as a minimum – some deliberation, a decision to allow machines to be deployed to kill human beings deserves a collective pause worldwide.”

I suspect all this deliberation is already too late. During the debate Pakistan’s council delegate Mariam Aftab said “The experience with drones shows that once such weapons are in use, it is impossible to stop them,” Pakistan being on the receiving end of a majority of the anti- terrorism drone strikes has some credibility in this argument.
The other side of the debate is characterised by: robots don’t rape. Future robots may well be designed to be more precise, employ less lethal force thereby causing fewer unnecessary deaths and have a greater ability to disarm or immobilise a target.
“LARs will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life. Typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear.” – Christof Heyns
No autonomous “Killer robots” are yet known to exist as unmanned drones require humans to control them, however many countries have precursor technology in place.

Australia does not stand outside of this debate. Currently we are complicit in the drone strikes as the Pine Gap base in central Australia plays a key role. It tracks and locates al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders by precise “geolocation” of radio signals including from hand held radios and mobile phones. The base is capable of preforming this task right across the Middle East, China, North Korea and the Russian Far East.
“We track them, we combine the signals intelligence with imagery, and once we’ve passed the geolocation intelligence on, our job is done. When drones do their job we don’t need to track that target anymore. The US will never fight another war in the eastern hemisphere without the direct involvement of Pine Gap,” one official said.

Meanwhile drone technology continues to improve. The Northrop Grumman’s X-47B carrier-launched drone has successfully been launched from an aircraft carrier. The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft program aims to produce an autonomous robotic attack plane capable of spying on and attacking enemies.
“With a stealthy bat-wing air frame, a 3200 kilometre range and the ability to carry the equivalent of two precision-guided bombs, the X-47B will provide a long-range, radar-evading, unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft.” – Sean Gallagher

America’s dominance in drone technology may well be a thing of the past. The continual cyber-attacks on American defence contractors suspected to be coming from out of Shanghai may have already stolen and reverse engineered much of the technology.
“I believe this is the largest campaign we’ve seen that has been focused on drone technology. It seems to align pretty well with the focus of the Chinese government to build up their own drone technology capabilities.” – Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence at the company, FireEye, based in California.

The Shanghai hacker group believed to be called the “Comment Crew” has been tracked by an American cyber security company to a building outside Shanghai owned by the People’s Liberation Army. Although vigorously denied by the Chinese government, it is certainly no secret that the Chinese government and military are strenuously pursuing drone technology. Every major arms manufacturer in China has a research centre devoted to drones. China is already dispatching drones over the disputed Japanese Islands and apparently killed a criminal suspect in Myanmar last year. It is thought that China is already selling cheap versions of reversed engineered models resembling the Predator. Photographs of runway trials of a stealth combat drone the “Stealth Sword” have surfaced recently on the internet.
A Taiwan Defence Ministry report in 2011 reported Chinas drone fleet of 280 units. Although it does not match the 7000 drones deployed by the US its fleet does rank second in the world.
“The military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is alarming,” said a 2012 report by the Defence Science Board, a Pentagon advisory committee.

The main character in George Orwell’s “1984” states:  “No matter how hard he digs at his memory, Winston is uncertain whether a time existed when Oceania was not at war with someone.” The ongoing borderless war against terror is becoming disturbing reminiscent of the world described in George Orwell’s book. The chances the United Nations will be able to curb the technological race for remote and automated killing machines is becoming less likely by the day.

Related Articles:
Exploring Technology, Effectiveness, Consequences of Drone Warfare
Stop killer robots now, UN asks
Drone Lands On Aircraft Carrier In Historic First
Navy commissions new designs on armed, carrier-launched drones
Pine Gap helps US drone strikes
Hacking U.S. Secrets, China Pushes for Drones

Assassinated by a DIY Drive by Drone

On September the 15th at a campaign rally both Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere watched seemingly unconcerned as a small quadrocopter dived and crashed at their feet in a simulated robo-kamikase attack. The Parrot A4 drone was operated by a member of the German Pirate Party protesting the cancellation of the Euro Hawk drone program as well as the level of government surveillance Germans have discovered they are subjected to. I thought it was an apt story as the 19th Sep was Pirate Day in Australia. I had no idea we even had pirates, ever. I’ll put that in my book of useless knowledge.

It does raise the spectre of a do-it- yourself drone, swapping its Go Pro camera for a hand grenade and doing a drive by drone attack on some world leader. Instigated by one the multi-various political nutter groups proliferating on the planet. It could have been one of the new 3D Robots, preassembled, multiple crash surviving, kit drones. Supposedly targeted at the hobbyist wanting a high altitude, aerial backyard “selfie”, its PX4 Flight management unit installed on a simple android devise is fully capable of a nasty drone drive by assassination.  It will survive a lot of crashes while the “perps” learn how to remotely set it off at the bicycle wheel of one of our less popular “pollies” and blow him out of his budgie-smugglers on an early morning ride around Lake Burley Griffin. All for $730 plus the going price of a mail order hand grenade from EBay.

Where political assassins go the police and criminals are soon to follow.  In its war on crime the South Australian Police have stated they will use drones to spy on suspects. Deploying stealthy miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with still, video, and infra-red cameras they will spy on bikie fortresses, find drug crops, and gather intelligence without putting officers at risk. Ignoring the civil libertarians whining about “Big Brother in the Sky” they justify it by saying that everyone else in the world is already using them.
UAVs represent a cost effective solution for a range of policing operations, especially in situations when using conventional aircraft is too dangerous or costly. They can be fitted with a variety of cameras, can be deployed in minutes, and can fly at heights that effectively make them inaudible from the ground. Images from the on-board cameras can be transmitted in real time, giving police a significant advantage during incidents and operations, often in situations when manned, conventional aircraft can’t be used. The quadcopters are also ideal for quick inspections of towers, buildings, or premises when police are searching for explosive devices, or after a fire or an explosion. And, the UAVs have excellent capability for use in areas of rugged terrain, especially during searches for missing people or for illicit drug crops.” – Police Minister Michael O’Brien

In an ex-convict colony, Australians are noticeably wary of these new digital rum corps “Troopers” and fear that this “eye in the sky” capability could make people afraid of attending protests and could be used to track people without their knowledge. That’s just the tip of the nasty and nebulous iceberg of concerns. Already about 34 organisations across Australia are certified to use drones for aerial photography, surveying and power line inspection.
I await the first story reporting some Nimbin dope croppers protecting their patch of Mullumbimby Madness by a mid air ramming of the police quadcopter with a cheaper Hobby Shop quadcopter. It also gives the idea of robbers “casing” the joint a whole new meaning. Will nuisance hobby geeks conducting aerial “perving”, stalking and bullying be one more thing our society will have to contend with?

Kids in Iran have to do civil defence taught by Revolutionary Guard paramilitary units. They plan to add subjects to the program to teach drone-hunting to school students. They are called “Defensive Readiness” lessons. The methods taught will get to the internet sooner or later, with footnotes.  It will be on YouTube with step by step pause enabled transitions. It could lead to a new weekend pastime. Let’s go to the beach and drop a few drones. Will we see Tweets saying “Country Energy= 0 Dread Dropouts of Dungog = 1, Go Team?” It’s scary. It’s here already. The genie is out of the bottle never to be put back in. I want one.  The 3D Robots quadrocopter will be released in September.

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A Robot Funeral?

I admit somewhat reluctantly that I have had emotional involvements with things, inanimate objects that is, particularly motors. As if “start you barstard” could actually work but you try it on anyway. Men can become really attached to a gurney. What every man needs is a Gurney. It gives us the three things any man needs for a semi spiritual experience. Instant Results, men love instant results. With a gurney you have got dirty concrete then its clean. None of this what are you thinking stuff. No emotions involved, no discussion just instant realisable results.

Secondly it involves repetitive, mindless motion. In the words of Mark Gungor a marriage expert, men’s minds are made up of tiny little boxes. Each box can contain only one thing. Everything has a box, everything should be put in its right box. Except our nothing box. We have one box with nothing in it. It’s our favourite box. When our women ask us “What are we thinking?” and we say: “Nothing” we are not kidding. Our women don’t have a nothing box and don’t understand why we men love and need our nothing box. The best way to get into our nothing box is to do something with mindless repetitive motion.

Thirdly and most importantly it has a motor. Any man will tell you that there is nothing better than the sound of a Briggs and Stratton in the morning.

Apparently we are becoming emotionally attached to robots too. In an interview with 23 explosive ordinance personnel who regularly used robots, Julie Carpenter, a Ph.D. in education at the University of Washington concluded that they were emotionally attached to their robots. They attributed them with feelings, pet names and genders to the point that they may in future be reluctant to put them in harm’s way.
“They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add ‘poor little guy,’ or they’d say they had a funeral for it. These robots are critical tools they maintain, rely on, and use daily. They are also tools that happen to move around and act as a stand-in for a team member, keeping Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel at a safer distance from harm.  You don’t want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool. If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making.” – Julie Carpenter

I must admit I have never known a man to give a motor a funeral let alone a 21 gun salute as suggested during comments on Reddit. We did keep lots of old motors out the back of the machinery shed on the farm. My father had that age old excuse that they “might come in handy one day”. If he did throw something away it seemed uncanny that a short time later a need for the discarded part appeared like magic. Consequently he never threw any part away. He could of course be accused of border line hoarding. In fact my mother did often accuse him of border line hoarding. I knew of course that it was secret men’s business. I never questioned it and now have a garage full of parts that might one day come in handy.

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Empathy for military robots could affect outcomes on the battlefield

Cyberwar is not New, it’s Now Against You!

The revelations of Edward Snowden just keep on keeping on. At a TED talk in 2011 Ralph Langner revealed the details of the Stuxnet computer worm. It was sophisticated and far beyond the capabilities of some gothic hacker cult in the back-end of the Ukraine. It could only have been developed by the government of an advanced country. The frightening fact Langer pointed out was that it is generic and could be used in the future against any advanced infrastructure needing instantaneous digital fail safe systems. Stuxnet had two payloads in its Iranian deployment. One introduced an intermittent error into the nuclear plants centrifuges to drive the engineers insane and forever delay the construction of their nuclear weapons. The other, in case all else fails, to cause the centrifuges to spin out of control, explode and take down the plant. One day it will be movie plot to look forward to. Exactly how was the Stuxnet worm placed onto the laptop or USB of an engineer working with the closed grey box systems inside the Iranian nuclear power plant?
On July the 9th of this year, Jacob Applebaum for the German daily Der Spiegel interviewed Snowden who stated that the US and Israel were behind the development and deployment of the stuxnet computer worm.

It is a long held tenet of warfare that the invention of a weapons system immediately starts the development of its counter. If no one invents a tank there is no need to invent an anti-tank gun. After the southern general “Stonewall” Jackson had 20 cavalry troopers ride in a circle across the face of a gap in the trees to fool one of the many incompetent union generals into reinforcing the wrong flank the union army started its first deployments of hot air balloons for observation.

World War II stimulated the fastest technological development in the modern era until the space race, the first and only relatively bloodless war so far. In the six years of WW2 we went from aircraft of wood, canvas and glue to the first jet. The German communication code, the enigma machine designed by Arthur Scherbius was broken early in the war by three Polish cryptologists Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. They gave the method of breaking the code to the British for nothing. The British further refined code breaking in the top secret “Ultra” program at  Bletchley Park. This effectively negated Germany’s superiority in war fighting and generalship and Winston Churchill claimed after the war that it was the major contributing factor to the allied victory. This also shows that the concept of cyberwar is by no means new. If the enigma machine was anything it was an early computer even if it wasn’t on the internet.

Countermeasures to new technology can also involve reusing old technology in a new way. The most amazing example is the British army’s use of the skills of one Jasper Maskelyne in the battles of North Africa. Maskelyne was the last of a long line of famous European magician’s and illusionists. Using his skills he was able to create the illusion of the city of Alexandria in the middle of an empty desert that the Germans proceeded to bomb the crap out of while the real city remained relatively untouched. With canvas and wood he created a shell game that made tanks look like trucks and trucks look like tanks to create a dummy army that helped win the battle of El Alamein.

In the conflict in Vietnam the US deployed electronic probes by air along the Ho Chi Minh trail, disguised as bamboo plants to detect the movement of people. When discovered the North Vietnamese soldiers urinated on them sending many a freaked out US airman running to his officer screaming that thousands upon thousands of drug crazed, suicide squads of hardcore North Vietnamese soldiers were moving south. In reality it was Nigel Nog after a hard night on rice wine pissing on the probe happily chuckling “Take that Yankee dog.”  Another example of the powers of piss.

The deployment of clouds of silver foil named chaff over the cities of Germany in WW2 confused radar systems to the numbers and direction of allied bomber streams as they laid waste to Germany. In a sophisticated redesign the US army in the first Iraq war in 1990 deployed the BLU-114/B “Soft-Bomb” which dispersed clouds of fine carbon filaments over electrical switching stations that shorted out 70% of Iraq’s power in the first hours of the war.

Although I am drawing a fine line with the definition: Cyber warfare is Internet-based conflict involving politically motivated attacks on information and information systems. My examples provide a timeline of attack methods that used to be conducted against enemy armies. However now including private organisations and individuals and is becoming increasingly personal. Just as behavioural tracking was once confined to building buyer profiles for particular demographics to now becoming pointed and personal and directed specifically to your individual online profile.

A new survey carried out by Lieberman Software Corporation at Black Hat USA 2013 asked 200 senior IT security professionals a series of questions with a conservative 58 per cent admitting they think we’re losing the battle against state-sponsored attacks with 74 per cent already believing their corporate network has been the victim of an attack from a state-sponsored hacker out of another country with 96 per cent thinking that hacking will worsen over time.
“The threat of state-sponsored attacks is extremely serious for government and commercial entities.  The probing of IT infrastructures in both environments is occurring 24/7, with attacks being launched on a regular basis,” said Philip Lieberman, president and CEO of Lieberman Software.

Just last week reports that the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a pro-Assad hacking group used a cleverly constructed phishing email and by sneaking through the unsecured backdoor of a reseller were able to alter the DNS records for the New York Times, Twitter, and the Huffington Post and take them offline.
“Social-engineering and most specifically phishing is one of the largest attack surfaces we face in the security industry. Hacking through websites and breaching perimeters takes way too much time and usually not worth the effort. Sending a targeted email to a company almost guarantees you access to whatever you want and we aren’t capable of handling these types of attacks right now,” said Dave Kennedy the founder of TrustedSec.

Well we as individuals better develop that capability if others cant. We also should be proactive in helping with the security of the small business’s and organisations we work for. Maybe a power to the people development of a toolkit of counter measures has to begin at a grassroots level to protect the principles of online freedom first introduced by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation in 1990. The co-founder John Perry Barlow’s quote: “Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” seems to becoming increasingly apt.

Maybe we all need to start holding CryptoParty‘s in our neighbourhoods.

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I Got Done by an Insect Drone

I watched a chilling documentary long ago about British troops in Ireland. It followed a young soldier starting his tour of duty with an army company. He was stationed in a fortified barracks on the cross roads of four streets. Each platoon of soldiers were responsible for a street. The soldiers had to familiarise themselves with every resident in the street they patrolled. They had to be able to recognise them on sight as well as their regular visitors. Every morning surveillance footage from hidden cameras everywhere were monitored for any suspicious nightly movements, cross referenced to determine all movement to and from that street and to other streets. Young clean skins were considered the greatest danger. Uncle Sean a known IRA sympathizer might have a young 18 year old first cousin with no previous form that he could recruit to the cause. He would use him as a driver to avoid police harassment and as a messenger under the army’s radar, a clean skin. The way the army attempted to discourage these young men was to have all new soldiers study the young men’s mug shots so that the first time that soldier went out to patrol their street they could verbal that young man as they went past. “We know you, young Hamish and we know all about your uncle Sean and one day we will have you in the Maze Prison for the rest of your life.” They made these nasty little threats to attempt to pre-empt any aid the young man might give his uncle. “I can’t Uncle Sean they already know me, a soldier I’ve never seen before threatened me just the other day on the street.” As you watched these soldiers patrol the street you saw their movement training centred around using passing civilians as human shields from potential snipers across the street. Something not lost on the residents and guaranteed to feed the hatred. The British army’s techniques in Ireland were then considered state of the art in surveillance and counter terrorism.

One very big problem emerges however when one society does this to another which the British learned the hard way. The IRA decided to give the British a taste of their own medicine. You do this to us on our streets then we will sow some fear on yours, so the bombs started to go off on the streets of London. So where do you think the hidden cameras and monitoring techniques were then deployed? You got it, on the streets of their own cities. They began to spy on their own people for their own safety. Sound familiar! So petty crim Freddy gets spotted doing an “off the back of the truck” sale in the car park at the back of the pub. Nigel gets picked up doing a “dodgy deal done dirt cheap” down some dark alley. Not that we condone petty crime but if you have ever had to live on the low end of life you will know that looking the other way is a well established survival technique if you are poor, disadvantaged and unemployed. Take it away and you get a compliant, colourless and fearful society. Just ask any German who lived through the forties.

The major military spending in the American air force under president Obama’s watch has been the drone program. Much controversy has been attached to this program of remote killing. From the border violations of friendly nations to the collateral damage of civilians, mistaken targets and targeting gone wrong all has been condoned as a necessary evil in the war on terror. The video game cries of victory following the muted black and white video explosions seen in clips on YouTube from soldiers who seem to have no guilt in self documenting the death they deal has been seen by us all. I don’t know about you but it sure as shit shocks me.
Well true to history, reports have emerged this week of the FBI deploying drones for domestic surveillance in the skies over their own people. Off course this is in a “very, very minimal way” FBI Director Robert Mueller stated in senate testimony last Wednesday.
It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,” Mr Mueller said. “It is very narrowly focused on particularised cases and particularised needs.” I feel OK now, that statement has me feeling all warm and fuzzy.
The Department of Homeland Security has been using drones for some time along the US Mexican border. It makes the movie Sleep Dealer a 2008 futuristic science fiction film directed by Alex Rivera hauntingly relevant of times to come. Apparently the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ‘‘have purchased drones and are exploring their use in law enforcement.’’ In march of this year on the Senate floor, legislative action allowing the President power to order a drone strike against a ‘‘non combatant’’ American inside the United States was blocked at the last minute.

Drone technology itself is developing rapidly. Reports of the development of stealth drones, miniature drones and airship drones are being released regularly. I have listed some of these in the Related Articles below for your interest. Private sector “Droning” is also becoming an issue from security companies to self-help home surveillance to just pure nuisance surveillance. Now any idiot with a $300 quadcopter with a GoPro camera attached controlled by an app on their IPad can become a suburban pain in the arse. Everything from “perving” on a bird (girl) basking buck naked in her back yard to hovering in the flight path of an approaching passenger jet is being reported. I read one account of some “nutter” in England who wanted to see how high his quadcopter could go only to have it snatched away by upper atmospheric winds to finally fall to earth somewhere in Switzerland. He had the Police turn up on his doorstep charging him for attempting to spy on another sovereign nation.

This all sounds a bit “thin edge of the wedge” to me. Creeping, incremental small print legislation late at night and behind closed door committee room voting and before we know it we will have insect drones hovering everywhere for our own good. A bit paranoid you think? Maybe, but I predict sales of sling shots will double.

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