Author: CJ OConnor

La République En Marche?

Can Macron make France a leader of the liberal world order?

The victory of Emmanuel Macron for French president and his party’s majority in parliament was perceived by many as the foundation of a new bulwark against the rise of the far-right both in Europe and around the world. After Hillary Clinton’s disappointing loss to Donald Trump in the United States’ presidential elections, it seems ill-advised to hope for any sort of truly liberal (or, apparently, coherent) leadership from the United States in the near future. The truly worrying support for Marine Le Pen’s candidacy throughout France and, indeed, Europe was enough to have many, including myself, watching the French elections with an interest usually reserved for an Australia-New Zealand Rugby World Cup final.

When the news broke that Macron’s party, En Marche, had (beyond most projections) won an actual parliamentary majority, giving him the requisite power to start making the changes to French labour law that he had been promising throughout his campaign, many political commentators were quite sincerely taken aback. Macron is young, liberal, English-speaking pro-business and pro-European Union. He is about as far as it is possible to get from either of the mainstream French parties, and in a different solar system entirely than that of his rival Marine Le Pen of Front National, the French extreme right.

However, the parliamentary majority that seemed such an impressive victory for Macron and En Marche did come under fire considering the remarkable rate of abstention from voting across France; over half of the country did not vote. Despite that crushing statistic, however, Macron has taken that majority and run, moving quickly to change laws and making a considerable impression both at home in France and overseas.

He moved quickly to secure meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, making generally favourable impressions. However, it would be premature to heave the sigh of relief that worldwide observers must be tempted to do.

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The Donald vs. the US Intelligence Community

If there’s anything that’s keeping me up at night, other than my PhD thesis, it is The Donald.

On a personal level, his (dis)temper, inadequate preparation for the exigencies of the office he has won, and his utter incapability to withhold commentary on absolutely anything that is purported to relate to him, concern me. The bigotry, homophobia, prejudice and racism upon which his campaign rested concern me. His “policies,” such as they are, concern me. His alliances with, and appointment of, heads of major corporations and individuals with a similar political acumen to himself (little to none), concern me. His policies toward immigrants, women, the disabled, and the poor concern me.

But there’s something more, that concern me as an Intel researcher.

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When terror hits home

As a student of political science, and as a researcher in intelligence, I am no stranger to the concept, history, and effects of terrorism. It has been widely researched, and in recent years has become a staple in the education of any person with the remotest interest in international affairs. Certainly it is a centerpiece of tertiary education in political sciences. However, being Australian and having been educated in New Zealand, terrorism has always been a remote practice, removed from my everyday life. That changed this week.

I must first admit that I was slightly behind the times when I woke up this morning. As a full time PhD student that also works twenty hours a week and reviews books in her ‘spare time,’ I rarely have enough hours in the day to complete my work AND keep up on current affairs beyond my express area of research. See, my gym session with the trainer this morning was an hour earlier than usual, so I had a little time on my hands afterward; I decided to get a coffee and some breakfast. As is my custom when I have the time to do this, I asked for the paper to read. When it was delivered to me with my glass of orange juice, all I could do was stare.

Terrorist plot foiled, seven arrested, Christmas Day explosions planned. Headlines I’ve seen before, as I’m sure many have. But this time, the plot that was foiled? Was in my city. My home. Several full colour photos dominated the multiple page spread; Flinders St Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Federation Square. I was in two of those places just two days ago, and across the street from the other. Doing my Christmas shopping, glaring at the horse-and-buggies, laughing with my sister. My sister, who it occurred to me this morning, had we been in the wrong place at the wrong time, could have been killed. By terrorists. In AUSTRALIA. In Melbourne. In our home city.

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Secrecy, privacy, security, transparency

End-to-end encryption for civilian messaging services is a dearly-held dream of many outside the intelligence and security communities. It certainly isn’t something that I myself disagree with; I’d like to think that the messages I send to my loved ones are, in fact, being read only by my loved ones. However, every time that somebody uses an app with E2EE to send a message or make a call, members of the worldwide intelligence communities cradle their heads in their hands and cry.

Allo-app-img_6663-640x427Yesterday, Google jumped on the ‘encryption-for-all!’ bandwagon, announcing their new messaging service Allo, messages sent through which not even Google itself will be able to decrypt (theoretically, and for now) when the app is operating in Incognito mode. After all, to the average citizen it is perfectly reasonable to take steps to ensure one’s privacy, especially when you know good and well that there are those out there with the capacity to intercept and read your unencrypted (and therefore insecure) messages should they choose to.

In fact, Google is actually late to the game on this one. As Wired pointed out earlier today, Facebook (with Messaging and Whatsapp) as well as Apple (iMessage, Facetime) have been quietly encrypting your communications for some time now. More people are aware of this now, due both to the consequences of the Snowden revelations and the extremely public throw down between Apple and the FBI over getting into the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter. And that’s the real rub. For all that we are entitled to privacy (and so we should be, not disagreeing with that!), our intelligence services and security organizations have the duty to protect against threats to the security of the State and the citizens therein (that would be us). Of course, the problem with that is privacy for everyone means privacy for everyone….including criminals and terrorists. Apple cannot build the FBI a backdoor into an iPhone, because that sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Not to mention, once that capacity exists it can’t be taken back, and absolutely nobody can guarantee that it won’t eventually trickle down to some who will use it negatively. This is an ethical as well as legal dilemma, and there really is no simple (or, so far, complex) solution.

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When it rains, it pours

The greater question is…why are there such repeated security leaks?

2016 has not been a banner year for large international corporations. It would seem that increasing globalization in combination with a higher level of technological savvy (and a healthy dose of employee discontent) is causing corporate corruption schemes to unravel. Between the Unaoil bribery debacle and the Panama Papers offshore funds scandal, some of the best-known global companies and personalities have been brought under the miscroscope by investigative journalism.

In recent years, a lot of scrutiny has been given to whistleblowers and leaks, particularly as they pertain to governments (Edward Snowden and PRISM, anyone?). However, what we have seen in the first few months of 2016 is the strength of journalistic investigtion bought to bear on multinational companies and global corruption on an increasing scale. And, more and more, current or former members of staff for these companies are the source for massive amounts of information that can and have resulted in arrests, ruined careers, and spectacular losses of reputation.

And another thing; current technology and Big Data being what it is, nearly unfathomable amounts of information are being released into the wild by these whistleblowers, and with every leak that volume of information is increasing. Wikileaks accounted for approximately 1.2 million documents (so far, anyway). Snowden made off with roughly 1.7 million documents. The Panama Papers, on the other hand, have been estimated at 11.5 million documents.

Eleven point five million documents. Consider that for a moment. 

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Clinton’s Albright Intervention

Or, If you have a uterus, vote Clinton!

Hillary Rodham Clinton is supposed to be the next generation of American President. One of the foundation stones of her campaign platform is becoming the very first female President in United States history. Intellectually, this would be an interesting foray into a possible political future. Certainly as a woman, the idea of a woman holding what is arguably the most powerful position in the world is a coveted ideal. It would be a beacon of hope not just for women and feminists, but for minority groups and the marginalized everywhere that pursue equal rights for all.

And this particular beacon is faltering. For the second time.

Hillary Clinton is a consummate politician. Throughout both the Presidency of Bill Clinton, and her time as Secretary of State for President Barack Obama, HRC showed the skill required to navigate international politics and succeed in her foreign policy aims. She should, therefore, have known better than to bring in someone who would imply that women should vote for Clinton simply because they share a gender. That is not politics. That is not spreading awareness.

That is idiocy.

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What would you pay for security?

Security is an expensive and precious commodity in the current age. Over the last decade in particular there has been an almost inconceivable increase in the amount of data available online. Equivalently, there has been a huge increase in the danger posed to the individual with an online presence.

Governmental bodies and software companies have taken advantage of the very real cyber threat by asserting standards of certification and authentication, normalizing online behaviour, and offering security packages designed to increase (the perception of) online security. Unfortunately, and as is becoming increasingly evident, security in cyberspace may be a pipe dream, at least in the sense of assured or total security.

I’m sure everyone has read at least the headlines of a half-dozen or more articles this year alone screaming about the massive loss of client or customer data by this firm or that. You’ve probably read or heard about the JPMorgan Chase hacks, the credit card info stolen from Target; maybe you yourself have been the victim of cyber exploitation. The point is, cyberspace is looking more and more like the American Wild West. Or possibly a game of Snakes and Ladders cut with the worst-ever game of Monopoly (pay each player $….). So, what would you do to remain (or become) safer online? 

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Communications Insecurity: Time to Return to Messenger Pigeons?

As most of us now know, much of what we do on the Internet can be monitored by pretty much whoever decides we are of interest. Whether or not you agree with government surveillance, no one can really deny that we enjoy the security that our governments provide us with (if you are lucky enough to live in such a country). A growing issue with the Internet and communications technology, however, is that increasing surveillance is also resulting in decreased security, both overall and for the individual layperson (that’s you and I).

If you’ve read @War by Shane Harris (and you should), you’ll know that certain agencies have been stockpiling zero days and building backdoors into commerical tech and software for years. You may or may not know that banks, commercial giants, and, you know, hackers of the black-hatted variety have been and are doing this as well.

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