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How To Foil NSA Sabotage: Use a Dead Man's Switch 259

mspohr writes "Cory Doctorow has an interesting idea published in today's Guardian on how to approach the problem of NSA 'gag orders' which prevent web sites, etc. from telling anyone that they have been compromised. His idea is to set up a 'dead man' switch where a site would publish a statement that 'We have not been contacted by the government' ... until, of course, they were contacted and compromised. The statement would then disappear since it would no longer be true. He points out a few problems... Not making the statement could be considered a violation of disclosure... but, can the government force you to lie and state that you haven't been contacted when you actually have?" has been doing this for years; rather than the statement disappearing in case of an NSL being issued, it simply would stop updating. Indeed, their canary text also points out the same possible flaws: "This scheme is not infallible. Although signing the declaration makes it impossible for a third party to produce arbitrary declarations, it does not prevent them from using force to coerce to produce false declarations. The news clip in the signed message serves to demonstrate that that update could not have been created prior to that date. It shows that a series of these updates were not created in advance and posted on this page."
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How To Foil NSA Sabotage: Use a Dead Man's Switch

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  • Er, obstruction...? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beaverdownunder ( 1822050 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:20AM (#44806627)

    Although cute, this 'idea' is irrelevant. Even if you made the case that you weren't contravening the letter of the request, you could still be charged with obstruction of justice, should your behaviour alter the conduct of the subject(s) under scrutiny. This puts the onus on you to lie.

    In short, good luck with that. They're already way ahead of you. Way, way ahead.

  • by plover ( 150551 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:40AM (#44806733) Homepage Journal

    Closing your website as a form of protest simply accomplishes the goals of the administration. If they can prevent your servicing a hundred other bad guys, they may happily choose to sacrifice chasing the one bad guy through your system. (Besides, it's not like there aren't other clues or trails out there.)

    Of course, such an act is visible, noble, and it gets people talking; and you're seen as a good person for doing so. But those effects are all transient, and little more than a flap in today's breeze. The administration knows the negativity will fade over time. So over the long term, the closings provide the chilling effect the administration desires.

  • by tlk nnr ( 449342 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:43AM (#44806749) Homepage

    The rsync canary is a good idea, another standard approach for delicate communications are job advertisements.

    In this case:
    A large ad in a suitable newspaper that you are searching for a lawyer.

  • by FriendlyLurker ( 50431 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:43AM (#44806751)

    Speaking of foiling NSA and other of the worlds shadowy sky organizations shenanigans, there are some great ideas floating about like this one posted a few NSA stories back by Anachragnome []: "The NSA has made it clear that making connections--following the metadata--is often enough to get an investigation started. So why not do the same thing? Turn the whole thing around? Start focusing on their networks. []"

    A sort of They Rule [] type network connection analysis on lists of people involved, start tallying connections and contacts build dossiers and trust-worthiness - combined with dead man switches for websites and professionally shunning anyone/organizations that have worked to subvert the security of the internet in favor of spying and undermining the social contract of the internet.

    In related news Reddit co-founder was exposed as wanting to sign up and use Reddit/his reputation as a mouthpiece/research partner for Stratfor []. Stratfor turned him down they already had people from the social networking world working for them apparently. Given Slashdot appears to give regular airtime to well known warmongering trolls [], will anyone be surprised if most sites like Slashdot are already on the payroll...

    The truth, it's just a leak away, it's just a leak awaaay....

  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:46AM (#44806773) Homepage Journal
    I'm curious, as that I've not played around with them in years, but are the nym servers [], and the mixmaster [] and other anonymous remailers out there still functioning and useful?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:48AM (#44806787)

    It is the moral responsibility of every single person to disobey unjust laws.

  • by Defenestrar ( 1773808 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:55AM (#44806847)

    In the case of a signed (and dated) statement, you still hold the controlling factor and would necessitate coercion on the behalf of the other party. If the other party (government or individual) is willing and able to bear sufficient coercion upon you to acquiesce to perjury, than the system fails. So, one should only implement such a model if one believes that the level of coercion is within the limits of one's conviction to resist - otherwise you're setting yourself and your "trusted" parties up for compromise.

    A "dead man switch" system like this certainly lends itself to a civil disobedience of passive resistance in the tradition of Gandhi, and MLK Jr. But what level do you go for? If I recall right (and strongly paraphrasing), Gandhi's solution to the atomic threat was to allow yourself to be nuked so that the children of the "victor" would express enough horror at the methods that they would reject the philosophy used for the strike and therefore giving the "victim" the final moral victory. Personally, I suspect that I am vulnerable to coercion threatening the annihilation of my entire nation - and probably even a lesser version closer to home.

    One thing I've learned about the country with the Bill of Rights is that there are times when the government does exceed its authority, and sometimes even the courts rubber stamp it (although not always - look at Jackson and the Supreme Court), but ultimately a correction factor is applied. Sometimes this is a groundswell of public ire, a brave confrontation like Ed Murrow, and often a combination of the two (i.e. civil rights in the '60s). Although occasionally, due to lack of notoriety or some such, the lesson isn't completely learned until the next generation reads it in their history books (i.e. syphilis study).

    Finally, one also need to make sure that anyone else with the authentication to substitute for you holds the same convictions. For example, Thoreau only spent the one night in jail because someone else paid his poll taxes.

  • Pre-emptive tweet? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:57AM (#44806861)

    At what point does a gag-order come into force? Just send a tweet "A government official has just entered the building with an envelope I haven't opened yet. Updates to follow...", followed by no updates.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:58AM (#44806875) Journal
    Yes the East German protesters had a nice hint about that "require violating a constitutional rule" aspect.
    Stand in front of an East German Church with a protest sign quoting the East German constitution.
    You would go to jail and face the full force of the system but the need for the State to act was seen in public.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:08AM (#44807569) Homepage

    Yes you do. I was born and raised in the USA and most everyone I meet approves of everything that they do to fight the boogymen.
    It is RARE to find someone that actually wants the govt to follow the constitution.

  • by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:33AM (#44807819) Homepage

    Sadly, this is the state of the country that I was once taught was supposed to stand for freedom in the world.

    Fortunately, it actually isn't.

    That is not to say that there are not some decidedly concerning excesses being committed by the government and its partners. From overreach by the executive branch, to undisciplined agencies like the NSA running havoc across our Constitutionally-protected (but not granted, important difference!) rights, down to the increasing aggressiveness of our police force, there are undoubtedly serious problems we as a nation need to face up to and rectify. These symptoms are indicative of a very worrying trend and it is right for Americans - and, indeed, citizens across the world - to take note of and speak against.

    But even cynical as I am, the despairing belief that the United States of America is currently little more than a well-disguised police-state is so blatantly false to anyone who lives here as to be laughable. I'll not deny that we might one day end in such a place and we must fight against it. But America still remains a bastion of freedom and while it may no longer be a beacon guiding others, it still shines brightly enough. That we can have this conversation without fear of retribution at all is testament to that fact. That (barring a further slide into tyranny) I expect to go through my life without worrying about ending up in a gulag for my particular beliefs is a testament to that fact. That I have an opportunity - however slight it may be - to help change the direction of this country should I chose to do so is testament to this fact.

    I still believe - contrary even to my expectations - that most Americans hold true to the ideals of this nation and would, given the chance, work to correct this nation onto a more favorable path. This even includes many of those we've granted positions of authority over ourselves. But between the vast bureaucracy of the government, the confusing melange of messages we get from the media and the self machinations of corporations, it is easy for these same Americans to feel powerless and so they do nothing. It's less apathy than a lack of a clear direction; they want to keep this country true to its ideals but do not know how - and worse, do not believe they can effect a change.

    So rather than despair I encourage people to remember what makes this nation great and fight against those who would destroy it for their own short-term gains. Don't just accept the status quo or through excess cynicism allow justice to slip through our fingers. Speak out against these illegal actions, both to fellow citizens and to your representatives in both the state and federal governments. More to the point, do not through inaction be an accomplice to such un-American activities such as the NSA has been enacting; take a stand against them. You don't have to directly oppose them, just don't be their agent; if there are those who wish to subvert the ideals of this nation, make them do their own dirty work. Even if your tiny resistance barely slows down the behemoth, combined we can force a new and better direction for this country. It's also why people in authority fear the Internet and strive to suborn its intent; it allows a collectivism amongst citizenry that has never before been possible. Use this great tool to encourage others - with words and ideas - to strive towards the great dream of America rather than merely accept an "inevitable boot to the face forever".

    This nation is at a critical juncture and our leaders are either unwilling or feel unable to enforce a change. It's time to remind them who truly wields the power in America - its citizenry. Don't mourn the passing of our freedoms before we even lose them; instead, stand up for those freedoms and warn those who would take them away that's not where we want this country to go.

  • by Давид Чапел ( 3032005 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:36AM (#44807847)

    Don't expect a prosecutor to buy this argument. Anything you do that alerts others to a gag order will be treated as a violation. You may win in court, but you will be thousands of dollars in debt defending yourself.

    That is the position he will take at press conferences. But will he think he can win in court? He will face formidible obstacles such as:

    • The case may bankrupt the defendant, but it will cost the prosecutor big too. It could easily blow up into a multi-year civil-rights battle against top lawyers.
    • The gag provisions of the law are distastful to almost everyone including those who think they are an unfortunately necessity.
    • The judge may well find the law distastful and be unwilling to enforce more than its letter.
    • The law will inevitably face tough constitutional challenges.
    • He should expect between multiple friend-of-the-court briefs from large organizations. These will contain extensive legal arguments citing previous cases and authorities probably going back to the 18th century. This will cost the defendant nothing, but the prosecutor will need numberous assistants to study all of them and prepare responses.
    • In order to prove his case he will have to reveal classified information. He will have to prove that the accused actually received a secret order and didn't decide to discontinue the announcements for some other reason.
    • His every move will trigger another news story in which he will figure in a highly unfavorable light.
    • The constant press coverage will keep a distastful law before the public eye which may lead to changes in the law which he would not like.

    So yes, it is a risk for the potential defendant, but for the prosecutor it is a trap.

  • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:37AM (#44807861)

    No, we don't "love it", we're appalled, angry, embarrassed and saddened. Trust in government is at an all-time low.

    I beg to differ. You and I may be appalled, angry, embarrassed, etc., but the American public, in general, seems quite content to let their government continue the ass-ramming they've been giving to our Constitution since 2001.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears