The New Updated 2nd Edition of Psyclone is Out!

new Psyclone 2nd edition cover

Not only that, but it’s free to download in a variety of formats for a limited time. If you’re looking for or want to give someone something more than entertainment or distraction, something that actually connects to usable information that improves and even changes lives, go download it.

A Question of Privacy

Earlier this year, Royal Mail issued new guidelines on prohibited and restricted items that can and can’t be sent in UK and international mail. On the surface of it, these guidelines set out and clarify what was mostly common knowledge. The clarification itself appears innocuous enough, as mail and courier companies need to ensure the safety of their item handlers. This would be particularly so with international mail where items are transported in the cargo hold of an aeroplane, where limiting the transportation of, for example, aerosols, wet batteries and other corrosive and/or flammable liquids and/or solids makes perfect sense.

The classification of, for example, ammunition, controlled drugs and narcotics, explosives, poisons, toxic liquids or gases, infectious substances and pathogens makes less sense given existing restrictions on the possession and handling of such, but I guess if you’re going to issue guidance information then covering all bases makes sense.

The issue I, and others, have is how Royal Mail staff are going about making sure that these guidelines are adhered to. Too often what they have to say when presented with a package for international or national delivery goes along the lines of, ‘In the interests of security, could you tell me what is in the package’, which some individuals amend to, ‘In the interests of security, would you tell me exactly what the package contains’. I have encountered enough variations of the question that it would seem there is an absence of clear guidelines for Royal Mail counter staff themselves.

Now I am a very private person, and believe people have the right to the privacy of items they send in the post. So when asked the question I’ve been answering something along the lines of ‘None of the items listed as restricted or prohibited’. Invariably, this reply is unsatisfactory and I’m questioned again as to the exact contents of the package, to which I give the same reply. A conversation then ensues regarding my right to privacy and the way in which the type of question described above contravenes that right. The member of staff usually points out that it’s part of their job to make sure that none of the prohibited or restricted items are being sent. I agree with them, and point out that the way in which they are attempting to do so a) goes against my right to privacy, and b) isn’t the only way of achieving that objective. I then point out that the list of items is not unlike that applied to air travel baggage, the only, but important, difference in that instance is that airport staff achieve their security objective by indicating a publicly viewable list and asking travellers, ‘Does your baggage contain any of these items?’ A simple and direct question to which there are simple and direct answers, which achieves security objectives whilst respecting people’s right to privacy. I then state that it’s unlikely that the level of security sought by Royal Mail exceeds that of airline security, and repeat that I have familiarised myself with the list of prohibited and restricted items and can state that there are no such items in my package.

To date, I have not had a member of staff insist beyond that point on an exact description of the contents.

There are, however, several things that disturb me about the issue. I’m more than slightly disturbed by the possibility that what appear to be guidelines that are open to individual staff interpretation will result in some kind of a stand-off where, unless I relinquish my right to privacy, I am refused service. Another is that this latest ‘security’ move could be yet another precursor to a further erosion of people’s rights that will eventually manifest down the line after people have been conditioned to this change. Yet another is the responses I’ve witnessed of other people so questioned, who by the look of it register the question as an invasion of their privacy, but who don’t challenge the question and, although visibly unwillingly, go on to give out that private information. Too few people seem to care about their loss of privacy or seem willing to stand up for their rights.

Who wouldn’t comply though, ‘in the interests of safety and security’? Perhaps there is no problem as ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’, right? Not necessarily, is my answer to that, and a following post will expand my thoughts and that of other analysts and scholars on the issue.

For now I would suggest familiarising yourself with Royal Mail’s lists of prohibited and restricted items, which can be viewed online at the links below and/or in leaflet form from a Post Office counter.  The more proactive and privacy-valuing could then respond to Royal Mail questioning with the fact that they have done so and that their package does or doesn’t contain items listed. I’d be interested to hear people’s experience.

Prohibitions and Restrictions leaflet

http://www.royalmail.com/personal/help-and-support/Tell-me-about-Restricted-Goods

 

Surveillance Self-Defence

If you are looking for basic technical information on how to protect the privacy of your data in computer and mobile phone use, one of the best places to look is the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defence Project. There you will find advice on Defensive Technology for computers and mobile devices.

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The article Mobile Surveillance – A Primer from Mobile Active provides advice on identifying and understanding the security risks involved in using mobile phones and offers some suggestions for securing your mobile communications.

The article On Locational Privacy, and How To Avoid Losing it Forever details examples of threats (travel swipe-cards, congestion pricing,mobile phones, etc,) and presents practical, implementable suggestions for minimising the harm-to-privacy aspects of the technology.

Web sites
www.epic.org, Electronic Privacy Information Center.
www.crypto.org, Internet Privacy Coalition.
www.eff.org, Electronic Frontier Foundation.
www.privacy.org, privacy.org. Great information resource about privacy issues.
www.cdt.org, Center for Democracy and Technology.

Tech Tools for Activists

Recent days have revealed the shocking lack of security awareness of some politically active groups and individuals. As a result under consideration is a new Centre of the Psyclone blog page that will feature posts containing the kind of information needed to redress this risky…no, this potentially dangerous situation.

Advice and information will include the practical and the conceptual and will be drawn from a variety of sources that have proved themselves and their material ‘in the field’ so to speak.

Those concerned with their own and/or their group’s security, meatspace and/or cyberspace, would do well to check back soonish. In the meantime (and times are getting meaner) there are already posts on this blog related to security. As mentioned in them, some of the information is relatively dated although still very relevant and still valuable.

Here then is an addition to the material in those posts, a more up to date handbook produced by the folks at the HacktionLab. (An update is currently under production and expected in the spring.)

From the introduction to Tech Tools for Activists:

Effective political organising has always required good communication. Over the last two decades the information revolution has changed the way political activists communicate to an extent that was previously unimaginable. Alongside the new opportunities this has created, there also remains the age-old problem of how to get information to your political allies while maintaining confidentiality.

Communicating securely is everyone’s business. Even if your activism is super-fluffy, you can help make the internet safer for everyone by adopting good security practices. If only the people doing spiky things used these practices, they would attract attention just by doing so. Get into the habit of doing things securely before you really need to and you will be a thorn in the side of the surveillance state.

The aim of this short booklet is to provide a cursory introduction to the effective use of technology for activism. It is not a step-by-step guide. It does not aim to explore all the possible options for you, but rather sets out simple ideas about good practice and how activists around the world can use and are using these techniques to their advantage.

Personally, I put the played down note down to modesty. The ‘cursory introduction’ is actually brilliant, and essential reading for anyone serious about the subject who hasn’t already got their act together.

The 32-page booklet can be downloaded, free, from here.

Activist Security Handbook

Anyone considering exercising and/or protecting their democratic rights, and/or trying to change the world into a better place would benefit from reading the Activist Security Handbook.

Written by UK activists who have successfully campaigned for over a decade in the face of increasing repression from the state and corporations, it was first published in 2004 and reprinted in 2008, so there are aspects that could be a little more up to date. That’s more than made up for by the excellent tried and tested information and advice across a range of subjects such as:

  • Dealing with infiltrators
  • Security For Actions
  • Security for Demonstrations
  • Personal Security
  • Surveillance
  • Computer Security & Internet Privacy
  • UK Legal Issues

et cetera, et cetera

I highly recommend it. It can be freely downloaded (pdf), so why not check it out. As I’ve said, there are aspects to it that could be updated. If you feel you have something to offer in the way of up-to-date input (like how to avoid getting kettled!), get in touch with the producers at info@activistsecurity.org As they say, it’s intended as a resource for the entire social justice/anti-capitalist/environmental/animal rights collective movement, so it needs your input as well.