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Spain’s hologram protest: Thousands join virtual march in Madrid against new gag law

15 Apr
Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

‘You will only be allowed to express yourself if you become a hologram’

Late last year the Spanish government passed a law that set extreme fines for protesters convening outside of government buildings.

In response to the controversial Citizen Safety Law, which will take effect on July 1, Spanish activists have staged the world’s first ever virtual holographic political demonstration.

After months of massive flesh-and-blood protests against the so-called ‘gag law’, thousands of holograms last night marched in front of the Spanish parliament in Madrid.

Organised by the group Holograms for Freedom, ghost-like figures holding placards took aim at the imminent draconian measures, arguing that holographic people are now afforded greater freedoms than their real-life counterparts.

Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

The ‘NoSomosDelito’ (meaning: ‘We are not crime’) movement – composed of more than 100 different organisations – called upon sympathisers around the world to participate in the landmark event by simply webcamming their face via the campaign website.

More than 2,000 virtual images were sent and used in the hour-long hologram demonstration, El Pais reported.

Under the Citizens Safety Law, it is illegal to gather in front of government buildings without permission from authorities; this includes everything from universities to hospitals.

Organisers of unauthorised demonstrations could be fined up to €600,000, with further €600 fines for disrespecting police officers, and €30,000 for filming or photographing them.

Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

In a video promoting the protest, a spokeswoman said: “With the passing of the Gag Law, you won’t be allowed to assemble in public spaces without risking a fine.

“Ultimately, if you are a person, you won’t be allowed to express yourself freely. You will only be able to do it if you are a hologram.”

Spokesman Carlos Escano told Spanish newspaper El Mundo: “Our protest with holograms is ironic.

“With the restrictions we’re suffering on our freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, the last options that will be left to use in the end will be to protest through our holograms.”

via The Independent.


What if change never comes?

31 Aug

Are you waiting for change? Change that was promised to you in the last election campaign, or the one before that, or even earlier? What if that change never comes? The clips in this video highlight something we all know but either ignore, or feel powerless to change. Politics is losing its appeal, the lines are blurring, and political leaders, regardless of their party affiliation, seem to be singing the same tired old tune.

Having allowed ourselves to be seduced by bold political promises ay election time, when we look back we often see that, in reality, very little has changed. Certainly it feels like there have been very few significant changes for the better in recent years. It’s common to see articles complaining about how “they” – usually meaning one or other political leader – have failed to introduce beneficial changes, while at the same time introducing unexpected changes that have a negative impact, or are imposed on us without consultation. However, what should ultimately determine genuine change at the political level, is the extent to which we, as individuals, want that change. It should depend on whether we are willing to accept change, and the costs or benefits it brings.

But we also know that people do not always welcome or enjoy change. Much of the time, it scares them and makes them feel anxious and insecure. Even beneficial changes, like getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job, are among the most stressful events in our lives. The politicians making those bold speeches about “change” know this too. In fact, they rely on it to prevent people complaining about broken promises, or banding together to demand consultation on important changes, or campaigning to repeal new laws that represent abuse of power.

If you really want ‘change you can believe in’, start by believing in your power to think and reason for yourself. Learn how to step back and resist the impulsive urge, or urgent authoritative command, to jump to conclusions or follow the herd. Give yourself permission to not have an opinion, at least until you have had time to consider all the evidence and to think critically, outside of the margins of the information being presented to you. Be OK with “I don’t know yet” or “I’m not sure yet” and even with “I might never know.” You don’t have to believe everything you hear or read. You don’t have to be a “follower” just because someone else is a “leader.”

The strange part is, we all accept that we don’t and can’t have the answer to absolutely everything, but we can easily be swayed to react in a certain way whenever we are reminded of just how much we don’t know, or if we are made to feel threatened. These are cheap vaudeville tricks, which have earned their place in the entertainment industry, but they can take on a darker aspect when used by statesmen, media, or corporations, to manipulate public opinion. Uncertainty is not the enemy, it’s one of the most fundamental principles of life. Don’t give it up without stopping to think or question.



Amnesty International UK Blogs: A Map of Non-Violent Activism in Syria

2 Jul
The interactive map shows the non-violence activities within the Syrian uprising © Omar al Assil

Non violent resistance in Syria? Don’t make me laugh. Those trying to topple Assad are all cannibals and head choppers….or so the likes of the academic “Angry Arab”, Asad Abu Khalil would, it would seem at times, try to convince you.

The reality is Syrians in their tens of thousands continue to resist the Assad regimes brutality (and sometimes resist certain armed opposition groups) through non-violent methods of staggering diversity and creativity. The extremely grim and brutal reality which regime apologists and quite often the mainstream media present is but one, extremely narrow perspective of what is going on in Syria. It is far from the whole truth.

A Syrian activist friend of mine, Omar al Assil, has recently produced a beautiful, interactive map of non-violent resistance in Syria. It was created with his colleagues in the Syrian Non Violence Movement including their members inside Syria.

I mention Abu Khalil as he was the first to respond to the map when the social commentator, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi posted it on his Facebook wall on June 21. Abu Khalil responded smugly: “Very convincing. Is there a special color for beheadings?”.

Pulse Media’s Muhammad Idrees Ahmad responded eloquently in the same thread to Abu Khalil’s customary inelegance: “He wants you to make blanket generalisations; to make no distinction between the Syrian majority who oppose the regime peacefully, the minority who defend themselves with arms, or the few who commit unpardonable crimes. They must all be judged by the standard of the lowest among them. Find the most criminal action, and extrapolate it onto the whole opposition.”

That extrapolation is a common reaction by many who only want to amplifythe negatives of those opposed to the Assad regime. Indeed it is the regimes strategy to not just amplify the negatives but exterminate the positives – quite literally when it comes to Syrian human rights defenders. The map and what it shows is a shining example of how many Syrians are peacefully resisting the regimes wide scale human rights violations and trying to build a brighter future. It’s a work in progress for sure and many more activities and initiatives will be added in the coming days and weeks.

I recently wrote about Omar and his colleagues in the SNVM and the campaigns training they have taken at Amnesty International. These activists, some inside Syria and some outside are despised by the regime and their apologists. Why? Because they are not committing human rights abuses – instead, they are campaigning against human rights violations and abuses. They are using methods which the regime and its apologists know are effective in the long term. They are genuinely fighting for a Syria for all – one which seeks to respect and protect the human rights of all Syrians. This confounds the regime narrative of blood thirsty jihadists rampaging and pillaging across Syria.

Omar got the idea to create this wonderful map when he was preparing a presentation for a peace group in Somerset, England. He wanted to list all the alternative newspapers and radio stations that started during the revolution and wanted to visualise it properly.

He told me he found an algorithm to visualise networks which was perfect to visualise the non-violence activities of the uprising. From there he formed a team consisting of SNVM members who started to collect the vast amounts of data about the grassroots activism in Syria.

Maimouna Alammar, who was arrested with her husband when she was pregnant with her daughter in the first days of the revolution, worked on this from inside Syria. She was key to this mammoth data collection operation and another SNVM member, Nisreen Alzaraee , translated the information into English. The project was in development for 3 months as there was so much activism and campaigning to document.

Omar said to me “It was very difficult and challenging to collect this amount of activities. We decided also to include some overview about each item in the map and a link to its website/Facebook page. Maimouna was working from inside Syria and most of the time she worked offline and without electricity to finish the project because of the difficulties to access the internet due to constant power outages”.

For Omar, the main objective of creating this map is to show the Syrian people and the rest of the world how powerful and widespread non-violence is within the Syrian uprising. He wanted to document the hundreds of activities involving tens of thousands of people to show a wider perspective of the revolutionary mosaic. This in turn would help challenge the narrative that all those opposed to the regime are “terrorists”.

Omar said “In the SNVM we believe that there is still a room for peaceful struggle and creativity amid all this chaos. Many people thought that the non-violence came to an end and this is a small step to show them that it is still there and they are using it or working with it on daily basis. So mainly it was to motivate people and the other aim is to document all these activities so interested people can have access to it easily.”

Omar and the SNVM plan to keep updating the map every fortnight. It is an excellent work in progress – regime apologists or indeed anybody that justifies human rights abuses, hate this sort of thing which makes the experience of navigating this map so much sweeter.

So check it out, especially those who think those opposed to the regime’s crimes against humanity are medieval barbarians only looking to munch your heart out.

PS for the techy minded, Omar says “the diagram is based on the Force-Directed Graph algorithm which automatically place nodes depending on their relations. Some of the tools used to generate the diagram are: Gephi, Sigma,InteractiveVis project by JISC and Oxford institute of technology. I did some coding using HTML and Javascript. The add/modify form is based on Form+ powered by Google Apps Script”


via Amnesty International UK.

Snapchat functionality for web browsers

24 May

did-the-world-s-nastiest-virus-try-to-self-destruct--49a5bfa353First came the self-destructing photos. Then the self-destructing text messages, videos, and PDFs, followed by the self-destructing tweets.

Now up: self-destructing messages on your Web browser.

Boutique app maker Lamplighter Games has launched OTR, a browser plugin that lets you send self-destructing messages to your friends and colleagues while sitting in front of your computer at work. The messages disappear within a few seconds of being read.

What does OTR look like in action? Check out this demo video:

OTR is available for Google’s (GOOG) Chrome browser, with versions for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari expected to come out shortly. Users can also set up OTR on Yammer, Microsoft’s (MSFT) workplace social network.

Kris and Andy Minkstein, brothers and co-founders of Lamplighter Games in New York, showed off an early version (then called ChapSnat) at the TechCrunch Hackathon in April. “We both love using Snapchat, so we thought it would be fun to put Snapchat in the browser,”said Kris. “We figured since you’re in front of your computer all day at work that you’re going to end up sending a lot of these photos to probably the guys sitting next to you at your cubicle.”

Andy then sent a ChapSnat to his brother. “Now he can view it,” Andy said. “Five seconds later, it’s gone before he can forward it on to the boss.”

Recent revelations that Snapchat’s self-destructing messages aren’t actually fully destroyed has prompted some anxiety among users. Decipher Forensics, a company in Utah, announced earlier this month that for a fee of $300 to $500 they can recover all past Snapchats from a user’s phone.

How safe is OTR from the long arm of your employer’s HR department?

Kris says the company is in no way guaranteeing that the messages on OTR can’t be recovered if, say, the human resources department decided to hire a digital forensics expert to retrieve them. OTR, he says, is meant for having fun: “It’s not meant for ultra-secure communications or anything crazy like that.”

OTR joins a growing number of apps and services offering self-destructing media, and the Minkstein brothers believe that the proliferation of ephemeral media is no fad. “People didn’t even know they wanted this until recently,” Kris says. “But they’re getting more and more frustrated with sharing things that live forever on the Web. If anything, you’re going to see more of this. It’s here to stay.”


One-Time Pad Reinvented to Make Electronic Copying Impossible

24 May

The ability to copy electronic code makes one-time pads vulnerable to hackers. Now engineers have found a way round this to create a system of cryptography that is invulnerable to electronic attack.

One-time pads are the holy grail of cryptography—they are impossible to crack, even in principle.

They work by adding a set of random digits to a message thereby creating a ciphertext that looks random to any eavesdropper. The receiver decodes the message by taking away the same set of random digits to reveal the original message.

The security of this process depends on two factors. The first is the randomness of the digits that make up the one-time pad. If this key is truly random, it offers nothing the eavesdropper can use to break the code. Although there are some potential pitfalls, random digits are reasonably straightforward to generate these days.

The second factor is the ability to keep this key secret so that only the transmitter and receiver have access to it. That’s much more difficult to ensure.

Digital communication in the form of 0s and 1s makes copying trivial. Whenever a set of random digits is stored in an electronic memory, there is always a small but finite chance that it can be quickly copied and stolen.

Today, Roarke Horstmeyer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and a few buddies say they’ve solved this problem. Their solution is based on a special kind of one-time pad that generates a random key through the complexity of its physical structure.

Instead of creating and storing the one-time pad as a random sequence of 0s and 1s, Horstmeyer and co generate a random signal by passing light through a slab of diffusing glass that scatters it randomly.

The security of the system depends on the physical complexity of the glass. Horstmeyer and co say that that this complexity means there is no way for an eavesdropper, “Eve,” to copy the glass without anyone noticing.

That cuts out the need to store the key electronically and entirely removes this vulnerability to copying. “We describe an encrypted communication principle that can form a perfectly secure link between two parties without electronically saving either of their keys,” they say

And even if Eve steals the glass, they estimate that it would take her at least 24 hours to extract any relevant information about its structure.

This extraction can only be done by passing light through the glass at a rate that is limited by the amount of heat this creates (since any heating changes the microstructure of the material). And the time this takes should give the owners enough time to realise what has happened and take the necessary mitigating actions.

The protocol for sending secret messages between “Alice” and “Bob,” say, is straightforward.  To start off, both Alice and Bob must have their own slabs of diffusing glass and must physically meet to create a key for encoding a message later.

They create this by sending the same random pattern of light through their diffusing slabs and then adding the results to create a combined key.

They then publish this combined key and the pattern used to create it.

To send a message, Alice sends the pattern through her slab to generate her half of the key and then adds it to her message.  She can now send this without fear that Eve can decode it.

It’s important to remember that Alice’s random key is a component of the publicly available one. But Eve cannot use the publicly available key to work out what Alice’s key is.

Bob has to go through a slightly different set of steps to decode this cyphertext. First, having received the cyphertext, he adds it to the publicly available combined key.

Next, he re-creates his own component of the publicly available key by sending the publicly available pattern through his slab. He then adds this to the result of the previous step to reveal the message.

As long as both diffusing slabs are physically held by Alice and Bob, the cyphertext cannot be decoded by Eve.

Of course, this process can be used only once. But Alice and Bob can generate a huge volume of combined keys by passing different random patterns through their slabs when they meet.

Horstmeyer and co have tested their idea using a spatial light modulator to create random patterns that they then pass through opal diffusing glass to generate about 10 gigabits of randomness. They then used this for sending perfectly secure messages, thereby demonstrating the utility of the technique.

Nevertheless, improvements should be possible, they say.  For example, the team says that the system generates a small amount of noise caused by the natural drift of scatterers in the glass over time. But that’s something that should be possible to fix with error-correcting codes.

And it ought to be possible to generate a terabit of randomness from a single cubic millimetre of diffusing glass with higher-resolution equipment.

And even thought this can only be used once, the slabs can be easily reset by heating the glass to change its microstructure at which point Alice and Bob must meet again to create a new set of combined keys.

That looks to be a significant improvement over any kind of cryptography that stores keys electronically and is therefore vulnerable to an electronic attack that can copy digital information perfectly.

“Compared with a large, electronically saved one-time pad, [the new system’s]  key is extremely challenging to copy or model and can easily scale to provide terabits of repeatable randomness within a small volume,” say Horstmeyer and co.

They have high hopes for this approach: “We hope the convenient properties of optical scattering can solve enough of the one-time pad’s practical shortcomings to rejuvenate interest in its unbreakable security, even in the presence of infinite computing resources.”

What they mean is that this system should be secure even to attack with future quantum computers.

That’s not something that can be said about the codes commonly used to protect messages today. With quantum computers now beginning to perform some serious calculations, anybody still using these codes must be losing a significant amount of sleep.

Ref: Physical Key-Protected One-Time Pad

MIT Technology Review.


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