Jimmy Wales Threatens To Stymie UK Snooping Plans By Encrypting Wikipedia Connections

from the take-that dept

The draft bill of the UK's "Snooper's Charter", which would require ISPs to record key information about every email sent and Web site visited by UK citizens, and mobile phone companies to log all their calls, was published back in July. Before it is debated by politicians, a Joint Committee from both the House of Commons and House of Lords is conducting "pre-legislative scrutiny."

As the list of questions on the Joint Committee's Web page makes clear, it seems to be doing a thorough job, exploring every aspect of the proposed legislation. As well as a public consultation (now closed), it is also taking oral evidence from a wide range of interested parties, both for and against the plans. Yesterday, one of the people who spoke before the Committee was Jimmy Wales, who did not mince his words:

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has sharply criticised the government's "snooper's charter", designed to track internet, text and email use of all British citizens, as "technologically incompetent".

He said Wikipedia would move to encrypt all its connections with Britain if UK internet companies, such as Vodafone and Virgin Media, were mandated by the government to keep track of every single page accessed by UK citizens.
He went on to suggest that other Internet companies would do the same, forcing the UK authorities to resort to what he called "black arts" to break the encryption. As he pointed out: "It is not the sort of thing I'd expect from a western democracy. It is the kind of thing I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese."

To a certain extent, this is just bluster: Wales has no formal power to instruct Wikipedia to encrypt its connections, and even assuming that happened, it's not certain that companies like Google and Facebook would risk fines or imprisonment for their staff by refusing to hand over encryption keys. But Wales' intervention had a big symbolic importance: he's not only the co-founder of Wikipedia -- which even politicians have heard of and probably use -- he's also one of the UK government's own special tech advisers, appointed back in March.

His comments are, therefore, a real slap in the face, and a useful reminder that by pushing for this kind of total surveillance the UK government is not only making itself look oppressive, but stupid too.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:17am

    "It is the kind of thing I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese."

    It is the kind of thing I would expect from the Americans, Iranians or the Chinese."

    FTFY

     

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  2.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:22am

    This should be universal

    While I question the security of HTTPS, every website should switch to encrypted connections.

    Hell, at this vary moment I'm watching Youtube in HTTPS.

     

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  3.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:29am

    Re:

    Isn't the United Kingdom an American state or something? /sarcasm (I have good British friends who think the same about their govt btw)

     

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  4.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:30am

    Re: This should be universal

    I even read techdirt in https lol

    Although it only takes proper encryption keys to snoop on my reading =/

     

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  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:34am

    Wales is a grandstanding douchenozzle who will have people laughing at him over this empty threat.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:36am

    So the UK wants to make the internet like the telescreens in 1984?

    That's not in anyway creepy. Nope.

     

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  7.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: This should be universal

    I think I got an addon in Chrome a while ago (don't really remember) that always used the HTTPS version if it was available. I think it may have even been pointed out on this site. And since Chrome downloads all your addons once you sign in, I'll have it from here on out.

     

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  8.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:39am

    Re:

    This AC is a grandstanding douchenozzle who already has people laughing at him over this empty comments.

    FTFY

     

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  9.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:40am

    Re:

    Wales is a grandstanding douchenozzle who will have people laughing at him over this empty threat.


    Whether or not he's grandstanding (or a "douchenozzle" which is a perfectly useless ad hom, which suggests the level of discourse you're seeking), looking over the coverage and discussion of Wales testimony suggests that no one seems to be "laughing" at his claims. For whatever reason, as much as you may dislike it, people tend to take Wales fairly seriously.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:50am

    Re:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/9524681/Sir-Tim-Berners-Lee-accuses-government-of-dra conian-internet-snooping.html

    Sir Tim warned that plans to monitor individuals' use of the internet would result in Britain losing its reputation as an upholder of web freedom

    The plans, by Theresa May, would force service providers to keep records of every phone call, email and website visit in Britain.

    Sir Tim told the Times: "In Britain, like in the US, there has been a series of Bills that would give government very strong powers to, for example, collect data. I am worried about that."

    Is he also a grandstanding douchenozzle? Would it be Sir Grandstanding Douchenozzle?

     

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  11.  
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    Chris-Mouse (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re:

    The united Kindom can't be a US state. The states actually expect to get some benefit in return for doing whatever the federal government asks.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Lord Binky, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:55am

    Better than encryption, trick ISPs to record everyone is viewing lolcats when visiting wikipedia. Take that data miners!

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: Re: This should be universal

    Firefox has it too, called HTTPS Everywhere. Its made by EFF, and because of licensing reasons its not on the built-in mozilla add on list, but can be installed from the EFF site at https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re:

    That would imply we are treated as equals (rather than your bitch).

     

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  15.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:00pm

    Re:

    No, I think the current Coalition government is looking to create a V. 1984 is too easy for these fucknozzles.

     

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  16.  
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    Glen, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: This should be universal

    I can't get it for Chrome. That sucks!!

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:12pm

    Re: This should be universal

    I know the majority of sites that are popular have HTTPS, but they haven't switched over to it yet by default. So they still go by HTTP.

    For those wanting it to be done for them just Google (gasp!) "https everywhere". Which will take you to the EFF (double gasp!) page where you can get the add-on that will automatically load the HTTPS version of sites for you. Available for either Firefox or Chrome.

    Note: Gasps placed in comment for bob and a few ACs' sakes. Because we all know Google and the EFF are evil. /s

     

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  18.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: This should be universal

    I took a look at my extensions and found I'm using something called KB SSL Enforcer. It seems to have not been updated in a while, but HTTPS Everywhere is still in alpha for Chrome. Once it gets to at least Beta, I'll probably switch over.

     

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  19.  
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    Jasmine Charter, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Tea Party!

    Encrypted VPN... FTW!

     

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  20.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re:

    Sir Grandstanding Douchenozzle. LOL

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Re:

    I...I actually really like this idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    >it's not certain that companies like Google and Facebook would risk fines or imprisonment for their staff by refusing to hand over encryption keys

    Can someone explain to me what Moody means here? I'm assuming that Wales' argument is that Wikipedia over SSL. Which, by my understanding, means that whenever someone requests a page from Wikipedia, they first obtain Wikipedia's public key, encrypt their page request, and send it to Wikipedia. Only Wikipedia can decrypt this request, because only Wikipedia has the corresponding private key.

    At what point does it matter what Google and Facebook do? They shouldn't be able to interfere in this process.

     

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  23.  
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    Nic Stevens, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 1:06pm

    While Wales may be grandstanding I have a hard time with the idea that people call him a "douchenozzle" for wanting to keep the internet free of snooping. Does anyone actually believe unfettered access to everything everyone does is a good thing?

    If we allow governments to have their way with the internet it will become sesame street. Safe for kids and mildly entertaining but hardly useful for an adult.

     

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  24.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Re:

    How about a plugin that hits up random web sites and does random google searches in the back ground. Fill up their data set with so much noise they would never be able to tell what you are actually doing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 1:49pm

    Re:

    The idea being brought up there is that google, facebook, and other big net companies could follow suit by also encrypting things, not that google and facebook would have anything to do with what wikipedia was doing.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    ldne, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 1:56pm

    Re:

    They're referring to companies that have offices in the UK facing the choice of being penalized or turning over their private keys to big brother.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm not sure doing random searches and page views would be wise if you're under surveillance - unless everyone is doing it:

    http://xkcd.com/576/

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    quawonk, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    Great, until the outlaw encryption. Only a matter of time.

     

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  29.  
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    gorehound (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 3:07pm

    HTTPS Everywhere is in my Firefox.
    On another note I am trying to figure out what the best VPN Service is at this point.Living in the USA and wanting to make myself more unseen to the World.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Sep 6th, 2012 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Re:

    Isn't the United Kingdom an American state or something?
    Ah... no no no... I think I see your mistake. The US got the UK in a state...
    :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2012 @ 6:06pm

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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