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The issue of online security is never far in the background these days: high-profile TV presenters in court for downloading child pornography [link]; Julian Assange holed-up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; or attacks by Anonymous on Melbourne IT (AAPT) records that allegedly made some of the ISP's users' private information public. 

While we can all applaud the apprehension of criminals through police monitoring; and we might be swayed by Assange's assertions that corporate and government secrets are forms of conspiracy and that such conspiracy is a bad thing; we may not be so pleased by our browsing history; or worse, our medical history; or our employer's HR records being made available to a cyber bully or blackmailer.  

It is increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to keep our personal records and secrets out of computer systems that have the potential to be hacked; as easily by the bad guys as by the good.

Depending on your point of view the vigilantly group Anonymous may be: the good; the bad; or the ugly.  They say the hack at Melbourne IT was to highlight the risk of forcing ISPs to keep client's browsing records;  and a protest, in general, against the proposal to give Australian police and security agencies wide sweeping powers to intercept and examine our electronic records. 

 

The recent ABC interview with Nicola Roxon, Federal Attorney General and Neil Gaugan, Assistant Commissioner, Australian Federal Police (on 1st August 2012) was informative.

The proposed laws would allow agencies to bypass encryption by installing tracking software on a suspect's computer, presumably remotely and undetected,  and by forcing users to surrender computer passwords.  How: by torture? I'm sorry Your Honour I've forgotten! - OK that'll be 20 years for contempt.  Maybe rendition to Guantanamo would do the trick.

One thing Neil Gaugan did say was that: 'Encryption's killing us. Encryption is extremely difficult for us. It's very expensive, very clunky, very slow to decode encrypted Internet protocols.' he did not say it was impossible to break.

When asked about the proposal to force ISPs to keep user browsing and email information for two years he said: 'What we're asking for is data retention to be across the board. So, it's in relation to if you and I emailed each other, not the content of that particular communication, but the context, i.e. when it took place, where we were when we did it, time, date.'

Anonymous has just demonstrated that this information may not be exclusive to your ISP, ASIO and the police; but could potentially fall into the hands of your business competitor; a cyber bully; or a blackmailer.

You can read the whole ABC story by Hayden Cooper in which he also interviewed a cyber activist; an IT expert; and a victim online - Click here

I have discussed many of these issues elsewhere on this website: 

For issues around business records (these may include your HR records or medical history) - click here

For issues around conspiracy and Wikileaks - click here

For a discussion around secure encryption and personal privacy  - click here

 

 

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Travel

Romania

 

 

In October 2016 we flew from southern England to Romania.

Romania is a big country by European standards and not one to see by public transport if time is limited.  So to travel beyond Bucharest we hired a car and drove northwest to Brașov and on to Sighisiora, before looping southwest to Sibiu (European capital of culture 2007) and southeast through the Transylvanian Alps to Curtea de Arges on our way back to Bucharest. 

Driving in Romania was interesting.  There are some quite good motorways once out of the suburbs of Bucharest, where traffic lights are interminable trams rumble noisily, trolley-busses stop and start and progress can be slow.  In the countryside road surfaces are variable and the roads mostly narrow. This does not slow the locals who seem to ignore speed limits making it necessary to keep up to avoid holding up traffic. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

My Mother's Family

 

 

All my ancestors are now dead.  I'm an orphan. So for this history I've had to rely on my recollections a small pile of documents left by my mother. These include short biographies of several of her relatives. Following the female line; these recollections briefly span the two world wars; to the present.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire

 

 

 

The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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