Holidays are coming
It’s been far too long since the last update so apologies for that!
I’ve been busy making content tweaks and fixing bugs. In particular, I appreciate those of you who have emailed me to give feedback and report issues with the game. Apologies for the slow progress - I’ve had to take on some part-time work to allow me to work longer on Top Secret. This isn’t ideal, but ultimately it means that I can spend more time improving the game.
But, we are close to the finish! Here are the main outstanding issues I want to address with Top Secret:
- Bug fixes: There are a couple of rare, but serious, bugs I want to fix before the game is officially released. This is where the majority of my effort is at present.
- New content: I want to add a few, small bits of new content (mainly at the end game).
- Open source improvements: The source code for Top Secret is already available under the GPL v3 license here. To make it easier to use the code, I want to remove parts specific to Top Secret, and provide more documentation on the tech stack.
Finally, I’ve taken down the Top Secret forum due to inactivity. I couldn’t really justify the expense in hosting, backups, SSL certificates, and time given that there were so few people using it. Sorry about this if you were one of those few people!
New UK surveillance laws
You may recall that I talked about the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) in some of my early Top Secret updates. The bill is now law in the UK and explicitly legalizes many of the programs exposed in the Snowden leaks. In particular it allows for:
- bulk collection of internet traffic from fibre optic cables
- collection and automated analysis of population-wide datasets (any non-communications data stored on computers e.g. customer data, medical records, bank records, location data)
- hacking groups of people under a single warrant
- forcing companies to remove encryption in private
- storing records of every website visited by each UK citizen for a year
Many commentators have stated that the UK now has the most aggressive domestic mass surveillance regime in the western world. Some parts of the bill are still not clear, especially with regards to encryption and hacking. If history is any guide, the security services will go much further than might be guessed from reading the bill.
In one of his original interviews Snowden said:
“It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”
The IPB brings ‘omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance’ a step closer to reality. To be clear, GCHQ aren’t omniscient, but with access to sensitive population-wide datasets, and machine learning advances, it will be increasingly possible for GCHQ to automate analysis, predict behaviours, and detect outliers.
We can play a fun game where we try and guess some operations that GCHQ could now be running:
- Automated monitoring of journalists (or associates) for use of strong encryption, contact with government employees (virtual or physical), or visiting certain websites
- Automated assessment of each citizen giving a risk score based on their background, online activity and real-world behaviour
- Automated hacking for all individuals with a risk score above a certain threshold
- Automated collection and storage of personal vulnerabilities (sexual interests/photos, affairs, business malpractice, embarrassing behaviour etc) for all individuals with a risk score above a certain threshold
You could (I won’t) make the argument that if GCHQ wasn’t running the operations similar to those above, it wouldn’t be doing its job. But it doesn’t require too much imagination to see how these tools could be misused.
Ultimately we won’t know how far GCHQ has gone...
...until we get a new Snowden.
In the news
Waking up to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act - Open Democracy
Turnkey tyranny: Jamming the lock on the way out - The Century Foundation
The eternal value of privacy - Bruce Schneier
The Future of Privacy - William Gibson
The UK now wields unprecedented surveillance powers, here’s what it means - The Verge
Into the abyss: the NSA’s global internet surveillance - ACLU
Spies for hire: How the UAE is recruiting hackers to create the perfect surveillance state - The Intercept