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Cryptocat, surveillance and privacy rights

Interview with Cryptocat developer Nadim Kobessi

Cryptocat, surveillance and privacy rights
As global attention turns toward the PRISM program, operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA), many are seeking out alternative and secure communications technology.

Cryptography is a vital to many initiatives combating intrusive state surveillance systems. In Montreal, cryptographer Nadim Kobessi is developing Cryptocat "an easy to use web app that encrypts your conversations."

In light of the current attention on Internet security, I sent a series of questions to Kobeissi on the Cryptocat project and the still developing NSA surveillance scandal.

Stefan Christoff : A great deal of attention is now directed at the PRISM program, do you think that the NSA program points to a broader phenomenon ?

Nadim Kobeissi : There are European countries that have already revealed similar programs to PRISM, so we can safely assume that this kind of surveillance is not unique to the United States.

We're currently in an international climate where this sort of surveillance is seen as not only highly beneficial both in terms of domestic safety and foreign intelligence, but necessary for first-world countries to keep up on the international stage. That's what makes it lucrative to adopt. Its perceived necessity is deemed higher than the privacy rights of citizens.

Christoff : Often in Canada there is a political tendency to focus on the injustices of the US government. As an advocate for Internet freedom based in Montreal, can you highlight the importance of also challenging Canadian government policy on these issues ?

Kobeissi : The United States occupies more significance in terms of global influence and population than Canada, and therefore what happens here doesn't get as much international concern. But obviously, it still affects us who live in Canada. The task is more difficult for us because we can't bring international pressure to the table the way Americans can to their own government regarding this issue. However, the issue is still relevant to the privacy rights of Canadians, and there needs to be civil action events to raise awareness on the issue.

Christoff: Wondering if you feel progressive activists have the skills and knowledge they need to operate in a world where mass surveillance is a reality ?

Kobeissi : Not only do I not feel that activists do not have the skills and knowledge to operate in a mass surveillance situation, but I also feel that even those working on alternatives to mass surveillance aren't even there yet. The obstacle is gargantuan, multinational and has rooted itself in domestic and foreign interests to the degree that challenging it, both practically and politically, is barely possible through civil action.

Christoff : Can you highlight some suggested online tools for progressives who are concerned about online safety ?

Kobeissi : I think tools like Tor can help protect anonymity, while apps like ChatSecure and TextSecure can help mobile users chat with more privacy. But I really must note that I don't think any sort of technology can really prevent the gigantic, pervasive surveillance we see today. The only solution is dismantling the current surveillance mechanisms.

Christoff: Can you briefly explain the project and why progressives should get informed about the project ?

Kobeissi : Cryptocat is a project aimed at providing accessible and easy to use private chat. We want to make encrypted communication accessible to anyone who knows how to use popular services like Facebook Chat or Google Hangouts.

It's still a work in progress, and while people can rely on it for better privacy than say, Facebook, they should be aware that Cryptocat too sometimes has security bugs, and that no software can serve as a substitute for privacy rights.


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Topics: Ideas

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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
Member since April 2010


Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

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