Touring the digital through type

Author: Christopher Parsons (Page 1 of 99)

I’m a Postdoctoral Fellow and Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project at the Citizen Lab in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. I'm also a Principal at Block G Privacy and Security Consulting. My research interests focus on how privacy (particularly informational privacy, expressive privacy and accessibility privacy) is affected by digitally mediated surveillance and the normative implications that such surveillance has in (and on) contemporary Western political systems. I’m currently attending to a particular set of technologies that facilitate digitally mediated surveillance, including Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), behavioral advertising, and mobile device security. I try to think through how these technologies influence citizens in their decisions to openly express themselves or to engage in self-censoring behavior on a regular basis.

Huawei & 5G: Clarifying the Canadian Equities and Charting a Strategic Path Forward

I’ve published a report with the Citizen Lab, entitled, “Huawei and 5: Clarifying the Canadian Equities and Charting a Strategic Path Forward.” The report first provides a background to 5G and the Chinese telecommunications vendor, Huawei, as well as the activities that have been undertaken by Canada’s closest allies before delving into issues that have been raised about Huawei, its products, and its links to the Chinese government. At its core, the report argues that Canada doesn’t have a ‘Huawei problem’ per se, so much as a desperate need to develop a principled and integrated set of industrial, cybersecurity, and foreign policy strategies. The report concludes by providing a range of suggestions for some elements of such strategies, along the lines of how Canada might develop and protect its intellectual property, better manage trade issues, and develop stronger cybersecurity postures.

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The Information Security Cultures of Journalism

(Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash)

I’ve had the pleasure to work with a series of colleagues over the past few years to assess and better understand the nature of security practices which are adopted by journalists around the world. Past outputs from this work have included a number of talk, an academic article by one of my co-authors Lokman Tsui, as well as a Columbia Journalism Review article by Joshua Oliver. Most recently, a collection of us have published an article entitled, “The Information Security Cultures of Journalism” with Digital Journalism.

Abstract:

This article is an exploratory study of the influence of beat and employment status on the information security culture of journalism (security-related values, mental models, and practices that are shared across the profession). The study is based on semi-structured interviews with 16 journalists based in Canada in staff or freelance positions working on investigative or non-investigative beats. We find that journalism has a multitude of security cultures that are influenced by beat and employment status. The perceived need for information security is tied to perceptions of sensitivity for a particular story or source. Beat affects how journalists perceive and experience information security threats. Investigative journalists are concerned with surveillance and legal threats from state actors including law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Non-investigative journalists are more concerned with surveillance, harassment, and legal actions from companies or individuals. Employment status influences the perceived ability of journalists to effectively implement information security. Based on these results we discuss how journalists and news organisations can develop effective security cultures and raise information security standards.

We Chat, They Watch: How International Users Unwittingly Build up WeChat’s Chinese Censorship Apparatus

(Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash)

Over the past several months I’ve had the distinct honour to work with, and learn from, a number of close colleagues and friends on the topic of surveillance and censorship that takes place on WeChat. We have published a report with the Citizen Lab entitled, “We Chat, They Watch: How International Users Unwittingly Build up WeChat’s Chinese Censorship Apparatus.” The report undertook a mixed methods approach to understand how non-China registered WeChat accounts were subjected to surveillance which was, then, used to develop a censorship list that is applied to users who have registered their accounts in China. Specifically, the report:

  • Presents results from technical experiments which reveal that WeChat communications conducted entirely among non-China-registered accounts are subject to pervasive content surveillance that was previously thought to be exclusively reserved for China-registered accounts.
  • Documents and images transmitted entirely among non-China-registered accounts undergo content surveillance wherein these files are analyzed for content that is politically sensitive in China.
  • Upon analysis, files deemed politically sensitive are used to invisibly train and build up WeChat’s Chinese political censorship system.
  • From public information, it is unclear how Tencent uses non-Chinese-registered users’ data to enable content blocking or which policy rationale permits the sharing of data used for blocking between international and China regions of WeChat.
  • Tencent’s responses to data access requests failed to clarify how data from international users is used to enable political censorship of the platform in China.

You can download the report as a pdf, or read it on the Web in its entirety at the Citizen Lab’s website. There is also a corresponding FAQ to quickly answer questions that you may have about the report.

Canada’s New and Irresponsible Encryption Policy: How the Government of Canada’s New Policy Threatens Charter Rights, Cybersecurity, Economic Growth, and Foreign Policy

Photo by Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/RjMXMP

The Government of Canada has historically opposed the calls of its western allies to undermine the encryption protocols and associated applications that secure Canadians’ communications and devices from criminal and illicit activities. In particular, over the past two years the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, has communicated to Canada’s Five Eyes allies that Canada will neither adopt or advance an irresponsible encryption policy that would compel private companies to deliberately inject weaknesses into cryptographic algorithms or the applications that facilitate encrypted communications. This year, however, the tide may have turned, with the Minister apparently deciding to adopt the very irresponsible encryption policy position he had previously steadfastly opposed. To be clear, should the Government of Canada, along with its allies, compel private companies to deliberately sabotage strong and robust encryption protocols and systems, then basic rights and freedoms, cybersecurity, economic development, and foreign policy goals will all be jeopardized.

This article begins by briefly outlining the history and recent developments in the Canadian government’s thinking about strong encryption. Next, the article showcases how government agencies have failed to produce reliable information which supports the Minister’s position that encryption is significantly contributing to public safety risks. After outlining the government’s deficient rationales for calling for the weakening of strong encryption, the article shifts to discuss the rights which are enabled and secured as private companies integrate strong encryption into their devices and services, as well as why deliberately weakening encryption will lead to a series of deeply problematic policy outcomes. The article concludes by summarizing why it is important that the Canadian government walk back from its newly adopted irresponsible encryption policy.

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