Thursday, February 05, 2015

If the government sees you as a nail they will hammer you edition - What I am reading 2/5/2015

Wired - Silk Road Mastermind Ross Ulbricht Convicted of All 7 Charges -
On Wednesday, less than a month after his trial began in a downtown Manhattan courtroom, 30-year-old Ulbricht was convicted of all seven crimes he was charged with, including narcotics and money laundering conspiracies and a “kingpin” charge usually reserved for mafia dons and drug cartel leaders.
I don't think this is too surprising to anyone.  The amount and type of evidence that the government had was pretty overwhelming, it stopped just short of Ulbricht having "I am the Dread Pirate Roberts - Arrest Me!!!" tattooed on his forehead, and the defense case seemed limited to just saying "nuh-uh" and making faces at the prosecution.  I think what did surprise a lot of people, especially the TOR / Crypto crowd was just how much evidence that the government was actually able to gather despite Ulbricht's use of annonyimizing tools. 
More broadly, the case represents the limits of cryptographic anonymity tools like Tor and bitcoin against the surveillance powers of the U.S. government. In spite of his use of those crypto tools and others, Ulbricht couldn’t prevent the combined efforts of the FBI, DHS, and IRS from linking his pseudonym to his real-world identity.
In short he got the government's attention and as is it's want when that happens, the government pounded him flat.  In a way this case proves both sides of the argument regarding the NSAs metadata program.  The privacy advocates argue that when metadata is cross-correlated with other data a very complete picture of a persons life can be developed.  Obviously this is true.  The pro NSA side argues that having the ability to develop these correlations makes it possible to identify nodes of suspect activity.  This case would seem to prove that theory also.  (although I don't know if actual metadata was used I am just talking about the idea of network analysis).  The best / worst of both worlds.  

One other thing that this proved to me - Tech Pundits are completely divorced from the real world.  Throughout the 11 day trial I kept hearing / reading pundits opining that the case would result in a hung jury / acquittal because juries just aren't sophisticated enough to understand things like TOR or PGP or anonymous forums etc.  Either that wasn't true or the jury just hated Ulbricht and decided to send him to prison for life so they could go get a pizza and watch Netflix, assuming the were sophisticated enough to dial a phone and operate a web browser.To me those comments just indicate how arrogant and divorced the tech community is becoming from the rest of the US, but that is a discussion for a different time.

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