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The darknet is not a hellhole, it’s an answer to internet privacy

On the back of scandals such as those that engulfed the NSA and Cambridge Analytica, online privacy and data protection have become major political concerns. Many of us worry that private companies and governments know more about us than our closest friends and relatives. One alternative is to switch to the darknet, which offers anonymity and protection from those who keep track of what people do online. Yet it is controversial, to say the least. The darknet has been associated with everything from drug and weapons dealers to child porn, hitmen and identity thieves. Even the name suggests a dark, sinister space. Yet when you actually investigate this encrypted network, the reality is a bit more complicated. And it’s time to call the darknet’s sleazy reputation into question. The darknet is a worldwide decentralised network of hundreds of computers, whose owners configure them and contribute internet bandwidth to create a series of routing points or nodes. These nodes feature a form of layered encryption, that often gets compared to an onion – hence the collective name The Onion Routing network, or Tor for short. Onion ring. Pe3k Onion routing was originally developed in the 1990s by the US Naval Research Laboratory to protect US intelligence communications online. Free Tor software was first made publicly available in 2002, and the not-for-profit Tor project was set up in 2006 to maintain the system. It has received funding over the years from governments, NGOs, foundations and companies, as well as thousands of personal donations. Since April, between 2m to 2.5m people use Tor worldwide every day. The number fluctuates greatly over time; there was a short-term peak in the fourth quarter of 2013, for instance. This was perhaps related to the emerging popularity of so-called cryptomarkets like Silk Road, when global traffic reached almost 6m. In the UK at that time, the user base rose to 157,000 – now it’s more like 70,000. The darknet goes dark The launch of Silk Road in 2011 has much to do with the controversy around the darknet. The first of its kind, Silk Road was a market space for everything from firearms to illegal drugs. By the time it was busted by the FBI in October 2013, the media was essentially equating it with the entire darknet. Subsequent reports about drug crime, child porn and hitman services only strengthened the association. Few would disagree today that the darknet attracts a lot of criminal activity, so what’s the case for the defence? For one thing, the network offers safe space to many activities that require anonymity. Socially sensitive communications are a good example – such as forums for people who have survived rape or child abuse. Journalists use Tor to interact more safely with whistleblowers, while it enables activists in repressive regimes to communicate politically sensitive information – the likes of Human Rights Watch actually encourage this. When my colleague at the University of Aberdeen, Hanifi Baris, was recently arrested by the Turkish authorities for sharing anti-Erdoğan information on Facebook and Twitter, it underlined the importance of the darknet as an outlet for protest. There was a rather telling sharp peak in Tor users in Turkey during the last presidential elections in June. The Twitter campaign. When it comes to illicit drugs, darknet services can be a safer option for people who would take drugs anyway. Buyers avoid the risk of physical violence that comes with scoring on the street. Buyer reviews put pressure on darknet dealers to sell drugs of decent quality – albeit some reviewers will have more expertise than others and experiences are always going to be somewhat subjective. At any rate, the darknet has amassed a collectively built database of knowledge and shared experiences about drug consumption in cryptomarkets that can offer guidance and support for anyone who wants to use them. Given that drugs always vary in strength and purity depending on the seller and the batch, this information can be incredibly important – and often much more helpful than a generic forum or drug info website. As for some of the other illegal activities on the darknet, child pornography is banned in most cryptomarkets, for example, while hitman services have usually turned out to be scams. Additionally, the darknet does not turn people into drug addicts, arms dealers, assassins or paedophiles. The decision to engage in such activities usually happens outwith that space. Darknet/clearnet The conventional internet is not merely a platform for us to communicate, game, shop, download and so on. These activities all feed valuable data to governments and companies. Eye cloud. Lightspring Most of us are surrounded by personal devices that are almost always online, and we’ve made ourselves open to massive marketisation, exploitation, monitoring, control and repression. It’s the hefty price we pay for internet freedom – and new legal frameworks like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will not significantly change this. The darknet is hardly a panacea in this regard, but it does allow people to reclaim privacy and protect their identities online. Admittedly there are limits to this: Tor enables users to hide their geographical location, but any data you provide once you are inside a website is accessible to whoever is running it, plus any organisations they may collaborate with. Log in to gmail from Tor and your emails are not private (try ProtonMail or Snapchat instead). Every Twitter search via Tor is logged like it is for any user – just like it is for Amazon and so on. Another major problem is the speed of Tor, which depends on the number of nodes on the available bandwidth. Everything is slowed down by the secure encryption and user anonymity built into the structure. Although Tor has gained markedly in speed and security since its inception, it is still slower than the conventional internet. This compromise between speed and exposure/protection will probably continue for the foreseeable future. If you want to help, however, you might consider running a relay. Everyone is invited to collaborate – here’s a guide explaining what to do. Instead of shunning the darknet as a badland for bad people, it’s time more of us saw its potential as a force for good.

Qatar’s $15 billion snub of Trump over Turkey puts another key US relationship in Middle East at risk

The U.S. and Qatar have been key allies for decades, with close military and economic ties. Qatar is home to the United States’ biggest base in the region, and in turn the U.S. has pledged to protect the small, oil rich country that juts out into the Persian Gulf. But the relationship is being tested like never before by the latest example of Qatar snubbing the interests of Uncle Sam – or, put more generously, its maverick foreign policy. The U.S. recently placed severe sanctions on Turkey’s economy for refusing to release an American pastor detained for almost two years, sparking a currency crisis. Qatar was the first, and so far only, nation to offer Turkey tangible aid in the form of a US$15 billion investment and other types of financial assistance. Although the Gulf country has long pursued policies out of step with the U.S., such as maintaining good relations with Iran and aiding various groups that the U.S. considers terrorists, its very visible support for Turkey in the dispute poses a direct challenge to the Americans. And while the U.S. has in the past practiced patience with its sometimes wayward ally, President Donald Trump is often willing to toss out the rulebook and has previously lambasted Qatar on Twitter. As a longtime observer of the region’s complicated economic and political developments, I believe that Qatar’s interjection in the U.S.-Turkey crisis raises two important questions: Why is Qatar willing to risk its close relationship with the U.S.? And why has the U.S. let it get away with this behavior for so long? U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greets military dignitaries at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst Punching above its weight A country of just 320,000 citizens – as well as 2.32 million expatriate residents – Qatar has a habit of using its massive oil and natural gas reserves to exert influence in the Middle East and beyond. Such a hyperactive foreign policy is very unusual for a small state like Qatar. Qatar made its offer to Turkey during a recent visit by Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim Al Thani to Ankara. The announcement helped stem the rout in the lira, which lost a third of its value in a month. It was followed by a so-called currency swap agreement that will allow Turkey to bypass the U.S. dollar in bilateral trade and financial transactions with Qatar. While Iran and several Arab countries including Kuwait have expressed opposition to the U.S. sanctions, none so far has offered tangible financial support similar to Qatar’s. Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to put economic pressure on Turkey in hopes it spurs the release of the American pastor, who has been detained for nearly two years on allegations he supported the failed July 2016 coup. Qatar’s aid clearly counteracts that pressure. So far, the U.S. hasn’t publicly reacted to Qatar’s actions. U.S. sanctions prompted a currency crisis in Turkey. AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis Allies aiding adversaries This gesture of support for Turkey is not the first time that Qatar has taken a stand that conflicts with U.S. foreign policy objectives. On several occasions in the past two decades, the U.S. has expressed concern about Qatar’s support for various Islamist and extremist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its relations with Iran. In May U.S. officials issued a warning after a newspaper reported evidence of clandestine contacts between Qatar and Iran’s revolutionary guards and other groups it supports. This behavior may seem puzzling because ever since its creation as an independent state in 1971, Qatar has relied on the United States for its external security. At the same time, Qatar hosts about 10,000 U.S. military personnel at Al Udeid Air Base, home of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, which is used to conduct operations in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The United States also maintains strong economic relations with Qatar as its largest foreign investor – particularly in oil and natural gas production. All smiles as Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Presidential Press Service/Pool via AP Qatar’s possible rationale So why would Qatar risk jeopardizing the relationship by aiding Turkey so publicly? One possible explanation is that Turkey itself has become an important strategic and economic partner. The two signed a military cooperation agreement in 2014, which allowed Turkey to maintain a small base in Qatar. When fellow Gulf Cooperation Council states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in 2017 and imposed a trade embargo, Turkey increased the number of its troops at the base to deter military action. This was important to Qatar because the U.S. seemed to be showing more support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the standoff, a perception reinforced by highly critical tweets from Trump. Qatar’s recent expansion of trade with Turkey also helped it survive the embargo as Turkish consumer goods flowed in, leading to a surge in trade between the two countries. Bilateral investment between Qatar and Turkey has also increased in recent years. Qatar has nearly $20 billion in investments in Turkey, and a large number of Turkish construction firms are active in Qatar. Another possible explanation is that Qatar’s leaders simply believe that the U.S. needs Qatar more than Qatar needs the Americans. The rationale is that the American military bases there are vital to its ability to project power in the region. Meanwhile, Qatar’s significant reserves of oil and gas make it a valuable economic partner. As a result, Qatar may believe the U.S. will continue to show a high level of patience, even in the face of support for Turkey. Things are a bit frostier in the Oval Office with Trump. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque US patience running thin? It is true that the United States has tended to be patient with Qatar’s maverick foreign policy, including over Iran. But Qatar’s government would be wise to have a realistic understanding of the erratic and unpredictable nature of American foreign policy under the Trump administration. Just as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was shocked by Trump’s sudden impositions of harsh sanctions this month, Qatar might also face a similar American reaction for going too far in its support for Turkey, or getting too close to Iran. In addition, Qatar must keep in mind that Turkey could never replace the U.S. as a partner both in terms of military protection or the advanced American oil and gas technology it receives. In other words, if Trump is willing to risk the United States’ relationship with Turkey so easily, Qatar should not assume that it is immune from his wrath – or could find as useful an ally. Perhaps a better strategy for Qatar is to maintain a balance between its two important allies.

Trinidad still awaiting confirmation from Turkey

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 4, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government Thursday said it is still awaiting confirmation from Turkey that the nine people detained on their way to Syria to join the terrorist organisation, ISIS, are indeed Trinidad and Tobago nationals.
  • Published in Justice

Trinidadians nabbed on their way to Syria

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 1, CMC – A Turkish newspaper Monday reported that nine Trinidad and Tobago nationals were detained after the police nabbed a Syrian man suspected to attempting to smuggle them into southern Turkey to join the ISIS terrorist organisation.

Failed Turkish Coup: Sabotage, Incompetence or Deception?

The Coup in Turkey remains yet to be understood but the first consequences are starting to reveal themselves To understand the coup in Turkey, we have to analyze the reasons that led the plot to fail. A premise: was there really an intention to overthrow and shut down Erdogan’s government? And who are those behind the coup? Starting from these questions and exploring the possible answers, we get a reasonable and authentic framework for a story still very confusing.
  • Published in Opinion
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