Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

RFT Ep 238 – New Years Eve Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 31, 2013

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Don’s Rant:


Don’s Rant is about the Supreme Court of Canada striking down key elements in Canada’s prostitution laws. It is now transforms the theoretical legality of prostitution and makes the actual practice of prostitution legal. Does this help or hurt the sex trade workers? Society? Listen and find out Don’s take on the issue.

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Eulogy for Aaron Swartz


Don give an impassioned and emotional eulogy to one of the promising progressive lights – Aaron Swartz, and how state bullying contributed to his suicide.

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Aaron inspired

Does hockey need violence?

We discuss violence in hockey. Is there a need for the hockey fight? Could you get rid of hockey violence and do we want to?

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The full lecture Don gave at Skepticamp Vancouver 2013 – “1984 – NSA, Snowden and Spying: A Skeptic Look at the Surveillance State”.

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RFT Ep 235 – Pseudo-scientist Take-down Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 4, 2013

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Don’s Rant is about the Harper Governments silence about  how the American Home Land Security seem have complete access to Canadian private medical records. Is this a sign of weakness, incompetence, arrogance or is the Harper Government breaking the law by willingly sharing this information.


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We discuss an exchange between Jerry Coyne and Deepak Chopra at The New Republic. Coyne does a great take-down of Pseudo-scientist paranoia, a irrelevant rebuttal by Deepak and Coynes take-down of Deepak’s rebuttal.

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RFT Ep 231 – 1984 Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 5, 2013

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This Week:

Don’s Rant is about Harper’s quote from the Conservative convention “I couldn’t care less” and the pending disaster as the RCMP are called in to investigate wrong doing at the PMO’s office over Duffy’s cheque.


Also,the full lecture Don gave at Skepticamp Vancouver 2013 – “1984 – NSA, Snowden and Spying: A Skeptic Look at the Surveillance State”.


Also a classic interview with Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame.


And we end the show with a few classics from Symphony of Science.


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Race to the bottom – Ethical Spying

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 30, 2013


With yet more revelations from Snowden on the spying activity of agencies such as the NSA and Canada’s own CSEC that’s stands for Communication Security Establishment Canada…well, what has made these releases different from before is the amount of spying that is perpetrated on allies. The US has been tapping the phone of, among others the German Chancellor Merkel and Mexican President Caldaron. And that this spying occurred prior to their becoming state leaders. Merkel was put on the spy list apparently because of the German refusal to join in on the Iraq War.


It has come to light that Canada was spying on the President of Brazil and the Minister of Mining and Energy. What has set this report apart is that intended purpose.

It has become common refrain that this level of spying is necessary to stop terrorist attacks. But what the evidence has been increasingly pointing to is that much of this spying is not for the state but national corporations.

The spying on Brazil’s Minster of Mining and Energy is now thought to have been done to give a leg up to Canadian based mining and petroleum corporations.


Now, you might…and I must stress MIGHT be able to get me to go along with the spy in every laptop if the purpose was to stop crime and terrorism…whatever that may currently mean. But when the security apparatus of the state is given to private for profit corporations who have little to no interest in the reputation of the nation…well, that just leaves me dumb struck.

I wonder if we charge them for this information. If they are spying for corporate interests, doesn’t that take them away from the job of keeping the nations safe?

So, in the first place it just strikes me as wrong that we are expending not only valuable public resource to enable private corporations to make better deals because they know what the other side is talking about but it also sullies the reputation of the nation.

Canada is known as a nice guy…or well it was. The concerted efforts of the current regime under Harper has so tarnished our name that Canadian travelers are not sewing New Zealand flags on their backpacks for fear of being discovered as being Canuck.

Now I was talking to a loyal listener of Radio Free Thinker and they mentioned that we should be appalled that we spy at all on our allies…that there should be some kind of Marquis de Queensberry rules for spying…we all agree on some basic ground rules, such as don’t spy on your friends or they may soon choose not to be your friends.

Now in principle I agree with this sentiment and since the whistle-blower Snowden’s revelations, many nations are now talking about an international treaty regulating spying.


However, into this mix I was listening to one of the many podcast I hear each week. On it I heard a very Machiavellian and cold response to this idea of playing nice. He said, dead pan and matter of fact…well, if one nations is spying for economic advantage and your nation is not…well that puts you at a strategic disadvantage…you lose.

In isolation, we could say…well, no…decent nations do not give up integrity for monetary gain, at least in the short term.

Now, the depth of the spying the Snowden has revealed has relevance in an unexpected way. He has shown that the NSA, among others…are not spying to protect the nation or weed out crime. They motivation seems to be to just get it all. If there is a system…place…person…that seems beyond their spy network, they make every effort to crack it.

Merkel is famous for her use of her phone to conduct political business. This fact alone seems to have made her a target of the NSA…it’s not do I need to spy on her, but CAN I spy on her.


Once this threshold has been reached…once nations know that the US is willing to stoop lower than anyone else. The argument made about “do you want to handicap your side by not spying” makes it a race the bottom of ethical spying.

I want Canada to take the highroad…I think in the long run that way prosperity lies…but I understand too well the pull of the dark-side. With our current leadership, I have no doubts that we are not taking the high road.

corrigan october 19 2013

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RFT Ep 230 – Dummies Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 29, 2013

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This Week:

Screen-Shot-2013-10-22-at-11.45.14-AM-1024x725 Don’s Rant is about how the continuing revelations from Snowden is showing how the US and Canada are spying allies. Also how much state spying is being done for corporate benefit. Lastly, how this spying is causing a race to the bottom of unethical spying nsahearing_590_476

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afdcover An extended interview with Dale McGowan, author of “Atheism for Dummies” and executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief. We discuss that others think of atheism, the history of disbelief and the culture of atheism large_3222.large

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My data…big and small

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 11, 2013

Earlier I wrote about the ‘good’ of Big Data, now we are going to continue our discussion of Big Data but this time we take at look at the ‘bad’ of Big Data…its dark side. This is a Six Part Series based on my discussion on Radio Freethinkers broken down into bite sized pieces.

Part 1 – How small data becomes big.


How does Big Bad Data present itself?

Well, let’s break it down into three categories…personal, corporate and governmental. Granted this is a tad arbitrary…we could slice and dice it a number of ways, but I find this allows us to clearly understand our relation to each and how each interacts with the other.

With personal data, we have already discussed the fact that we are great generators of data. We have our tweets, emails, phone calls, blogs, likes, pokes and etc. We allow location tracking; tracking cookies and we habitually and obediently click yes on those pages of long agreements when we install that must-have app.

So, our first of the ‘bad’ of Big Personal Data is the stratification and isolation of individuals into data ghettos…what I call the bubble-fying of society.  One of the ironies of having so much information at hand is that we can get corralled into self-isolating preference filter bubbles.

97740087_9d2d2bb254_o.jpgIn their efforts to provide you better service via Big Data, companies like Google learn what you like, so when you do a Google search you get results tailored to your preferences.

This has a good side, so if your parents want to find out what latex paint bonds best to the dog house…and they put in search terms latex, bonding and dog house.

In the old days you would get porn sites featuring bondage, domination and latex fetishes. But Big Data is smart enough…we hope…that’s not the kind of thing they have searched in the past, but they have done a lot of DYI searches so up pops painting sites.

However, the down side of this is when we do other kinds of searches…like Snowden and NSA…if you are a lefty like myself, I will get sites like Democracy Now, Truthdig, and generally pro-Snowden sites that condemn the actions of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the security state.

harper-2011-electionHowever, if Harper did such a search…and I will assume he is more to the right than myself…he would get a completely different set of results. These would be the Fox News, Sun Media and generally pro-surveillance state and the branding of Snowden as a traitor.

This bubblefication of society means there is less cross talk…less mingling of ideas…an absence that there is even an ‘other’ view…because literally they have been removed from our sight…from our world view. And we are only talking about our own self-generated data that allows this ideological or social filtering to occur.

Another aspect of Big Personal Data…well, actually it’s not that big at all.

bigdata2-500x391Some people in the business call this – Small Data…it’s still large historically but small in contrast to Big Data. It’s still a lot of information but there is no technical reason that it could not be stored locally…on our PC where we would have control of it.

But instead, the paradigm is to allow all this data to flow into corporate servers, thus creating Big Corporate Data.

In Part 2, we will discuss the bad of Big Corporate Data…


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