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The year of surveillance

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The spectre of George Orwell’s 1984 loomed large this year as governments around the world made moves to increase their abilities to spy on citizens, according to NordVPN, which offers some advice.

It seems that in 2016 Internet privacy has experienced a string of shocks around the world. A Polish law was instated that loosened spying restrictions for police, the UK received Investigatory Powers Bill, Rule 41 in the U.S. gave the FBI hacking powers and Belarus was able to block the TOR network.

Restricting Internet privacy and interfering with people’s lives by mass surveillance brings fear to the society and dramatically increases the likelihood of criminal activity – not only by governments, but to whoever is able to hack, intercept or otherwise manipulate the system.

Below is the NordVPN review of the Year in Online Privacy, and some suggestions on how people can protect themselves online.

In Germany, new data retention act requires public telecommunication and Internet providers to retain various call detail records (CDRs). These include phone numbers, the date and time of phone calls and texts, the content of text messages, and, for mobile calls, the locations of call participants. In addition, Internet providers are required to store user metadata such as IP addresses, port numbers, and the date and time of Internet access.

Poland’s law expands government access to digital data and loosens restrictions on police spying. Collected metadata will be kept for up to 2 years. One doesn’t have to be an official suspect to be placed under surveillance for up to 18 months. In addition, the person being monitored will not be informed about it, compromising the protection of journalists’ sources and deterring potential whistleblowers.

On July 7, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed into law several bills designed to help the government take measures against dissent online and demand unprecedented levels of data retention from the country’s telecom companies. For instance, the legislation warrants tougher sentencing for online commentary deemed as an incitement to hatred or a violation of human dignity. Such convictions now carry a minimum prison sentence of two years. The law requires service providers to monitor and store all calls, texts, chats and web browsing activity. The retained data can be accessed by several government agencies without a warrant.

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Act received the royal assent on November 29, opening up the gate for a disturbingly intrusive surveillance system. Among other things, the so-called Snoopers Charter gives the state the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and Internet use of all of the UK population. The entire browsing history of every resident of the UK will be stored for one year. Almost 50 police forces and government departments, ranging from the Metropolitan Police Service and GCHQ to the Food Standards Agency are authorized to access the data.

In the U.S., a new amendment to the Rule 41 of the US Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure quietly went into effect on December 1. It allows the FBI to secretly use malware to hack into thousands of computers with one warrant. There is no need to identify specific computers to be searched. That means FBI can hack into as many computers as they wish, whether their owners are suspected of some criminal activity or not.

New surveillance laws have also been passed and/or enacted in Belarus, China, Turkey, Ethiopia and elsewhere this year. For detailed information, visit our extensive coverage on those laws in our recent Privacy Review blog post.

Dangers of Surveillance States

Citizen control and surveillance, especially suspicions surveillance, whether physical or digital, has not proved to be an effective way to control criminal activity ­history tells us it has always turned out to be counter-productive, endangering lives and causing fear and insecurity.

For example, when the government opens a backdoor to citizen’s data, it means that this backdoor could potentially be used by anyone else, and can fall into the hands of hackers. Once the information is in the wrong hands, it can be used to steal people¹s identities and rob them of their bank accounts, for example. Data can also get misplaced, systems can crash and everyone can get endangered.

Solution

There are solutions to bypass some of these restrictive laws, the most reliable being a VPN service. A VPN sends your data through a securely encrypted tunnel before accessing the Internet ­ this protects any sensitive information about your location by hiding your IP address.

Connecting through a VPN tunnel hides your online activity from your Internet service provider (ISP). The only information visible to the ISP is that you are connected to a VPN server, while all other information is encrypted by the VPN¹s protocol. This prevents ISPs from collecting potentially sensitive data and passing it onto any third parties.

It¹s also important to use a VPN service that does not store activity records to ensure your data is not logged and forwarded to any agencies. NordVPN has a strict no-log policy and could not supply any information on your online activities even if requested.

Besides a VPNs, it’s also crucial to use anti-spyware software, to make sure to use a Firewall, not to install unapproved programs on the computer that might contain bugs, and to be generally vigilant about the kind of information one shares and opens online.

Cars

Mercedes brings older models to the connected world

The Mercedes Me Adapter is designed to bring older Mercedes Benz models into the connected world, allowing one to keep a close eye on the car via a smartphone. SEAN BACHER installs a unit

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In this day and age, just about any device, from speakers to TVs to alarm systems, can be connected and controlled via a smartphone.

In keeping with this trend, Daimler Chrysler has launched a Mercedes Me Adapter – a system designed to connect your car to your phone.

The Mercedes Me Adapter comprises a hardware and software component. The hardware is an adapter that is no bigger than a match box and plugs into the OBD2 diagnostics socket under the car’s steering wheel column. 

The software component is the Mercedes Me app, which can be downloaded for Android and iOS devices. (See downloading instructions at the end of the review.)

Setting up

Before you can start using the Mercedes Me Adapter, you need to download the app and begin the registration process. This includes setting up an account, inputting the vehicle’s VIN number, the year it was manufactured and the model name – among many other details. This information is sent to Daimler Chrysler. It is advisable to get this done before heading off to Mercedes to have the adapter installed, as it takes quite some time getting all the details in.

The next step is locating your nearest Merc dealer to get the adapter installed. You have to produce the registration papers and a copy of your ID – something Mercedes neglects to mention on its website, or anywhere else, for that matter.

What it does

The Mercedes Me Adapter is designed to show the car’s vital statistics on your mobile device. On the home screen, information like parking time, odometer reading and fuel level is displayed.

Below that is information about your most recent journeys, such as the distance, time taken, departure address and destination address. Your driving style is also indicated in percentage – taking into account acceleration, braking and coasting.

A Start Cockpit button displayed on the home screen includes a range of widgets offering additional information, including where your car is parked – right down to the address – as well as battery voltage, total driving time, distance and driver score since the adapter was installed. A variety of other widgets can be added to the screen, allowing for complete customisation.

Many users have have pointed out that that there is no real point to the adapter. However it does offer benefits. Firstly, your trips can be organised into personal and business categories and then exported into a spreadsheet for tax purposes. Secondly, you can keep a very close eye on your fuel consumption, as it automatically measures how many litres you put in each time you visit the garage and the cost (the cost per litre must be entered manually so it can work out total refuelling costs). This is also quite beneficial in terms of working out how much fuel you go through, without keeping all the pesky slips when it comes to claiming at the end of the month.

Probably the most important benefit is that it monitors the engine, electrical, transmission and gearbox, sending notifications as soon as any faults are detected. A perfect example was encountered on a recent trip I made to Pretoria. Upon arriving, I received a notification that I needed to check my engine, with the Mercedes roadside assist number blinking and ready for me to dial.

The notification did not even show up on the actual fault detection system, except for the faint glow of the orange engine light, which I would never have noticed in the bright light. I immediately took it Mercedes and they diagnosed it as an intermittent thermostat error, which they said is fine for now but that I have to keep an eye on the engine temperature.

Conclusion

The convenience of easily being able to export mileage for tax purposes and refuelling stops as well as being able to locate your car at anytime should be more than enough to qualify it as a pretty useful companion for your car.

Add to this the fact that it is completely free from Mercedes, and that makes it an absolute no-brainer. Should you not like it, simply unplug the adapter and uninstall the app. The only thing lost is half an hour while the Mercedes technician sets it up, ensures it is working and gives you a crash course on how to operate the app.

The adapter will only work in Mercedes Benz models from 2002 onwards. No warranties are lost, as the adapter does not increase the car’s performance and is a genuine Mercedes part.

2017 models and above do not need the adapter as everything is installed when the car is manufactured. All one needs to do is install the app and pair it with the car.

Get the Mercedes me iOS app here

Get the Mercedes Me Android app here

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Durban FilmMart wants African documentary projects

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Submissions for documentary and feature film projects in development for the Durban FilmMart  (DFM) close next week on 31 January 2020. The organisers are making a special call-out to documentary filmmakers who have projects to submit.

“We invite documentary filmmakers to submit their projects no matter how early in its development it is, so long as it has a producer and director attached to it,” says Don Edkins well-known documentary filmmaker and the DFM’s documentary film mentor. “The DFM is a brilliant way in which filmmakers are able to galvanize interest in their ideas, get people excited about being involved or helping them develop the project. It may be that the project could then be taken to its next level by being invited to another market for further development, or find financing through the pitches. The possibilities are endless.”

The DFM, which takes place from 17 to 20 July 2020, will host 10 documentary and 10 feature projects at its co-production and finance forum. The producer, director or writer on the project must be an African citizen and can either be living on the continent or in the Diaspora.

‘Documentary filim has over the last years really come into its own,” enthuses Edkins. “We see how the genre has evolved from its more information-driven newsreel-style to a narrative or ‘story-driven’ approach,” he says. “It makes the film genre so much more accessible for its audience, drawing them in and engaging them, yet still making strong statements or creating its requisite impact.”

Countless film projects have gone from a simple concept and idea at the Durban FilmMart to the big screen over the 11 years.

Some examples include the 2011 project Buddha in Africa directed by Nicole Schafer (SA) which premiered at HotDocs 2019, and had its SA premiere at Encounters and won Best SA Documentary at DIFF making it eligible for consideration for an Oscar nomination.  2014 projects which made it to the big screen include Kula – a Memory in 3 Acts directed by Inadelso Cossa (Mozambique), The Colonel’s Stray Dogs directed by Khali Shamis (SA), The Sound of Masks directed by Sara Gouveia (SA/Mozambique), Alison directed by Uga Carlini (SA). The 2015 alumni projects which were completed include Amal directed by Mohamed Siam (Egypt), Not in my Neighbourhood directed by Kurt Orderson (SA), The Giant is Falling (working title After Marikana) directed by Rehad Desai (SA) had its international premiere at IDFA. The 2016 project The Letter directed by Maia von Lekow and Chris King (Kenya) premiered at IDFA in 2019 and also from that year, Working Womxn directed by Shanelle Jewnarain (SA) is in production.

“There are plenty more examples of films that have pushed through from their initial concepts, into production and then onto distribution and or screening,” says Edkins. “The documentary film community in Africa is still small and working with the DFM we try to find new talent constantly and work with the industry to hold space for the documentary. I know there are highly creative and talented people out there who have brilliant ideas, and I would like to encourage them to submit these for consideration for this year’s edition.”

To submit a project go to http://www.durbanfilmmart.co.za/ProjectSubmissions

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