Avoiding government intrusion in my latest trip to the USA

February 18 to 23 I traveled to Orlando, Florida (USA) for the HIMSS trade show. As much as I have enjoyed the magic of Orlando parks in the past, this was a pure business trip. I am an EU citizen (Spain) living in the UK, and I took a direct flight from London to Orlando. I had recently renewed my passport and ESTA, so I should be able to enter the USA without a problem right? Well, that has been the case dozens of times in the past. But the present is different.

When I applied for the renewal of my ESTA, I noticed a new field in the application form: social media. It was an optional field, so obviously, consistent with my fierce belief and defense of privacy, I refused to disclose such information. But took notice: government intrusiveness is on the rise, and in the era of Trump, it can only get worse.

This has been a challenge for years (border search, dispute over forced password disclosure…), but the atmosphere has gotten completely toxic in the past few weeks. Besides the infamous “travel ban”, a few days before my departure, the following news pointed to an increase in this government abuse:

So taking some advice I read online (How to legally cross a US (or other) border without surrendering your data and passwords) I decided to play it safe:

  • Even though my laptop is encrypted (as are my backups), for the first time in years, I traveled without a laptop. While it was quite a liberating experience, it also made my work a lot harder and less productive.
  • I took a “burner phone”, completely erased, reset to factory default, and with an empty SIM. The plan was to purchase a new phone once I went through the border (which I did), and re-install all my apps and get access to all my usual services. But I did need to take that SIM with me because my business colleagues were counting on contacting me via that number.

Even after all those precautions, and with “nothing to loose”, I was determined to not give my SIM PIN away if requested. Even if it meant refusal of entry, deportation or detention. Why? Because there really is something to loose: my privacy, your privacy. As citizens (even visitors) and individuals, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens and visitors to draw a line, a line most of us agree on (and is expressed in the Constitution and common practice), and defend it above and beyond our personal circumstances.

When it comes to “values”, I do not accept a simplistic utilitarian and individualistic approach. We are a society, we shape and are shaped by culture, and we should aim to advance a civilization. Our society, culture, and civilization. Our beliefs.

Who is “we”? What is “our”? I identify with free thinkers, science, freedom, justice, equality… and those are values shared by a majority of people in the world. The USA has made them “banner words”, and has proudly displayed them everywhere, from anthems to posters, from flags to excuses to invade countries and kill people without even a trial. The say they are ready to die for it, and they surely have killed for it…

So, what happened at the border?

The DHS agent asked me the usual, and legit, questions (length of stay, reason for visit, etc), and then told me: Let me see your laptop.

It was the moment I was both fearing and looking forward to. I replied: I left it at home, so you could not get your hands on it.

His reply was an indication that my precautions were becoming widespread: And you erased your phone to factory default, am I right?

With a grin on my face I could (and did not want to) disguise, I replied: Of course.

With a silent nod, he let me through.

At the tradeshow I was reminded how did we get to that point. For those who do not know it, I work in the healthcare IT industry. Healthcare, in the USA, is an extreme example of the damage that can be caused by wild capitalism and lack of government oversight to protect those in need. The telltale signs were everywhere: extremely rich executives, lobbyists and politicians giving keynote speeches about “healthcare”, while their country has a shameful record of health outcomes vs expenditure; lack of diversity (for example, at a “business breakfast” with over 200 attendees, the only people of color in the room were those serving the food); an absolute focus on short-term profits and legalese, and an appalling absence of focus on real healthcare benefits…

I’ve always believed that the right technology in the hands of people focused on doing good, can change the world. But I must admit I underestimated the colossal reactionary forces of short-sighted economic interest groups.

The struggle continues.

Interview for the art exhibition that I have curated and is currently being shown in Kaunas, Lithuania

INTERVIEW with JORGE CORTELL, curator
By Airida Rekštytė – November 4, 2016

According to your profound theoretical education (sic) it will not be difficult to present us in short your intentions for organizing this event.

When did the idea of making this exhibition occur and what inspired it?

I have spent years as activist defending free software and online privacy, and opposing censorship.
During a dinner with the director of an event that focuses on those themes (the Internet Freedom Festival, also known as Circumvention Festival), I told him how it would be a nice challenge to try to convey the main messages of the Festival’s themes into an art exhibition. And he said, let’s do it!

What is your personal relationship with the internet and its possibilities? Have you encountered limitations for your freedom? Do you think this is an issue in democratic countries?

I have been an early adopter of technologies since I can remember, and most of my companies are or have been technology-based.
Internet freedom is under constant threat, not only in undemocratic societies, but also by democratic governments and their “intelligence” organizations worldwide. The main example is all we have learned about the US government and the NSA spying on not only their citizens but also other countries (their allies), thanks to Edward Snowden.

In internet space you declare that you are in opposition to the concept of Intellectual Property. How would you describe your attitude? In what sense your views affect this exhibition?

I used to lecture on “Intellectual Property” (as an Assistant Professor in Spain, and as a Visiting Professor in 60 universities worldwide), and my lectures lasted hours, so I will try to condense all that in a few paragraphs 😉
Intellectual “Property” is wrong both from a conceptual level and a practical level.
From a conceptual level, it is an oxymoron, as “intellectual” can not be “property”, since all intellectual activity emanates and feeds from previous intellectual activities. It is culture and communication. It can not be “fenced”, and “packaged”. It is as absurd as saying “my son” or “my neighbor” is “mine” (as a possession). Just like contemporary societies reject the notion of slavery, we should reject the notion of “intellectual property”.
In the same way, from a practical level we can not and should not rely on a “temporary monopoly” as a way to incentivize the creation of artistic and/or intellectual works. Both the “temporary” (term which is being constantly increased and is now way above anything remotely reasonable) and the “monopoly” (which has been proven to be counterbenefitial to society and the economy) are deeply wrong and flawed.
Does that mean that “content creators” and “artists” and “authors” should not receive monetary compensation for their efforts? Not necessarily. What it means is that the current methods to try to achieve that only create artificial scarcity and the restriction of freedom and culture.

Behind each artwork there is a story and a reason why it is in this collection. It would be interesting to know your motivations, but perhaps it would take too long for you to answer. I would like to ask you about Patricija Gilyte since she has many fans in Lithuania. What was your motivation for picking her? How would you relate her to your topics?

I first saw her work in an Art Show in London, and I automatically knew she had to be part of this exhibition. I know an artist and her work is really especial when I want to write a book about it.
“TRI_GALAXIAN L4116” in particular is uniquely exquisite. It has a balance, a rhythm, and a whole flow that asks to be translated to narrative, to dance, to any other form, so it can take a life of its own.
At a surface level it makes you wonder, it intrigues the viewer, and opens up possibilities as to what is it that you are witnessing, while enjoying it all along. And I think it is that mix of wonder and pleasure that really attracted me to her piece.
I see “TRI_GALAXIAN L4116” as the embodiment of intangible and ethereal Diversity.
Diversity is a hotly debated cultural issue. Whether we are talking workplace or demographically. But it relates to much more than that. And I wanted an artwork that took the conversation beyond the current limitations of the “Diversity” discourse.

Finally, which artwork is your favorite and better represents the idea of exhibition?

I have a very rational approach to encompass systemically both ethics and aesthetics. For that reason, I refuse to restrict myself unless absolutely necessary. So I have not thought about “a favorite”. But if I was absolutely forced to select one, I would have to consider it from different points of view:

– Concept: “Juego” by Mery. It has the subversive power of technology hidden under an apparently traditional painting.
– Artist: Claudio Zirotti. I really like how he has, for decades, continuously explored new artistic venues, refusing to limit himself to a single medium, style or message.
– Aesthetics: “TRI_GALAXIAN L4116″ by Patricija Gilyte. It’s absolutely mesmerizing and gracious. It’s the kind of work you fall in love with.
– History:”Jungle Emperor” by Osamu Tezuka. The story behind the controversy (plagiarism by Disney in “The Lion King”) is a fascinating story of inspiration, betrayal, aggression, and eventually history putting everyone in their right place.
– Playfulness: “[Fake] Banksy” by Dave Cicirelly. It’s a recursive play on Banksy’s playfulness.

The White House Chief Data Scientist assures me the White House strongly supports encryption and opposes back doors

Tuesday March 1 I had a conversation with Dr. DJ Patil, the First White House Chief Data Scientist, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

He was interested in discussing ways in which the White House can help healthcare technology companies like mine. The first issue I raised was my concern over the FBI’s request for Apple to decrypt a suspected criminal’s iPhone.

My position in this issue is well known: weak encryption means weak security for ALL of us, so nobody can request weak security for security’s sake.

As I told Dr. Patil that built in encryption is not something that can be made weaker or stronger on a per-case basis. We either all get strong encryption or we do not. If back doors are forced onto technology products, and strong encryption is restricted, we will all suffer from it, not just the healthcare industry. Besides, expecting the user to trust a central authority is not a good idea either, as we found out from the US Government’s recent failures preventing cyber criminals from accessing confidential and private data.

To my delighted surprise, Dr. Patil completely agreed with me and assured me that the White House strongly supports encryption and opposes back doors.

He apologized for not being able to elaborate much more, since this was an ongoing court process, but I did not need any more elaboration. His words were crystal clear. Let’s hope the Obama administration remains so and actively helps us lobby against diminished security and rights.

Million masks march

On Thursday, coming back home from a meeting, I run into the Million Masks March. While I assume I agree with most of their anti-system protests (the truth is I did not bother to read them), I think their choice of Guy Fawkes as an “icon”, even if a graphical one as proposed by the comic/movie “V for Vendetta”, is a very stupid one. Just read about what that historical figure had in mind and judge for yourself.

Another thing that struck me is the media sensationalism, the government paranoia and over-reaction, and the typical “apparatus show of force”, including a large number of policemen, police vehicles, and even laser projections on public buildings, like the message projected on the National Gallery regarding the obligation to comply with police request to remove face maskings, and saying:

“Failure to comply (sic; notice it did not say “failure to do so”) is an offence”

My talk at the Circumvention Tech Festival, March 4th

This past winter I met Sandy and James from Open ITP in New York, and Pepe from Valencia. They were organizing the Circumvention Tech Festival to be held in Las Naves, Valencia (Spain) March 1-6.

They invited me to give a talk, which was eventually scheduled for March 4th at 3pm. I titled the talk “When privacy does not mean the same to you and me”. It was meant to generate debate, to expose other people’s points of view, rather than to be a unidirectional speech.

Nonetheless, my talk was but one of many meetings, talks, workshops, and debates that James, Sandy and the whole team put together. iRex, Tor, Pirate Party, Censorship.no, Ooni, Xnet, Alkasir, ASL19… It ended up being one of the most awesome events of this kind I have ever attended, with circumvention activist and journalists from all over the world sharing their experiences and projects with the community.

The last night I threw a party for all those who wanted to attend at Kanteron’s offices in Valencia. We had fun 🙂

I can’t wait for next year’s edition!

Bitcoin – block chain event in New York

On Monday, February 9, I attended a Bitcoin – Blockchain event with my wife at law firm Latham & Watkins in New York, organized by Hedgeable.

IMG_20150209_194420

Over 100 bitcoin enthusiasts, investors, journalists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs networking over food and beverages, with demos from:

and a round table of Bitcoin innovation experts:

Since I have already started researching the application of the block chain technology for healthcare, it was quite a useful event. But walking around Manhattan at -4ºF is not fun 😉

The Circumvention Tech Festival

November 4th I had a very interesting non-business meeting in New America NYC, 199 Lafayette (New York). I met Sandra Ordonez of OpenITP, one of the organizers of The Circumvention Tech Festival.

OpenITP is an American project that supports the software developers and communities that design and develop anti-surveillance and anti-censorship in the internet (“circumvention tools”), allowing citizens to communicate directly and freely in their own terms. Their objective is to identify opportunities to improve and increase the distribution of these tools.

Right now they are organizing the Circumvention Tech Festival, event that will bring the international anti-surveillance and anti-censorship community to Valencia (Spain) March 1-6, 2015. Developers, activists, journalists, citizens, NGOs and more joining forces.

The festival will consist of a week of conferences, workshops, hackathons, and social gatherings featuring many of the Internet Freedom community’s flagship events. It will also feature two community-run series – one in English and one in Spanish, as well as public events designed to familiarize the local Valencian community with FLOSS privacy and security tools and their communities.

Website in English: www.circumventionfestival.org

Website in Spanish: www.circumventionfestival.es

Would you like to contribute? They need:

  • Small donations to help pay for Internet infrastructure, coffee, evening events, and marketing materials
  • Companies that want to setup a table in our security & privacy expo
  • Bilingual volunteers that can help man the festival for a few hours a day
  • Spanish and English speakers, that want to give a talk, or organize a hackathon/workshop relating to the FLOSS security/privacy space

Don’t miss this amazing festival, and try to help in any way you can!

My new OnePlus One phone is amazing

I have just bought a OnePlus One phone, and have been using it for a couple of days. Let me tell you: it’s AMAZING.

If you have never heard of the company, don’t worry, you’re not alone. But you should definitely check it out, because their phones are incredibly high quality, high specs, and low price (mine was $349). No catch:

  • Qualcomm© Snapdragon™ 801 processor with 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs
  • Adreno 330 GPU, 578MHz
  • 64 GB eMMC 5.0
  • 3 GB LP-DDR3 RAM, 1866MHz
  • global 4G LTE
  • NFC5.5″ 1080p display
  • 13 megapixel 6 lens camera
  • Tri-microphone with noise cancellation

I decided to get one of these because my Samsung Galaxy S II was getting old, and I wanted to go from the limited stock Android, full of my cell carrier’s bloatware, to a more open and free Cyanogen Mod (11S), which will also allow me to experiment with advanced cell cryptography.

Purchasing one of these phones is not that easy. I guess they want to control the huge demand they are experiencing. But I got an invitation, so I decided to use it 😉

Upon receiving the package I felt something I had not feel since the first iPhone: like a fan-boy. Sorry Apple, you lost your touch long time ago, and many of us just despise how you do not care about user’s rights and freedoms.

OnePlus has put a lot of care in every detail. And after a couple of days of spending too much time using the phone (who wouldn’t?) I must say even the batter life is amazing!

AWESOME JOB, OnePlus guys!

The key to the use of cloud in healthcare

In a single word: security.

By now there is no doubt about the advantages of the cloud: easy collaboration, scalability, ubiquity, sync, cost savings (21% on average, according to AFCOM 2011, 40% according to our own customers), rapid deployment, etc.

There is also no doubt about the need for a move to the cloud in healthcare: according to Enterprise Strategy Group, by 2015 an average of 665TB of data will be generated per hospital per year. And the number one reason for that data size is PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) medical imaging systems. Furthermore, as digital pathology and genetic (-omics) data, which are only now becoming common place, start to grow, that number could easily be multiplied by two or three. We already have customers that generate over a PETABYTE (1,000 terabytes, or a quadrillion bytes) of data per year.

Our solutions help store and manage all that data. But with over 425,000 telehealth providers in the USA alone (according to BCC research), that data increasingly needs to be shared. Yet not all hospitals have the capability or resources to do it. So the cloud is the perfect solution.

With constantly falling telecommunications prices and increasing bandwidth, study after study and poll after poll show that the number one factor restricting the adoption of the cloud in healthcare is “security”.

HIPPA requirements and the very sensitive and confidential nature of healthcare data are the first reasons that come to mind. But recent news about the National Security Agency spying on citizens without court orders, even through backdoors on privative operating systems with consent and even help of software and telecoms companies, have escalated the fear for data security breaches even more.

How should the concerns about data security be addressed? Again, one single word: transparency.

The cloud is no more or less secure than your cell phone, your computer, your operating system or your applications. The more we seek ease of use, speed, and convenience, the more we go up the abstraction layers, separating ourselves from the deep knowledge of the inner workings of the tools we use everyday.

If we want complete control and security, we have to have knowledge of the building blocks (operating system kernel, electronics, etc). But who has time for that?

The only solution to overcome fear is trust. And the only way to trust with security is through knowledge. But knowledge is only possible when there is transparency.

So request your cloud providers to be transparent about their systems, policies, protocols, formats, etc. Also make sure updated free-open source software is used end to end. And add as many additional layers as possible while maintaining manageability (encryption, auditing, logging, etc).