I am related to seven different kiwi (New Zealander) families, the first descended from a war bride taken in 1917 to a gold-mining town in South Island, better known for a proportion of sheep to people comparable with that of Virgin Islands companies to ours. Most settled in North Island, with its spectacular backdrop to the films of Tolkien’s novels depicting battles between good and evil engendered by the greed for gold.

The most recent arrival is a niece who has taught at a primary school in South Island for two years. She and relatives who immigrated before her responded to the white supremacist who attacked Christchurch Muslims at prayers, in English and the Maori language, “You do not speak for us; that’s not who we are.”

I expect most kiwis working in our yachting and financial services industries were heartened to see their premier’s head covered with a scarf Muslim-style while announcing her Cabinet’s decisions to help the victims’ families financially, fast-track their applications for citizenship and tighten gun controls — decisive leadership that our National Democratic Party government lacked. It was fortuitous, however, that our new premier could meet the other Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States heads of government so soon, particularly when Guadeloupe became an associate member.

‘Hackers’

My hackers continue to taunt me, for example by changing a line I’d typed into its mirror-image, but also making increasingly sophisticated use of artificial intelligence to show their knowledge of personal information seized from my phone and computers. They reworded a post I was writing about my German ancestry and translated Moll into Minor, then later offered me the use of a dictionary of Frisian, the dialect where my father attended primary school, indicating their foreign origins.

Russian military aircraft landed more troops and equipment in Venezuela earlier this week, probably reinforcing their potential for cyberattacks. However, whether my hackers work for oligarchs, local criminals or the arch-enemy incarnate, I feared — and still do — that members of the NDP Cabinet who did not declare their personal financial interests may have more easily succumbed to their blackmail than me. Even the upsurge in gun-related crime might originate in youths emulating their seniors’ thirst for ill-gotten gains.

EU blacklist

A European observer remarked that United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU were bound to fail because she did not really understand the way it works. We must do better. The EU Commission in Brussels acts on the unanimous decisions of 27 sovereign states (UK is excluded, presently), several of which criticised the launching of its latest blacklist. We should seize upon our omission from it as an opportunity to dissociate our financial services from tax evasion and money-laundering.

I seem to remember that the UK Parliament had narrowly rejected the amendment to the law which was to impose public registers on OTs, but the release of the Panama Papers changed the minds of several of them.

The EU Commission worries that if Brexit is deferred beyond April then issues challenging the integration of Europe may dominate the EU elections in May, in which the UK would have to participate.

The hackers could hardly have done a better job in destabilising voter opinion, just as I thought after the ill-timed release of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on early voting day here.

Disinformation

State-backed hacking teams usually adopt more subtle tactics than trying to disrupt an election openly by breaking through election technology, hacking voter and candidate registration, or falsifying results. They find it more productive to fund fringe candidates and spread fake news and hate speech on social media, sowing discord and distrust in the democratic process. However, while racist or anti-immigrant hate speech can be defined and criminalised, spreading disinformation (i.e. lying) is not illegal.

Most small EU states are ill-prepared to combat state-backed hacking, but Estonia is a shining exception, gaining larger countries’ respect in a way we might emulate. The EU recognised Estonia as its most technologically advanced member state in integrating digital elements throughout society and best prepared to tackle state-sponsored interference, by giving it the lead role in advising the rest how to do it.

Its elections office, with only a dozen staff, teaches candidates, political parties and the general electorate that personal data hygiene is essential online — e.g. how to recognise potential phishing emails so that officials, candidates and voters at large know what disinformation is and what a cyberattack looks like. The BVI London Office should appoint someone to cultivate the acquaintance of the Estonian Embassy staff.

Text generator

Just recently the creators of a machine learning research group backed by Elon Musk decided their text generator was too dangerous to release in full as its artificial intelligence was so good at generating “deepfakes for text.” After being fed over 10 million news articles from Reddit, an intuitive programme completes any sentence into a full-length fake news article, seconds after it was input, with fabricated paragraphs that read in a journalistic tone as if they were reporting legitimate news.

What if Russia’s troll factory got a similar machine?

 


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