TPP — copyright versus free speech

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

We, the cit­izens of the world, already owe NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden a huge debt of grat­it­ude.  Even the lim­ited pub­lic­a­tion of a few of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed to journ­al­ists has to date pro­voked a polit­ical and pub­lic debate in coun­tries across the planet — and who knows what other nas­ties lurk in the cache of doc­u­ments, yet to be exposed?

Thanks to Snowden, mil­lions of people as well as many gov­ern­ments have woken up to the fact that pri­vacy is the vital com­pon­ent of free soci­et­ies.  Without that basic right we are unable to freely read, write, speak, plan and asso­ci­ate without fear of being watched, our every thought and utter­ance stored up to be poten­tially used against us at some neb­u­lous future date.  Such pan­op­tic global sur­veil­lance leads inev­it­ably to self-censorship and is cor­ros­ive to our basic freedoms, and indi­vidual cit­izens as well as coun­tries are explor­ing ways to pro­tect them­selves and their privacy.

As I and oth­ers more emin­ent have said before, we need free media to have a free society.

But even if we can defend these free chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion, what if the very inform­a­tion we wish to ingest and com­mu­nic­ate is no longer deemed to be free?  What if we become crim­in­al­ised purely for shar­ing such un-free information?

The global mil­it­ary secur­ity com­plex may be bru­tal, but it is not stu­pid. These cor­por­at­ist elites, as I prefer to think of them, have seen the new medium of the inter­net as a threat to their profits and power since its incep­tion. Which is why they have been fight­ing a des­per­ate rear­guard action to apply US pat­ent and copy­right laws globally.

Pirate_Bay_LogoThey began by going after music shar­ing sites such as Nap­ster and impos­ing grot­esque legal pen­al­ties on those try­ing to down­load a few songs they liked for free, then try­ing to build national fire­walls to deny whole coun­tries access to file shar­ing sites such as The Pir­ate Bay and per­se­cut­ing its co-founder Ana­kata, mer­ci­fully fail­ing to extra­dite Richard O’Dwyer from the UK to the US on trumped up charges for his sign­post­ing site to free media, and cul­min­at­ing in the take down of Megaup­load and the illegal FBI attack against Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zea­l­and last year.

But for all these high-profile cases of attemp­ted deterrence, more and more people are shar­ing inform­a­tion, cul­ture, and research for free on the inter­net. Using peer to peer tech­no­lo­gies like Bit­tor­rent and anonymising tools like Tor they are hard to detect, which is why the cor­por­at­ist lob­by­ists demand the sur­veil­lance state develop ever more intrus­ive ways of detect­ing them, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of deep packet inspec­tion. And of course once such invas­ive tech­no­lo­gies are avail­able, we all know that they will not only be used to stop “pir­acy” but will also be used against the people of the world by the mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance com­plex too.

But that is still not enough for the cor­por­at­ists.  Largely US-based, they are now try­ing to flex their polit­ical muscle glob­ally.  First the US claims that any site end­ing with a tier one US domain name (.com, .org, .net and .info) comes under US law — any­where in the world — and can be taken down without warn­ing or redress by a diktat from the US government.

More egre­giously still, the US cor­por­at­ists have been try­ing to impose their legal domin­ion glob­ally via a series of secret regional trade agree­ments: ACTA, TTIP/TAFTA, SOPA, and now in the recently Wikileaked details of the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) tar­get­ing the coun­tries around the Pacific rim.

These agree­ments, writ­ten by cor­por­ate lob­by­ists, are so secret that the demo­cratic rep­res­ent­at­ives of sov­er­eign coun­tries are not even allowed to read the con­tents or debate the terms — they are just told to sign on the dot­ted line, effect­ively rubber-stamping legis­la­tion that is anti­thet­ical to the vast major­ity their cit­izens’ interests, which gives greater sov­er­eign powers to the interests of the cor­por­a­tions than it does to nation states, and which will crim­in­al­ise and dir­ectly harm the people of the world in the interests of the few.

One of the pro­pos­als is that mul­tina­tional cor­por­a­tions can sue national gov­ern­ments for future lost profits based on pat­ents not gran­ted or envir­on­mental restric­tions. This is noth­ing short of full-on cor­por­at­ism where inter­na­tional law and global treat­ies serve a hand­ful of large cor­por­a­tions to the det­ri­ment of national sov­er­eignty, envir­on­mental health and even human life.

For by pro­tect­ing “intel­lec­tual prop­erty” (IP), we are not just talk­ing about the cre­at­ive endeav­ours of artists. One does not need to be a law­yer to see the fun­da­mental prob­lem­atic assump­tions in the goals as defined in the leaked doc­u­ment:

Enhance the role of intel­lec­tual prop­erty in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the new digital eco­nomy, tech­no­lo­gical innov­a­tion, the trans­fer and dis­sem­in­a­tion of tech­no­logy and trade;

This state­ment assumes that IP, a made-up term that con­fuses three very dif­fer­ent areas of law, is by defin­i­tion bene­fi­cial to soci­ety as a whole. No evid­ence for these claimed bene­fits is provided any­where. As with “what-is-good-for-General-Motors-is-good-for-America” and the the­ory of ”trickle down” eco­nom­ics, the bene­fits are simply assumed and altern­at­ive mod­els act­ively and wil­fully ignored. The idea that most soci­et­ies on the planet might vastly bene­fit from a relax­a­tion of pat­ent laws or the length of copy­right is not even up for debate. This des­pite the fact that there is plenty of research point­ing in that direction.

These secret pro­posed treat­ies will enforce pat­ents that put the cost of basic phar­ma­ceut­ic­als bey­ond the reach of bil­lions; that privat­ise and pat­ent basic plants and food; and that pre­vent the shar­ing of cut­ting edge aca­demic research, des­pite the fact that this is usu­ally pro­duced by pub­licly fun­ded aca­dem­ics at our pub­licly fun­ded universities.

The price, even today, of try­ing to lib­er­ate research for the pub­lic good can be high, as Aaron Swartz found out earlier this year.  After try­ing to share research inform­a­tion from MIT, he faced a witch hunt and dec­ades in prison. Instead he chose to take his own life at the age of 26. How much worse will it be if TPP et al are ratified?

It is thanks to the high-tech pub­lisher, Wikileaks, that we know the sheer scale of the recent TPP débacle.  It is also heart­en­ing to see so many Pacific rim coun­tries oppos­ing the over­ween­ing demands of the USA. Aus­tralia alone seems sup­port­ive — but then region­ally it bene­fits most from its mem­ber­ship of the “Five Eyes” spy pro­gramme with America.

The intel­lec­tual prop­erty wars are the flip side of the global sur­veil­lance net­work that Snowden dis­closed — it is a clas­sic pin­cer movement.

hAs well as watch­ing everything we com­mu­nic­ate, the cor­por­at­ists are also try­ing to con­trol exactly what inform­a­tion we are leg­ally able to com­mu­nic­ate, and using this con­trol as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for yet more intrus­ive spy­ing. It’s the per­fect self-perpetuating cycle.

By cur­tail­ing the powers of the spy agen­cies, we could restore the inter­net to its ori­ginal func­tion­al­ity and open­ness while main­tain­ing the right to pri­vacy and free speech — but main­tain­ing a 20th cen­tury copyright/IP model at the same time is impossible. Or we could give up our pri­vacy and other civil rights to allow spe­cific pro­tec­ted indus­tries to carry on coin­ing it in. A last option would be to switch off the inter­net. But that is not real­istic: mod­ern coun­tries could not sur­vive a day without the inter­net, any more than they could func­tion without electricity.

As a soci­ety we’re going through the pain­ful real­isa­tion that we can only have two out of the three options. Dif­fer­ent cor­por­at­ist interest groups would no doubt make dif­fer­ent choices but, along with the vast major­ity of the people, I opt for the inter­net and pri­vacy as both a free chan­nel for com­mu­nic­a­tion and the free trans­fer of use­ful information.

Like any social change (the abol­i­tion of slavery, uni­ver­sal suf­frage), this is also accom­pan­ied by heated argu­ments, legal threats and repres­sion, and lob­by­ist pro­pa­ganda. But his­tor­ic­ally all this sound and fury will sig­nify.… pre­cisely noth­ing. Surely at some point basic civil rights will make a comeback, upheld by the legis­lature and pro­tec­ted by law enforcement.

The choice is simple: inter­net, pri­vacy, copy­right. We can only choose two, and I know which I choose.

Dutch festival OHM — Observe, Hack, Make

Today I am limber­ing up to attend the Dutch geek fest­ival, Observe Hack Make (OHM 2013). A lot of talks from whis­tleblowers, sci­ent­ists, geeks, futur­ists and bleed­ing edge tech people. The visionaries?

You decide — all talks will be live streamed and avail­able after­wards. Enjoy!

Club of Amsterdam

Last week I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the Club of Ams­ter­dam.  The topic under dis­cus­sion was “The future of digital iden­tity”.  Many thanks to Felix and the team. A lively even­ing.

Annie Machon at the Club of Ams­ter­dam from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
First pub­lished in my news­let­ter last week, amongst much else. Do sign up!

Anonymous Interventions

Another RT inter­view today, dis­cuss­ing the take-down of many Israeli web­sites by hackt­iv­ist group, Anonymous:

Israel Hacked — Anonym­ous assault act of protest, not ter­ror from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The motiv­a­tion behind the protest, as pos­ted by Anonym­ous, stated to the Israeli gov­ern­ment: “You have NOT stopped your end­less human right viol­a­tions. You have NOT stopped illegal set­tle­ments. You have NOT respec­ted the cease­fire. You have shown that you do NOT respect inter­na­tional law.

Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wikileaks spokes­man, Kris­tinn Hrafns­son, invited me to speak at the Icelandic Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism while I was in Ice­land in February.

While focus­ing on the inter­sec­tion and con­trol between intel­li­gence and the media, my talk also explores many of my other cur­rent areas of interest.

Ice­land Journ­al­ists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my inter­view tonight on UK Anonym­ous Radio — I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ranging, and stim­u­lat­ing hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonymous.

And also thank you to Kim Dot­com set­ting up the new file-sharing site, Mega, which replaces his illegally-taken-down global site, MegaUp­load.  I have some­where safe, I think, to store my interviews!

What a sham­bolic dis­grace that MegaUp­load raid was, and what a clas­sic example of the global cor­por­at­ist agenda that I dis­cuss in the interview.

I do love geeks.

The FISA/Echelon Panopticon

A recent inter­view with James Corbett of the Corbett Report on Global Research TV dis­cuss­ing issues such as FISA, Ech­elon, and our cul­tural “groom­ing” by the bur­geon­ing sur­veil­lance state:

The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep packet inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the internet.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” ethos and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the internet”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) within the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­atus? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cover cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-censor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-censor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbian Pro­fessor of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at another event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

The Keiser Report — my recent interview

My recent inter­view on Max Keiser’s excel­lent RT show, The Keiser Report, appar­ently now the most watched Eng­lish lan­guage news com­ment­ary show across the world.

We were dis­cuss­ing such happy sub­jects as the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, but pre­dom­in­antly the war on the internet:

Asymmetric Extradition — the American Way

Pub­lished in the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, The Real News Net­work, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House

I blame my part­ner. There I was hav­ing a per­fectly nice day off, poot­ling my way through the Sunday news­pa­pers and find­ing such intriguing art­icles about the fact that Bri­tain has invaded all but 22 coun­tries around the world over the cen­tur­ies (France is the second most pro­lific invader but also has the dubi­ous dis­tinc­tion of being the coun­try most invaded by Bri­tain, apparently).

Then he has to go and say “well, if the US ignores other coun­tries’ laws, why should we be sub­ject to theirs?”. This post is the unavoid­able result.

I had made the tac­tical blun­der of shar­ing two art­icles with him.  The first was an excel­lent inter­view in today’s Inde­pend­ent with news supremo and fin­an­cial sub­vers­ive, Max Keiser; the second was an art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream from the indefatig­able Julia O’Dwyer about her son’s ongo­ing legal fight in the UK.

The con­nec­tion?  Unfor­tu­nately and rather inev­it­ably these days — extradition.

Richard O’Dwyer is the Shef­field stu­dent who is cur­rently wanted by the USA on copy­right infringe­ment charges.  Using a bit of old-fashioned get-up-and-go, he set up a web­site called tvshack​.com, which appar­ently acted as a sign-posting ser­vice to web­sites where people could down­load media.  Put­ting aside the simple argu­ment that the ser­vice he provided was no dif­fer­ent from Google, he also had no copy­righted mater­ial hos­ted on his website.

Richard has lived all his life in the UK, and he set up his web­site there.  Under UK law he had com­mit­ted no crime.

How­ever, the Amer­ican author­it­ies thought dif­fer­ently.  O’Dwyer had registered his web­site as a .com and the US now claims that any web­site, any­where in the world, using a US-originated domain name (com/org/info/net etc) is sub­ject to US law, thus allow­ing the Amer­ican gov­ern­ment to glob­al­ise their legal hege­mony. The most notori­ous recent case was the illegal US intel­li­gence oper­a­tion to take down Megaup­load and arrest Kim Dot­com in New Zea­l­and earlier this year.

This has already res­ul­ted in for­eign web­sites that attract the wrath of the US author­it­ies being taken down, with no warn­ing and no due pro­cess. This is the cyber equi­val­ent of drone war­fare and the presidentially-approved CIA kill list.

As a res­ult, not only was O’Dwyer’s web­site sum­mar­ily taken down, he is now facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch in a max­imum secur­ity prison.  All for some­thing that is not even a crime under UK law.  His case echoes the ter­rible 10-year ordeal that Gary McKin­non went through, and high­lights the appalling prob­lems inher­ent in the invi­di­ous, one-sided UK/USA Extra­di­tion Act.

So how does this link to the Max Keiser inter­view? Read­ing it reminded my of an invest­ig­a­tion Keiser did a few years ago into the extraordin­ary rendi­tion of a “ter­ror­ist sus­pect”, Abu Omar, from Italy to Egypt where he was inev­it­ably, hor­rific­ally tor­tured.  Since then, 23 CIA officers have now been tried under Italian law and found guilty of his kid­nap­ping (let’s not mince our words here).  The Milan Head of Sta­tion, Robert Lady is now wanted in Italy to serve his 9-year sen­tence, but the US gov­ern­ment has refused to extra­dite him.

So let’s just reit­er­ate this: on the one hand, the US demands EU cit­izens on sus­pi­cion that they may have com­mit­ted a cyber-crime accord­ing to the diktats of Amer­ican law, which we are all now sup­posed to agree has a glob­al­ised reach; on the other hand, US cit­izens who have already been con­victed by the due legal pro­cess of other West­ern demo­cra­cies are not handed over to serve their sen­tences for appalling crimes involving kid­nap­ping and torture.

I have writ­ten at length about America’s asym­met­ric extra­di­tion laws, but this is tak­ing the sys­tem to new heights of hypocrisy.

Just why, indeed, should European coun­tries reli­giously obey America’s self-styled global legal domin­ion and hand over its cit­izens, pre­sumed inno­cent until proven guilty, to the bru­tal and dis­pro­por­tion­ate US legal sys­tem?  Espe­cially when the US brushes aside the due legal pro­cesses of other demo­cra­cies and refuses to extra­dite con­victed felons?

It appears that the USA is in a hurry to reach and breach Britain’s record for for­eign inva­sions. But in addi­tion to old-fashioned mil­it­ary incur­sions, Amer­ica is also going for full-spectrum legal dominance.

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­ital of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “offshore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ical cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, other UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-regulation makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of another luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tourism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tual prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” legal firm Col­las Crill.  Accord­ing to his firm’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Committee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­astic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunction” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­ginal owner’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect legal ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new global tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­cratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong direction.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Norman-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­istic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.…