Recently I did this interview for BBC Click to promote the third series of the excellent US spy series “The Blacklist”:
Half a year ago I was asked be the director of a new foundation that would raise funds to cover the legal costs of high-profile whistleblowers, journalist sources and associated cases. Five months ago I announced the launch of the Courage Foundation to an audience of 6,000 at the CCC hackerfest in Hamburg:
This week I have resigned my position from the Courage Foundation.
Firstly, I find the current evolution of Courage incompatible with the way I work.
Secondly, I have so many other calls on my time, travelling constantly across Europe to speak at conferences around issues such as whistleblowers, the media, technology, surveillance, privacy, drug policy, human rights…. where to stop.
I wish the organisation all the best for the future. It is doing important work.
I shall also continue to speak out in support of whistleblowers and associated issues – how could I not?
First published at RT Op-Edge.
When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a categorical, resounding YES.
Sure, it has been an eventful year and there are a lot of contenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reasons: his personal and conscious courage, the sheer scale of his disclosures and the continuing, global impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s citizens, are now able to have a discussion about the nature of our civilisation and potentially call a halt to the frightening slide into a global surveillance dystopia.
For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are living global crisis of civilisation . To date it is estimated the we have only seen about 1% of the documents he disclosed – the merest hint of the tip of a monstrous iceberg. What further horrors await us in 2014 and beyond?
The Personal Risk
First of all, there is the personal aspect. Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the information. I respect that, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of sacrifice this young man has made. He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an apparently happy relationship, and good career prospects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illegal and dystopian surveillance system that has stealthily been smothering the world.
But Snowden faced far more than merely throwing away a comfortable professional life. Over the last few years the US government, apparently learning well from its former colonial master the UK about the art of crushing of whistleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” – ie persons of conscience who speak out. President Obama has used the Espionage Act (1917) to persecute and prosecute more whistleblowers than all previous presidents in total before him.
This is indeed a “war on whistleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to participate in the torture programme and then exposed, it is currently languishing in prison; Thomas Drake, an earlier NSA whistleblower, was threatened with 35 years in prison; young Chelsea Manning was maltreated in prison, faced a kangaroo court, and is currently serving a similar sentence for the exposure of hideous war crimes against civilians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.
So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the legal risk he was taking when he went public, displaying bravery very much above and beyond the call of duty.
The intelligence apologists in the media have inevitably shouted “narcissism” about his brave step to out himself, rather than just leak the information anonymously. However, these establishment windbags are the real narcissists. Snowden correctly assessed that, had he not put his name to the disclosures, there would have been a witch-hunt targeting his former colleagues and he wanted to protect them. Plus, as he said in his very first public interview, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implications were for the world.
The sheer scale and nature of the disclosures so far has been breathtaking, and they just keep coming. They show that a vast, subterranean surveillance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politicians who are supposed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under constant electronic surveillance, but these politicians are targeted too. This is a global secret state running amok and we are all now targets.
Only yesterday, Der Spiegel reported more egregious examples of how the spies bug us: hardware hacks, computer viruses and even microwave wavelengths attacking both our computers and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all….
Snowden’s disclosures have laid bare the fact that the internet has been thoroughly hacked, subverted and indeed militarised against we the people. The basic freedom of privacy, enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, has been destroyed.
Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and discuss ideas freely and in privacy, we are all living in an Orwellian dystopia, and we are all potentially at risk. These media must be based on technologies that empower individual citizens, not corporations or foreign governments, and certainly not a shadowy and unaccountable secret state.
The central societal function of privacy is to create the space for citizens to resist the violation of their rights by governments and corporations. Privacy is the last line of defense historically against the most potentially dangerous organisation that exists: the state.
By risking his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the opportunity to resist. We all owe him a debt of gratitude, and it is our duty to ensure that his courage and sacrifice has not been in vain.
Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Hamburg, discussing the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war in the internet and the war on whistleblowers:
Here’s an RT interview I did about the media response to Edward Snowden, the media response, privacy and what we can do.
Apt, as I am currently at the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) in Hamburg, and shall be speaking about similar issues this evening.
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.
They 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.
As 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.
Below is some background material from my submission to the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee on the implications of the NSA scandal.
Here is a video link to the hearing.
LIBE Committee Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens, European Parliament, 30th September 2013
Annie Machon was an intelligence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leaving to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incompetence of the British spy agencies. As a result she and her former partner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and imprisonment, and watch as friends, family and journalists were arrested.
She is now a writer, media commentator, political campaigner, and international public speaker on a variety of related issues: the war on terrorism, the war on drugs, the war on whistleblowers, and the war on the internet. In 2012 she started as a Director of LEAP in Europe (www.leap.cc).
Annie has an MA (Hons) Classics from Cambridge University.
- The insider threat
- Free Speech Debate project
- Whistleblower discussion panel
- What whistleblowers want
- The value of whistleblowers
- The cost of whistleblowing
- The real purpose of UK secrecy laws
- Head of MI6 statement
- Early article on Wikileaks
- Possible whistleblower protections
- Failure of UK parliamentary oversight
- UK spies and the law
- UK spies: unethical and unaccountable
- Meaningful parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, with full powers of investigation, at both national and European levels.
- These same democratic bodies to provide a legitimate channel for intelligence whistleblowers to give their evidence of malfeasance, with the clear and realistic expectation that a full inquiry will be conducted, reforms applied and crimes punished.
- Institute a discussion about the legal definition of national security, what the real threats are to the integrity of nation states and the EU, and establish agencies to work within the law to defend just that. This will halt international intelligence mission creep.
- EU-wide implementation of the recommendations in the Echelon Report (2001):
- to develop and build key infrastructure across Europe that is immune from US governmental and corporatist surveillance; and
- “Germany and the United Kingdom are called upon to make the authorisation of further communications interception operations by US intelligence services on their territory conditional on their compliance with the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights).”
- The duty of the European parliament is to the citizens of the EU. As such it should actively pursue technology policies to protect the privacy and basic rights of the citizens from the surveillance of the NSA and its vassals; and if it cannot, it should warn its citizens abut this actively and educate them to take their own steps to protect their privacy (such as no longer using certain Internet services or learning to use privacy enhancing technologies). Concerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e-commerce’ or ‘e-government’ as mentioned by the European Commission should be secondary to this concern at all times.
- Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and discuss ideas freely and in privacy, we are all living in an Orwellian dystopia, and we are all potentially at risk. These media must be based on technologies that empower individual citizens, not corporations or foreign governments. The Free Software Foundation has been making these recommendations for over two decades.
- The central societal function of privacy is to create the space for citizens to resist the violation of their rights by governments and corporations. Privacy is the last line of defense historically against the most potentially dangerous organisation that exists: the nation state. Therefore there is no ‘balance between privacy and security’ and this false dichotomy should not be part of any policy debate.
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.
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.
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.
I have great pleasure in launching my new, bespoke website – made for me by Sander Venema, the founder of Asteroid Interactive in the Netherlands.
This is a new company that really listens to what you want, both in terms of design and the back-end system, and I cannot recommend them enough.
So what did I want and why?
First of all, I wanted to get out of the USA domain-name hegemony. Recently the US has been increasingly flexing its legal muscles internationally. It is now claiming global dominion over all the old domains originally set up in its territory: .com, .org, .net, .info, you name it.
And it does not matter if you are are a citizen of another country, living in another country, your website is hosted on another country’s servers, and you have nothing whatsoever to do with the good ol’ US of A: if you use one of these domain names, the US government can pull the plug on your site, with no warning and no redress. This has already started to happen.
So I am now safely ensconced in Switzerland – notably the only country not to take down the Wikileaks website in 2010, despite massive global push-back from the US et al. Switzerland still seems to be taking basic human rights seriously.
The US continually bleats on about the “free market”, so let’s vote with our wallets and remove our custom beyond its pernicious reach.
Secondly, I also wanted to walk the walk and move on to an open source platform and CMS (the software that makes it easy to publish without typing a lot of HTML by hand). This is the only way to ensure that you are not dependent on closed, proprietary software companies, which can be legally pressurised by nasties like the NSA or GCHQ into implanting convenient little “back doors” to spy on or manipulate your data. I made this move on my laptop years ago and have since enjoyed at least a relative sense of security.
It needed a revamp, and I hope you find this site more user-friendly, and that you can find the information you want quickly. Please feel free to comment, or email me with any thoughts or suggestions.
I think Sander has come up with a beautiful design. The building in the banner incorporates an image of the old Stasi HQ in Berlin. I like the idea – an image of a panoptic police state that seemed brutally immutable, but that has now just…. gone.
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.
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.
But, 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.
Also coincidentally, he appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of Eady's infamous "super-injunction" regime 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"….