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.
And finally, my old site was looking messy — so much information, so little time.……
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.
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.
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.
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” 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 USIP 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”.…
Here we go again. In this heartwarming article in today’s Guardian newspaper, British MPs on the Home Affairs Committee have decided that the internet is the most significant factor in the radicalisation of violent extremists and conclude that Something Must Be Done.
One paragraph leapt out at me:
“The Commons home affairs committee says internet service providers need to be as effective at removing material that promotes violent extremism as they are in removing content that is sexual or breaches copyright.” (My emphasis.)
Most of us are aware of the recent dogfight in the US about the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copyright infringement and, as a result, there is a somewhat belated but steadily increasing outcry in Europe about the imminent imposition of ACTA across the continent.
I have written before about how such laws provide the military-intelligence complex with the perfect stalking horse for a panoptic surveillance state, and the campaigning writer, Cory Doctorow, summed it up beautifully when he wrote that “you can’t make a system that prevents spying by secret police and allows spying by media giants”.
And, lo, it is now apparently coming to pass. The Parliamentary half-wits are now proposing to use commercial legislation such as the utterly undemocratic ACTA as a benchmark for countering potential terrorists and extremists. Might they have failed to notice the plethora of existing counter-terrorism and eavesdropping legislation, put in place for this very purpose and already much used and abused by a wide range of public bodies in the UK?
This yet again highlights the mission-creepy Big Brother corporatist group-think. Rather than having to spell it out in boring old linear text, here is some useful linkage — what I like to think of as 3-D writing:
Needless to say, the issue of massive commercial surveillance capabilities usually remains confined to a niche media market, although the Daily Mail did rouse itself to report that shoppers were being tracked via mobile phones as they consumed their way around malls. Well, I suppose it’s a start.
With the growth of mercenary spy companies in our minds, we should be even more concerned about the accelerated shredding of our civil liberties, particularly in the US and UK. Despite earlier promises that he would veto any such legislation, President Obama signed into law the invidious NDAA on 31st December. This means that the US military is now empowered to seize and indefinitely detain, with no recourse to traditional due process, not only potentially all non-Americans across the planet à la the Guantanamo/extraordinary rendition model, but can now also do this to US citizens within their own country.
Despite the passionate internet debate, the issue has unsurprisingly been largely ignored by most of the mainstream corporate media. But the predominantly US-based internet commentary displays a breathtaking hypocrisy: yes, the NDAA is a terrible law with awful implications for American citizens. However, people around the world have been living with just this fear for a decade, with whole communities afraid of being snatched and disappeared into black CIA torture facilities. Where was the US outrage then? The Pastor Martin Niemoeller poem remains as relevant today as when it was written 70 years ago.
That said a couple of brave voices have spoken out: Naomi Wolf recently described how the US legislators could ironically find themselves on the receiving end of this law, if we go by all historic precedents. Paul Craig Roberts was on frothing good form too, inveighing against the war crimes of the US military, the persecution of Wikileaks for exposing those very crimes, and the evolving totalitarianism of our countries.
In a digital mirror of the NDAA, the entertainment industry and their pet lobbyists are successfully ramming through the invidious SOPA law. As acclaimed digital rights activist and author, Cory Doctorow, described in his keynote at the recent CCC geekfest in Berlin, these ostensibly commercial laws are in effect a stalking horse for governments to seize control of the internet. As he wrote in the Guardian “you can’t make a system that prevents spying by secret police and allows spying by media giants”.
With this in the back of our minds, the Wikileaks SpyFiles revelations about the increasing globalisation and commercialisation of corporate spy technology are even more alarming. The government spy agencies work with little effective oversight, but the mercenaries have a completely free legal rein. Intriguingly, it appears that unlike our own governments Afghanistan is alive to this problem and is reportedly booting out foreign contractors.
Yet the balance of power in certain western countries is sliding overwhelmingly towards police states - or, indeed, fascism, if you take into consideration Benito Mussolini’s definition: “the merger of state and corporate power”.
Our line of defence is slender — organisations like Wikileaks, one or two politicians of conscience, a few remaining real investigative journalists and perhaps the odd whistleblower. Beyond that, we must individually get to grips with the threat, get informed, teched up, and protect ourselves, as we can no longer rely on our governments to uphold our basic rights — you know, privacy, freedom of expression, habeas corpus, and all those other delightfully old-fashioned ideas.
If we do not act soon, we may no longer be able to act at all in the near future.… So I wish everyone an informed, productive and active 2012!
Last October I had the pleasure of speaking at the excellent Mediafabric conference in Prague. The focus of my talk was the future of intelligence, whistleblowing and journalism.
The event was organised by Sourcefabric, an international organisation that provides open source tools and solutions for journalists, so it was an eclectic and stimulating crowd of journalists, geeks, hacktavists and designers. So well done and thank you to the organisers.
Gibson has, of course, honourably now stood down from his 5-year oversight of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ in order to head up the independent enquiry into spy complicity in torture.
And both the reports say, naturally, that it’s all hunky-dorey. Yes, there were a few mistakes (well, admistrative errors — 1061 over the last year), but the commissioners are confident that these were neither malign in intent nor an indication of institutional failings.
So it appears that the UK spies gained a B+ for their surveillance work last year.
Both commissioners pad out their reports with long-winded descriptions of what precisely their role is, what powers they have, and the full, frank and open access they had to the intelligence officers in the key agencies.
They seem sublimely unaware that when they visit the spy agencies, they are only given access to the staff that the agencies are happy for them to meet — intelligence officers pushed into the room, primped out in their party best and scrubbed behind the ears — to tell them what they want to hear.
Any intelligence officers who might have concerns have, in the past, been rigorously banned from meeting those charged with holding the spies to democratic account.….
.…which is not much different from the oversight model employed when government ministers, the notional political masters of MI6, MI6 and GCHQ, sign off on bugging warrants that allow the aggressive investigation of targets (ie their phones, their homes or cars, or follow them around). Then the ministers are only given a summary of a summary of a summary, an application that has been titrated through many managerial, legal and civil service filters before landing on their desks.
So, how on earth are these ministers able to make a true evaluation of the worth of such an application to bug someone?
They just have to trust what the spies tell them — as do the commissioners.
“Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. Why object to increasing state surveillance powers?”
I speak regularly at international events about basic freedoms, civil liberties and encroaching police states, and this is one of the most frequently asked questions.
This question is usually posed in the context of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that infest the streets of Britain, where it is estimated that you can be photographed hundreds of times a day going about your daily business in London.
Not to mention the talking CCTV cameras in the North of England, nor the increasing use of spy drones (as yet, reportedly, unweaponised — at least lethally) over the skies of Britain. Nor the fact that the police officers in charge of CCTV units admit that the technology is only useful as evidence in 3% of cases, and that violent crime has actually gone up since the spread of CCTV, so we’re certainly no safer on our streets.
Nor do the well-meaning people asking this question (who, one presumes, have never-ever done anything wrong in their lives, even to the extent of not dropping litter) seem to grasp the historical evidence: they retain an optimistic faith in the long-term benign intentions of our governments.
Yet as we’ve seen time and time again in history, more dubious, totalitarian and malignant governments can indeed gain power, and will abuse and extend the surveillance laws and available technology against their own peoples. And I’m not just talking about Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s or the East German Stasi, although I’m in agreement with UK Education Secretary Michael Gove at the moment in saying that history lessons are never a waste.…
But we also need to learn more recent lessons: the UK in the 1970s-1990s, where the Irish community as a whole was targeted because of fringe Republican terrorism; or the Muslim community post-9/11, which lives with the real fear of of being arrested, extraordinarily rendered, tortured, or even assassinated on the say-so of unaccountable intelligence agencies; or even peaceful protest groups in the USA and UK who are infiltrated and aggressively investigated by Stasi-like police officers.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was put in place for a very good reason in 1948: to prevent the horrors of state terrorism, violence and genocide from ever happening again. Amongst the essential, internationally-agreed core principles are the right to life, the right not to be tortured, freedom of expression, and the right to individual privacy.
Which brings me neatly back to the start of this article. This is precisely why increasing state surveillance is a problem. Because of the post-9/11, over-inflated, hyped-up threat from soi-disant terrorist groups, we are all being penalised. The balance of power is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of the Big Brother state.
Well, almost. The Wikileaks model is helping to level the playing field, and whatever happens to this trail-blazing organisation, the principles and technology are out there and will be replicated. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.
So, why not pose the very question in the title of this piece back on those who want to turn back the clock and eradicate Wikileaks — the governments, mega-corporations, and intelligence agencies which have been outed, shamed and embarrassed, and which are now trying to suppress its work?
If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.….
I was invited to talk at a gathering of the (digital) civil liberties organisation, Bits of Freedom, in Amsterdam in September 2010. This international, Dutch-based organisation is doing a fantastic job highlighting concerns about internet privacy, security and free speech issues.
Many thanks to Ot and the team for inviting me, and thanks also to Jildou for filming the talk. I had such a fun time, I even feel moved to forgive BoF for their thoughtful gift at the end of the evening — Tony Blair’s riveting autobiography. Well, it makes a good door-stop.….
This is an excellent article from a European technology strategist and futurist. It succinctly sums up all that is wrong with the old media’s coverage of the Wikileaks story over the last year, where people obsess about the technology, the website and the personal life of Julian Assange.
As the article says, we should be focusing on the core issues: illegal wars, war crimes, murder, torture, corporate and political corruption, and diplomatic duplicity.
Let’s address the message, not attack the messenger, and certainly not the medium.