Echelon Redux

Just a quickie, as this is some sort of hol­i­day sea­son appar­ently.  How­ever, this did annoy me.   In the same way that Pres­id­ent Obama signed the invi­di­ous NDAA on 31st Decem­ber last year, des­pite his prot­est­a­tions about veto­ing etc, it appears the US gov­ern­ment has sneaked/snuck through (please delete as appro­pri­ate, depend­ing on how you pro­nounce “tomato”) yet another dra­conian law dur­ing the fest­ive sea­son, which appar­ently fur­ther erodes the US con­sti­tu­tion and the civil rights of all Americans.

Yet another prob­lem for our benighted cous­ins across the pond, you might think.  But as so often hap­pens these days, bonkers Amer­ican laws can affect us all.

Yes­ter­day the Sen­ate approved an expan­sion of the terms of the For­eign Intel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act (FISA).  This allows the US intel­li­gence ser­vices to hoover up, if you’ll par­don the mild intel­li­gence joke, the emails of god-fearing, law-abiding Amer­ic­ans if they are exchan­ging emails with pesky foreigners.

Well of course the whole world now knows, post 9/11, that all for­eign­ers are poten­tial ter­ror­ists and are now being watched/snatched/extraordin­ar­ily rendered/tor­tured/assas­sin­ated with impun­ity.  In Europe we have had many people suf­fer this way and some have man­aged to achieve recog­ni­tion and resti­tu­tion.  That appears to do little to stop the drone wars and blood-letting that the USA has unleashed across the Middle East.

But the NDAA and the exten­ded FISA should at least rouse the ire of Amer­ic­ans them­selves: US cit­izens on US soil can now poten­tially be tar­geted.  This is new, this is dan­ger­ous, right?

Well, no, not quite, as least as far as the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions goes.

The Ech­elon sys­tem, exposed in 1988 by Brit­ish journ­al­ist Duncan Camp­bell and rein­vestig­ated in 1999, put in place just such a (leg­ally dubi­ous) mech­an­ism for watch­ing domestic cit­izens.  The sur­veil­lance state was already in place, even if through a back door, as you can see from this art­icle I wrote 4 years ago, which included the fol­low­ing paragraph:

ECHELON was an agree­ment between the NSA and its Brit­ish equi­val­ent GCHQ (as well as the agen­cies of Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zea­l­and) whereby they shared inform­a­tion they gathered on each oth­ers’ cit­izens. GCHQ could leg­ally eaves­drop on people out­side the UK without a war­rant, so they could tar­get US cit­izens of interest, then pass the product over to the NSA. The NSA then did the same for GCHQ. Thus both agen­cies could evade any demo­cratic over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, and still get the intel­li­gence they wanted.

The only dif­fer­ence now is that FISA has come blast­ing through the front door, and yet people remain quiescent.

Fascism 2012 — the ongoing merger of the corporate and the state

I’m gradu­ally com­ing to after a knock-out blow last Octo­ber — the unex­pec­ted death of my beloved and only brother, Rich.  Words can­not describe.

But look­ing for­ward to the delights that 2012 will no doubt offer: Julian Assange remains trapped in a legal spider’s web, but all credit to Wikileaks — it keeps on provid­ing the goods.  

The recent pub­lic­a­tion of the Spy­Files should have been a massive wake-up call, as it it high­lighted the increas­ing use and abuse of mer­cen­ary spy tech — all without any effect­ive over­sight, as I recently wrote in my art­icle for the Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism

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.

Guantanamo_BayDes­pite 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.

SOPAIn 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!