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 a 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!