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.

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:

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.

The Extradition Farce – why the delay in reform?

Outrage continues to swell about the peremptory extradition of British citizens to face trial on tenuous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of distraught family members, a growing anger in the UK press, and indignant questions and debates in Parliament – even our somnambulant MPs have roused themselves to state that Something Must be Done – the Extradition Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a growing consensus, why the delay?  I have a theory, but first let’s review some of the most troubling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to widespread public attention  is the decade-long extradition battle of Gary McKinnon.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effectively served a 10-year sentence, uncertain of his future and unable to work in his chosen profession.  Thanks to the indefatigable campaigning of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received widespread support from the media and politicians alike.

Despite this the Home Secretary, Theresa May (who has recently been working so hard in Jordan to protect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abominably over making a decision about whether Gary should be extradited to the US to face a possible 70-year prison sentence – even though the UK investigation into his alleged crime was abandoned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of student Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no British laws.  He is facing a 10 year maximum security sentence if extradited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tirelessly fighting and campaigning for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tappin, a retired businessman and golf club president, has been shipped off to a Texas high security penitentiary following what sounds like a US entrapment operation (a technique not legally admissable in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sentence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDespite having turned himself in, this elderly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is considered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fighting.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remember living through a similar, if mercifully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK government tried and failed to extradite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remember with crystal clarity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he disappeared into a foreign legal system without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remember the frightening moment when I realised I had to step up and fight for him – the legal case, dealing with MPs and the endless media work, including the terror of live TV interviews.  And all this when you are worried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learning curve?

In the wake of the recent extradition cases, there have been questions in Parliament, motions, debates, reviews (Download Review), and there is an ongoing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and prevent McKinnon, O’Dywer and many others being sacrificed on the American legal altar – the concept of “judicial rendition“, as I have mentioned before.

Well, I have a theory, one derived from personal experience.  The British media – most notably the Daily Mail – inveigh against the unilateral extradition of UK citizens to the USA’s brutal prison regime.  There is also some concern about extradition to other European jurisdictions – usually on the fringes to the south and east of the continent, regions where the British seem to have a visceral fear of corrupt officials and kangaroo courts.

But what many commentators seem to miss is the crucial legal connection – the extradition arrangements that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana republics comparable legal systems to face outrageous sentences are, in fact, embedded within the Extradition Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest Warrant, the the act that was rushed through Parliament in the midst of the post-9/11 terrorism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is currently being used and abused to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police questioning (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “temporarily surrendered” to the delights of the US judicial process. Hmm, could this possibly be the reason for the delay in reforming the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?