Snowden, privacy and the CCC

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.

Most UK media con­cer­tedly ignore Snowden rev­el­a­tions, under gov’t pres­sure from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Rendition and torture — interview on RT

Here’s my recent inter­view on RT’s excel­lent and incis­ive new UK polit­ics pro­gramme, “Going Under­ground”.  In it I dis­cuss rendi­tion, tor­ture, spy over­sight and much more:

Going Under­ground Ep 22 1 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

Voice of Russia radio interview about spies, oversight, whistleblowers, and Snowden.

Here is an inter­view I did for Voice of Rus­sia radio in Lon­don last week about spies and their rela­tion­ship with our demo­crat­ic pro­cesses, over­sight, Edward Snowden and much more:

Voice of Rus­sia radio inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.