New v old media — RT Crosstalk debate

I recently took part in a debate about the old versus the new “altern­at­ive” media and their rel­at­ive mer­its on RT’s Crosstalk with Peter Lav­elle:

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Keynote at international whistleblower conference, Amsterdam

With thanks to Free Press Unlim­ited, the Dutch Advice Centre for Whisteblowers, Net­work Demo­cracy,  and the Whis­tleblow­ing Inter­na­tion­al Net­work.

All these organ­isa­tions came togeth­er to hold an inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in sup­port of whis­tleblowers on 18th June in Ams­ter­dam.

It was a cre­at­ive event, mix­ing up law­yers, journ­al­ists, tech­no­lo­gists and whis­tleblower sup­port net­works from around the world at an event with speeches and work­shops, in order for every­one to learn, share exper­i­ences, and devel­op new meth­od­o­lo­gies and best prac­tice to help cur­rent and future whis­tleblowers.

A stim­u­lat­ing and pro­duct­ive day, at which I did the open­ing key­note:

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RT Interview — the anniversary of Edward Snowden

Here is an inter­view I did on 5th June, the anniversary of the start of Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures about the glob­al sur­veil­lance infra­struc­ture that is being built.

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RT inter­view on Snowden & digit­al pri­vacy from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Berlin Magical Secrecy Tour

This week Trans​me​diale​.de organ­ised a Magic­al Secrecy Tour around Ber­lin to mark the anniversary of Edward Snowden’s world-chan­ging dis­clos­ures.

And what bet­ter place to hold such a tour? Ber­lin has long been the play­ground for inter­na­tion­al spies, fight­ing the old Cold War in the dirty dark. It also still bears the scars of two total­it­ari­an regimes run out of con­trol — the brute force of the Nazis and the insi­di­ous sur­veil­lance of the Stasi dur­ing the years of the DDR in East Ger­many.

It is a city that is a liv­ing museum, and the tour took us around some key points, includ­ing the old Stasi HQ — now a museum — the new bil­lion euro BND mega-com­plex, the Spy Bridge, and the Spy Hill. It was a stark les­son from his­tory about what spies could do, should do, and are now doing in the mod­ern day.

Here’s an inter­view:

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Ber­lin Magic­al Secrecy Tour from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
With huge thanks to Kris­tof­fer and the rest of the Trans­me­diale team for an inter­est­ing day.

The Year of Edward Snowden

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge. Also on Con­sor­ti­um News, Huff­ing­ton Post, and the Sam Adams Award web­site.

A year ago I stumbled  across a story about a wor­ry­ing new sur­veil­lance pro­gramme developed by the NSA: Prism. While nobody was iden­ti­fied as the source of the dis­clos­ure, I was awe­struck by the bravery of this unknown per­son.

At that time the Obama admin­is­tra­tion had been waging an aggress­ive war on whis­tleblowers: ex-CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, was lan­guish­ing in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers went free; Kirk Wiebe, Wil­li­am Bin­ney and Thomas Drake of the NSA had nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance — indeed, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved chan­nels, Drake had faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence; and of course the kangaroo court had just star­ted to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring — the Rus­si­an illeg­als exposed in 2010 — to return home. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, a young man stepped for­ward. Four days after the ini­tial Prism dis­clos­ure, Edward Snowden announced to the world that he was the source of the story and many more to come. He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its equi­val­ent agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatened  the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also eroded the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

The glob­al sur­veil­lance state wanted to “mas­ter the inter­net”, as anoth­er dis­clos­ure proved, and the UK’s GCHQ stepped up to the plate. As increas­ing num­bers of us con­duct aspects of our lives over the inter­net (be it bank­ing, health, social lives, organ­isa­tions, act­iv­ism, rela­tion­ships) this grow­ing lack of pri­vacy strikes at the very root of demo­cracy. Pri­vacy was enshrined as a basic human right in the UN Declar­a­tion in 1948 pre­cisely because without it we are vul­ner­able to the encroach­ments and abuses of the state. What Snowden has dis­closed would the the Stasi’s wet dream and goes far bey­ond the dystop­ic hor­rors of George Orwell’s nov­el “1984”.

So what did Snowden dis­close?  Prism was only the start, and that was bad enough — a pro­gramme to scoop up all our metadata: whom we’re in con­tact with, for how long, what we’re read­ing, what we’re view­ing. NSA apo­lo­gists say that this is not invas­ive, it is not look­ing at the con­tents of com­mu­nic­a­tions. I can assure your that metadata is intel­li­gence gold dust. It can provide a far more detailed over­view of a person’s life than any indi­vidu­al com­mu­nic­a­tion often can.

But it gets worse. Then came Tem­pora and asso­ci­ated doc­u­ments that dis­closed that the UK’s GCHQ was main­lin­ing inform­a­tion from the transat­lantic fibre optic cables, which affected all European cit­izens, as well as dis­play­ing how GCHQ was pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA for money and put­ting NSA object­ives above the pri­or­it­ies of the UK gov­ern­ment.

And then XKey­score, enthu­si­ast­ic­ally used by Germany’s BND, pre­sum­ably without the know­ledge of its polit­ic­al mas­ters.  There have been many more: Brazil’s Pet­ro­bras oil com­pany, the French tele­phone net­work, char­it­ies, the Mus­cu­lar access point and the massive Fas­cia data­base, which con­tains tril­lions of device-loc­a­tion records.…. Where to stop?

This year Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intel­li­gence Group was using Squeaky Dol­phin’s real-time mon­it­or­ing of social media net­works, and the bulk col­lec­tion of private web­cam images via the Optic Nerve pro­gramme.

This last most grimly does away with the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” argu­ment. In this era of fam­il­ies liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, video skype is increas­ingly used to stay in con­tact with loved ones.  And this con­tact can be some­what intim­ate at times between couples. On video. Any­one who has ever used skype for such pur­poses must surely be feel­ing viol­ated?

Out of this mor­ass of spy­ing came moments of per­son­al annoy­ance for west­ern politi­cians, not least the inform­a­tion that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was also being tapped, as were those of numer­ous oth­er politi­cians. Which rather blows out of the water the much-abused argu­ment that all this sur­veil­lance is to stop ter­ror­ists. On what plan­et would the NSA spooks need to live to ser­i­ously think that Merkel could be deemed a ter­ror­ist?

All these dis­clos­ures are of the gravest pub­lic interest. Yet how have west­ern politi­cians reacted?  In the usu­al way — shoot the mes­sen­ger. All the stand­ard li(n)es have been trot­ted out by the spies: Snowden was too juni­or to know what he is talk­ing about, and was  “just” a con­trac­ted sys­tems admin­is­trat­or (this line says more the ignor­ance of the politi­cians about all things tech than any­thing about Snowden’s job); that Snowden is a trait­or for flee­ing to Rus­sia, when in fact he was trapped there by the USA with­draw­ing his pass­port while in trans­it to Lat­in Amer­ica; or that he should “man up” and return to the US to stand tri­al. There were even appar­ently calls from the spies for him to be extraju­di­cially murdered.

Des­pite this, his dis­clos­ures have res­ul­ted in con­gres­sion­al hear­ings in the US, where seni­or spooks have been caught out lying about the effic­acy of these spy pro­grammes.  A US fed­er­al judge has declared the NSA’s activ­it­ies uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, and minor reforms are under­way to pro­tect the rights of US cit­izens with­in their own coun­try.

Which is a start.  How­ever, that still leaves the rest of us liv­ing under the bale­ful gaze of the NSA and its vas­sals.

The Brit­ish response has been largely muted, with politi­cians imme­di­ately assur­ing the grate­ful cit­izens of the UK that everything done by the spies is leg­al and pro­por­tion­ate, when in fact it was mani­festly not. Nor is this any con­sol­a­tion for the rest of Europe’s cit­izens — after all, why should the Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary be able to take it upon him­self to author­ise inter­cept pro­grammes such as Tem­pora that sweep up the com­mu­nic­a­tions of an entire con­tin­ent?

Press dis­cus­sion of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures in the UK has been largely muted because of a cen­sor­ship notice slapped on the media, while the Guard­i­an news­pa­per that helped to break the story had its hard disks smashed up by GCHQ.

Oth­er coun­tries have dis­played a more robust response, with Brazil plan­ning to build its own transat­lantic cables to Europe to avoid the Tem­pora pro­gramme, and in Ger­many people have been demand­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion be upheld and pri­vacy ensured against the Amer­ic­an sur­veil­lance behemoth.

The European par­lia­ment­ary Civil Liber­ties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) com­mit­tee has held months-long hear­ings with evid­ence from tech experts, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers about what it should do to pro­tect EU cit­izens from the pred­a­tions of the US.  Edward Snowden him­self gave a state­ment. This is all well and good, but it would be more help­ful if they could give Snowden asylum in Europe and also put in place some mean­ing­ful meas­ures to pro­tect our rights one year on — in fact, all they would need to do is enact the pro­vi­sions of the European parliament’s own July 2001 report into the Ech­el­on fiasco.

Ech­el­on, some of you may remem­ber, was a glob­al proto-sur­veil­lance net­work, where the intel­li­gence agen­cies of the US, UK, New Zea­l­and, Aus­tralia, and Canada (now called Five Eyes) could all share product and sub­vert over­sight meas­ures in each oth­ers’ coun­tries. In 2001 the EU recom­men­ded that Europe devel­op its own inter­net infra­struc­ture and move away from its depend­ency on US cor­por­ate pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware.  All good sug­ges­tions, but all too soon for­got­ten after 9/11 and the rush to the “war on ter­ror”.

One year on from Snowden I would sug­gest that these meas­ures should indeed be imple­men­ted. The European Par­lia­ment needs to take action now and show its 500 mil­lion cit­izens that it is ser­i­ous about pro­tect­ing their rights rather than pan­der­ing to the demands of the US gov­ern­ment and its cor­por­ate spon­sors.

So, on this anniversary, I want to salute the bravery of Edward Snowden. His con­scious cour­age has giv­en us all a fight­ing chance against a cor­por­ate-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex that is run­ning amok across the world.   I hope that we can all find with­in us an answer­ing cour­age to do what is right and indeed take back our rights. His bravery and sac­ri­fice must not be in vain.