What whistleblowers want

Whis­tleblowers want the sun and the moon — or at least they want to get their inform­a­tion out there, they want to make a dif­fer­ence, they want a fair hear­ing, and they don’t want to pay too high a per­son­al price for doing so.

Is that too much to ask? The decision to expose crimin­al­ity and bad prac­tice for the pub­lic good has ser­i­ous, life-chan­ging implic­a­tions.

By going pub­lic about ser­i­ous con­cerns they have about their work­place, they are jeop­ard­ising their whole way of life: not just their pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion and career, but all that goes with it, such as the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage, their social circle, their fam­ily life, their rela­tion­ship…  Plus, the whis­tleblower can poten­tially risk pris­on or worse.

So, with these risks in mind, they are cer­tainly look­ing for an aven­ue to blow the whistle that will offer a degree of pro­tec­tion and allow them to retain a degree of con­trol over their own lives.  In the old days, this meant try­ing to identi­fy an hon­our­able, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion that had the clout to pro­tect its source.  While not impossible, that could cer­tainly be dif­fi­cult, and becomes increas­ingly so in this era of endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.

Today the oth­er option is the secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit, as trail-blazed by Wikileaks. While this does not provide the poten­tial bene­fits of work­ing with a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist, it does provide anonym­ity and a cer­tain degree of con­trol to the mod­ern whis­tleblower, plus it allows their inform­a­tion to reach a wide audi­ence without either being filtered by the media or blocked by gov­ern­ment or cor­por­ate injunc­tions.

As someone who has a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the reper­cus­sions of blow­ing the whistle on a secret gov­ern­ment agency, I have liked the Wikileaks mod­el since I first stumbled across it in 2009.

As with most truly revolu­tion­ary ideas, once pos­ited it is blind­ingly obvi­ous.

Nev­er before has this been tech­nic­ally pos­sible — the idea that a whis­tleblower­’s inform­a­tion could be made freely avail­able to the cit­izens of the world, in order to inform their demo­crat­ic choices, with no block­age, not cen­sor­ship, no fil­ter­ing or “inter­pret­a­tion” by the cor­por­ate media.

This is par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant in an age when the glob­al media has been con­sol­id­ated in the hands of a few mul­tina­tion­als, and when these mul­tina­tion­als have a cer­tain, shall we say “cosy”, rela­tion­ship with many of top our politi­cians and power elites.

The con­trol of the main­stream media by the spooks and gov­ern­ments has been the focus of many of my recent talks.  These cor­rupt inter-rela­tion­ships have also been recently laid bare with the News Inter­na­tion­al phone-hack­ing scan­dals.

The days of gar­ner­ing news from one favoured paper or TV bul­let­in are long gone. Few people now trust just one media out­let — they skip across a vari­ety of news sources, try­ing to eval­u­ate the truth for them­selves. But even that can be prob­lem­at­ic when some­thing big occurs, such as the “jus­ti­fic­a­tion” for the inva­sion of Iraq or Libya, and the cur­rent beat of war drums against Iran, when the cor­por­ate media mys­ter­i­ously achieves a con­sensus.

Hence the demo­crat­ic dis­con­nect, hence the dis­trust, and hence (in part) the plum­met­ing profits of the old media.

Wikileaks is based on a simple concept —  it allows the people to read the source mater­i­al for them­selves and make up their own minds based on real inform­a­tion.  This led to expos­ure of all kinds of glob­al nas­ties way before the massive 2010 US data-dump.

Des­pite this approach, the impact was ini­tially sub­dued until Wikileaks col­lab­or­ated with the old media.  This, as we all know, did indeed pro­duce the cov­er­age and aware­ness of those issues deemed import­ant as it was filtered through the MSM. This has also inev­it­ably lead to ten­sions between the new mod­el hackt­iv­ists and the old-school journ­al­ists.

No gov­ern­ment, least of all the USA, likes to have demands for justice and trans­par­ency forced upon it, and the push back since 2010 has been massive across the world in terms of an appar­ently illeg­al fin­an­cial block­ade, opaque leg­al cases and a media back­lash. Cer­tain of Wikileak­s’s erstwhile media part­ners have col­lab­or­ated in this, turn­ing on one of their richest sources of inform­a­tion in his­tory.

How­ever, Wikileaks is more than a media source.  It is a whole new mod­el — a high-tech pub­lish­er that offers a safe con­duit for whis­tleblowers to cache and pub­li­cise their inform­a­tion without imme­di­ately hav­ing to over­turn (and in some cases risk) their lives.

For this work, Wikileaks has over the years won a num­ber of inter­na­tion­ally pres­ti­gi­ous journ­al­ism awards.

Inev­it­ably, crit­ics in the main­stream media seem to want to have their cake and eat it too: one early part­ner, the New York Times, has writ­ten that it does­n’t recog­nise Wikileaks as a journ­al­ist organ­isa­tion or a pub­lish­er — it is a source, pure and simple.

Either way, by say­ing this the media are surely shoot­ing them­selves in the cor­por­ate feet with both bar­rels. If Wikileaks is indeed “just” a source (the NYT seems to be blithely for­get­ting that good journ­al­ism is entirely depend­ent on its sources), then the media are break­ing their prime dir­ect­ive: pro­tect a source at all costs.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is a journ­al­ism or pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion and as such is being tar­geted by the US gov­ern­ment, then all oth­er media are surely equally at risk in the future?

By not stand­ing up for Wikileaks in either capa­city, it appears that the old media have a death wish.

Over the years whis­tleblowers around the world have demon­strated their trust in Wikileaks, as it was set up by someone emer­ging from the ori­gin­al bona fide hack­er com­munity.   And rightly so — let’s not for­get that no source has been exposed through the fail­ure of the organ­isa­tion’s tech­no­logy.

Many media organ­isa­tions rushed to emu­late its suc­cess by try­ing to set up their own “secure” whis­tleblow­ing repos­it­or­ies.  What the media execs failed to under­stand was the hack­er eth­os, the open source men­tal­ity: they went to their tech­ie depart­ment or com­mer­cial IT ser­vice pro­viders and said “we want one”, but failed to under­stand both the eth­os and the secur­ity con­cerns around closed, pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware sys­tems, often chan­nelled through the post-Pat­ri­ot Act, post-CISPA USA.

Oth­er, appar­ently well-mean­ing organ­isa­tions, also tried to emu­late the Wikileaks mod­el, but most have died a quiet death over the last year.  Per­haps, again, for want of real trust in their ori­gin or tech secur­ity?

Why on earth would any secur­ity-con­scious whis­tleblower, emer­ging out of a gov­ern­ment, mil­it­ary or intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion, trust such a set-up?  If someone comes out of such an envir­on­ment they will know all-too-well the scale of the push-back, the pos­sible entrap­ments, and the state-level resources that will be used to track them down. They either need an über-secure whis­tleblow­ing plat­form, or they need journ­al­ists and law­yers with fire in their belly to fight the fight, no mat­ter what.

So now to Open­Leaks — appar­ently the brainchild of Wikileaks defect­or Daniel Dom­sheit-Berg. He and the shad­owy “Archi­tect” fam­ously fell out with Juli­an Assange in late 2010, just when the polit­ic­al heat was ramp­ing up on the organ­isa­tion.  They left, reportedly tak­ing some of the cru­cial cod­ing and a tranche of files with them, and Dom­sheit-Berg decided to set up a rival organ­isa­tion called Open­Leaks.  As a res­ult of his actions, Dom­sheit-Berg was uniquely cast out of the inter­na­tion­al hack­er group, the CCC in Ber­lin.

He now seems to have been wel­comed back into the fold and Open­Leaks appears, finally, to be ready to receive whis­tleblower inform­a­tion.

How­ever, there is a cru­cial dif­fer­ence between the two organ­isa­tions.  Where Wikileaks wants to lay the inform­a­tion out there for pub­lic eval­u­ation, Open­Leaks will merely act as a repos­it­ory for cer­tain approved main­stream media organ­isa­tions to access. We are back to the ori­gin­al block­age of the cor­por­ate media decid­ing what inform­a­tion we, the people, should be allowed to ingest.

I would not wish to com­ment on Dom­sheit-Ber­g’s motiv­a­tion, but to me this seems to be an even worse option for a whis­tleblower than dir­ectly con­tact­ing a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist with a proven track record of cov­er­ing hard-core stor­ies and fight­ing for the cause.

With Open­Leaks, the whis­tleblower loses not only the auto­mat­ic wide­spread dis­sem­in­a­tion of their inform­a­tion, but also any semb­lance of con­trol over which journ­al­ists will be work­ing on their story.  Their inform­a­tion will be parked on the web­site and any­one from pre-selec­ted media organ­isa­tions will be able to access, use and poten­tially abuse it.

One could say that Open­Leaks oper­ates as a secure sta­ging plat­form where a whis­tleblower can safely store sens­it­ive doc­u­ments and inform­a­tion.… but the founder allegedly removed and des­troyed sens­it­ive files from Wikileaks when he jumped ship in 2010.  Could any whis­tleblower really trust that Open­Leaks would not sim­il­arly “dis­ap­pear” shit-hot inform­a­tion in the future?

Plus, there is the added worry for any rightly-para­noid whis­tleblower that the founder of Open­Leaks so eas­ily aban­doned Wikileaks when under pres­sure.  Who’s to say that this would not hap­pen again, if the full might of the Pentagon were brought to bear on Open­Leaks?

Open­Leaks offers neither the per­son­al sup­port of work­ing with a trus­ted journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion with the clout to fight back, nor does it provide full dis­clos­ure to the wider pub­lic to side-step poten­tial media self-cen­sor­ship and gov­ern­ment law suits, as the ori­gin­al Wikileaks mod­el does.

As such Open­Leaks seems, at least to this par­tic­u­lar whis­tleblower, to be an evol­u­tion­ary blip — a ret­ro­grade step — in the quest for justice and account­ab­il­ity.

The Lindmo Show, Norway

Fol­low­ing on from my talk at the Nor­we­gi­an SKUP invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in March, I was invited onto the Anne Lindmo Show in Nor­way on 4 May.

Anne is one of the most fam­ous and respec­ted journ­al­ists in Nor­way, and her chat show is extremely pop­u­lar on prime time NRK TV on Fri­day nights.  We had a lively ses­sion dis­cuss­ing the world of spy­ing, what it was like to blow the whistle and go on the run, and the per­son­al price that has to be paid.

Here’s the link to the whole show, and here’s my seg­ment:

Lindmo inter­view on Nor­we­gi­an TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Scandinavian Tour 2012

I had an immensely stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing my recent mini-tour of Scand­inavi­an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ences, meet­ing informed, inter­est­ing, and inter­ested people.

The focus of my talks was the nex­us between the intel­li­gence world and the media — les­sons I had learned, researched and deduced dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years and bey­ond.  I have heard so many hair-rais­ing media stor­ies over the years.…

And, hav­ing listened to the exper­i­ences of journ­al­ists from a wide vari­ety of oth­er coun­tries, it seems I am on the right track.

Grav_talkFirst stop was the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleas­ure of meet­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists who con­firmed what I was say­ing, even if some of them did­n’t think I had quite gone far enough!  We also had fun at the “min­gel” even­ing.

Next stop, next day, was the SKUP con­fer­ence in Nor­way where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whis­tleblowers.  Note to self: nev­er, ever agree to do a morn­ing debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.

Finally, last week­end, I vis­ited the Tutki 2012 journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Fin­land (Down­load Helsinki_Talk).  The response was over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive, and once again I had con­firm­a­tion of what I was say­ing from the journ­al­ists them­selves.

So what can we do about this situ­ation?  I shall keep spread­ing the word, and the journ­al­ists them­selves just need to keep say­ing a resound­ing “no” to the induce­ments, at least if they want to work on mean­ing­ful invest­ig­a­tions.  And what real journ­al­ist does­n’t, au fond?

Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limber­ing up with the French.

A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per yes­ter­day, which describes a journ­al­ist’s jus­ti­fi­ably para­noid exper­i­ences inter­view­ing Dav­id Shayler and me back in 2000 while writ­ing an art­icle for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lec­turer in journ­al­ism at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­sity, spent a few days with us in Lon­don and Par­is way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire art­icle high­lights the para­noia and sur­veil­lance that we had to live with at the time, and the con­tra­dict­ory brief­ings and slanders that were com­ing out of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment and the media. O’Neill also intel­li­gently tries to address the motiv­a­tions of a whis­tleblower.

When it was pub­lished I was mildly uncom­fort­able about this art­icle — I felt it did­n’t do Dav­id full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was dis­cuss­ing.  I sup­pose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situ­ation.

Now, with hind­sight, it is more per­spic­a­cious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This art­icle is a timely remind­er of how vicious the estab­lish­ment can be when you cause it embar­rass­ment and pain; the treat­ment meted out to Dav­id Shayler was bru­tal.  And yet noth­ing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongo­ing pur­suit and vili­fic­a­tion of Wikileaks.

And now to Finland.…

Tutki2012_logoMy grand tour around Scand­inavia con­tin­ues next week­end, when I shall be giv­ing the open­ing key­note at the Tutki!2012 invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Hel­sinki.  Look­ing for­ward to the con­fer­ence!

Talks in Sweden and Norway

Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two key­notes at Scand­inavi­an journ­al­ism con­fer­ences.

Grav_logo I shall first be speak­ing at the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden on Fri­day 23 March.

SKUP_2012Top­ics under dis­cus­sion will include everything from secur­ity and intel­li­gence to the war on ter­ror, civil liber­ties to eth­ics and media freedoms, gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity to whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks.

On Sat­urday I travel on to Nor­way to speak at the SKUP con­fer­ence to give a talk and also on Sunday morn­ing to par­ti­cip­ate in a pan­el dis­cus­sion about all things whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks. I gath­er that such dis­cus­sions can get quite, um, lively.

I’m look­ing for­ward to an inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing week­end.

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 régime.  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?

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­it­al of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “off­shore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright leg­al spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along mag­ni­fi­cently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ic­al cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, oth­er UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, leg­al prac­tices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-reg­u­la­tion makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of anoth­er luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tour­ism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness oppor­tun­ity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” leg­al firm Col­las Cri­ll.  Accord­ing to his firm­’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Com­mit­tee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­ast­ic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunc­tion” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last dec­ade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­gin­al own­er­’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect leg­al ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new glob­al tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong dir­ec­tion.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tar­mac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Nor­man-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­ist­ic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tour­ism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tour­ism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.… 

The Big Dig Journalism Conference, Copenhagen

I recently did the open­ing key­note at the Big Dig invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Copen­ha­gen.  Thanks to the organ­isers for a won­der­ful week­end!

Speaking at Mediafabric Conference, Prague, 21 October

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Off tomor­row to speak at the Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague. 

Should be a good one — all about the media, journ­al­ists, tech­no­lo­gists, design­ers, hack­ers,  and all points in between!

The con­fer­ence has been organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, and there will be live stream­ing here.

Journalists need to wise up to secrecy laws

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I had a fant­ast­ic time at the Glob­al Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism Con­fer­ence in Kiev last week­end.  A huge  well done to the organ­isers for a great four days, and I loved hav­ing the chance to meet so many inter­est­ing and inter­ested people from across the world!

I was invited to give the open­ing key­note speech (video to fol­low), where I dis­cussed some of my exper­i­ences from the MI5 whis­tleblow­ing years, but then went on to apply the harsh les­sons learned to the cur­rent situ­ation vis a vis the issue of spy influ­ence on the media today and the thorny issue of whis­tleblow­ing and the pro­tec­tion of sources.

Part of my talk focused on the con­trol of the media by the spies in Bri­tain.  As I have writ­ten before, this is very much a “car­rot and stick” scen­ario: the soft aspect, of course, being cosy chats with selec­ted journ­al­ists, well-timed career-enhan­cing scoops, as well as an increas­ingly unhealthy journ­al­ist­ic depend­ence on brief­ings com­ing out of the intel­li­gence world and gov­ern­ment.

The stick aspect includes the bat­tery of harsh laws that can be called upon to sup­press free report­ing in the UK, which some­times leads to self-cen­sor­ship by the media.  These laws include:

Beginning_of_trialHow do I know all this?  Well, as you can see from many of the links in the above list, I’ve lived through much of this and have fol­lowed with great interest sim­il­ar and related cases over the years.  More inform­a­tion about these issues can be found in this excel­lent report pro­duced by Art­icle 19 and Liberty over a dec­ade ago.  The situ­ation has not improved.

While in Kiev I atten­ded an excel­lent ses­sion where two Rus­si­an journ­al­ists dis­cussed the rami­fic­a­tions of report­ing on the mod­ern incarn­a­tion of the Rus­si­an intel­li­gence agency, the FSB.

I was some­what startled to hear that even in Rus­sia journ­al­ists have more leg­al pro­tec­tion than those in the UK — ie they face no crim­in­al leg­al sanc­tion if they report whis­tleblower mater­i­al from the Rus­si­an spy agen­cies.  In the UK journ­al­ists poten­tially face 2 years in pris­on for doing so, under the invi­di­ous Sec­tion 5 of the 1989 OSA.

Way to go, Brit­ish demo­cracy.