European Parliament LIBE Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens

Below is some back­ground mater­i­al from my sub­mis­sion to the European Par­lia­ment’s LIBE Com­mit­tee on the implic­a­tions of the NSA scan­dal.

Here is a video link to the hear­ing.

LIBE Com­mit­tee Inquiry on Elec­tron­ic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU Cit­izens, European Par­lia­ment, 30th Septem­ber 2013

Bio­graphy:

Annie Machon was an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leav­ing to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the Brit­ish spy agen­cies.  As a res­ult she and her former part­ner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and impris­on­ment, and watch as friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists were arres­ted.

She is now a writer, media com­ment­at­or, polit­ic­al cam­paign­er, and inter­na­tion­al pub­lic speak­er on a vari­ety of related issues: the war on ter­ror­ism, the war on drugs, the war on whis­tleblowers, and the war on the inter­net.  In 2012 she star­ted as a Dir­ect­or of LEAP in Europe (www​.leap​.cc).

Annie has an MA (Hons) Clas­sics from Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity.

Back­ground mater­i­al:

Recom­mend­a­tions:

  • Mean­ing­ful par­lia­ment­ary over­sight of intel­li­gence agen­cies, with full powers of invest­ig­a­tion, at both nation­al and European levels.
  • These same demo­crat­ic bod­ies to provide a legit­im­ate chan­nel for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers to give their evid­ence of mal­feas­ance, with the clear and real­ist­ic expect­a­tion that a full inquiry will be con­duc­ted, reforms applied and crimes pun­ished.
  • Insti­tute a dis­cus­sion about the leg­al defin­i­tion of nation­al secur­ity, what the real threats are to the integ­rity of nation states and the EU, and estab­lish agen­cies to work with­in the law to defend just that. This will halt inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence mis­sion creep.
  • EU-wide imple­ment­a­tion of the recom­mend­a­tions in the Ech­el­on Report (2001):
  1. to devel­op and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­ment­al and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance; and
  2. Ger­many and the United King­dom are called upon to make the author­isa­tion of fur­ther com­mu­nic­a­tions inter­cep­tion oper­a­tions by US intel­li­gence ser­vices on their ter­rit­ory con­di­tion­al on their com­pli­ance with the ECHR (European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights).”
  • The duty of the European par­lia­ment is to the cit­izens of the EU.  As such it should act­ively pur­sue tech­no­logy policies to pro­tect the pri­vacy and basic rights of the cit­izens from the sur­veil­lance of the NSA and its vas­sals; and if it can­not, it should warn its cit­izens abut this act­ively and edu­cate them to take their own steps to pro­tect their pri­vacy (such as no longer using cer­tain Inter­net ser­vices or learn­ing to use pri­vacy enhan­cing tech­no­lo­gies). Con­cerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e‑commerce’ or ‘e‑government’ as men­tioned by the European Com­mis­sion should be sec­ond­ary to this con­cern at all times.
  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidu­al cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two dec­ades.
  • The cent­ral soci­et­al func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my inter­view tonight on UK Anonym­ous Radio — I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ran­ging, and stim­u­lat­ing hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonym­ous.

And also thank you to Kim Dot­com set­ting up the new file-shar­ing site, Mega, which replaces his illeg­ally-taken-down glob­al site, MegaUp­load.  I have some­where safe, I think, to store my inter­views!

What a sham­bol­ic dis­grace that MegaUp­load raid was, and what a clas­sic example of the glob­al cor­por­at­ist agenda that I dis­cuss in the inter­view.

I do love geeks.

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:

The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep pack­et inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the inter­net.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” eth­os and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the inter­net”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) with­in the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­at­us? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cov­er cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-cen­sor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-cen­sor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbi­an Pro­fess­or of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at anoth­er event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

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 me 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.

Why the new website?

I have great pleas­ure in launch­ing my new, bespoke web­site — made for me by Sander Venema, the founder of Aster­oid Inter­act­ive in the Neth­er­lands.

This is a new com­pany that really listens to what you want, both in terms of design and the back-end sys­tem, and I can­not recom­mend them enough.

So what did I want and why?

First of all, I wanted to get out of the USA domain-name hege­mony. Recently the US has been increas­ingly flex­ing its leg­al muscles inter­na­tion­ally.  It is now claim­ing glob­al domin­ion over all the old domains ori­gin­ally set up in its ter­rit­ory: .com, .org, .net, .info, you name it.

And it does not mat­ter if you are are a cit­izen of anoth­er coun­try, liv­ing in anoth­er coun­try, your web­site is hos­ted on anoth­er coun­try’s serv­ers, and you have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with the good ol’ US of A: if you use one of these domain names, the US gov­ern­ment can pull the plug on your site, with no warn­ing and no redress.  This has already star­ted to hap­pen.

So I am now safely ensconced in Switzer­land — not­ably the only coun­try not to take down the Wikileaks web­site in 2010, des­pite massive glob­al push-back from the US et al.  Switzer­land still seems to be tak­ing basic human rights ser­i­ously.

The US con­tinu­ally bleats on about the “free mar­ket”, so let’s vote with our wal­lets and remove our cus­tom bey­ond its per­ni­cious reach.

Secondly, I also wanted to walk the walk and move on to an open source plat­form and CMS (the soft­ware that makes it easy to pub­lish without typ­ing a lot of HTML by hand). This is the only way to ensure that you are not depend­ent on closed, pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware com­pan­ies, which can be leg­ally pres­sur­ised by nas­ties like the NSA or GCHQ into implant­ing con­veni­ent little “back doors” to spy on or manip­u­late your data. I made this move on my laptop years ago and have since enjoyed at least a rel­at­ive sense of secur­ity.

Also, as you can see, I value both my pri­vacy and respect yours when it comes to the usu­al “share” but­tons.  But I’m also very happy for you to use my mater­i­al under the Cre­at­ive Com­mons Licence.

And finally, my old site was look­ing messy — so much inform­a­tion, so little time.……

It needed a revamp, and I hope you find this site more user-friendly, and that you can find the inform­a­tion you want quickly. Please feel free to com­ment, or email me with any thoughts or sug­ges­tions.

I think Sander has come up with a beau­ti­ful design.  The build­ing in the ban­ner incor­por­ates an image of the old Stasi HQ in Ber­lin.  I like the idea — an image of a pan­op­tic police state that seemed bru­tally immut­able, but that has now just.… gone.

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”.… 

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist

Here we go again.  In this heart­warm­ing art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an news­pa­per, Brit­ish MPs on the Home Affairs Com­mit­tee have decided that the inter­net is the most sig­ni­fic­ant factor in the rad­ic­al­isa­tion of viol­ent extrem­ists and con­clude that Some­thing Must Be Done.

One para­graph leapt out at me:

The Com­mons home affairs com­mit­tee says inter­net ser­vice pro­viders need to be as effect­ive at remov­ing mater­i­al that pro­motes viol­ent extrem­ism as they are in remov­ing con­tent that is sexu­al or breaches copy­right.” (My emphas­is.)

Anti_SOPA_cartoonMost of us are aware of the recent dog­fight in the US about the pro­posed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copy­right infringe­ment and, as a res­ult, there is a some­what belated but stead­ily increas­ing out­cry in Europe about the immin­ent impos­i­tion of ACTA across the con­tin­ent.  

I have writ­ten before about how such laws provide the mil­it­ary-intel­li­gence com­plex with the per­fect stalk­ing horse for a pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance state, and the cam­paign­ing writer, Cory Doc­torow, summed it up beau­ti­fully when he wrote that “you can­’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.

And, lo, it is now appar­ently com­ing to pass.  The Par­lia­ment­ary half-wits are now pro­pos­ing to use com­mer­cial legis­la­tion such as the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA as a bench­mark for coun­ter­ing poten­tial ter­ror­ists and extrem­ists.  Might they have failed to notice the pleth­ora of exist­ing counter-ter­ror­ism and eaves­drop­ping legis­la­tion, put in place for this very pur­pose and already much used and abused by a wide range of pub­lic bod­ies in the UK?

This yet again high­lights the mis­sion-creepy Big Broth­er cor­por­at­ist group-think.  Rather than hav­ing to spell it out in bor­ing old lin­ear text, here is some use­ful link­age — what I like to think of as 3‑D writ­ing: 

Pro­test­er = act­iv­ist = domest­ic extrem­ist = viol­ent extrem­ist = ter­ror­ist  

G20_kettling

I’m sure you can see where I am head­ing.  To name but a few notori­ous abuses, we already live in a world where west­ern gov­ern­ments and spy agen­cies col­lude in the kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and assas­sin­a­tion of alleged ter­ror­ist sus­pects; the NDAA now endorses these prac­tices with­in the US; Brit­ish police spy on inno­cent protest groups for years; legit­im­ate pro­test­ers can be “kettled”, beaten up and maced; act­iv­ists can be pre-empt­ively arres­ted as eas­ily in the UK as in Syr­ia; and where Amer­ic­an politi­cians want to des­ig­nate the high-tech pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion Wikileaks as a ter­ror­ist group.

There is an old aph­or­ism that one man’s ter­ror­ist was anoth­er man’s free­dom fight­er.  I think the time has come for an update:

One man’s ter­ror­ist is anoth­er man’s act­iv­ist.  

And we are all increas­ingly at risk. 

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 à 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!

 

 

Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last Octo­ber I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the excel­lent Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intel­li­gence, whis­tleblow­ing and journ­al­ism.

The event was organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, an inter­na­tion­al organ­isa­tion that provides open source tools and solu­tions for journ­al­ists, so it was an eclect­ic and stim­u­lat­ing crowd of journ­al­ists, geeks, hack­tav­ists and design­ers.   So well done and thank you to the organ­isers.

Here’s the video:

Speaking at Mediafabric Conference, Prague, 21 October

SF_brandmark_small

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.

UK spies get a B+ for intrusive surveillance in 2010

Black_sheep?The quan­go­crats charged with over­see­ing the leg­al­ity of the work of the UK spies have each pro­duced their undoubt­ably author­it­at­ive reports for 2010. 

Sir Paul Kennedy, the com­mis­sion­er respons­ible for over­see­ing the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions, and Sir Peter Gib­son, the intel­li­gence ser­vices com­mis­sion­er, both pub­lished their reports last week.  

Gib­son has, of course, hon­our­ably now stood down from his 5‑year over­sight of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ in order to head up the inde­pend­ent enquiry into spy com­pli­city in tor­ture. 

And both the reports say, nat­ur­ally, that it’s all hunky-dorey.  Yes, there were a few mis­takes (well, admis­trat­ive errors — 1061 over the last year), but the com­mis­sion­ers are con­fid­ent that these were neither malign in intent nor an indic­a­tion of insti­tu­tion­al fail­ings. 

So it appears that the UK spies gained a B+ for their sur­veil­lance work last year.

Both com­mis­sion­ers pad out their reports with long-win­ded descrip­tions of what pre­cisely their role is, what powers they have, and the full, frank and open access they had to the intel­li­gence officers in the key agen­cies. 

They seem sub­limely unaware that when they vis­it the spy agen­cies, they are only giv­en access to the staff that the agen­cies are happy for them to meet — intel­li­gence officers pushed into the room, primped out in their party best and scrubbed behind the ears — to tell them what they want to hear. 

Any intel­li­gence officers who might have con­cerns have, in the past, been rig­or­ously banned from meet­ing those charged with hold­ing the spies to demo­crat­ic account.….

.…which is not much dif­fer­ent from the over­sight mod­el employed when gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, the notion­al polit­ic­al mas­ters of MI6, MI6 and GCHQ, sign off on bug­ging war­rants that allow the aggress­ive invest­ig­a­tion of tar­gets (ie their phones, their homes or cars, or fol­low them around).  Then the min­is­ters are only giv­en a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary, an applic­a­tion that has been titrated through many mana­geri­al, leg­al and civil ser­vice fil­ters before land­ing on their desks.  

So, how on earth are these min­is­ters able to make a true eval­u­ation of the worth of such an applic­a­tion to bug someone? 

They just have to trust what the spies tell them — as do the com­mis­sion­ers. 

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.…

Well, if you’ve done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide.  Why object to increas­ing state sur­veil­lance powers?”

I speak reg­u­larly at inter­na­tion­al events about basic freedoms, civil liber­ties and encroach­ing police states, and this is one of the most fre­quently asked ques­tions.

This ques­tion is usu­ally posed in the con­text of the ubi­quit­ous CCTV cam­er­as that infest the streets of Bri­tain, where it is estim­ated that you can be pho­to­graphed hun­dreds of times a day going about your daily busi­ness in Lon­don. 

DroneNot to men­tion the talk­ing CCTV cam­er­as in the North of Eng­land, nor the increas­ing use of spy drones (as yet, reportedly, unweapon­ised — at least leth­ally)  over the skies of Bri­tain.  Nor the fact that the police officers in charge of CCTV units admit that the tech­no­logy is only use­ful as evid­ence in 3% of cases, and that viol­ent crime has actu­ally gone up since the spread of CCTV, so we’re cer­tainly no safer on our streets.

Nor do the well-mean­ing people ask­ing this ques­tion (who, one pre­sumes, have nev­er-ever done any­thing wrong in their lives, even to the extent of not drop­ping lit­ter) seem to grasp the his­tor­ic­al evid­ence: they retain an optim­ist­ic faith in the long-term benign inten­tions of our gov­ern­ments.

Yet as we’ve seen time and time again in his­tory, more dubi­ous, total­it­ari­an and malig­nant gov­ern­ments can indeed gain power, and will abuse and extend the sur­veil­lance laws and avail­able tech­no­logy against their own peoples.  And I’m not just talk­ing about Hitler­’s rise to power in the 1930s or the East Ger­man Stasi, although I’m in agree­ment with UK Edu­ca­tion Sec­ret­ary Michael Gove at the moment in say­ing that his­tory les­sons are nev­er a waste.…

Big_Brother_posterBut we also need to learn more recent les­sons: the UK in the 1970s-1990s, where the Irish com­munity as a whole was tar­geted because of fringe Repub­lic­an ter­ror­ism; or the Muslim com­munity post‑9/11, which lives with the real fear of of being arres­ted, extraordin­ar­ily rendered, tor­tured, or even assas­sin­ated on the say-so of unac­count­able intel­li­gence agen­cies; or even peace­ful protest groups in the USA and UK who are infilt­rated and aggress­ively invest­ig­ated by Stasi-like police officers.

The Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was put in place for a very good reas­on in 1948: to pre­vent the hor­rors of state ter­ror­ism, viol­ence and gen­o­cide from ever hap­pen­ing again.  Amongst the essen­tial, inter­na­tion­ally-agreed core prin­ciples are the right to life, the right not to be tor­tured, free­dom of expres­sion, and the right to indi­vidu­al pri­vacy. 

Which brings me neatly back to the start of this art­icle.  This is pre­cisely why increas­ing state sur­veil­lance is a prob­lem.  Because of the post‑9/11, over-inflated, hyped-up threat from soi-dis­ant ter­ror­ist groups, we are all being pen­al­ised.  The bal­ance of power is shift­ing over­whelm­ingly in favour of the Big Broth­er state.

Well, almost.  The Wikileaks mod­el is help­ing to level the play­ing field, and whatever hap­pens to this trail-blaz­ing organ­isa­tion, the prin­ciples and tech­no­logy are out there and will be rep­lic­ated.  The genie can­not be put back in the bottle.

So, why not pose the very ques­tion in the title of this piece back on those who want to turn back the clock and erad­ic­ate Wikileaks — the gov­ern­ments, mega-cor­por­a­tions, and intel­li­gence agen­cies which have been outed, shamed and embar­rassed, and which are now try­ing to sup­press its work?

If you’ve done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide.….


Bits of Freedom Talk, Amsterdam, September 2010

Bof2 Bof3 I was invited to talk at a gath­er­ing of the (digit­al) civil liber­ties organ­isa­tion, Bits of Free­dom, in Ams­ter­dam in Septem­ber 2010.  This inter­na­tion­al, Dutch-based organ­isa­tion is doing a fant­ast­ic job high­light­ing con­cerns about inter­net pri­vacy, secur­ity and free speech issues. 

Many thanks to Ot and the team for invit­ing me, and thanks also to Jildou for film­ing the talk.  I had such a fun time, I even feel moved to for­give BoF for their thought­ful gift at the end of the even­ing — Tony Blair’s riv­et­ing auto­bi­o­graphy.  Well, it makes a good door-stop.….