Good Technology Collective

Recently I was invited to be on the glob­al coun­cil of a new tech policy inti­ti­at­ive called the Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive, based in Ber­lin.

~ Foun­ded by a group of tech­no­logy enthu­si­asts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Lere­taille, the GTC will serve as a cru­cial European for­um for pilot­ing tech­no­lo­gic­al advances in the 21st cen­tury. Through its Expert Coun­cil, it will bring togeth­er lead­ing founders, engin­eers, sci­ent­ists, journ­al­ists, and act­iv­ists, who will research, gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion around, and offer coun­sel as to the soci­et­al impact of AI, vir­tu­al real­ity, Inter­net of Things, and data sur­veil­lance.

We believe that there are eth­ic­al ques­tions con­cern­ing how fron­ti­er tech­no­lo­gies will affect our daily lives,” Lere­taille said. “As a soci­ety, Europe deserves broad and access­ible dis­cus­sions of these issues, hos­ted by those who appre­ci­ate, under­stand, and worry about them the most.” ~

The Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive (GTC), a new European think-tank address­ing eth­ic­al issues in tech­no­logy, will offi­cially open its doors in Ber­lin on Decem­ber 15th. The grand open­ing will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Ber­lin and I shall be one of the guest speak­ers.

Invit­a­tions are lim­ited for the grand open­ing. Those inter­ested in attend­ing should con­tact:; or, fill in the invit­a­tion form at: https://​goo​.gl/​X​p​n​djk.

And here is an intro­duct­ory inter­view I did for GTC recently:

Why We Must Fight for Pri­vacy

We live in a soci­ety where shad­owy fig­ures influ­ence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.

We live in a sys­tem where cor­por­a­tions and the state work togeth­er to take con­trol of our inform­a­tion, our com­mu­nic­a­tions, and poten­tially even our future digit­al souls.

So we do not merely have the right, but rather the oblig­a­tion, to fight for our pri­vacy.

It is a simple human right that is essen­tial for a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

But we are a long way away from hav­ing that right guar­an­teed, and we have been for a long time.

My Time as a Spy

I spent six years work­ing with MI5, the Brit­ish domest­ic counter-intel­li­gence and secur­ity agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of rel­at­ive peace after the Cold War and before the hor­rors of Septem­ber 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Ter­ror.

And even then, I was hor­ri­fied by what I saw.

There was a con­stant stream of illeg­al wireta­ps and files kept on hun­dreds of thou­sands of our cit­izens, act­iv­ists, journ­al­ists, and politi­cians.

Inno­cent people were sent to pris­on due to sup­pressed evid­ence in the 1994 bomb­ing of the Israeli Embassy in Lon­don. IRA bomb­ings that could have been pre­ven­ted were allowed to take place, and the MI6 fun­ded a plot to murder Liby­an lead­er Col­on­el Gad­dafi using Al Qaeda affil­i­ates. He sur­vived, oth­ers did not.

This is just part of the cor­rup­tion I saw intel­li­gence and secur­ity agen­cies engage in.

The pub­lic and many politi­cians believe these agen­cies are account­able to them, but that is simply not how things work in real­ity. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.

State Manip­u­lates News and Polit­ics

I wit­nessed gov­ern­ment agen­cies manip­u­late the news through guile and charm, at times even writ­ing it them­selves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media cov­er­age using vari­ous meth­ods.

This was the case in the ana­logue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.

In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, know­ing that it would end my career. My part­ner and I resigned, and we went into hid­ing.

We spent years on the run for breach­ing the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.

We fled Bri­tain in 1997, spend­ing three years in a French farm­house and a loc­a­tion in Par­is. My part­ner went to pris­on, twice, and we learned indelible les­sons about state power along the way.

Learn­ing the Value of Pri­vacy

We also learned the value of pri­vacy.

As high-value tar­gets, we knew our com­mu­nic­a­tions and rel­at­ives were mon­itored.

So when I called or emailed my moth­er, I had to self-cen­sor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.

Our friends were pres­sured into cooper­at­ing with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our pri­vacy, cor­rod­ing our spir­it.

You lose trust in every­one around you, and you do not say any­thing that could give you away.

Sur­veil­lance Has Moved with the Times

That was then. Today, sur­veil­lance is part of our daily lives, on the Inter­net and in the street.

Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. And it is mind-bog­gling.

The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 per­cent of the people in the United King­dom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have pri­vacy, then in a way it does not mat­ter if someone is watch­ing us. We will self-cen­sor any­way. Just in case.

This has a tan­gible impact on soci­ety. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.

Legit­im­ate act­iv­ists know they can be watched. This means that protest­ors may think twice before get­ting involved with press­ing issues. Sur­veil­lance is a sure-fire means of stifling demo­cracy.

We Are All Being Watched

Snowden revealed that Inter­net com­pan­ies opened their doors to the U.S. Nation­al Secur­ity Agency and the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters (GCHQ). He also dis­closed that Brit­ish intel­li­gence was hand­ing over inform­a­tion on Europeans to Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Both gov­ern­ment agen­cies can access our video com­mu­nic­a­tions. Appar­ently their per­son­nel were forced to sit through so many expli­cit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive coun­sel­ing.

It might sound amus­ing. But it shows that the state is reg­u­larly invad­ing our pri­vacy.

And that is just gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The cor­por­ate world is sur­veilling us, too. Com­pan­ies have been gran­ted excep­tion­al powers to see who is shar­ing inform­a­tion and files across the Inter­net.

When the FBI Is a Cor­por­ate Tool

In New Zea­l­and, Kim Dot­com developed MegaUp­load. It did have legit­im­ate users, but the fact that some dis­trib­uted pir­ated intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty led to an FBI raid on his home.

Likely under the influ­ence of the FBI, the New Zea­l­and author­it­ies per­mit­ted sur­veil­lance to bol­ster the U.S. extra­di­tion case against him. In Octo­ber 2012, Prime Min­is­ter John Key pub­licly apo­lo­gized to Dot­com, say­ing that the mis­takes made by New Zealand’s Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Secur­ity Bur­eau before and dur­ing the raid were “appalling.

This was all a massive infringe­ment on New Zealand’s sov­er­eignty. One must won­der how the cor­por­ate world can wield so much influ­ence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entre­pren­eur on for­eign land.

This is not how gov­ern­ment agen­cies are meant to work. It is a pin­cer move­ment between the cor­por­a­tions and the state.

This Is the Defin­i­tion of Fas­cism

Itali­an dic­tat­or Benito Mus­solini defined fas­cism as the mer­ging of the state and the cor­por­ate world. And it is becom­ing increas­ingly clear that we are head­ing in this dir­ec­tion.

We are all con­stantly con­nec­ted through our smart­phones and com­puters. Incid­ent­ally, any hard­ware, even USB cables, pro­duced after 1998 prob­ably comes with a back­door entry point for the gov­ern­ment.

We also freely provide inform­a­tion on Face­book that would have taken secur­ity and intel­li­gence agen­cies weeks to assemble before the era of digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tions.

We need to know who is watch­ing that inform­a­tion, who can take it, and who can use it against us.

Research con­duc­ted today may one day lead to our entire con­scious­ness being uploaded into a com­puter. Humans could become soft­ware-based. But who might be able to manip­u­late that inform­a­tion and how?

It is vital for us to start think­ing about ques­tions such as these.

Secret Legis­la­tion Can Change Our World

In Europe, we are see­ing the Transat­lantic Trade Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legis­la­tion through which cor­por­ate lob­by­ists can neg­at­ively affect 500 mil­lion people.

Its investor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment clause grants mul­tina­tion­al cor­por­a­tions the leg­al status of a nation-state. If they feel gov­ern­ment policies threaten their profits, they can sue gov­ern­ments in arbit­ra­tion tribunals. The treaty paper­work is kept in a guarded room that not even politi­cians work­ing on the legis­la­tion can access freely.

Sim­il­ar pro­jects were attemp­ted before, but they were over­turned by the weight of pub­lic opin­ion. The pub­lic spoke out and pro­tested to ensure that the legis­la­tion nev­er came to pass.

We must pro­tect our right to demo­cracy and the rule of law, free from cor­por­ate inter­ven­tion.

A Per­fect Storm for Pri­vacy?

A per­fect storm against pri­vacy is brew­ing. A debate con­tin­ues over how much con­trol the state should exer­cise over the Inter­net amid the threat of ter­ror­ism, which has become part of mod­ern life.

Add to this the increas­ing ten­sion between the United States and Rus­sia and cli­mate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.

We need pri­vacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these top­ics, and dis­cuss them. We can­not rely on the main­stream media alone.

We need pri­vacy to be prop­er cit­izens. This includes the right to lobby our politi­cians and express our con­cerns.

We also have to be aware that politi­cians do not know what the intel­li­gence and secur­ity ser­vices are doing. We need to take our pri­vacy into our own hands.

As a start, we must all begin using encryp­tion, open-source soft­ware and oth­er tools to make sure we have pri­vacy. If we do not, we will lose our demo­cracy.

It took our ancest­ors hun­dreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to pri­vacy.

We must defend that leg­acy.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

What is exile? Oth­er than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriv­ing in Ber­lin, dic­tion­ary defin­i­tions point towards someone who is kept away from their home coun­try for polit­ic­al reas­ons, either by regal decree in the past or now more prob­ably self-imposed. But there are many oth­er ways to feel exiled – from main­stream soci­ety, from your fam­ily, faith, pro­fes­sion, polit­ics, and Ber­lin is now regarded as a haven.

How­ever, let’s focus on the clas­sic defin­i­tion and a noble tra­di­tion. Every coun­try, no mat­ter how appar­ently enlightened, can become a tyr­ant to its own cit­izens if they chal­lenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in Eng­land for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for sedi­tious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent fam­ous exiles include Dav­id Shayler, the MI5 whis­tleblower of the 1990s who fol­lowed in Paine’s foot­steps pretty much for the same fun­da­ment­al reas­ons, yet Alex­an­der Litv­inen­ko, the KBG whis­tleblower of the same era, iron­ic­ally found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effect­ively means that you have angered the power struc­tures of your home coun­try to such an extent that oth­er coun­tries feel com­pelled to give you refuge, partly for leg­al or prin­cipled reas­ons, but also for polit­ic­al expedi­ency. The cur­rent most fam­ous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stran­ded by chance in Rus­sia en route to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of flee­ing into exile actu­ally feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and pre­cari­ous future, with great risk and few fore­see­able rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the per­se­cut­ing coun­try, evad­ing the author­it­ies, avoid­ing arrest and going on the run, there is an exhil­ar­at­ing, intense feel­ing of free­dom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irre­voc­ably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write any­thing.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farm­house just north of Limoges – the nearest vil­lage was 2 kilo­metres away, and the nearest town a dis­tant thirty. We lived in con­stant dread of that knock on the door and the ensu­ing arrest. And that, indeed, even­tu­ally did catch up with him.

As a res­ult, for Shayler it meant the world grew increas­ingly small, increas­ingly con­fined. Ini­tially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – any­where but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extra­dite him to Bri­tain in 1998 to face tri­al for a breach of the dra­coni­an UK Offi­cial Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any oth­er European coun­try, the Brit­ish would have again attemp­ted to extra­dite him, prob­ably suc­cess­fully, so he was trapped.

How­ever, there are worse places than France in which to find your­self stran­ded. As well as being one of the most beau­ti­ful and var­ied coun­tries in the world it felt par­tic­u­larly poignant to end up exiled in Par­is for a fur­ther two years.

It was also con­veni­ently close to the UK, so friends, fam­ily, sup­port­ers and journ­al­ists could vis­it us reg­u­larly and bring Shayler sup­plies of such vital Brit­ish staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleas­ures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved foot­ball team, or being able to watch the crappy late night com­edy shows that the Brit­ish end­lessly churn out. Des­pite these small lacks, I shall always remem­ber those years in France fondly, as a place of great­er safety, a lit­er­al haven from per­se­cu­tion.

Of course, all this was in the era before the stand­ard­ised European Arrest war­rant, when nation­al sov­er­eignty and nation­al laws actu­ally coun­ted for some­thing. Find­ing a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossib­il­ity in Europe if you home coun­try really wanted to pro­sec­ute you.

Many West­ern expats now talk of being “exiled in Ber­lin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sym­patico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work oppor­tun­it­ies or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extra­di­tion war­rant, before the fuzz has actu­ally felt their col­lars, this is real­ist­ic­ally exile as a life­style choice, rather than exile as a des­per­ate polit­ic­al neces­sity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a poten­tially exist­en­tial require­ment.

Anything to Say? unveiled in Berlin

Last week artist Dav­ide Dormino unveiled his sculp­ture cel­eb­rat­ing whis­tleblowers in Alex­an­der­platz, Ber­lin.

Called “Any­thing to Say?”, the sculp­ture depicts Chelsea Man­ning, Edward Snowden and Juli­an Assange stand­ing on three chairs, with an empty fourth chair beside them, upon which we are all encour­aged to stand up on and speak our truth.

Dav­ide invited me to do just that for the unveil­ing cere­mony, along with Ger­man MP for the Green Party and whis­tleblower sup­port­er, Hans Chris­ti­an Stroebele and Wikileaks’ Sarah Har­ris­on. Here’s a report:

Anything_to_Say?_sculpture_unveiled_in_Berlin from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, Berlin 2015

Last week in Ber­lin the 2015 Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence was presen­ted to the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, whis­tleblower and tire­less pri­vacy advoc­ate, Wil­li­am Bin­ney.

A 36-year intel­li­gence agency vet­er­an, Bill Bin­ney resigned from the NSA in 2001 and became a whis­tleblower after dis­cov­er­ing that ele­ments of a data-mon­it­or­ing pro­gramme he had helped devel­op were being used to spy on Amer­ic­ans.  He explained that he “could not stay after the NSA began pur­pose­fully viol­at­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion”.

Bill remains tire­less, pledging to spend the remainder of his years speak­ing out across the world and work­ing to reform the gross gov­ern­ment­al illeg­al­ity and stu­pid­ity of inter­cept­ing tril­lions and tril­lions of com­mu­nic­a­tions of inno­cent people’s phone calls, emails and oth­er forms of data. Bill states “it’s viol­ated everyone’s rights. It can be used to spy on the whole world.”

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates decided to hold the cere­mony in Ber­lin as it is cur­rently a glob­al hub for pri­vacy-minded indi­vidu­als — journ­al­ists, film-makers, tech­no­lo­gists, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers.

Binney_at_BundestagHis­tory has made Ger­many much more sens­it­ive to the need for basic rights, such as pri­vacy, than many oth­er soi dis­ant west­ern demo­cra­cies, and the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden, includ­ing the col­lu­sion of Ger­man intel­li­gence agen­cies with the NSA as well as the bug­ging of Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, have caused out­rage across the coun­try.

Plus, only last year Bill Bin­ney was invited to give evid­ence to the Ger­man Bundestag’s NSA Inquiry Com­mis­sion.

SAA_Photo_Berlin_2015Whis­tleblowers, former intel­li­gence officers, mil­it­ary officers, dip­lo­mats and law­yers flew in from around the world to hon­our Bill Bin­ney. The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates attend­ing the event were Ray McGov­ern (CIA), Todd Pierce (US mil­it­ary law­yer), Coleen Row­ley (FBI), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (US nation­al intel­li­gence coun­cil), Craig Mur­ray (UK ambas­sad­or), Kath­er­ine Gun (GCHQ), Tom Drake (NSA), Jes­selyn Radack (US DoJ), Dav­id MacMi­chael (CIA), and myself (MI5).

We were also pleased that Edward Snowden was able to join us via live link to give a  power­ful speech hon­our­ing Bill Bin­ney.

So, here is the film of a won­der­fully touch­ing cere­mony, and con­grat­u­la­tions to Bill Bin­ney for the cour­age he has already demon­strated and con­tin­ues to dis­play:

Sam Adams Award Ber­lin 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

And here we have the text of the award cita­tion to Bill Bin­ney:

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence

Presents its INTEGRITY AWARD for 2015 to:

Wil­li­am Bin­ney

Know all ye by these presents that Wil­li­am Bin­ney is hereby honored with the tra­di­tion­al Sam Adams Corner-Bright­en­er Can­dle­stick Hold­er, in sym­bol­ic recog­ni­tion of Mr. Binney’s cour­age in shin­ing light into dark places.

Bill Bin­ney rep­res­ents the pat­ri­ot­ic side of a duel between two unequal adversar­ies: an exceed­ingly power­ful and ruth­less state and Bill, an offi­cial who would not break his sol­emn oath to defend its Con­sti­tu­tion.  Like Tom Drake and Ed Snowden, he was determ­ined to pre­serve his integ­rity, his pri­vacy, and his per­son­al hon­or.

On both sides of the Atlantic we hear the man­tra: “After 9÷11÷2001 EVERYTHING CHANGED;” just like “everything changed” after the burn­ing of the Reich­stag on 2÷27÷1933.  That event led many Ger­mans into what the writer Sebasti­an Haffn­er called “sheep­ish sub­missive­ness” — with dis­astrous con­sequences.

As a young Ger­man law­yer in Ber­lin at the time, Haffn­er wrote in his diary one day after the Reich­stag fire that Ger­mans had suffered a nervous break­down.  “No one saw any­thing out of the ordin­ary in the fact that, from now on, one’s tele­phone would be tapped, one’s let­ters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

What was miss­ing, wrote Haffn­er, was “a sol­id inner ker­nel that can­not be shaken by extern­al pres­sures and forces, some­thing noble and steely, a reserve of pride, prin­ciple, and dig­nity to be drawn on in the hour or tri­al.”

We are grate­ful that these traits were NOT miss­ing in Bill Bin­ney.  Nor were they miss­ing in Edward Snowden, whose pat­ri­ot­ic risk-tak­ing opened the way for Bill and his col­leagues to expose the col­lect-it-all fan­at­ics and the dam­age they do to pri­vacy every­where.

What Ed Snowden called “turn­key tyranny” can still be pre­ven­ted.  But this can only hap­pen, if pat­ri­ots like Bill Bin­ney can jolt enough people out of “sheep­ish sub­missive­ness.” Goethe under­stood this 200 years ago when he warned, “No one is more a slave than he who thinks him­self free, but is not.”

Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein*.

Presen­ted this 22nd day of Janu­ary 2015 in Ber­lin by admirers of the example set by the late CIA ana­lyst, Sam Adams.

And finally, here are some extra inter­views from the night with Bill Bin­ney, Tom Drake, Jes­selyn Radack, and Coleen Row­ley:

With thanks to Ber­lin Moscow on Unter den Linden and the Dreger Group for host­ing the event, to pro­fes­sion­al pho­to­graph­er Johanna Hul­lar for all her great pic­tures of the cere­mony.

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:


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.

Circumventing the Panopticon, Transmediale Berlin

Last month I was on a pan­el dis­cus­sion at the Ber­lin Trans­me­diale con­fer­ence with NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, Chelsea Man­ning rap­por­teur Alexa O’Brian, and act­iv­ist Diani Bar­reto. Here is the link to the full two hour event, and here is my speech:


Trans­me­diale, Ber­lin 2014 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

Lecture: What can we do to counter the Spies?

My CCC talk in Ber­lin in Decem­ber 2007 about the role of Intel­li­gence agen­cies in soci­ety.

In the name of pro­tect­ing nation­al secur­ity, spy agen­cies are being giv­en sweep­ing new powers and resources. Their intel­li­gence has been politi­cised to build a case for the dis­astrous war in Iraq, they are fail­ing to stop ter­ror­ist attacks, and they con­tin­ue to col­lude in illeg­al acts of intern­ment and tor­ture, euphemist­ic­ally called “extraordin­ary rendi­tion”. Most west­ern demo­cra­cies have already giv­en so many new powers to the spies that we are effect­ively liv­ing in police states. As an informed com­munity, what can we do about this?

Here is the present­a­tion page on the CCC-2007-web­site. A video of the talk can be down­loaded from the talk-page or watched dir­ectly through Google-video. I was hon­oured to receive a stand­ing ova­tion at the end of my talk.  A write-up of the talk can be found here.  Enjoy!