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: rsvp@goodtechnologycollective.com; or, fill in the invitation form at: https://goo.gl/Xpndjk.

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 Transmediale.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:

magicalsecrecy

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

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!