Fight for your Right to Privacy

A recent talk I gave to the excel­lent Spark​.me con­fer­ence in beau­ti­ful Montenegro:

Annie Machon at SparkMe con­fer­ence 2016 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Defending Human Rights in a Digital Age

This is an (abbre­vi­ated) ver­sion of my con­tri­bu­tion to a pan­el dis­cus­sion about human rights in a digit­al age, hos­ted last Decem­ber by Pro­fess­or Mari­anne Frank­lin and Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity in Lon­don:

Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity Pri­vacy Dis­cus­sion, Decem­ber 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

ZDF TV interview at EMAF

Here is an inter­view I did for Ger­man nation­al TV, ZDF, while speak­ing at the European Media Art Fest­iv­al in Osnab­rueck in April:

zdfkulturzeit

ZDF Kul­turzeit inter­view about EMAF from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Cryptofestival, London, 30th November

Big_Brother_posterHere’s one for the diary, if you’re in the UK and value your basic, enshrined right to pri­vacy (UDHR Art­icle 12) in this NSA/GCHQ etc dystop­ic, pan­op­tic­an world.

Come along to the Cryptofest­iv­al at Gold­smiths, Lon­don on 30th Novem­ber, where con­cerned hackt­iv­ists can help con­cerned cit­izens learn how to pro­tect their online pri­vacy.

And if you believe the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” garbage, have a look at this.

Crypto­parties, where geeks offer their help for free to their com­munit­ies, were star­ted by pri­vacy advoc­ate Ash­er Wolf in Aus­tralia just over a year  ago.  The phe­nomen­on has swept across the world since then, helped along by the dis­clos­ures of the hero­ic Edward Snowden.

I hope to see you there. You have to fight for your right (crypto)party — and for your right to pri­vacy! Use it or lose it — and bring your laptop.

The “Insider Threat”

As the old media pro­pa­ganda battle inev­it­ably heats up around the Edward Snowden case, I stumbled across this little Amer­ic­an news gem recently. The premise being that poten­tial whis­tleblowers are now deemed to be the new “insider threat”.

Well, the US spooks and their friends have already had a pretty good run through the “reds under the bed” of McCarthy­ism, polit­ic­al sub­vers­ives, illeg­als, Muslims and “domest­ic extrem­ists”, whatever the hell that really means leg­ally.  Now they’ve hit on anoth­er threat­en­ing cat­egory to jus­ti­fy yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance crack­downs. What’s in a name.….

Firstly, this is old news resur­rec­ted in the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures to scare people anew. Way back in 2008 the US gov­ern­ment wrote a report about “insider threats” and the per­ceived danger of the high-tech pub­lish­er Wikileaks and, in early 2010 the report was leaked to the very same organ­isa­tion.

Wikileaks1In 2008 the US gov­ern­ment strategy was to expose a Wikileaks source so that oth­ers would be deterred from using the con­duit in future. Well that did­n’t hap­pen — Wikileaks tech­no­lo­gic­ally out­paced the lum­ber­ing, bru­tish might of the US and syco­phant­ic West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies.  The unfor­tu­nate Brad­ley Man­ning was exposed by an FBI snitch, Adri­an Lamo, rather than from any tech­nic­al fail­ure of the Wikileaks sub­mis­sion sys­tem.

What did occur was a mus­cu­lar dis­play of glob­al cor­por­at­ism, with nation after nation capit­u­lat­ing to take down the Wikileaks site, but mir­ror sites sur­vived that poin­ted to Switzer­land (which has a strong tra­di­tion of dir­ect demo­cracy, self defence and free speech and which remains stead­fastly inde­pend­ent from inter­na­tion­al dip­lo­mat­ic circle jerks the UN, NATO, and such like.

On top of that, all major fin­an­cial chan­nels stopped dona­tions to Wikileaks — an act now been deemed to be mani­festly illeg­al in some coun­tries.

Now, in the wake of the Man­ning and Snowden dis­clos­ures, the US main­stream media appears, inev­it­ably, to be try­ing to con­flate the cases of known trait­ors with, you’ve guessed it, bona fide whis­tleblowers.

Cases such as Ald­rich Ames and Robert Hanssen, who betrayed their coun­tries by selling secrets to an enemy power — the Soviet Uni­on — in an era of exist­en­tial threat. They were trait­ors to be pro­sec­uted under the US Espi­on­age Act (1917) — that is what it was designed for.

This has noth­ing what­so­ever to do with the cur­rent whis­tleblower cases and is just so much basic neuro-lin­guist­ic pro­gram­ming. *Yawn*. Do people really fall for that these days?

This is a tired old tac­tic much used and abused in the offi­cially secret UK, and the USA has learned well from its former colo­ni­al mas­ter — so much for 1776 and the con­sti­tu­tion.

How­ever, in the CBS inter­view men­tioned above it was subtly done — at least for a US broad­cast — with the com­ment­at­or sound­ing reas­on­able but with the imagery telling a very dif­fer­ent story.

In my view this con­fla­tion exposes a dark hypo­crisy at the heart of the mod­ern mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex. In the old days the “good­ies” and “bad­dies” were simplist­ic­ally demarc­ated in the minds of the pub­lic: free West good; total­it­ari­an East bad. This fol­lowed the main­stream pro­pa­ganda of the day, and those who worked for the oppos­i­tion — and the Soviet Uni­on gave the US/UK intel­li­gence axis a good run for its money — were pro­sec­uted as trait­ors.  Unless, of course, they emerged from the rul­ing class, when they were allowed to slip away and evade justice.

And of course many of us remem­ber the scan­dal of the Rus­si­an spy ring that was exposed in 2010 — many indi­vidu­als who had illeg­ally been infilt­rated into the US for dec­ades. Yet, when they were caught and exposed, what happened?  A deal was struck between the US and Rus­sia and they were just sent home.

No such lib­er­al­ity is shown to true mod­ern-day whis­tleblowers. Quite the oppos­ite, with the UK and the US will­ing to breach all estab­lished dip­lo­mat­ic pro­to­cols to hunt down their quarry. This des­pite the fact that the whis­tleblowers are lib­er­at­ing inform­a­tion about the illeg­al­ity of our own gov­ern­ments to empower all of us to act as informed cit­izens, and des­pite the fact that they are expos­ing glob­al-level crimes.

Bradley_Manning_2Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden have risked their lives to expose the fact that we are liv­ing under a glob­al police state and that our mil­it­ary and intel­li­gence agen­cies are run­ning amok across the plan­et, with CIA kill lists, rendi­tions, tor­ture, wars, drone strikes and dirty tricks.

Yet the West is not offi­cially at war, nor is it facing an exist­en­tial threat as it did dur­ing the Second World War or the so-called Cold War.  Des­pite this, the US has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) more times in the last 5 years than over the pre­ced­ing cen­tury. Is it sud­denly infes­ted with spies?

Well, no.  But it is sud­denly full of a new digit­al gen­er­a­tion, which has grown up with the assump­tion that the inter­net is free, and which wants to guar­an­tee that it will remain free without Big Broth­er watch­ing over their shoulders.  Tal­en­ted indi­vidu­als who end up work­ing for the spy agen­cies will inev­it­ably be per­turbed by pro­grammes such as PRISM and TEMPORA. Law­yers, act­iv­ists and geeks have been warn­ing about this for the last two dec­ades.

By 1911 the UK had already put in place not only the proto-MI5, but also then added the first Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA) to pro­sec­ute real trait­ors ahead of the First World War. The UK updated the OSA in 1989 spe­cific­ally to sup­press whis­tleblow­ing. The US has learned these leg­al sup­pres­sion les­sons well, not least by shred­ding its con­sti­tu­tion with the Pat­ri­ot Act.

How­ever, it has neg­lected to update its law against whis­tleblowers, fall­ing back instead onto the hoary old 1917 Espi­on­age Act — as I said before, more times in the past five years than over the last cen­tury.

This is indeed a war on whis­tleblowers and truth-tell­ers, noth­ing more, noth­ing less.

What are they so afraid of? Ideal­ists who believe in the old demo­crat­ic con­sti­tu­tions? The Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights and oth­er such fuddy-duddy con­cepts?

Or could the real enemy be the bene­fi­ciar­ies of the whis­tleblowers? When the US gov­ern­ment says that Man­ning or Snowden have aided the enemy, do they, could they, mean we the people?

The answer to that would logic­ally be a resound­ing “yes”. Which leads to anoth­er ques­tion: what about the nation states — China, Rus­sia, Iran — that we have been told repeatedly over the last few years are hack­ing and spy­ing on us?

The phrase “pot and kettle” springs to mind. There are no good­ies and bad­dies any more. Indeed, all that remains is out­right and shock­ing hypo­crisy.

Snowden has laid bare the fact that the US and its vas­sals are the most flag­rant prot­ag­on­ists in this cyber­war, even as our gov­ern­ments tell us that we must give up basic human rights such as pri­vacy, to pro­tect us from the glob­al threat of ter­ror­ism (while at the same time arm­ing and fund­ing our so-called ter­ror­ist enemies).

Yet whis­tleblowers who bravely step up and tell us our gov­ern­ments are com­mit­ting war crimes, that we are being spied on, that we live under Orwellian sur­veil­lance, are now the people being pro­sec­uted for espi­on­age, not the “real” spies and cer­tainly not the war crim­in­als.

In the CBS inter­view, former US Gen­er­al Michael Hay­den, ex-head of the CIA and NSA asked: “what kind of mor­al judge­ment does it take for someone to think that their view trumps that of two pres­id­ents, the Con­gress and Sen­ate, the court sys­tem and 35,000 co-work­ers at the NSA?”

Er, per­haps someone who does not want to col­lude in the most stark examples of glob­al war crimes and illeg­al sur­veil­lance? And per­haps someone who believes that the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was set up for a reas­on after the hor­rors of the Second World War?

When the rule of law breaks down, who is the real crim­in­al?

What we are wit­ness­ing is a gen­er­a­tion­al clash, not a clash of ideo­lo­gies. The old­sters still be believe in the Cold War nar­rat­ive (or even “cow­boys and Indi­ans”?) of good­ies, bad­dies and exist­en­tial threats. The digit­al gen­er­a­tions have grown up in the wake of 9/11 and all the asso­ci­ated gov­ern­ment­al over-reac­tion — war crimes go unre­por­ted and untried, real civil liber­ties are an his­tor­ic arte­fact, and the glob­al pop­u­la­tion lives under Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance. Why on earth is any­one, really, sur­prised when young people of hon­our and ideal­ism try to take a stand and make a dif­fer­ence?

We should be more wor­ried about our future if the whis­tleblowers were to stop com­ing for­ward.