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 a la the Guantanamo/extraordinary rendition model, but can now also do this to US citizens within their own country.
Despite 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.
In 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!