Category Archives: mass surveillance

corona marginalia: techno-tyranny

“How do we really use new technology in the economy of tomorrow? And that’s the lesson that we’re all learning right: work from home; telemedicine; tele-education. It’s all about technology, and a better use of technology, and really incorporating the lessons into that. And probably the best mind in this country, if not on the globe to do this, is I believe a true visionary, especially in the field of technology, and that’s Eric Schmidt.”

This is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effusive welcome to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he joined him for the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday May 6th. Cuomo continues:

“[Schmidt] saw a future that no-one else envisioned and then developed a way to get there. And we’ve asked him to come work with us to bring that kind of visionary aspect to government and society. Let’s look at what we just went through. Let’s anticipate a future through that lens. And tell us how we can incorporate these lessons. And Mr Schmidt who has tremendous demands on his talent and his time has agreed to help us and head an effort to do this.”

Eric Schmidt, no less lavish in his praise for Cuomo, says:

“Thank you Governor. You have been doing an incredible job for our state and frankly for the nation, and I’m really pleased to help. The first priorities of what we’re trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those ways that will make things much, much better.”

The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein begins her latest article entitled “Screen New Deal” with reflections on this video meeting and Cuomo’s announcement that Schmidt “will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life”:

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

She continues:

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Adding:

Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future — but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.

And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt.

Klein notes: “Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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Eric Schmidt and the NSCAI

“[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them.”

— Chris Darby, President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the CIA and member of NSCAI. *

The second part of Klein’s article moves on to discuss the Sidewalk Labs division of Google’s parent company Alphabet and specifically their “smart cities” Toronto project. This is a topic I have addressed in my last post published as it happened on the eve of the project being shut down following what Klein describes as “two years of ceaseless controversy relating to the enormous amounts of personal data that Alphabet would collect, a lack of privacy protections, and questionable benefits for the city as a whole.”

But central to her article is an investigation into Schmidt’s other roles both as Chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments, and associated technologies.”

Specifically, Klein draws attention to slides from a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI back in May 2019, that have since been released following a Freedom of Information request made by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

In fact a week prior to Klein’s excellent piece, independent journalist Whitney Webb had already brought attention to the same document release; the presentation in question is titled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview”.

Webb writes:

This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”

In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.

Webb then highlights Eric Schmidt’s “similar concerns about ‘losing’ technological advantage to China”:

[Schmidt] argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.

Naomi Klein likewise draws attention to the NYT op-ed headlined “I used to Run Google. Silicon Valley Could Lose to China”, in which Schmidt had called for “unprecedented partnerships between government and industry” and is, in Klein’s words “once again, sounding the yellow peril alarm”. She then quotes the salient passages:

A.I. will open new frontiers in everything from biotechnology to banking, and it is also a Defense Department priority. … If current trends continue, China’s overall investments in research and development are expected to surpass those of the United States within 10 years, around the same time its economy is projected to become larger than ours.

Unless these trends change, in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure. … Ultimately, the Chinese are competing to become the world’s leading innovators, and the United States is not playing to win.

On this pretext of regaining competitive advantage over China, the NSCAI presentation goes on to cite the kinds of “structural factors” that need to be altered.

Here is Whitney Webb again:

Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems. […]

The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadly and horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.

Who are NSCAI? Webb provides us with a list of members and their interests:

Other members of the NSCAI are as follows:

  • Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
  • Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
  • Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
  • Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
  • Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
  • Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
  • Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
  • William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
  • Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
  • Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI

As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Techno-tyranny: How the US National Security State is using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision” published on May 4th at her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Tele-everything!

In her article for The Intercept, Naomi Klein supplies an update and a glimpse of the headway already made by the tech giants in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to a subsequent op-ed by Eric Schmidt [passages in Italics], Klein writes:

Less than two weeks into New York state’s lockdown, Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that both set the new tone and made clear that Silicon Valley had every intention of leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation.

Like other Americans, technologists are trying to do their part to support the front-line pandemic response. …

But every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over. How could the emerging technologies being deployed in the current crisis propel us into a better future? … Companies like Amazon know how to supply and distribute efficiently. They will need to provide services and advice to government officials who lack the computing systems and expertise.

We should also accelerate the trend toward remote learning, which is being tested today as never before. Online, there is no requirement of proximity, which allows students to get instruction from the best teachers, no matter what school district they reside in. …

The need for fast, large-scale experimentation will also accelerate the biotech revolution. … Finally, the country is long overdue for a real digital infrastructure…. If we are to build a future economy and education system based on tele-everything, we need a fully connected population and ultrafast infrastructure. The government must make a massive investment—perhaps as part of a stimulus package—to convert the nation’s digital infrastructure to cloud-based platforms and link them with a 5G network.

Indeed Schmidt has been relentless in pursuing this vision. Two weeks after that op-ed appeared, he described the ad-hoc homeschooling programing that teachers and families across the country had been forced to cobble together during this public health emergency as “a massive experiment in remote learning.” The goal of this experiment, he said, was “trying to find out: How do kids learn remotely? And with that data we should be able to build better remote and distance learning tools which, when combined with the teacher … will help kids learn better.” During this same video call, hosted by the Economic Club of New York, Schmidt also called for more telehealth, more 5G, more digital commerce, and the rest of the preexisting wish list. All in the name of fighting the virus.

His most telling comment, however, was this: “The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.” He added that people should “be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now, and have really helped us out.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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* From an article entitled “In-Q-Tel President Chris Darby on the intelligence community’s innovation challenges” written by Olivia Gazis, published in CBS News on April 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/intelligence-matters-in-q-tel-president-chris-darby-on-the-intelligence-communitys-innovation-challenges/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, mass surveillance, USA

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #3 smart era

This is the third of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

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Welcome to the machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

— Roger Waters 1

More than a century ago, E M Forster wrote an eerily prophetic science fiction novella entitled “The Machine Stops” (1909). The machine in the novel is vast and seemingly omnipotent. It services all the needs for a global civilisation that has long since abandoned the Earth’s surface and retreated underground; all citizens now inhabiting highly luxurious, fully automated, and secluded subterranean quarters, which are compared in the book to the geometrical cells of a beehive.

Although travel is permitted in this future world, it is seen as a bothersome hindrance on the perfectly understandable basis that every settlement in every country is exactly alike every other. Moreover, being accustomed to air-conditioned atmospheres and artificial illumination, once cast into daylight, travelers are likely to experience an urgent need to shield their eyes, the sun to them a distressing aggravation.

For these and other reasons, human interaction is usually limited to minute by minute communication via screens instead. It is here that all ideas are shared, and this is largely how people prefer to occupy themselves. Nevertheless, this is a free society and so there is no active censorship of ideas, although notions about anything that is ‘unmechanical’ have become essentially incomprehensible (just as witchdoctory is incomprehensible to the average twenty-first century westerner today and so we don’t talk about it much).

So this is Forster’s world, and it is in some respects a forerunner to Huxley’s later vision. Clean, efficient, clinical, and absolutely impersonal. Of course it also shares a great deal with our own world and in ways that Huxley did not envision. As many have commented before, it is as if Forster dreamt up the internet, and then afterwards also imagined all the ways such miraculous interconnectedness would soon begin to isolate humanity.

More specifically, we can also recognise ‘the machine’ as not so much the internet as it exists, but actually a foreshadowing of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where everything that isn’t ‘unmechanical’ is what nowadays we call ‘smart’. Forster’s entire world is ‘smart’ in this most fundamental sense.

But Forster also poses this question and makes it the title of the book: what if the machine stops? To the future citizens of his world this is not actually a question at all, of course, being unutterably ‘unmechanical’. As unthinkable to them as when we try to imagine the sun not rising tomorrow; not that such comparison would be remotely comprehensible to these future humans who descended to dwell within the sunless realms of Forster’s abysmal, yet extraordinary, premonition:

The original upload was taken down, so here’s a different version:

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The Technetronic tranformation

In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies—the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction. — Aldous Huxley 2

President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski is remembered today for two main reasons. Firstly, he was the principle architect of Operation Cyclone, a successful US strategy to bog down the Soviets in Afghanistan thanks to the help of covertly supplied and trained Mujahideen fighters; the precursors to al-Qaeda.

His other notable and less clandestine claim to fame is the authorship of two works of particular note: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), a blueprint for US primacy; and, almost three decades prior, his remarkably prescient Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970). It is in this perhaps lesser known work that Brzezinski too envisions a future:

“that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics”: 3

Indeed, a society that is under rapid construction today:

Alphabet Inc. is best known for its signature product, the Google search engine. But it is useful to think of it as a company that builds platforms – software that serves as a foundation for a growing array of technologies and services that people use every day.

It practically owns the web advertising market through its search platform, it is a leading player in the smartphone ecosystem with its Android platform, it is a large player in the cloud-computing platform, not to mention playing significant roles in the race to build an autonomous-vehicle platform and with high hopes to do the same in the artificial-intelligence space.

With the announcement on Tuesday that its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs would develop a whole new district of Toronto as a working model of a new type of smart city, it’s no stretch to say the company is trying to build a platform for the construction and organization of cities. 4

From an article published by Globe and Mail in October 2017 about plans to transform Toronto into a state-of-the-art “smart city”.

The same piece continues:

Google intends to build a traffic-sensing network that will collect data from smartphones, embedded sensors and cameras to identify areas that could use more bike-sharing slots, or where a self-driving vehicle should be routed, or where a future pop-up store could find a market for its wares.

It’s hoping to be the private garbage collectors of the data that describe what makes Toronto tick and recycle that data into solutions for how this and other cities can be run more effectively.

Now let’s compare this with the ‘Technetronic era’ envisioned by Brzezinski at the beginning of the 70s. Incidentally, Brzezinski’s words might be read as a warning or a blueprint… a deliberate ambiguity that remains unresolved because he hesitates to make his own position clear. 5:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” […]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 6

It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Brzezinski was well-connected. He was a former member of the Atlantic Council, the National Endowment for Democracy, and had remained a member of the Council on Foreign Relations until his death in 2017. On the back of his thesis, Between Two Ages, he had also been invited in 1973 to co-found The Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, and alongside, Rockefeller, was a high profile and regular Bilderberg attendee. 7

Nowadays Bilderberg is dominated mostly by the tech giants and the person whose star is most in the ascendant appears to be Alphabet chief, Eric Schmidt, who has attended the annual conferences every year since 2007 (with the sole exception of 2009):

If you look around the current conference for people with enough substance — enough ideological meat on their bones to drive Bilderberg forward, you won’t find it in finance, and you certainly won’t find it in politics, because for the last few decades the really smart people have gone into engineering and tech. And that, surely, is where the center of gravity within Bilderberg will end up.

Writes Charlie Skelton, summing up his thoughts after last year’s conference in Montreux, and adding more concretely:

The two figures at Bilderberg who seem to have an aura of influence about them are Schmidt and Thiel. Over the years, Schmidt has been gently aligning himself as the heir to Kissinger, and has populated recent conferences with Google executives. The Libertarian Thiel has already engineered his lieutenant, Alex Karp, onto the steering committee. 8

Click here to read Skelton’s full article published by Newsweek.

As Schmidt’s business model appears set to engender the sort of ‘technetronic’ transformation that Brzezinski outlined, it should hardly come as a surprise that Schmidt takes a less circumspect position on the whole reason for building “smart cities”. A naked ambition that Jathan Sadowski, lecturer in ethics of technology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, discusses in a Guardian op-ed:

There is much at stake with this initiative – and not just for Toronto and Alphabet, but for cities globally. With a high-profile project like this one, the kind of deals and terms set here could become a template for similar projects in other cities.

Mayors and tech executives exalt urban labs as sites of disruptive innovation and economic growth. However, this model of creating our urban future is also an insidious way of handing more control – over people, places, policies – to profit-driven, power-hungry corporations.

As the Globe and Mail reports, Eric Schmidt said at the announcement: “The genesis of the thinking for Sidewalk Labs came from Google’s founders getting excited thinking of ‘all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge’.” Ambition alone is not a sin, yet desires like these should evoke suspicion, not celebration.

Sadowski concludes his piece with this warning:

It is easy for city leaders to step aside and allow technocrats and corporations to take control, as if they are alchemists who can turn social problems and economic stagnation into progress and growth. […]

When Sidewalk Labs was chosen to develop Quayside, Schmidt said his reaction was: “Now, it’s our turn.” While this was a joyous exclamation for him, it’s an ominous remark for the rest of us.

There’s no doubt that urban labs can help in the design of powerful, useful technologies. But building the smart urban future cannot also mean paving the way for tech billionaires to fulfill their dreams of ruling over cities. If it does, that’s not a future we should want to live in. 9

Click here to read the full article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it”.

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5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

So begins a report entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” published by Wired magazine back in March 2012.

The same eye-opening piece tells us with no less candour how General Petraeus (Rtd), another regular high-profile Bilderberg attendee [every year since Copenhagen 2014 – although curiously Wikipedia only lists 3 of these in its main entry], was licking his lips at the prospect of routinely hacking into the lives of every “person of interest”:

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” – that is, wired devices – at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”

Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true – if convenient for a CIA director. 10

That’s not the end of the whole article by the way, though it might look like an excellent way to conclude it. To read the whole piece click here.

Embedded below is another fascinating episode of The Corbett Report that follows up his How Big Oil Conquered the World. Again he explores the concept of technocracy and now asks, if “Data is the New Oil” then what does that tell us about the 21st Century oligarchy and the world that the plutocrats are busily creating?

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The vision of the future offered by the proponents of this next-generation cellular technology is one in which every object that you own will be a “smart” object, communicating data about you, your movements and your activities in real time via the ultra-fast 5G network. From the grandiose—self-driving cars and remote surgery—to the mundane—garbage cans that let garbage trucks know when they’re full—everything around us will be constantly broadcasting information through the Internet of Things if the 5G boosters get their way.

But beyond the glossy sci-fi fantasy presented in the slick advertisements for this “smart” world of the future is a creepy and unsettling glimpse into a technological dystopia. One in which “social experiences” are “shared” by strapping VR goggles to your face and interaction with humans is reduced as much as possible in favor of interaction with machines, gadgets and personal assistants that are there to cater to your every whim . . . for a price. And, as some are only now starting to realize, the price that one pays for this world of robotic comfort and convenience is control. Control over our data. Control over our security. And control over our lives. 11

From the transcript of another in-depth episode of the Corbett Report entitled “The 5G Dragnet” written and presented by James Corbett and broadcast last June – the full episode (#358) is also embedded below:

Having provided a few cautionary examples of how smart homes and other smart technology is constantly at risk of being hacked, the Corbett Report continues

It isn’t hard to see why these smart technologies, and the 5G network that enables them, are a security concern. And, in that context, it isn’t hard to see why Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are now being targeted as potential national security threats and barred from developing 5G network infrastructure in country after country. After all, with access to that much data and information—let alone the ability to communicate with, hack into, or disable everything from our “smart” TV to our “smart” door locks to our “smart” car—a potential adversary with control of the 5G network would have nearly limitless power to surveil and control a target population.

But given that these powers—the ability to access our most intimate data and to take control of our homes and personal appliances—are not bugs but features of the 5G-connected Internet of Things, the question is: Why is there such a headlong rush to connect this network? Is demand for smart dishwashers and smart toothbrushes and smart baby monitors really so overwhelming that it requires us to put the security of our homes, our possessions and our families at risk? What is really driving this frenzy for a world where every new object we buy presents another potential vulnerability, another device that can be hacked into to steal our information, to track our location, to record our conversations and to disable our appliances?

One answer to this question lies in the fact that intelligence agencies—whether Chinese or Russian, CIA or MI6, Mossad or CSIS—will make use of the vast amounts of data flowing through these networks to spy on the public. In fact, the members of the so-called “intelligence community” do not even hide this fact; they openly gloat about it.

[Note that here I have edited out a further reference to the same Petraeus statement already quoted above.]

Lest there be any doubt about the intelligence community’s intentions to use these devices to spy on the population, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed this approach in a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2016:

“Smart” devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.

Whistleblowers from within the intelligence establishment—whistleblowers like Russ Tice and Bill Binney, who are actively shunned by the same mainstream media that breathlessly reported on Edward Snowden—have already laid out in exhaustive detail how the NSA is collecting all data flowing through the internet as we know it. Every phone call. Every email. Every web search. Every file stored to the cloud. Everything that passes from one computer or phone to another is being stored, catalogued, data-based and data-mined to construct detailed profiles of ordinary citizens.

But now the 5G network is promising to deliver us not an internet of phones and computers but an internet of things, from cars and watches to fridges and hats to milk jugs and floor tiles. When every manufactured object is broadcasting information about you and your activities to the world at large by default, and when it is discovered that opting out of this surveillance grid is not an option, the true nature of this 5G panopticon will finally begin to dawn on the public. But by that point it will already be too late.

[The following part of the transcript is all about the Quayside project in Canada discussed above]

NARRATOR: Cities use data every day, everything from showing you when your next train will arrive to measuring the air quality in different neighborhoods. Typically all this information is spread out across a ton of different agencies and companies in a bunch of different file formats and spreadsheets. But at Quayside we have the chance to start from scratch and build a single unified digital platform that’s transparent, open, and accessible for everyone working to make our cities better.

SOURCE: Meet Sidewalk Toronto: Kristina and Craig Talk Open Urban Data

TINA YAZDANI: The leaders behind Toronto’s first data-driven smart city are under fire tonight after yet another resignation. This time, a member of Waterfront Toronto’s digital advisory panel quit and wrote a strongly worded letter on her way out, sharing her deep concerns about privacy and data control.

SOURCE: Sidewalk Labs advisory panel member resigns, highlights privacy concerns

STEVE PAIKIN: I want to get some feedback now from the former information and privacy commissioner from the province of Ontario, who, when you were here discussing this very topic, you were kind of bullish about it. And then I just couldn’t happen but help notice that you’ve resigned from your involvement in all this. What happened?

ANA CAVOUKIAN: And I didn’t. . . I didn’t do it lightly. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we had to make sure that all the personal data that was being collected automatically by the sensors and other technologies were de-identified at source—anonymized at source—

PAIKIN: “De-identified” meaning . . .?

CAVOUKIAN: Meaning no personal identifiers. You wouldn’t know it’s Ana Cavoukian walking, or you [walking], or this is my car, or anything. And the reason that was critical is unlike most uses of what I call operational data, where the individual—the data subject—can exercise some control over the use—the operation of that data. They can consent to it, they can revoke consent, they can choose not to consent. They have some sense of control with the data. Here you have no control. It’s all being collected automatically with the emerging technology sensors all picking up data.

SOURCE: A Year of Planning Quayside

[James Corbett again…]

But it is not just the intelligence agencies or the Big Tech conglomerates who are set to profit from the creation of this newer, stickier world wide web. In fact, the 5G-enabled Internet of Things is a necessary part of the creation of the system of total control—physical, financial and political—that the technocrats have been lusting over for a century now.

Click here to read the full Corbett Report transcript

And here to read an earlier post entitled “the panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance”

*

Addendum: the known health risks of RF radiation

During recent weeks there has been a strange spate of attacks on mobile phone masts. The apparent justification for these sporadic acts of vandalism relates to a claim that the ongoing rollout of 5G technology is the real cause of the deaths now being falsely attributed to coronavirus.

This is nonsense, of course, and yet another example of the mind-numbing idiocy promoted by high priest of flat-earthery David Icke, who is renowned for repeated claims that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards, and once advised everyone to wear turquoise to reduce the chance of earthquakes – that was on the same outing of BBC’s Wogan when he effectively declared himself the messiah!

The youtube video below is cued up:

There is a common train of reasoning that goes as follows: since X is rather obviously not doing Y, all those who suspect X of anything at all must be crazy “conspiracy theorists” like David Icke. Technically this is known as ‘guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy’, which is a highly effective debating tactic that can be used to discredit otherwise valid and well-formulated arguments and opinions. 12

At the risk of hammering this point, I have already noticed how this fallacy is being used to dismiss growing concerns about the rapid rollout of 5G, when in fact there are extremely solid grounds for adopting the precautionary principle based on past research, just as there are legitimate health concerns over our current use of 4G and other RF technologies like Wifi.

In fact there have been quite a number of studies looking into the health risks of existing 4G technologies and many of the results from these studies pose very serious concerns. A quite comprehensive overview of the research can be found in a comparatively short review published by the Guardian in July 2018, which discusses in detail “how the wireless industry has “war-gamed” science, as a Motorola internal memo in 1994 phrased it”:

For a quarter of a century now, the industry has been orchestrating a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science concerning mobile phone radiation. Indeed, big wireless has borrowed the very same strategy and tactics big tobacco and big oil pioneered to deceive the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their tobacco and oil counterparts, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.

War-gaming science involves playing offence as well as defence – funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions; placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies such as the World Health Organisation and seeking to discredit scientists whose views differ from the industry’s.

Funding friendly research has perhaps been the most important tactic, because it conveys the impression that the scientific community truly is divided. Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage – as [George] Carlo’s [industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project] WTR did in 1999; as the WHO’s Interphone study did in 2010; and as the US government’s NTP did earlier this year – the industry can point out, accurately, that other studies disagree.

How the industry has repeatedly tried to mislead governments and the public over the reporting of these studies is also a matter I have covered in previous posts.

Before continuing, it always needs to be stressed that based on the latest findings, authorities in France, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Australia, Italy and elsewhere took action to limit Wifi use in schools and nurseries. 13 Moreover, mobile phones generally come with a warning in the fine print, cautioning users to hold the device away from the body. 14 In short, there is abundant evidence that ought to raise concerns over the health effects of 4G technology.

The upgrade to 5G that is required for the Internet of Things relies on a network of masts transmitting RF radiation at higher frequencies than 4G. Since radiation at these frequencies is less penetrating, the array of masts also needs to be more densely packed. Finally, it is important to understand that the radiation is less penetrating because it is more highly absorbed by objects including buildings, trees and, of course, people. As the same Guardian piece explains:

The industry’s neutralisation of the safety issue has opened the door to the biggest prize of all: the proposed transformation of society dubbed the Internet of Things. Lauded as a gigantic engine of economic growth, the Internet of Things will not only connect people through their smartphones and computers but will also connect those devices to a customer’s vehicles and appliances, even their baby’s nappies – all at speeds much faster than can currently be achieved.

There is a catch, though: the Internet of Things will require augmenting today’s 4G technology with 5G technology, thus “massively increasing” the general population’s exposure to radiation, according to a petition signed by 236 scientists worldwide who have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies and represent “a significant portion of the credentialled scientists in the radiation research field”, according to Joel Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped circulate the petition. Nevertheless, like mobiles, 5G technology is on the verge of being introduced without pre-market safety testing. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones”.

Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

*

1 Opening lyrics to the Pink Floyd track Welcome to the Machine written by Roger Waters from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

2 Quote taken from Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 4, by Aldous Huxley.

3 From Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, reprinted by Greenwood Press, December 20, 1982., p. 9.  You can find it quoted in a review of the book by Stephen McGlinchey, published by e-International Relations on July 22, 2011. http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

4 From an article entitled “With Toronto, Alphabet looks to revolutionize city-building” written by Shane Dingnam, published in The Globe and Mail on October 17, 2017. https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/with-toronto-alphabet-looks-to-revolutionize-city-building/article36634779/ 

5

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure.

Taken from a rather favourable review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

6 Quotes from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

7

Incidentally, the names of Bilderberg attendees I have picked out above were all drawn from what is only a partial and a highly abbreviated list provided by wikipedia. A list that surprisingly fails to record even the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, and another serial warmonger I have featured many times before on this blog. The funny thing is that although Brzezinski’s name is missing from the main list, it is nevertheless registered in one of the many footnotes. A footnote (currently number 83) which reads:

“Western Issues Aired”. The Washington Post. 24 April 1978. “The three-day 26th Bilderberg Meeting concluded at a secluded cluster of shingled buildings in what was once a farmer’s field. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, Swedish Prime Minister  Thorbjorrn Falldin, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and NATO Commander Alexander M. Haig Jr. were among 104 North American and European leaders at the conference.”

Alternatively, and if you decide to visit the main wikipedia entry for Zbigniew Brzezinski you’ll see there is a direct link back to Bilderberg. The same goes for Donald Rumsfeld and also Paul Wolfowitz, who though missing from the main list of attendees is actually described on his own page as a former steering committee member of the Bilderberg group. But then the main wikipedia entry for Bill Clinton fails to record his ties to the group and the same goes for Margaret Thatcher – both invited to Bilderberg gatherings prior to becoming national leaders.

8 From an article entitled “Silicon Valley in Switzerland: Bilderberg 2019 and the High-Tech Future of Transatlantic Power” written by Charlie Skelton published in Newsweek on June 1, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/silicon-valley-switzerland-bilderberg-2019-and-high-tech-future-transatlantic-1441259

9 From an article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it” written by Jathan Sadowski, published in the Guardian on October 24, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/24/google-alphabet-sidewalk-labs-toronto

10 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” written by Spencer Ackerman, published in Wired magazine in March 2012. https://www.wired.com/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

11 From the transcript of Episode 358 – The 5G Dragnet of the Corbett Report broadcast on June 21, 2019. https://www.corbettreport.com/5g/

12 Which goes as follows: A makes a particular claim, and then B, which is currently viewed negatively by the recipient, makes the same claim as A, causing A to be viewed by the recipient of the claim as negatively associated with B.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy#Guilt_by_association_as_an_ad_hominem_fallacy

13

France has banned wifi from nursery schools (the younger the child, the greater the danger), and restricted its use in teaching children up to the age of 11.

It has also banned mobile phones from all schools, partly because they are socially disruptive. But the country’s official Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety has recommended that tablets and other wifi devices should be regulated as phones are.

Cyprus has also banned wifi from kindergartens, and only permits it in the staff offices of junior schools for administration purposes. Israel also prohibits it in pre-schools and kindergartens, and allows it only to be gradually introduced in class as children get older. The Israeli city of Haifa has hardwired its school system so children can used computers that don’t need wifi to connect to the internet.

Frankfurt, meanwhile, hardwired 80 per cent of all its schools more than a decade ago, while the school authorities in Salzburg, Austria, wrote to headteachers officially advising them not to use wifi as long ago as 2005.

Ghent in Belgium has banned wifi in pre-schools and daycare centres, while individual local authorities in Spain and Italy have removed it from all their schools. Even faraway French Polynesia has prohibited it in nursery schools and limits it in primary ones. And so the list goes on.

From an article entitled “As more countries ban iPads and mobile phones from the classroom, could wifi be giving our children cancer?” written by Geoffrey Lean , published in The Daily Mail on June 21, 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5872001/Could-wifi-giving-children-cancer.html

14

If you receive texts or calls while the phone is on your body (in a pocket or tucked into the waistband of your pants, or wherever) you are exceeding radiation exposure guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

So, how many of you have seen this warning??? […]

It appears in the ‘fine print’ of the user manual packaged with most cell phones. Is it in yours? It’s important to take the time to look.

Here’s a quote from the website of BlackBerry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM):

If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by RIM when you carry the BlackBerry device, keep the device at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”

Translated this means: You’re NEVER supposed to hold the BlackBerry Pearl (and possibly other BlackBerry devices) closer than 1 inch from your body when it’s turned on!

https://www.consumers4safephones.com/check-your-cell-phone-see-if-you-can-find-the-warning-label/

15 From an article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones” written by Mark Hertsgaard & Mark Dowie, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/14/mobile-phones-cancer-inconvenient-truths

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Canada, Charlie Skelton, mass surveillance

Covid-19 vs. freedom and democracy: let us not sacrifice one to defeat the other

A primer: ‘The clairvoyant ruling class’

“The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.”

— John Steppling, Author, Playwright

“This report is crucial reading for anyone interested in creatively considering the multiple, divergent ways in which our world could evolve.”

— Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

*

Scenario planning for corporate strategy was pioneered by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s. [Further reading on scenario planning: The Art of the Long View] The following excerpts are highlights from the May 2010 “Scenarios for the Future of Technology & International Development” report produced by The Rockefeller Foundation & Global Business Network.

Please note: The excerpts below are from the “Lock Step” scenario, but excerpts from all four scenarios are available in the original article published by Wrong Kind of Green.

“In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain — originating from wild geese — was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults. The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.” […]

“The pandemic blanketed the planet — though disproportionate numbers died in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where the virus spread like wildfire in the absence of official containment protocols. But even in developed countries, containment was a challenge. The United States’s initial policy of “strongly discouraging” citizens from flying proved deadly in its leniency, accelerating the spread of the virus not just within the U.S. but across borders. However, a few countries did fare better — China in particular. The Chinese government’s quick imposition and enforcement of mandatory quarantine for all citizens, as well as its instant and near-hermetic sealing off of all borders, saved millions of lives, stopping the spread of the virus far earlier than in other countries and enabling a swifter postpandemic recovery. [p 18]

“China’s government was not the only one that took extreme measures to protect its citizens from risk and exposure.  During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified. In order to protect themselves from the spread of increasingly global problems — from pandemics and transnational terrorism to environmental crises and rising poverty — leaders around the world took a firmer grip on power.” […]

“At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty — and their privacy — to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests. In many developed countries, enforced cooperation with a suite of new regulations and agreements slowly but steadily restored both order and, importantly, economic growth.” [p 19]

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Clairvoyant Ruling Class” published by Wrong Kind of Green.

*

Fighting the invisible enemy today

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin 1

In the fight against Covid-19, the government of South Korea has arguably shown a way for other democracies to follow. First and foremost it established a comprehensive system of testing to confirm positive cases. This was backed up by contact tracing, targeted isolation and quarantine. Imposing sensible restrictions on travel also helped to slow and limit the spread of the outbreak. By acting promptly and enacting the precise measures called for by the scientists at the World Health Organisation, the Koreans managed to swiftly and effectively control the spread of Covid-19 infection and thereby averted a developing crisis.

One criticism of the South Korean approach surrounds its intrusive use of mobile phone technology to track movement and contacts. Though understandable perhaps (given cultural differences), such an infringement of privacy was non-essential, and there is really no need or justification whatsoever for western democracies to follow a similar course. That GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in America are already able to access and record private digital information including personal communications, metadata and location is actually an open secret. Of course, the opportunity now presents itself for such covert practices to be rolled out very publicly and given full legal sanction; moves that ought to be opposed. In other regards, however, the Korean model is surely exemplary.

The graph below is a snapshot of an interactive chart that you can access here.

Snapshot taken on March 28th

In stark contrast to Korean efficiency that halted the spread of infection, government responses across the western world have been comparatively slow to act, muddled, and in some respects negligent. The unfolding situation in Italy tragically illustrates a clear lack of preparedness on the part of the authorities there, where in spite of several weeks advantage over the Koreans, an initially lax approach allowed community-spread of the infection. It was not until a full-blown public health crisis emerged that increasingly draconian and sometimes overnight emergency measures were put in place.

On this Sky News report from March 11th, which was recorded prior to the full lockdown, many Italians were already asking why so little, so late:

Virtually all other European countries have failed to learn the lessons from Italy.

A fortnight later on March 27th, Sky News reported from Spain, where once again action to prevent and slow the spread of the virus came too late:

In France and Britain, where the clampdown has been more gradual and less severe up to now, the implementation of restrictions has been similarly confused and inexplicably overdue. Who knows how many more people became infected in the days and weeks leading up to the eventual (and inevitable) closure of sporting events, entertainment venues, gyms and pubs, let alone during the time lost as schools, offices and building sites continued to operate; the government’s preference for business as usual.

On the other hand, the overreach shown by North Derbyshire police who decided to fly their drones over The Peak District last week in order to shame anyone out walking the dog or just taking a quiet stroll was not just unwarranted, but entirely counterproductive. In a time of national crisis, you have to ask why our news media chose to broadcast this footage and reinforce such a stark police state message:

The situation facing America is set to be worse, with its lack of social safety nets and a system of healthcare provision that makes it a privilege millions simply cannot afford. Compounding these problems, the response so far has been more complacent and shambolic than our own governments in Europe; Trump theatrical as ever, recently telling everyone that it’ll all be over by Easter. Meanwhile, after weeks of non-intervention and exponential rates of infection (a terrible spike in numbers in New York especially) with other states like Florida taking no actions at all to check the spread of disease, one indication of the growing desperation is the panic-buying not just of toilet rolls, but of firearms.

On March 26th, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed New York City emergency room doctor Craig Spencer, a survivor of Ebola, which he contracted while fighting its outbreak in Africa. He says: “I think, in a week, we will be Italy. At least here in New York City, we’re already seeing that” [at 15:30 mins]:

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, dramatic moves are now being taken to tackle the pandemic, including ones that will sideline constitutional rights altogether. Indeed, there are clear parallels with actions taken during immediate aftermath of 9/11, its shadow lengthened by the coincidentally mysterious anthrax attacks, which enabled then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to fast-track the Patriot Acts. Likewise, today’s Justice Department is in the process of launching a raft of new legislation that further undermines civil liberties and chips away at fundamental human rights:

Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions. […]

In one of the documents, the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,” according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. […]

The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.

“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.” 2

Click here to read the full article published by Politico.

In an article published by Mint Press News a few days later, Whitney Webb picked up where Politico left off, highlighting plans for ‘Continuity of Government’ (COG) and the use of a controversial database known simply as ‘Main Core’ that lists American dissidents and “potential troublemakers”:

Though Main Core was reportedly in use after September 11 to target “unfriendly” individuals for increased domestic surveillance, concern that COG plans in the age of coronavirus could take a more drastic turn and involve the detention of Americans included in that database now seems more plausible than ever. On Saturday, Politico reported that the Department of Justice has demanded new “emergency powers” during the current pandemic and these powers include being able to indefinitely detain Americans without trial. Politico also noted that the DOJ’s controversial new requests “span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.” Per the DOJ’s requests, indefinite detention would emerge through a new ability whereby the Attorney General or a judge could pause court proceedings whenever courts are “fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

What Politico did not include in its report is that current Attorney General William Barr has spent the past several months fine-tuning and implementing a “pre-crime” program. Officially known as the “National Disruption and Early Engagement Program” (DEEP), it aims to “identify, assess and engage” potentially violent individuals “before they strike.” Barr first announced this program last October in an official memorandum and therein stated that the program was to be implemented sometime over the course of 2020 and would involve “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.”

Whitney Webb continues:

In his memorandum, Barr further notes that the program’s “early engagement tactics” were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats” following the September 11 attacks, essentially stating that this pre-crime program will utilize methods from the “War on Terror” domestically and on a massive scale.

Adding:

Furthermore, with the FBI having recently flagged “conspiracy theorists” (and by extension those who distrust or question government narratives of both past and present) as a “domestic terror threat,” the DOJ could even make the case that failure to blindly trust government narratives presents a threat to the public order. Given that the Main Core database in its current form contains bulk surveillance gathered from social media, phone conversations/messaging apps and even financial information (i.e. purchasing history, etc.) on Americans deemed unfriendly “often for the slightest and most trivial reason,” this unprecedented power grab by the DOJ has an authoritarian and Orwellian potential to target legitimate dissent like never before. 3

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’”.

Moreover, under the pretext of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Washington recently extended FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), and specifically the three Patriot Act provisions:

With the nation’s attention fixed on the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to extend FBI surveillance powers that were set to expire on March 15.

The bill, formally titled the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, cleared the House by a vote of 278 to 136, with 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting yes. View the full roll call here.

The legislation, strongly opposed by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, is the product of bipartisan negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.).

Attorney General William Barr voiced his support for the measure in a statement on Wednesday.

If passed by the Senate, advocacy group Free Press warned, legislation would “reauthorize abusive government surveillance powers.”

“The bill would reauthorize Section 215 powers Congress established under the USA Patriot Act in 2001,” Free Press noted. “Section 215 is the provision national security agencies cited in the past to support their unwarranted collection of phone records of hundreds of millions of people in the United States.” 4

Click here to read the full report published by Common Dreams.

There has been a terrible recent history when it comes to the emergency management of disasters in America. These legislative preparations and the tightening of lockdowns to tackle coronavirus recall not only the power grab after 9/11 but also, and just as alarmingly, the institution of de facto martial law when New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans poet Shelton Alexander to evacuate his home, he took his truck and video camera to the Superdome. He escaped the chaotic shelter a few days later with a truckload of people and video documentation of history:

It is rather too easy to take our rights and democratically enshrined freedoms for granted, when in fact these are constantly under attack. And during times of crisis, when an opportunistic executive is able to avoid scrutiny, when lawmakers can retreat into the shadows to begin reshaping long-held constitutional rights, democracy is especially vulnerable. In abandoning its democracy principles, all in the name of protecting its citizens from this new invisible enemy, America seems to be trailing the way as it did after 9/11 (Israel too – see the video below), and the rest of the world would do well to pay attention.

On March 25th, Greg Wilpert, host of ‘The Real News Network’, spoke with Antony Loewenstein, author of ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe’, about how the Israeli government’s state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic is being used to shut down political debate and the right to protest:

*

Update: New coronavirus law ‘bestows unlimited powers’ on Orbán government

On the same day I posted this article [March 30th] Amnesty International issued the following press release:

Following a decision by the Hungarian parliament to pass a new law that will allow the Government to rule by decree – without a clear end date or periodic reviews – under an extended state of emergency, David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, said:

“This bill creates an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency, and gives Viktor Orbán and his Government carte blanche to restrict human rights.

“This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need strong safeguards to ensure that any measures to restrict human rights adopted under the state of emergency are strictly necessary and proportional in order to protect public health. This new law bestows unlimited powers to the government to rule by decree beyond the pandemic.

“During his years as Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán has overseen a rollback of human rights in Hungary, stoking up hostility towards marginalised groups and attempting to muzzle Hungary’s critical voices. Allowing his government to rule by decree is likely to speed up this rollback.”

Rule by decree

The new law will allow Hungary’s Government to rule by decree without a sunset clause or any other provision that would guarantee parliament can exercise proper oversight. It also creates two new crimes which would mean that anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful protection” of the public, or that “alarm or agitate” the public, could be punished by up to five years in prison. Anyone who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order could also face a prison sentence of up to five years, a punishment that increases to eight years if anyone dies as a result.

Amnesty is warning that these measures are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. Plans for the new law were criticised last week by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the International Press Institute, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Click here to read the same press release on the Amnesty International website.

*

1 Quote originally used by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (November 11, 1755).

2 From an article entitled “DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic” written by Betsy Woodruff Swan, published in Politico on March 21, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/21/doj-coronavirus-emergency-powers-140023

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 23, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/coronavirus-what-newsweek-failed-mention-continuity-government/265954/ 

4 From an article entitled “152 House Democrats Join GOP to Reuathorize ‘Abusive Government Surveillence Powers’” written by Jake Johnson, published by Common Dreams on March 12, 2020. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/12/152-house-democrats-join-gop-reauthorize-abusive-government-surveillance-powers

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Europe, Hungary, Israel, Korea (North and South), mass surveillance, police state, USA

play up! play up! and don’t play the game!

It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel. A meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.1

I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.

Driving down in our van together we were missing the coverage of Snowden’s document release but then again we already knew all the most important details of the supposedly breaking story. That we are all now living under constant internet and telephone surveillance being old news to any who have cared to search within the margins or else entirely beyond the mainstream news. Since if you are familiar with the names of William Binney or Tom Drake, to name but two former NSA whistleblowers who have both featured in earlier posts, then Snowden’s document dump comes mainly as confirmation of prior knowledge. Details added, yes, but nothing substantially new or remotely surprising.

As we approached the M25 we had entered a twenty mile section of the M1 with CCTV cameras (unless we were both mistaken) fitted every hundred yards along the hard shoulder and funneling our way ahead to London. Having not driven along this newly refurbished stretch of the M1, I felt a growing unease at this additional and less anticipated evidence of where our society is so obviously heading, thoughts which were also combined with something more primal: a loathing of being so tightly boxed in. My friend said he felt similarly unnerved. The claustrophobia of high surveillance was creeping both of us out.

At Junction 8 we turned off and from there onwards followed the softly spoken instructions of our satnav. As patient as she was mellifluous, surely ‘Emily’, the satnav babe, was on our side, but hang on, what’s this…?

A secret ‘Big Brother’ operation is allowing officials to pinpoint the exact location of thousands of vehicles with satellite navigation systems.

The controversial scheme is built into the small print of a contract between the Department for Transport and the satnav company Trafficmaster.

Currently the ‘spy in the sky’ system is limited to some 50,000 drivers who have Trafficmaster’s Smartnav system.2

And that story was released back in 2007 so god knows what Emily gets up to these days… the flirty little snitch! Still, at least she knew the whereabouts of where we were heading, reliably delivering us to the entrance of the Bilderberg Fringe designated campsite where we were soon spotted by a warden who politely but promptly informed us that we were actually the wrong side of the hundred acres of scout parkland. In view of the latest child protection laws, the protesters, he informed us, were being located well away from the scouts and with access guarded by a couple of police vans on 24-hour patrol outside the gates just in case.

So we turned the van around and, without Emily to guide us now, aimed a little across country, down some forest tracks, and eventually coming to the proper site. It was dusk and we were soon parked up in a beautiful corner of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside, brewing up some teas and pulling out the camping chairs to idle the rest of the evening beside the white blossoms of the hawthorns and the brighter flush of ox-eye daisies. A lovely spot for camping, quiet and secluded, and also close enough to the main field to mingle with other campers who as darkness fell had put together a makeshift bonfire from pallets and entertained themselves with beers and music. It was odd to think that this accidental mix of people had all come along with the same singular intent. There to vent a little of our collective spleen directly towards the secretive banker-CEO-politico hobnobbing which was already well underway but happening five miles away inside the plush Grove hotel.

In many ways it was turning into a rather beautiful weekend. Beautiful weather, beautiful location and the following day, a beautiful gathering of common humanity hollering our peaceful but intransigent dissent across the lines of G4S security guards and towards the high security steel perimeter that surrounded the hotel half a mile away in the distance. Did the Bilderberg delegates hear our cries from our small but thronging paddock of free speech? I think they most probably did. Were they remotely listening to what any one of us had to say? Of course not – what do you think this is… a democracy or something?

In truth I’ve been struggling to decide what to write about the Bilderberg protests ever since I returned. The media, of course, knew exactly where to point its cameras. Alex Jones was bound to provide them with a story and offer a further distraction to the main event. Duly he obliged, goaded into action by the smug Andrew Neil and his supercilious sidekick David Aaronvitch (who ironically enough was once awarded the Orwell Prize – how Orwell must be turning in his grave). His latest rant going viral once again and thus overshadowing the more considered position of Tony Gosling who had sparred with Neil on the same subject only a few days earlier:

But then, Neil and Jones weren’t the only ones playing games over the Bilderberg weekend. For instance, the police liaison officers convivial mingling with the crowds was another little game with different rules. Likewise, the men in sharp suits who were milling around the gates of the Grove before drifting across to be matey with those of us enclosed within our little pen were part of yet another form of the same game. In response to all this or else for more provocative reasons, some of the protesters were playing parallel games of their own. Making entertaining announcements over their personal megaphones or more simply befriending those who helped to keep us under restraint.

And perhaps the one time the protesters really got the upper hand in these ongoing games was when two small children breached the security cordon and briefly ran amok. The G4S guards were clearly flustered and at a total loss to know what to do. Sure the meeting was taking place half a mile away across a canal with only one small bridge crossing and firmly sealed behind the newly installed and heavily patrolled perimeter fence high on the hill in the distance, but just what might have happened if these children had been permitted to run loose… might others have been inspired to boldly follow their lead?

Maybe if we sent all the kids out ahead, perhaps followed soon after by the pensioners and the disabled, then such a diversionary tactic might just be enough to keep the troops of security guards and mounted police sufficiently preoccupied for the rest of us to make a proper assault on the castle walls! I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in thinking such subversive thoughts… although these were just games of a purely imaginative kind. The single person who did in fact embark upon such daring act of civil disobedience having already been promptly captured; foiled within seconds by the lines of blue. She hadn’t stood an earthly. So why then had we all been submitted to airport-style security checks before being allowed entry into the paddock? Well, it was just another part of the games being played, as was the enormous police presence that accompanied some of the protesters, keeping an eye on their later pub rendezvous many miles away in a different village. Being followed hither and thither by security vans was all part of the festival, and of course we all enjoyed the romp no end.

Which basically sums up the lasting lesson of Bilderberg 2013 for me at least; that all of the many impositions and cruelties inflicted upon the downtrodden populations of this world by a small but dominant gang of well established oligarchs can actually be maintained only by virtue of such tacitly accepted games – games being so absolutely vital for ensuring that the world goes on working in the unjust way it does, with tyranny being so much more effectively instilled and ensured through disingenuous smiles and knowing winks than by any amount of armed security guards and steel fences. The fences and the guns being reserved for emergencies only and if the herd should ever get too out of control.

“One pro-transparency campaigner has had enough” wrote Charlie Skelton in his final Bilderblog for this year’s event, continuing with a quote:

“For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account.”

Who might that have been, you may wonder. Perhaps Michael Meacher, who was the only parliamentarian with the gumption to directly address the protesters gathered at the gates of the Grove. Well, no actually…

This particular critic of closed-doors government is a certain David Cameron, speaking shortly after taking office. “This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture,” he said, “and it’s called transparency.”

And Cameron wasn’t alone in his humbug:

Cameron wasn’t the only one swinging the wrecking-ball of transparency inside this year’s Bilderberg. He was joined on the end of the chain by Jessica Mathews, who sits on the advisory council of Transparency International, and James Wolfensohn, who’s on the advisory council of Transparency International USA. Together, I’m sure, they were lobbying hard to open up this last bastion of murky politicking to the sunlight. If they could find the time between seminars.3

Click here to read more of Charlie Skelton’s summary of this year’s Bilderberg.

When I got home to Sheffield I had some explaining to do. Principally I needed to account for why it was I’d let myself get so sunburnt during the weekend. Now the strict answer was that due to the security checks and the long tailback that had resulted (many of the protesters, we understood, having been turned away at the entrance) I hadn’t been able to return from the paddock to pick up the sunscreen we’d rather foolishly left behind in our van. Not a terribly romantic answer and so I improvised. “A battle scar,” I told my nephews and niece when they asked me later, “received at the cost of fighting against the Bilderbergers.”

“Why are you fighting the Build-A-Bears?” my niece objected. “I love the Build-A-Bears” she added. “Not Build-A-Bears,” I explained, “but Bilderbergers…”

“What do they make?” she asked me. What do the make…? I hesitated. How could I explain to an eight year-old what the Bilderbergers make? “War,” I said bluntly after a pause. With both General Petraeus and Kissinger in attendance it seemed like a fair if simplified version of the truth.

Meanwhile Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, has been involved in quite a caper of his own, leading the American government a merry dance in an almost nostalgic game of Cold War cat and mouse. Landing first in Hong Kong and then taking a flight on to Moscow, the news media is now altogether consumed with speculation about when and where he’ll most likely turn up next, whereas some others, perhaps most notably Naomi Wolf, are also questioning Snowden’s motivations. Is he really who he purports to be?, asks Wolf, with the unstated implication being that his adventures might in some way be part of a “limited hangout” operation; a convenient way to leak out minimal information primarily to the advantage of the spy agencies involved. As a further response, some are already asking who Naomi Wolf really is… here for example is Dave Lindorff offering a counter-offensive in last week’s Counterpunch.

In my opinion questioning the motivation of both parties is perfectly legitimate, since after all I cannot vouch for either Wolf or Snowden, having absolutely no personal association with either one. Wolf’s speculations may indeed be wild and self-promoting, as Lindorff asserts, yet the fuller verdict on Snowden surely remains unclear. For though his release of the Prism documents was undoubtedly in the public interest, and for that reason alone he ought to be protected from any subsequent prosecution, yet as I pointed out above, the evidence he presents adds surprisingly little to what we already knew or might easily have presumed.

What Snowden unquestionably has achieved, however, is to put the matter of public surveillance under the mainstream spotlight. Yet does this alone automatically affirm him as our new hero for freedom and democracy? For there might indeed be, as Wolf tentatively points out, a more hidden agenda going on behind the scenes, and whether or not Snowden is a man of integrity, he may still be an unwitting dupe. This leak, which serves to apply extra pressure to Obama, might, for instance, help with forcing the beleaguered President’s hand in other areas. It could be that by such means, Obama may now be further pressured into engaging in all-out war on Syria – one conflict that Obama has so far managed to steer clear of. Snowden’s leak becoming the straw that finally broke the camel’s back…

That said, charging Snowden under the Espionage Act strikes another fierce blow against freedom of speech, issuing a chill warning to other potential whistleblowers who may contemplate speaking out in the public interest, and thereby further trampling on the tattered remains of the American constitution. It is right therefore that those who stand for freedom ought to back Snowden’s actions and demand that he is pardoned of any crime, but it is also wise to be cautious of all those who cross from behind enemy lines. So let’s also remind ourselves that Snowden worked for the NSA and though we may like to believe that a leopard can change its spots, the associated proverb helpfully cautions us not to wish to be deceived…

The truth is the truth and yet the truth gets harder and harder to find. Take Bilderberg again, which commentators like Andrew Neil assure us is just a private club, and nothing to bother our silly little heads about. Ken Clarke, answering questions in the House of Commons (see below), playing a similar gambit. But then why the cover up for so long, we may legitimately ask, and why does the BBC even now continue to stick with the party line (of “nothing to see here”) rather than asking the tougher questions directly of the Bilderbergers themselves?

As a consequence, when we desire to uncover any meaningful facts about Bilderberg (starting with its actual existence) we are instead forced to turn to the alternative media, and the same goes for most other pressing issues including, to stick with the pertinent illustration, the rise of the surveillance state. The BBC reporting next to nothing when William Binney and Tom Drake were spilling the beans about the NSA, but some years later totally seduced by the story of Edward Snowden. The best we can say is that this is too little too late: closing the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.

And the emphasis is also shifted. Stories not to reveal more about Bilderberg or to challenge NSA and GCHQ surveillance, but instead about what Alex Jones believes about Bilderberg or intrigue surrounding the continuing flight of Edward Snowden. The news becoming the metanews and the important message being lost in all the hubbub. In such a fashion we are cajoled into accepting the unacceptable. These kinds of reporting of the news helping to get us more accustomed to the idea of clandestine political gatherings and of the secret services spying into every area of our personal lives. The media playing their own considerable part in the very same game… tricking us into masking our fears with our own false grins as we laugh along with the lies and feign delight in our own deception.

*

Update:

An article published in last Wednesday’s Washington Post [June 26th] offers further reasons to be cautious when it comes to Ed Snowden’s motivations. Entitled “Four years ago, Ed Snowden thought leakers should be ‘shot’”, it begins as follows:

Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.

“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat.

Click here to read the full article by Timothy B. Lee.

*

Additional:

Here is the best video compilation of the Bilderberg Fringe event I have found uploaded:

1 From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

2 From an article entitled “Big Brother is keeping tabs on satnav motorists” published by the Daily Mail on September 25, 2007. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-483682/Big-Brother-keeping-tabs-satnav-motorists.html

3 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2013: The sun sets on Watford” written by Charlie Skelton and published by the Guardian on June 11, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/11/bilderberg-davidcameron

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Charlie Skelton, internet freedom, mass surveillance

look who’s coming into the cross-hairs next…

I’ve now been writing this blog for just about two years, and this will be my 200th post. Being something of an anniversary then, I’ve been wondering how to mark the occasion. How about some kind of a retrospective, for instance… reviewing my earlier reports on the decline of the world’s economy as an inevitable consequence of systemic fraud and failure; or the rise of the surveillance state with the introduction of fingerprinting of kids in Britain and of drones over America; or the serious environmental threat from nuclear power and fracking (this ultra-destructive ‘technology’ coming to Britain almost immediately after I first heard and wrote about it!); mixed in perhaps with another reminder of how the neo-imperialist wars of the twenty-first century are being expanded into Africa and why the civil war in Syria is really just a proxy war with the al-Qaeda-led rebel forces being covertly supported by their own sworn enemy, America. (To read posts on any of the above just follow the relevant links from the main menu or use the search tool.)

However, to do justice to such a monumental post would possibly have taken a month or more. All the troubles I have written about, and sadly with very few exceptions, worsening during the past two years; our descent into chaos and tyranny happening quicker now than before I began.

More wars; more environmental devastation in the name of environmental protection; greater infringement of our civil liberties and human rights; and an economy that is teetering on the very edge of total collapse. Indeed, the economic situation is now so bad that on BBC2’s Newsnight a few nights ago [Tuesday 19th], Jeremy Paxman was reduced to interrogating an MP from Cyprus. And just think about that for a moment, and bear in mind that Cyprus (and I mean no offence to Cypriots when I say this) is an economic gnat. Yet we are seriously contemplating how the effects of a debt problem in Cyprus might undo the entire Eurozone. All of which is actually a measure of how broken the banking system has become.

Yes, the financial system of much of the world (and especially our region of it) is bankrupt, and has been for some time. The reason is the multiple hundreds of trillions of dollars of so-called ‘toxic’ derivatives that have still yet to be deleted. But instead of cancelling the odious debts and prosecuting a corrupt banking establishment, the proposed solution is instead to openly steal money from personal bank accounts in order to keep the Ponzi scheme up and running just a little longer. This brazen theft being described in places like the BBC as “a haircut” or “a tax on savings”. You just can’t make it up any more! And sooner or later, we must expect that all of this will be coming to a bank nearby…

Those who have listened carefully to people really in the know, like former regulator William K Black, are aware not only of the real cause of this crisis (and the resulting depression which the mainstream media have also helped to play down) but also precisely who is really to blame – and let’s name names here: hands up Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch! The three credit rating agencies who gave triple-A’s to toxic trash on the basis of mere opinion and yet continue to downgrade the credit worthiness of nation states in a deepening crisis which they were instrumental in starting… you really can’t make this up! And hands up Goldman Sachs, J.P Morgan, Citibank, Barclays, HSBC, and all the cronies in government, at the ECB, the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, and not forgetting the FSA and other supposed “regulatory agencies”. Agencies working for whom and to what ends, we may all reasonably demand.

It is the greed, incompetence and malfeasance across the whole of the financial sector that has brought us to this brink. It was never the fault of “the lazy Greeks” and it’s not the fault of pesky Cypriots either, but the mainstream media still hesitates at telling the people the truth – and why? Just how deep does the cronyism run…?

I hate to say this but quite frankly our world, by which I mean our civilisation, is going to hell in a handbasket. Because just as our economies collapse, and the social structures we rely upon follow, at very same time the controls on us are being tightened one notch at a time, and at an accelerating rate. This is another big theme I have returned to time and again. How in America there was Obama’s introduction of the NDAA “indefinite detention act”, and how in Britain we look set to get our own secret trials too. How in America (and most probably in Britain, although here the available evidence is less certain) there is already universal surveillance of internet activity and soon (certainly if Obama gets his way) of bank accounts too.1

These are the considered thoughts of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger, writing almost a year ago an article on his own website entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?”:

You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished. Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center may monitor whether you are typing not merely “al-Qaeda”, but “exercise”, “drill”, “wave”, “initiative” and “organisation”: all proscribed words. The British government’s announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years. What has changed is that a state of permanent war has been launched by the United States and a police state is consuming western democracy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Britain, on instructions from the CIA, secret courts are to deal with “terror suspects”. Habeas Corpus is dying. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five men, including three British citizens, can be extradited to the US even though none except one has been charged with a crime. All have been imprisoned for years under the 2003 US/UK Extradition Treaty which was signed one month after the criminal invasion of Iraq. The European Court had condemned the treaty as likely to lead to “cruel and unusual punishment”. One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was awarded 63,000 pounds compensation for 73 recorded injuries he sustained in the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Sexual abuse, the signature of fascism, was high on the list. Another man is a schizophrenic who has suffered a complete mental collapse and is in Broadmoor secure hospital; another is a suicide risk. To the Land of the Free, they go – along with young Richard O’Dwyer, who faces 10 years in shackles and an orange jump suit because he allegedly infringed US copyright on the internet. 2

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Meanwhile, of course, the neo-imperialist adventuring remains not only unchecked, but is actually gathering momentum. The war racket pressing full-steam ahead and flattening all before it. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have money to fix our broken hospitals, or to build houses and renew infrastructure, or that in America there are fifty million people already on food stamps – and if you picture those people in sepia forming a queue then you’ll see how this depression has already reached 1930s levels. But in spite of these hardships at home, no amount of money is ever spared when it comes the next country on our checklist for “humanitarian intervention” – and more thoughts on this in my next post.

So these days I am finding every post I write is harder than the last. How many ways are there to say that nuclear power and fracking are a menace not only to human beings but to most other life on the planet (cockroaches aside perhaps)? How many times do you need to say that “austerity measures” are not merely ideological in design but that they serve no useful purpose other than to wreck economies (as the IMF and World Bank have done in so many other countries across the globe) whilst redistributing wealth from the relatively poor to the mega-rich? How many times does it need pointing out that America is backing al-Qaeda when it suits their ends? – when, after all, al-Qaeda owes its origins to Zbigniew Brzezinski and the CIA and their dirty campaign to overthrow the Soviets in Afghanistan. So it is genuinely painful to have to repeat these things, and totally depressing to be shown to be right – that our collective future really is becoming so absolutely bleak, and unremittingly brutalised. Sooner rather than later, I want to be proved wrong – this hope is the only thing that actually keeps me writing this damned blog.

Now if any of the above sounds to you like craziness, then let me confirm that on one level it really is, though the craziness is not mine. For, in a sense, this is simply the way things have always worked: policies of expedience, of realpolitik. It is how ruling elites prefer to govern the masses, and all that stuff and nonsense about “freedom and democracy” and “saving the planet” is for the proles and “the gentlemen” (as neo-con political philosopher Leo Strauss called them) – those in the higher-up echelons who truly believe in the goodness of the system, but whose real job is to protect the interests of the powers that be. But the difference now is that the ruling elites are ready to assume a more complete dominion over all of their underlings. And it will be achieved by a scientifically-driven programme of social engineering that is already well underway: bringing us into the scientific dictatorship that globalist bigwig Zbigniew Brzezinski famously called “the Technetronic Era”:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” [..]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 3

Do Brzezinski’s words represent a warning or a blueprint… this ambiguity remains only because Brzezinski quite deliberately never makes his position clear:

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure. 4

The quote above is taken from a rather favourable review of Brzezinski’s book written by Stephen McGlinchey in 2011. The book itself has been out of print for three decades.

There is plenty of speculation about Brzezinski’s real intent when he wrote the book, but does this even matter – especially as we have good reasons to be suspicious given his record in other more tangible ways – the more important point is that the direction he outlines is evidently the direction our world has taken. And I would like to think that my own ant-sized efforts to halt the progress of this imposed revolution, alongside the efforts of countless other out-spoken ants, all trying so hard to speak up with truth to power is having some effect. That we may be small and struggling to be heard above the largely controlled, mainstream din, with tiny readerships and such small spheres of influence, but that our combining ripples are building in amplitude and spreading wider…. And then I read an article and I think that yes indeed, tiny as we are, we really must be having some effect, because it seems that the government is suddenly intent on shutting voices like mine down altogether.

Never letting any good crisis go to waste, the government it seems has twisted the whole Leveson Inquiry around to its own advantage – in a fashion reminiscent of what happened with the Hutton Inquiry (from which, of course, the BBC has never properly recovered). The Leveson Inquiry, we should remember, was set up to deal with crimes, and specifically the crime of phone hacking, perpetrated by media giants (most prominently Rupert Murdoch’s News International), and to also look into the role played by the London Metropolitan Police, yet in consequence, the results of that inquiry look likely to close down parts of the alternative media instead. Here’s an extract from Tuesday’s Guardian:

Bloggers could face high fines for libel under the new Leveson deal with exemplary damages imposed if they don’t sign up to the new regulator, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Under clause 29 introduced to the crime and courts bill in the Commons on Monday night, the definition of “relevant” bloggers or websites includes any that generate news material where there is an editorial structure giving someone control over publication. […]

Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for press freedom around the world, said it was a “sad day” for British democracy. “This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use,” she said.

She said she feared thousands of websites could fall under the definition of a “relevant publisher” in clause 29.

Hughes said: “Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

My belief has always been (and remains) that the best way to lose your freedom of speech is by refusing to use it, and so this ludicrous regulatory overreach is more reason to keep offering some small alternative to the mainstream behemoths. And rest assured that I certainly won’t be signing up to any regulatory body.

Finally then, and if the authorities ever do decide to go after me for daring to disagree with mainstream authority, then I ask in advance for your support – why? Because I’m the little guy, the ant, the gnat, the gadfly. The main difference between you and I, in this respect, is merely that I have perhaps put my head a little higher above the parapet. So once I’m firmly in the cross-hairs, assuming this should happen, then you can be absolutely certain it’ll be your turn next, and rather sooner than you might suppose…

1“The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

“The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.”

From an article entitled “Obama Administration Proposing To Let U.S. Spy Agencies Have Access To Massive Financial Database”, written by Emily Flitter, Stella Dawson and Mark Hosenball, (from Reuters) published by Huffingtonpost. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/obama-spy-agencies_n_2868389.html

2 From an article entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?” written by John Pilger and posted on his own website on April 26, 2012. http://johnpilger.com/articles/you-are-all-suspects-now-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it

3 Both quotes taken from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

4 Taken from a review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

5 From an article entitled “Press regulation deal sparks fears of high libel fines for bloggers: Websites could have to pay exemplary damages if they don’t sign up to new regulator, claim opponents of Leveson deal”, written by Lisa O’Carroll, published by the Guardian on March 19, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/mar/19/bloggers-libel-fines-press-regulation

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Britain, Cyprus, financial derivatives, internet freedom, John Pilger, mass surveillance, Syria, USA

Dennis Kucinich says “America needs a period of truth and reconciliation”

Democratic Representative from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich, has been one of the most consistent and outspoken critics of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Now serving what will be his last week as member of Congress, he explained on today’s Democracy Now! why he regards the current debate about a fiscal cliff as political distraction and to a large extent “chimerical”:

We’ve made all the wrong choices. We should be talking about jobs, having more people involved in paying taxes. We should be talking about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. China has gone ahead with high-speed trains and massive investment in their infrastructure. Instead, we’re back to the same old arguments about taxes and spending without really looking at what we’re spending. We just passed the National Defense Authorization Act the other day, another $560 billion just for one year for the war machine. And so, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to cut domestic programs now? Are you kidding me?

Kucinich sees the perpetuation of the US war machine as intricately linked with these latest battles at home over domestic spending. He says:

We really have to decide who we are as a nation. We’re spending more and more money for wars. We’re spending more and more money for interventions abroad. We’re spending more and more money for military buildups. And we seem to be prepared to spend less and less on domestic programs and on job creation. This whole idea of a debt-based economic system is linked to a war machine. And it’s linked to Wall Street’s concerns rather than Main Street’s concerns. We need to shift that.

You know, this whole idea of drone wars being proliferated across the world, without Congress having anything to say about it, without any accountability whatsoever, is against the Constitution of the United States, and it’s against international law. If any other nation sent a drone over the United States, they would have hell to pay, because we’d see it as an act of war. Yet we’re increasingly committing acts of war against other nations—Yemen most recently—and we are—we’re not seeing any accountability at all. And Congress does have a role to play here, both on the budget side and constitutionally. So we’re just trying to get the administration involved in giving information to Congress so we can see the extent of the exposure that the American people have to this proliferation of war.

And as news articles have been written, and Glenn Greenwald wrote about this yesterday, we’re actually strengthening al-Qaeda’s hand with these attacks. We’re making it more difficult to meet the challenge of terrorism by creating more terrorists. I mean, what is this about? We’re increasingly dysfunctional as a nation because of our unwillingness to challenge the military-industrial complex, which Dwight Eisenhower warned about generations ago.

Click here to watch the interview or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In the second part of the interview, Kucinich was asked his views on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the growth of a surveillance society more generally:

Well, what it reflects is a breakdown in trust in this country. The attempt is to give the government even more powers to spy, and that is really being translated into domestic, quote-unquote, “intelligence,” even though it’s called the foreign intelligence bill.

We have to ask questions. You know, why, for example, was—did you have the Occupy Wall Street movement being spied upon? What is this? What’s going on in our country, where we don’t have oversight of the activities of the government when it comes to domestic spying? And what are we doing in America, where the privacy concerns of Americans are swept aside?

We’re entering into a brave new world, which involves not only the government apparatus being able to look in massive databases and extract information to try to profile people who might be considered threats to the prevailing—to the status quo. But we also are looking at drones, which are increasingly miniaturized, that will give the governments, at every level, more of an ability to look into people’s private conduct. This is a nightmare.

A nightmare that Kucinich argues is outside of traditional party politics:

Well, actually, you know, we’ve seen a bridge here created between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of liberty and being free from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Congressman [Ron] Paul and I worked together on many of these issues relating to the government seeking increased powers to surveil the American people. You know, it’s really no longer a Democrat or Republican issue. It goes much deeper than that.

When we find in a post-9/11 America that we are mired in a condition of fear; when we see the massive amounts of spending that’s gone for war and increased military buildups and for expansion of spy agencies like the Domestic Intelligence Agency, which is just adding another 1,600 spies so that the Pentagon can have their own spy agency to compete with, what, the CIA abroad; when you see the interventions that have fallen flat and have been disastrous, such as Libya and Benghazi; when you see al-Qaeda growing in strength because of our own misapplication of force, you have to ask, if this is about Democrat and Republican, this system is failing. And we’re seeing an evidence of it on fiscally, but we’re seeing another evidence of it in foreign policy, and we’re seeing an evidence of it domestically, when you can see a surveillance state arising under the noses of both political parties.

Asked to reflect upon “any misgivings about things that you were not able to accomplish, or, in the same way, pride in things that you were able to accomplish” during his own 16 years in the House, here is Kucinich’s reply:

Well, I will say that it’s really unfortunate that the—that the Democratic leadership in the House did not support an impeachment effort to challenge the Bush administration, and Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, on the lies that took us into war in Iraq. That was a pivotal moment for this country. And instead of choosing the Constitution, our leaders chose politics. Bad choice. The fact is that today, after a decade of war, we are looking at an eventual bill for that Iraq war of $5 trillion. We’re looking at perhaps as many as a million innocent civilians perishing—for war that was based on lies. People have to remember this. This isn’t just because it’s, you know, forget about the past. No, you cannot forget about the past. We went to war based on lies.

And so, you know, I did my part, which was to alert the Congress back in October 2002: Look, we’re headed into a war, and there’s no proof that Iraq has anything to do with 9/11 or had weapons of mass destruction; what are we doing here? But we were pulled into that by the Bush administration, driven by neocons and the Project for the New American Century. All of us who were following it know exactly what happened. And, you know, that set the stage for where we are today. We’re at the—you know, if there is such a thing as a fiscal cliff, we’re at the edge of it because of trillions of dollars that will be spent for wars based on lies. And there was never any accountability.

If there’s one thing we have to do, we have—America needs a period of truth and reconciliation, if we’re ever going to get—put the country back together again and achieve a level of national unity that we’re capable of. But right now we’re living on a lie. And the lie is that—that this whole national security infrastructure is necessary and that it’s necessary for us to keep expanding war around the world, it’s necessary for us to have these big spy agencies, which also interact domestically. All of this stuff shouldn’t have happened. And we made the wrong choices. And this is a problem for both political parties to resolve. You can always try to fix things, but you have to look at the severe impact that our inability to act, to challenge the lies that took us into war—you have to look at where it’s left us.

Click here to watch the interview or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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CISPA: the latest attack on freedom in America

A few months ago many were worrying about PIPA and SOPA, two US bills drafted ostensibly to protect intellectual property rights, but blocked thanks to widespread protests including the blackout of many internet sites – most notably wikipedia. Meantime, we have also seen the European Union attempting to ratify the international ‘anti-piracy’ ACTA treaty, this time ignoring not only public opinion, but the advice of two of their own appointed rapporteurs.1 So there has never been such a conspicuous rush by governments to take control of the internet, and to limit the free sharing of information, as we have seen during the last few months.

Combined with this, we also recently learned that the NSA are constructing a massive new centre for the purpose of the interception and storage of all email and other personal data passing through the United States. Finally, we see how this unlawful intrusion on personal privacy is to be legitimised, by, of course, yet another draft of internet regulation: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed yesterday in the House of Representatives:

On a bipartisan vote of 248-168, the Republican-controlled House backed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which would encourage companies and the federal government to share information collected on the internet to prevent electronic attacks from cybercriminals, foreign governments and terrorists.2

Taken from a report in today’s Guardian.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Michelle Richardson has since made the following statement:

“CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”3

The ACLU is also holding out hope that the Obama administration will now veto the bill as it is threatening to do. The Guardian also reports that The House of Representatives “ignored objections from Barack Obama’s administration” by approving the legislation. But now let us rewind just a little. This is taken from another Guardian article published in December last year:

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law [NDAA 2012] that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.4

The same article goes on to say:

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing.

Returning to CISPA, and in contrast to the outcry over SOPA and PIPA, it is interesting to note that all of the major corporations involved with the internet have been supporting the bill. No blackout of wikipedia, or any other major sites. What do these companies have to gain? Here’s Michelle Richardson speaking on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

[And] frankly, they’re going to make out like bandits. Under this bill, if they share our private information, they get complete protection from liability. Consumers will no longer be able to assert their privacy rights that exist under current law and hold them accountable in court. They can’t be prosecuted by the government like they currently can for illegal wiretapping or sharing information. They’re getting FOIA exemptions, so that no one will ever know about these breaches or the things that they share with the government. They’re really walking away here with maximum flexibility to share our personal information with minimum accountability and no enforcement to make sure that they are not oversharing and infringing on our privacy.5

Click here to watch video and read the full transcript of the Democracy Now! interview

Asked what the prospects are of the legislation passing, Richardson replies:

Well, we were very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat yesterday and said, in very clear terms, that they believe that control of the internet needs to remain civilian, and the military shouldn’t be routinely collecting information on innocent people.

Very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat… Why so pleased? Can it be that Richardson and the rest of ACLU are suffering some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten that Obama reneged on his promise not to authorise the NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ act less than four months ago? Are they also oblivious to the fact that the necessary facilities for such widespread domestic surveillance is now being constructed in a heavily fortified centre in Bluffdale, Utah at a cost of $2 billion? So Obama isn’t fighting the same corner. Surely by now that’s obvious, isn’t it?

“But why did he do it?” a friend said to me, soon after Obama had given the go-ahead for indefinite detention without trial. This common response simply reminds me of the question the drowning frog asks the scorpion in the fable.6 The answer being, if you remember, “I couldn’t help it – I’m a scorpion”.

1 Kader Arif resigned in protest on January 26 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

The newly appointed rapporteur, British MEP David Martin, also recommended against the treaty, stating “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.

2 From an article entitled “Cispa cybersecurity bill passed by House of Representatives”, from Associated Press, published in the Guardian on April 27, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/27/cispa-cybersecurity-bill-passed-senate

4 From an article entitled “Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill”, written by Chris McGreal, published in the Guardian on December 15, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/americans-face-guantanamo-detention-obama

6 A frog and a scorpion are trying to cross a river. “Hello Mr. Frog!” says the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog.

Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

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William Binney on the NSA domestic surveillance programme

On Friday [April 20th] Democracy Now! broadcast a special hour-long episode focusing on the growth of domestic surveillance in America. They spoke with National Security Agency whistleblower, William Binney, the key source for James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building a huge spy centre in Bluffdale, Utah. You can read more on this in an earlier post.

Binney served in the NSA for over 30 years working on intelligence gathering systems, but then quit his job on 31st October 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks when, as he puts it “all the wraps came off for NSA” and the agency began its warrantless-wiretapping of citizens. Concerned to draw attention to vast data-mining programmes that he believed could “create an Orwellian state”, and in particular one programme codenamed Stellar Wind, which he had helped to develop, he decided to become a whistleblower. His home was then raided by FBI agents on 26th July 2007, whilst on the same day, the homes of Diane Roark, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis were also subjected to FBI raids, ostensibly to uncover who had leaked information to the New York Times.

According to Binney:

“Well, that was the pretext, the leak on the—to give the New York Times thing. The real thing—what they were really doing was retribution and intimidation so we didn’t go to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and tell them, “Well, here’s what Gonzales didn’t tell you, OK.” That was what it was really all about.”

And what was it that the then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was keeping the lid on?

“Well, it was about—it was about Stellar Wind and all of the domestic spying.”

Binney believes that the intelligence service now hold copies of almost all of the emails passing through the US. Asked if there has been any qualitative change since the Obama administration came in versus what the Bush administration was practicing, Binney says:

Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. […]

[But] The point is, the data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.

In the same roundtable interview, Democracy Now! also spoke with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who explained how she is now repeatedly detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the United States, and to Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who has also faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, wikileaks.

Click here to watch video of the interview and to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

In the second part of the same interview, broadcast on Monday April 23rd, Binney talks about how John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness programme was a way “to test the waters in Congress to see how they would be receptive to something they were already doing”, and gives further details regarding the case made against fellow NSA whistleblower Tom Drake.

He is also asked his thoughts on the approval that has been granted for law enforcement agencies to use surveillance drones inside the United States. Binney says:

Well, that’s simply another step in the assembly of information. This is the visual part of the electronic information they’re collecting about people. So here’s your visual part. I mean, you could collect on phone—the cell phones as you move around, and then you can watch them now with a drone.

On the same broadcast, Jacob Appelbaum explains some of the ways one may now be able to circumvent this tightening state surveillance apparatus, such as setting up email accounts on Riseup rather than gmail or yahoo, and using browsers that can be downloaded free from the torproject. This actually sounds very promising to me, although not being a technical wiz, I confess that as yet I’m still linked up via the usual proprietary software.

I’ll leave final thoughts with Binney again, here speaking about the role of elected representatives, and their responsibility to uphold the rule of law:

Well, yeah, more importantly, it’s a violation of the constitutional rights of every American citizen. And that’s a violation that they took an oath to defend against.

Click here to watch the video and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under drones, mass surveillance, September 11th, USA

welcome to the Panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance

Two centuries ago:

In 1791, the Father of Utilitarianism and ardent social reformer Jeremy Bentham published blueprints for a wholly new design of prisons. Called the Panopticon, from observe (-opticon) all (pan-), the design, which involved a circular annulus of cells surrounding a central lodge, allowed the guards to keep an eye on all of the inmates, and importantly, without them, in turn, being aware of when they were being watched.

Bentham had big plans for his design, suggesting that aspects of the concept might usefully be applied to the construction of hospitals, schools and workhouses.

One century ago:

H.G. Wells was the father of a good many utopias. He spent the greater part of his creative life planning the shape of future societies. One of his most complete visions is laid out in a novel entitled simply A Modern Utopia (and published 1905). The story goes that two travellers walking in the Swiss Alps suddenly discover themselves in a parallel world. A new world that is Earth (at least geographically and biologically speaking) but one where civilisation has been reconstructed on altogether more Wellsian principles.

The inhabitants of this world are guaranteed housing, food and basic essentials. Even the unemployed are provided with a minimum wage, this safety net granted as “workfare” rather than “welfare”, with its recipients being coerced into work for the greater good of the state. In this vision of Wellsian meritocracy, the total measure of individual status depends solely upon earned income: the citizens of the new society regarding being broke as “clear evidence of unworthiness”.

Meanwhile criminal types and drug-users are given very short shrift. Removed from the main body of society and placed on high security prison islands, they are also sexually segregated to ensure that such poor genetic stock can never again pollute the otherwise healthy gene-pool.

Central to this alternative civilisation, the two explorers learn, there is a world-government (Wells never can resist the idea) made possible by a monumental database, with information stored on a card-index system housed in Paris. And Wells says that “Such a record is inevitable if a Modern Utopia is to be achieved.” But of course, what Wells could not foretell was how quickly technology would render the card-index system obsolete and make the establishment of such a global database entirely achievable.

Half a century ago:

It was 1948 when George Orwell settled into seclusion on the Isle of Jura, and there began to work on his most lasting contribution to literature and language. A little over a year passed before his terrifying vision of a future dystopia would be published, entitled simply Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t merely gloomy, it is hellish in altogether more Orwellian ways. A one-party state, in which every member of Ingsoc (the Party) lives under close and constant scrutiny, watched on two-way telescreens, which are highly sensitive devices that can never be turned off. Casual conversations are eavesdropped, by friends just as surely as by strangers, and children are actively encouraged to snoop on their parents; enrolling with the juvenile troops of Spies rather than Scouts (often to the delight and pride of their own brainwashed parents).

There is absolutely no place for privacy in Nineteen Eighty-Four, certainly not for anyone in the Party, with the telescreens monitoring indoors, whilst outside, and aside from the hidden microphones, it is safe to presume that everyone is probably an informant. The Party has, however, less concern for minor dissent that may flare up within the lower ranks of ‘the proles’; the masses that it regards as so ignorant and intent on self-preservation as to pose no serious counter-revolutionary threat. Although even amongst the proles there stalks the ever-present menace of the Thought Police.

Orwell’s new world of dread was forged from the same ideological foundations as the just defeated axis of Fascism. It was a world divided by class, hatred and perpetual war. A world riven and driven by Power. And undoubtedly Orwell was in part presenting his critique of the post-war Soviet Union reconstructed under that other great dictator, Joseph Stalin, with his all-new formula for Communism. Indeed, on the basis of Orwell’s images of Big Brother, it’s fair to judge that this all-powerful leader of Ingsoc (the single party governing the new alliance of Oceania1) was a caricature of Stalin.

Aldous Huxley was Orwell’s old teacher, and in his own futurist satire Brave New World (published in 1932), had envisaged a world of shopping and leisure, founded upon gentle Pavlovian conditioning of eugenically perfected infants, made ready for the soft bed of a world constructed in accordance with Freud’s pleasure principle. In Brave New World, everyone is Dolly the Sheep, and so more forcible means of coercion have become a thing of the forgotten past. George Orwell wrote of his old teacher Huxley’s prophesy as follows:

Mr Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning.”2

Of course, it has turned out to be more complicated than that. Stalin died, and the Eastern Bloc with its many citizen spies and Stasi Thought Police was eventually overthrown by resistance within as much as without. Aldous Huxley always maintained that all forms of brutal totalitarian oppression must eventually succumb to such internal pressures, being forced to give way to a different and softer kind of centralised control, and for a short time it seemed that he was correct. But then came September 11th and how quickly in its shadows, the jackboots came back on the ground. Stomping down on the face of humanity all across the world.

Since about a decade:

In January 2002, within the months following the September 11th attacks, the US Defense Department, under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began to develop a vast surveillance project, requiring a database even beyond H.G. Wells’ imagining. Set up under the direction of Admiral John Poindexter – formerly Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor3 – the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was intended to serve the interests of “National Security”. Its aim was to establish methods of collecting and collating information of all kinds. Records of what an individual purchased, where they travelled, what they watched, and so on, whilst also incorporating information from public records on education and health. More covert snooping was also proposed as a necessary means of analysing internet use, emails, and faxs.

Other plans included the development of “human identification at distance systems” based on biometrics, which would obviate the current reliance on human operators to keep their eyes peeled. Combined with the ever extending network of CCTV, such a system could conceivably keep track of movements of the entire population. In a world soon to be filled with automated face-recognition systems or more probably – given recent technological developments – whole body scanners, it will be unnecessary for government authorities to force the people to carry forms of identity (or under more extreme tyranny, to wear badges), because it will become impossible to hide.

By February 2003, the IAO had begun funding what they called the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, although by May 2003 the program had already been renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in an attempt to allay growing public anxiety of its Orwellian spectre. Then in August 2003, Poindexter was forced to resign as TIA chief with concerns that his central role in the Iran-Contra affair had made him unfit to run a sensitive intelligence program. Soon after this the IAO closed and officially the TIA program was terminated with all funding removed, yet it is widely acknowledged that the core of the project remains and that funding was merely switched to other government agencies.4

Finally, perhaps some indication of the true intent of these surveillance projects may be gleaned from the original IAO logo. Featuring a planetary-sized pyramid capped by an all-seeing eye that is scanning the entire Earth, the message is surely loud enough, especially when captioned with the motto “scientia est potentia” (knowledge is power). For what is this pyramid and the all-seeing eye meant to represent? That Big Brother is watching you? That you are already inside the Panopticon? Here was the official explanation of its meaning:

For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office; i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making. On an elemental level, the logo is the representation of the office acronym (IAO) the eye above the pyramid represents “I” the pyramid represents “A,” and the globe represents “O.” In the detail, the eye scans the globe for evidence of terrorist planning and is focused on the part of the world that was the source of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”5

Meanwhile, British governments have also brought in rafts of new legislation to extend police powers and limit personal freedom. Indeed, the first major new Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2000 (and thus prior to the September 11th attacks), actually redefined the meaning of terrorism in order to increase the scope for police intervention. Whilst the disconcertingly titled RIP Act, which quickly followed, further extended the rights for government to intercept communications and to patrol the internet. Then, during David Blunkett’s tenure as Home Secretary, the RIP Act (or RIPA) was broadened again, becoming so extensive that almost 800 separate organisations, including more than 450 councils, have the right to invoke it. People might now be snooped on right across the country for offences no more serious than littering and under-age smoking.6

In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7th 2005, the New Labour governments under both Blair and Brown also pressed hard for an extension of police rights to detain terrorist suspects. What had begun with seven days, quickly progressed to three weeks, and then, at least in the government’s opinion, required not less than 90 days. The justification given for these extraordinary new measures – the worst of which were thankfully rejected by Parliament – being that plots of the most diabolical kind were suddenly so widespread and complex that the ordinary course of justice had to be by-passed in order to ensure public safety. Around the same time, the introduction of national ID cards was also thwarted, in part thanks to a massive public outcry. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism (the real risk of which is far lower than during the days of IRA attacks) is the overriding justification for ever more surveillance of our public spaces and our personal lives.7

Throughout the last decade we have all been asked to give up our privacy and other civil liberties on the grounds of enhanced security: sacrificing freedom today for the sake of freedom tomorrow, which may well be, of course, a bargain with the devil. By the end of 2006, the United Kingdom was being described by some experts as ‘the most surveilled country’ among all industrialized Western nations.8

I heard someone speaking on Radio 4 a few years ago. Wrongly convicted for a crime he was later cleared of, he had as a direct consequence spent more than ten years of his life in prison. The interviewer asked him what his first thoughts were after being released as a free man. “Well, I was horrified,” he replied, “horrified that there were just as many cameras on the outside as inside. It was like I’d never left prison.”9

Now and the foreseeable future:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy10.

From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Published in Wired magazine on March 15th, Bamford continues:

For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail. William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. […]

He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. […]

The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. […]

Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light. […]

After he left the NSA, Binney suggested a system for monitoring people’s communications according to how closely they are connected to an initial target. The further away from the target—say you’re just an acquaintance of a friend of the target—the less the surveillance. But the agency rejected the idea, and, given the massive new storage facility in Utah, Binney suspects that it now simply collects everything. “The whole idea was, how do you manage 20 terabytes of intercept a minute?” he says. “The way we proposed was to distinguish between things you want and things you don’t want.” Instead, he adds, “they’re storing everything they gather.” And the agency is gathering as much as it can.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

Click here to read more of James Bamford’s eye-opening article, and then, here to read a still more extraordinary article published by Wired magazine on the very same day:

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”11

Orwell, for all of his profound insight and prescience, could never have imagined the sort of universal networks of surveillance being so rapidly put in place today. He didn’t see, for instance, as Huxley might have done, how people would one day almost willingly give up their privacy, and not only as the price for security, but purely for convenience and pleasure. That personal tracking devices would one day become such highly desirable commodities, in the form of mobile phones and ‘sat nav’s, that it would actually be strange not to carry one. That social networking sites would be temptation enough for many millions to divulge huge volumes of personal information, private opinions, dreams and fantasies. That others would broadcast their thoughts via emails, tweets, blogs, and all could be swept up in a worldwide web. The worldwide wiretap, as Julian Assange referred to it.

This post is another part of the immense traffic of data presumably being collected and analysed by those at the NSA (and in all probability also filtered using servers at our own GCHQ). That you are reading this is most probably being recorded too. So feel free to add a comment, although you should be cautioned that whatever you do say may later be used as evidence against you. The Panopticon is watching all of us.

Click here to read a wikipedia overview of the types of mass surveillance now used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

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Additional:

Here is a Russia Today report broadcast a few days later on Friday 30th March entitled: “Minority report: Era of total surveillance zooms-in on US?”

Click here to find the same report at Russia Today website.

As for Britain, and whatever the situation right now, the government is just about to announce new measures that will open the way for GCHQ to have “access to communications on demand, in real time” with the justification being, as always, “to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public”:

A new law – which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech in May – would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.

Click here to read the full BBC news report from April 1st.

1 The setting is roughly as follows. Some time after the World War, the world divided up into three warring superpowers: Oceania (previously America, Australia and Airstrip One); Eurasia (Russia and the rest of Europe); and Eastasia (China and India). These states have since then been engaged in an endless three-sided conflict, fighting to gain control of the resources in a disputed zone which includes North Africa and the Middle East. Progress in this conflict is reported to the citizens of Oceania via a government controlled media, relaying information manufactured by the Ministry of Truth.

2 Taken from “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940.

3 Poindexter had been previously been convicted of lying to Congress and altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.

4 These include Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a part of the Disruptive Technology Office (run by to the Director of National Intelligence); and SAIC, run by former Defense and military officials and which had originally been awarded US$19 million IAO contract to build the prototype system in late 2002.

5 Statement of the Information Awareness Office regarding the meaning and use of the IAO logo. Source: Question 15 in the IAO Frequently Asked Questions – document dated February, 2003 which can be accessed at http://www.darpa.mil/iao/TIA_FAQs.pdf

6 The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, especially with regard to the interception of communication. It can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

“Councils have used laws designed to combat terrorism to access more than 900 people’s private phone and email records in the latest example of Britain’s growing surveillance state. Town hall spies found out who residents were phoning and emailing as they investigated such misdemeanours as dog quarantine breaches and unlicensed storage of petrol. The news prompted fresh calls from civil rights groups for a reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was originally brought in to combat terrorism and serious crime but is increasingly being used by councils to snoop on members of the public. In April a council in Dorset used Ripa powers to spy for weeks on a family it wrongly suspected of breaking rules on school catchment areas. Other local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking.” extract from “Council snoopers access 900 phone bills” by Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter, Daily Telegraph, 5th June 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2075026/Council-snoopers-access-900-phone-bills.html

7 “Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner. He told the BBC‘s Politics Show that CCTV was being used in small towns and villages where crime rates were low… ‘If it’s in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?’

‘And I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.’ There are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.” from BBC News, Sunday, 20th May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6673579.stm

8 “Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the [Surveillance Society] report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office. […]

The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.

“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.

“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”

The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with ‘endemic surveillance’.”

From a BBC news article entitled “Britain is ‘surveillance society’” published on November 2, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6108496.stm

9 Unfortunately, since I did not have pen at hand – I was driving at the time! – I can no longer recall his precise words and so I have been compelled to paraphrase what he said. I have tried to be accurate so far as memory serves me.

10 From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, published in Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

11 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher”, written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

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internet freedom and the sovereigns of cyberspace

With two controversial internet ‘anti-piracy’ bills, SOPA and PIPA, now moving through Congress, Rebecca MacKinnon, author of the forthcoming book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” spoke on yesterday’s Democracy Now! about the clampdown on internet freedom, as well as the dangerous rise of internet surveillance:

[And so,] it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences.

MacKinnon cites examples from all over the world showing how the internet can be controlled or else used for control. Here is China:

And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

This is Egypt:

Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And this is America:

American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

But much worse, here is America again (and I had no idea how much access the US government already has to investigate the private lives of citizens – the bold highlight is added):

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview

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