Privacy really is (nearly) dead

June 16, 2013

Should government agencies be able to track your email traffic, internet browsing, physical location, when you have a crap? Pretty redundant question really. As Bruce Schneier has written, the Prism programme, run by the NSA, has been going on for some time… we only know about it because the unbelievably brave whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed it to carefully chosen journalists, who have blown the lid on the gig. The NSA have been collecting info on whoever they choose – American, British, whoever – for quite some time, with no judicial oversight at all. That means, the NSA has been spying on the entire world, without even having to get a warrant!

I don’t think there’s much we can do about this. Extraordinary rendition, third-party torture, secret prisons run by the CIA all over the world: this is the status quo. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s pretty much impossible to cram the bastard back in. All we can do is look to our own privacy and that of our friends, as well as we can (and remember: the NSA has been constructing a massive data storing/trawling centre in Utah; so they can collect as much as they like without worrying about storage capacity – they could conceivably spy on all of us, every person with a phone line or other internet connection, anytime, anywhere.

The other thing we can do is support whistle blowers like Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange… and all the others out there. As Schneier says in his article on the matter (and I really do urge you to follow his blog
):

The U.S. government is on a secrecy binge. It overclassifies more information than ever. And we learn, again and again, that our government regularly classifies things not because they need to be secret, but because their release would be embarrassing.

Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal — or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law — but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.

We need whistle-blowers.

Leaking information without getting caught is difficult. It’s almost impossible to maintain privacy in the Internet Age. The WikiLeaks platform seems to have been secure — Bradley Manning was caught not because of a technological flaw, but because someone he trusted betrayed him — but the U.S. government seems to have successfully destroyed it as a platform. None of the spin-offs have risen to become viable yet. The New Yorker recently unveiled its Strongbox platform for leaking material, which is still new but looks good. This link contains the best advice on how to leak information to the press via phone, email, or the post office. The National Whistleblowers Center has a page on national-security whistle-blowers and their rights.

Leaking information is also very dangerous. The Obama Administration has embarked on a war on whistle-blowers, pursuing them — both legally and through intimidation — further than any previous administration has done. Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, and William Binney have all been persecuted for exposing technical details of our surveillance state. Bradley Manning has been treated cruelly and inhumanly — and possibly tortured — for his more-indiscriminate leaking of State Department secrets.

The Obama Administration’s actions against the Associated Press, its persecution of Julian Assange, and its unprecedented prosecution of Manning on charges of “aiding the enemy” demonstrate how far it’s willing to go to intimidate whistle-blowers — as well as the journalists who talk to them.

But whistle-blowing is vital, even more broadly than in government spying. It’s necessary for good government, and to protect us from abuse of power.

We need details on the full extent of the FBI’s spying capabilities. We don’t know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don’t know its plans for future data collection. We don’t know what scandals and illegal actions — either past or present — are currently being covered up.

We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don’t know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don’t know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don’t know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.

And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don’t know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis — and how long they store it. We don’t know what sort of database profiling they do, how extensive their CCTV and surveillance-drone analysis is, how much they perform behavioral analysis, or how extensively they trace friends of people on their watch lists.

We don’t know how big the U.S. surveillance apparatus is today, either in terms of money and people or in terms of how many people are monitored or how much data is collected. Modern technology makes it possible to monitor vastly more people — yesterday’s NSA revelations demonstrate that they could easily surveil everyone — than could ever be done manually.

Whistle-blowing is the moral response to immoral activity by those in power. What’s important here are government programs and methods, not data about individuals. I understand I am asking for people to engage in illegal and dangerous behavior. Do it carefully and do it safely, but — and I am talking directly to you, person working on one of these secret and probably illegal programs — do it.

If you see something, say something. There are many people in the U.S. that will appreciate and admire you.

For the rest of us, we can help by protesting this war on whistle-blowers. We need to force our politicians not to punish them — to investigate the abuses and not the messengers — and to ensure that those unjustly persecuted can obtain redress.

It must be really scary, blowing the whistle when you see things going on that just shouldn’t be happening. But we have to blow the whistle nevertheless. Otherwise, governments and their corporate buddies will just become more and more untouchable. They will be able to do what they want to whoever they want whenever, wherever and however they want. Is that the world you want to live in?

That very nearly is the world we’re living in. Only the glare of publicity can stop our world evolving into a massive police state. Do you want that?

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Court martial denies Bradley Manning whistleblower defence

January 23, 2013

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The US military court trying Bradley Manning for releasing thousands of secret documents to the whistleblowing Wikileaks website has ruled he cannot raise his motives as part of his defence. From the Guardian:

The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial stage of the court martial, and must be held back until Manning either entered a plea or was found guilty, at which point it could be used in mitigation to lessen the sentence. The ruling is a blow to the defence as it will make it harder for the soldier’s legal team to argue he was acting as a whistleblower and not as someone who knowingly damaged US interests at a time of war.

After the pre-trial hearing, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning support network, Nathan Fuller, said “This is another effort to attack the whistleblower defence.”

Colonel Lind has also stopped the defence from presenting evidence designed to show that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security. This is after David Coombs, Manning’s lead defence lawyer, spent a long time trying to extract from US government agencies their official assessments of the impact of WikiLeaks around the world. All this information has been ruled inadmissible.

The 25-year-old intelligence analyst faces 22 charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and videos of US military actions. The most serious charge, “aiding the enemy”, which carries the life sentence, accuses him of arranging for state secrets to be published via WikiLeaks on the internet knowing that al-Qaida would have access to it. The fact that he cannot use the whistleblower’s defence means his legal options are severely limited. Basically, he has been set up to lose.

The message from the court is clear: whistleblowers will face the full fury of the law, regardless of motives. The precedent of the Pentagon Papers, or of “Deep Throat” in the Watergate case, no longer stands, it would seem. Once it was seen as acceptable to leak info if one thought it was morally imperative. But no more. This will ensure that Julian Assange won’t be leaving the Ecuador embassy in London for some time. And it will have a corrosive effect on democracy in general – if we can’t bring our governments’ crimes into the light, there will be nothing to stop them committing even worse outrages. It makes the authorities truly untouchable, turning the very idea of democracy into a cruel joke. And it should stand as an important message: if you are going to blow any whistles, don’t go bragging about it. Especially to an asshole like Adrian Lamo.

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Ecuador grants Assange political asylum – but how will he get from London to Quito?

August 17, 2012

News about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden and the possibility of being sent to the USA to face spurious but all too serious espionage charges. In June he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embasshy in London, requesting political asylum. Well, the Ecuador government has made its decision: as things stand, Assange is a potential political prisoner, and if he’s extradited to Sweden there is a very definite possibility that he will be forwarded to America, where faces charges relating to “top secret” communiques that were leaked by Wikileaks and published by the New York Times and the Guardian. Hmm, that’s a thought: how come the New York Times editor hasn’t been charged with espionage? Why isn’t the USA calling for the extradition of Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian? Rhetorical questions of course. Newspapers have been around a long time, as has been the notion of a free press. But many governments say that online reporting isn’t really journalism at all – and of course Wikileaks is a pain in the ass that the US/UK would like to stomp to death pour encourager les autres.

Countries usually respect the embassies of other nations, regarding diplomatic posts as the legal territory of that foreign nation. But William Hague, British foreign secretary and effectively the prime minister as the real prime minister (David Cameron) and the deputy PM (Nick Clegg) has made some ominous threats. He’s already said in public that Assange would be arrested if he leaves the embassy in London where he has lived for nearly two months, and Ecuador claim that British authorities are threatening to storm the embassy to arrest him.

Hague responded to the asylum decision saying it was “a matter of regret” that Assange had been granted asylum, and that Assange would be arrested when he left the embassy regardless.

The British government sent a letter to Ecuadorean officials in Quito outlining the powers of the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows revocation of a building’s diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post”. Hague said this was not a threat, simply an explanation of British law, allegedly in line with international law.

If government agents (ie. the police) invade the embassy to arrest Assange, it will be setting a precedent with possibly explosive outcomes. In recent history foreign embassies have been sacrosanct. Earlier this year, the lawyer and dissident Chen Guangcheng took refuge in the US embassy in China; and the People’s Revolutionary Army didn’t storm the building – when Chen left the embassy it was completely freely. And many other people have gained sanctuary in another countries’ embassies – check out the list here. If the British government think the Ecuadorean embassy is fair game, what will happen to the British Embassy in Ecuador… or anywhere else?

Think, Hague, think. If Dave comes back from holiday to a diplomatic crisis, heads will roll. Even yours. :p

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Why won’t Theresa May just say clearly if she intends to allow Sweden to extradite Assange to USA?

July 27, 2012

Interesting article in the Guardian: Julian Assange, and the Ecuadorian government (in whose London embassy Assange has taken refuge for the past five weeks),have no problem per se with extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations. Ecuador, which wants to be an “honest broker” in this matter, is concerned that Sweden will go on to send Assange to the US where he faces possible charges of espionage and a natural life prison sentence for his role in Wikileaks’ publication of “top secret” diplomatic dispatches. Assange’s US lawyer, Michael Ratner, has said he was certain Assange had already either been secretly indicted by a grand jury in Washington or would face extradition with a view to prosecution. He believed the death penalty remained a possibility – which is a major reason why Ecuador opposes the extradition.

According to the Guardian article, there is a concept in extradition law called “specialty”: this means that if the UK extradite Assange to Sweden, the Swedes will not be allowed to extradite him to a third country (such as the USA) once they’ve finished with him – they will have to give him a 45 day grace period during which time he will be allowed to travel somewhere else (perhaps Ecuador). However, specialty can be waived by the country granting the initial extradition request – in this case the UK – thereby allowing an individual to be extradited to a third country. If home secretary Theresa May waives specialty under section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, Sweden will be able to extradite Assange to the USA.

Assange is willing to be extradited to Sweden if specialty is not waivered. But the British government refuses to make this commitment. Instead they keep coming out with non-committal statements like:

Since Mr Assange first entered the Ecuadorean embassy five weeks ago, we have repeatedly made clear to the Ecuadorean government that the UK has a binding legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences. We have been seeking a diplomatic solution and expect Ecuador to resolve this issue in accordance with its international obligations.

The UK courts, including the supreme court, have confirmed that Mr Assange’s extradition to Sweden complies with all the requirements of the UK’s Extradition Act, including as regards the protection of his human rights. We have gone to great lengths to explain to Ecuador the human rights protections inherent in our law.

Britain usually refuses to extradite people to countries where there exists a possibility of cruel and unusual punishment – which includes the death sentence. Of course, if Assange is extradited to Sweden, this principle will have been upheld – Sweden has no plans to execute Assange. But if May waives specialty, she will effectively be sending him to the USA, where cruel and unusual punishment is a distinct possibility (remember, the USA would like to make an example of Assange, a foreigner whose own government doesn’t give a toss for – the US authorities can’t take action against the New York Times or the Guardian, the papers that actually published the leaked documents, because of how that would look in a country that supposedly prides itself on the “freedom of the press” – but destroying Assange would barely raise an eyebrow amongst Americans).

So come on May – tell Ecuador what your plans are regarding specialty in the Assange extradition case. Are you planning to have him sent on to the USA and possible execution? Or are you really just trying to abide by your legal obligations to Sweden?

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange seeks asylum in Ecuadorian embassy in London

June 19, 2012

Another dramatic twist in the Julian Assange case: Assange has gone to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking asylum.  For those unaware of this story: Julian Assange is a founder of the Wikileaks website, which allows whistle-blowers to upload files to the internet anonymously; files concerning US military activity were sent to Wikileaks, who decided to share them with the New York Times and the Guardian; the USA didn’t like that, and some influential US political figures think Assange should be put on trial for treason (even though Assange is Australian and therefore cannot commit treason against the USA); Assange is in the UK, and there is no way the UK will extradite him to the USA; so now an old Swedish rape allegation against Assange has popped back up, and Sweden wants Assange extradited for it (even though the Swedish prosecutors dismissed the allegations as false a long time ago); a lot of people think that once Sweden has Assange, they will send him on to the USA, where he will probably be electrocuted or stoned to death or something…

Assange is running out of appeal options in the UK (the Supreme Court has twice rejected his call for appeal), so obviously he wants to get the hell away from the country.  I’m not sure why he chose Ecuador (I would have thought Venezuela or Cuba would be better options), but that’s where he is seeking asylum.  It’s pretty obvious the US/Sweden action makes him a political prisoner, therefore he is entitled to political asylum.  But what will Ecuador decide?  Dare they defy the USA?  We’ll see…

 

 
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Bradley Manning: US Army sets date for pre-trial hearing

November 22, 2011

As a subscriber to the Bradley Manning Support Network email list, I recently received an email informing me that a date has at last been set for a pre-trial hearing.  I reproduce the email here, to get the news to as many people as possible.

Army sets pre-trial hearing date for Bradley. Vigils and rallies planned at Fort Meade MD, worldwide.

Protest his Pretrial Hearing Saturday, Dec 17th (Bradley’s B-Day) at 12pm at Fort Meade, MD outside Washington D.C.! (Solidarity actions taking place around the world.) Bradley Manning

After 560 days of pretrial confinement, including 250 days spent in solitary conditions, the Military has finally announced that PFC Bradley Manning’s Pretrial Hearing will begin on December 16th in the Washington D.C. area. Read our press release.

PFC Bradley Manning is accused of uncovering the facts behind a system of foreign policy that routinely hides abuse from public scrutiny. “If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment… of confinement for life” the U.S. Army reports.

If he is the source of the WikiLeaks revelations, he is the most significant whistle-blower in a generation. According to journalists, his alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on our foreign policies of the sort #OccupyWallStreet opposes, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all U.S.troops from the failed occupation in Iraq.

Bradley Manning, who turns 24 on the date of our protest, is a young soldier from a working-class background who believed that people should know the truth, “no matter who they are… because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

He now faces opposition from embarrassed politicians and military officials, and potential life in prison on a poorly defined military charge of “Aiding the enemy through indirect means.” If words attributed to Bradley Manning are accurate, it appears that he was motivated only by a desire to expose questionable and illegal actions by our leaders. This information had been concealed — not to protect us — but in order to avoid accountability. According to several who served in the same unit as Manning, this information had already been made available to Iraqi Army recruits — but not the American public. It is absurd for our government to suggest that the American people is somehow “the enemy.”

As founding father Patrick Henry wrote, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Bradley’s pretrial hearing date has been announced, and this is the time to take our support of Bradley into the streets. Bradley Manning was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last month, and topped the UK Guardian’s Readers Poll. Now the world watches the proceedings of this case while judging our country as a whole.

Previous protests outside of a Quantico brig where Manning was being held were successful in ending the mistreatment he had endured there. December 17th will be our International Day of Solidarity with the largest protest taking place outside the gates of Fort Meade! View logistics/RSVP here.

For people outside of the DC and Baltimore area, we welcome creative solidarity actions. Visit events.bradleymanning.org to register your event.

Please share this announcement with friends and connections via e-mail, facebook, and twitter.

Sincerely,

The Bradley Manning Support Network

 

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Question: Who is/are “Anonymous”? Answer: No one/everyone.

March 15, 2011

Just read about the “hacker group” Anonymous’ release of apparently incriminating emails from the Bank of America. This story really annoys me. Not because I’m a Bank of America fan – I’m pissed off with the Guardian for describing Anonymous as a “hacker group”.

The Wikipedia article on Anonymous. describes it well – it says:

is an Internet meme originating 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many on-line community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain.[1] It is also generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known.

Anonymous is not a hacker group in the sense you’d usually expect: there’s no organization, no hierarchy, no agreed agenda. Anyone with the required know-how and/or tools can do some cyber-vandalism or cut-and-paste someone’s email, then say it was done by Anonymous.

So who is Anonymous? Everyone. No one. Me. You. Anyone. Please bear that in mind next time you see a report that “Anonymous” did something.

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