Sep 102013

So. Sweden joins the club:

[...] Raw data. Legal loopholes. Secret details. Oversight that does too little, far too late. But maybe the [Swedish] FRA can’t be blamed entirely for its transgressions. It’s not like it came up with these ideas on its own.

Last week, British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell revealed Sweden’s involvement as one of the United States’ most important partners in efforts to monitor internet communications across the globe.

“A new organization has joined the “Five Eyes” and is seen as the largest cooperating partner to [the UK's] GCHQ outside the English-speaking countries – and that is Sweden,” Campbell told the European Parliament committee, referring to the colloquial term used to refer to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

Nowhere is safe, it would seem, from the reality that “[...] like the US, the defenders of these illegal activities are quick to point out that national security is more important than following laws or respecting citizens’ rights”.  Not even our erstwhile cuddly Scandinavian social democracies.  Perhaps especially not them.

Just to step back a moment from all of the hullabaloo.  What was the plan, do we think?

  1. Protect Western democracy from evil people.
  2. But the Lord says everyone is born with Original Sin.  Therefore, everyone is potentially evil.  Therefore, everyone needs protecting from everyone else.
  3. Trawl everything that might possibly be useful.  But hey, this ain’t dolphin-friendly land.  We’ll trawl both the relevant and the irrelevant – and who cares if some of the good guys and gals get speared in the meantime?
  4. Problem is, what to do with all the catch?  Prioritise, of course.
  5. So: a) some of the bad stuff is really really bad – and actionable; b) some of the bad stuff is irrelevant for our objective of overall law and order (thus we have the British police announcing they only investigate forty percent of crimes); and c) some of the bad stuff may be useful further down the line, only we can’t tell exactly when or how – so we’ll keep it just in case!
  6. Actually, c) is what I’m most worried about in this game plan I perceive: imagine how you could shape Western “democracies”, if you had embarrassing stuff on every single leading public actor, ready for using at any crucial moment.  You wouldn’t, then, have democracy at all, would you?  No.  You wouldn’t.

I’m beginning to wonder, however, that whilst these revelations may make many a leading politician or businessperson a mite hesitant about rocking too many of these nasty little fishing-boats, as far as the general public is concerned their effect may not only be minimal but the reverse of what most people are currently assuming.

Over the past five years or so, via Facebook and latterly Twitter, as well as through that prior generation of famously blogging enthusiasts, we’ve been brainwashed into baring our every inner thought and occurrence with a happy abandon unknown in the previous century’s history.  We’re already quite used to being tracked by advertisers everywhere.  We may complain and mutter under our breath how horrible it all is, but when upgrade time comes we don’t usually step back from investing two more years in that cracking (where not cracked) new smartphone.

So why should what the Western security services do to us make any difference?  Before the summer, we suspected (some of us, anyhow) we were all being watched.  (In fact, around the time of the Iraq War, I was once put in a hospital for asserting this was the case.)  After the summer, we know it to be true.  We know that anything and everything we do has been registered and recorded for future examination by our virtual lords and masters.  We now know what it’s like to live with the chill factor: that feeling you cannot say something because someone else might act on it.  Although since the revelations, it really doesn’t matter any more (even as before them we wondered whether encroaching offline injunctions wouldn’t get the better of social networks’ freedoms).

And this is how it’s become: they already know how we think; they probably already know how we’d act under various circumstances.  Surely in that, then, there is a tremendous sense of liberation.  Surely in that we can begin to come round to the idea that the NSA revelations may lead to more of a desire – not less – on our part to exercise our freedom to speak out.

In for a penny, in for a krona … there’s nowhere you can go to escape these disagreeable behaviours.

Stay where you are, then.  Stand firm and understand: this is how it will be from now on.  You can choose to be quiet – which is clearly your right.  Or you can choose to speak up – in the full liberty-engendering knowledge that we are now in a state of mind we once occupied so joyfully, quite before the Original Sin in question was committed.

As naked as the day we were born.  And gradually becoming as unconscious of our circumstance, as that day for certain we were.

Wonderful feeling, ain’t it?

Wonderful just doesn’t begin to describe it!

Sep 082013

Here we have a Coalition which is anything but a partner with its people.  And do you wanna know exactly how easy it is to know what the Coalition’s playing at?  This easy!  Just listen carefully to what it accuses others of doing – and then you’ll find an example of government doing the same.

When it looks to smash the indignant feelings of an oppressed poor by accusing it of scrounging off the state, it quite happily services the needs of its political sponsors in large financial corporations to scrounge their way to profitability again.

And when it looks, brazenly, to eliminate extra-parliamentary protest, it acts, brazenly, to conduct the biggest campaign of government-sponsored extra-parliamentary governance in Britain’s history.

Well, I haven’t doublechecked all of Britain’s history – but, at least, the history I’ve lived in my lifetime.

From the latter link, this is what I said just over a year ago:

It seems to me that, more and more, supposedly democratically-elected governments are getting the dirty work of less than transparent policy-making carried out on their behalf by private industry.  This is, in a sense, a strategy of de facto governance where democracy is absented from the process.  It works in the following way: in exchange for negative publicity which, in any case, legions of legal departments can generally vanish into relative thin air, private industries of transnational sizes are awarded humongous public-sector contracts.  And as this is a business-to-business relationship – thick-skinned government to hard-sold corporate – public opinion is pretty irrelevant to either party.  A perfect way of removing the need for approval from irritatingly well-informed and tech-savvy end-consumers, who were in any case beginning to make the business of corporate capitalism so very complicated and unpredictable.

Instead of selling to end-users who pick and choose, the most foresighted corporations are now choosing to focus their attentions on governments which – for various untransparent reasons – prefer to pick and stick.

The corporates get stability in long-term contracts despite the voter flak.  The governments get to blame the corporates if anything too unpleasant comes to light.

A perfect exchange of complementary interests.

Which brings me to what I ended up saying then – sadly predicting the conditions for this ugly story, which rears its ugly head via Boing Boing just this Friday.  First, Boing Boing’s report (the bold is mine):

The only way to stop Internet users from accessing “bad” websites is to spy on all their Internet traffic (you have to look at all their traffic in order to interdict the forbidden sites). So it follows that any censorship system must also ban any privacy/security tools. The UK is raising a generation of Internet users who are told that “security” requires them to make their sensitive, personal information available to anyone who is listening in on the network, because otherwise they might see sexually explicit material. Instead of teaching kids how to stay safe online, the official UK Internet safety policy requires them to be totally naked in all their online communications.

In order to achieve this goal, the following is happening:

UK mobile providers, including O2 and its reseller GiffGaff, are blocking commercial VPN providers that help to secure sensitive communications from criminals, hackers and government spies. [...]

You may ask what this really has to do with government.  After all, surely O2 and GiffGaff are sovereign bodies.  Well.  In the light of my post already quoted above, I’m not absolutely sure that this is the case.  As I concluded in August 2012 (the bold is mine today):

[...] We have a recent story on how mobile phone access to the Internet is controlled extra-judicially by the private sector here (from the Open Rights Group of which I am a member) as well as a story from my own archive on how copyright owners can quite literally – and quite easily – make websites invisible to all sensible intents and purposes.

In conclusion, the case of ATOS – and the issues its behaviours and processes apparently raise – are not really attributable to the company itself.  It is, rather, the government – deliberately employing it as a shield to hide public services from a proper democratic oversight – which is mostly to blame and which should be brought to book.

And by focussing our attention on crucifying a supplier – a supplier which, admittedly, appears to have substituted the disabled as direct customer of this sorry cohort of political actors we call the Coalition – we may be ignoring the much wider reality: that in disabled services, in welfare and health, in Internet freedoms, in law and order, communications and social media more generally, allegedly democratic governments across the world are working out how to circumvent democratic controls by using private-sector firewalls.

This is a new kind of anti-democratic governance.

A de facto governance.

A governance which our cowardly leaders have cleverly put together outside the democratic process – in order that trusting voters and citizens ignore the real reasons for their despair.

I wrote that just over a year ago – I think it, and much much more, still stands.

To catch a thief, no one better than a thief of course.  In that sense, there’s an argument that an immoral government knows best how to channel an immoral populace.

Not that there aren’t other problems this raises.

Who’s to argue the populace is essentially immoral, for starters?

But far better for modern governments is simply refuse to sign on the dotted line.  If parliamentary democracy – and representative democracy elsewhere – is becoming such an impossible task for governments to work efficiently with, why not place the responsibility for policy- and law-making on the shoulders of unelected bodies such as corporations?  For the government of the day, no legal flak; no media persecution; no irritating sessions examining the fine print of so much legal to-and-fro.

Just issue a populist edict via friendly media (anti-terrorism, anti-paedophilia, anti-porn in general) – and get rid of a whole raft of measures and consequent inspection regimes from the framework that should be Parliament.

The only problem with respect to the Internet in particular, of course, is that Cameron has recently been going on about Britain being the sixth-largest economy.

And I’m really not sure how long that’s going to last when companies and their customers realise all their communications must be naked.


Further reading: this .pdf file from Open Rights Group and the LSE makes for unhappily prescient reading.  Please read it and inform yourself.  Before it’s too late.

Even as it may already be.

Sep 022013

Whilst the government called Ed Miliband “a fucking cunt” and a “copper-bottomed shit” for saying no to a repeat of Iraq, it would appear the French – who did say no to Iraq all those years ago – have known that Syria has had chemical weapons for at least thirty years:

The announcement comes after Sunday’s French paper, Journal du Dimanche, said French intelligence agents had compiled information showing that some of the weapons had been stockpiled for nearly 30 years.

And if the French have known it, surely the NSAs and GCHQs of the world have known it just as much.

Which brings us to the matter of a request by a UK company to export precursors of chemical weapons to the Syrian government last year.  Here we have the British government’s reaction, via the Lib Dem member of the Coalition, Vince Cable.  A little disingenuous to say the least:

The licences for the two chemicals were granted on 17 and 18 January last year for “use in industrial processes” after being assessed by Department for Business officials to judge if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end”, according to the letter sent by Mr Cable to the arms controls committee.

Mr Cable said: “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

No grounds for refusal – except thirty years of stockpiling, Mr Cable.


So what do we have then?  A UK Coalition government, which commits austerity violence on its own population, gaily spending our taxpayer dosh on coming to decisions to export potentially dangerous chemicals to war-torn regions – war-torn regions where their government is one of the few which hasn’t signed international treaties on not using the WMDs that can be made from such chemicals … and this UK Coalition I talk of finds itself able to congratulate itself that it has complied with the law, even as it foul-mouths the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for saying no to any resulting Western “intervention”.

Which by the way would, as a Facebook photo that just whizzed through my feed pointed out, involve members of our Armed Forces “fighting [in a way] alongside Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”.

This, I feel most strongly, is the result of what we might term the psychodrama of austerity unspooling.  What I’m not quite sure of is whether we were brutal and incoherent abroad first – and then learnt how to be so at home.  Or, perhaps more likely, vice versa – in a (sociopolitical) vice of totally immoral proportions.

When you learn how to treat your own people as scroungers, wasters, chavs and layabouts, how much easier it must be to think that on the foreign stage you can prance your incongruences – brightly flailing their idiocy and unkindness without anyone caring.

He (or she) who can call the Leader of the Opposition a “shit” and a “cunt” is able to see all voters, all opponents, all anti-war activists, all thinking people who are unsure of this matter … everyone who does not instinctively agree with what only starts out as yet another drone- and cruise-missile-led adventure … well, anyone who does not automatically say yes is also going to be seen as a “shit”.  No wonder austerity is so easy for them.  We are simply bits and pieces of political (sometimes literal) cannon fodder in a cruel and global conflict.

The problem here, of course, and I leave it without resolution on my part, is that whilst Iraq was the war we should’ve said no to – a war, in fact, the French did say no to – perhaps this Syria biz is quite something else.

What’s more, if the French are prepared to declassify intelligence which shows Western governments knew that Syria had stockpiled chemical weapons for nigh on thirty years, and then did absolutely nothing about it, it surely does beg the following question:

“How can our own political institutions and structures choose to make money out of such evil political trajectories – and then expect us to vote in favour of anything the former propose?”

From chemical weapons to Saddam’s unspeakable WMDs to austerity politics where the poor are savaged by the consequences of the acts of the rich, even as the rich are able to emerge unscathed, we have a politics which is broken quite as badly as it ever could be.

No wonder we feel like being shits to the profession.  They’ve been cunts to us all along.

Aug 242013

Eisenhower warned us a while ago of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.  In fact, he even went so far as to request that “security and liberty [...] prosper together”.

He was warning us of the dangers of a private industry so powerful that representative democracy would end up representing only the very private interests of such industry.

The people would no longer get a look-in under such a panorama of influence.

Today, however, I’ve read something quite different.  It comes from Julian Assange, who I am sure will need no introduction.  Where it’s most interesting is in its extrapolation of his personal experiences on a particular occasion with Google’s Eric Schmidt and “others”.  The composition of these “others” was what allows us to understand how Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex has subtly changed the way it operates.  No longer does it merely affect how the state functions where its interests demand that it does so; it’s now also impacting, through the state itself, on the behaviours, instincts and room for manoeuvre which the rest of private industry – nominally functioning in an environment of free-market capitalism – formerly exhibited.

The “others” who supposedly attended this meeting with Assange were as follows:

That visit from Google while I was under house arrest was, as it turns out, an unofficial visit from the State Department. Just consider the people who accompanied Schmidt on that visit: his girlfriend Lisa Shields, Vice President for Communications at the CFR; Scott Malcolmson, former senior State Department advisor; and Jared Cohen,  advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, a kind of Generation Y Kissinger figure — a noisy Quiet American as the author Graham Greene might have put it.

The wider process which Assange extrapolates from such an event – a meeting whose transcript (he informs us) has been published on WikiLeaks itself – describes the broader breaking of free-market capitalism thus:

Google started out as part of Californian graduate student culture around San Francisco’s Bay Area. But as Google grew it encountered the big bad world. It encountered barriers to its expansion in the form of complex political networks and foreign regulations. So it started doing what big bad American companies do, from Coca Cola to Northrop Grumman. It started leaning heavily on the State Department for support, and by doing so it entered into the Washington DC system. A recently released statistic shows that Google now spends even more money than Lockheed Martin on paid lobbyists in Washington.

And concludes:

That Google was taking NSA money in exchange for handing over people’s data comes as no surprise. When Google encountered the big bad world, Google itself got big and bad.

Either way, then, it would seem that security has broken the kind of capitalism many of us would prefer to subscribe to.  Whether it’s Eisenhower’s big bad wolves eating up the liberties – and more importantly the federal budgets – of the people or it’s Assange’s corporate-engulfing state security agencies, the short-term outlook for anything like economic justice is very very poor.

As a Twitter colleague of mine tweeted recently:

I’m not opposed to capitalism, I oppose it being used as an excuse to artificially inflate the basic cost of living for ordinary people.

And that, my dear readers, is exactly what the NSA, GCHQ and the half-truths of latterday politics seem – to me, at least – to represent more and more.

Security has broken, perhaps forever, free-market capitalism for us all.

And when Google promised it wouldn’t do evil, we all must’ve known – ultimately – it wouldn’t do much good at all.

Aug 232013

I was chided last night on Twitter for retweeting this story from the Independent, as it might serve to threaten the lives of telecom engineers in the field.  I replied by saying I found it difficult to evaluate the situation either way.  As I pointed out recently, I get the feeling we’re being played with by people who otherwise should limit themselves to serving the voters and their families.

Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s journalist at the eye of this storm today responds thus to the above story:

[...] The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don’t mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.

Just to summarise and clarify: serious accusations are being made that the British security establishment is not only looking to fulfil its rightful responsibility of protecting the British people from external and internal threat, but is also messing around – quite unreasonably I would argue – with the public’s perception of reality and its proper course.  The former is quite sustainable, of course; the latter I would submit is most unacceptable in all cases – and probably a symptom of weakness rather than strength.

We pay our security establishment to protect us from physical harm.  We don’t pay them to play silly buggers with our understanding of where the truth lies.  When the aforementioned establishment thinks it can lash out at anyone and everyone in the interests of keeping the lid on all these unpleasant situations, we have an equally unpleasant problem presenting itself in what is now a very public domain: our security services find as threatening to their sense of wellbeing and focus our own 21st century social-media and virtual inquisition as they do the beastly things which nasty people are planning to do, every day of the week.

The job of the security services shouldn’t need to cover playing mind games with the nation’s perceptions.  We are, after all, ultimately, their paymasters.  We should not be perceived as the enemy.  Our representative democracy should be efficient enough in the task of representation to make the contemplation of repressive response totally unnecessary.

And if it’s not, that’s then a symptom that something is going very wrong with the mechanisms of our democracy.

That our security services do feel they must play to the gallery, as they allegedly leak information when it pleases them, is bad for our sense of equanimity of course – but, equally, it’s bad for the efficiency of those who would defend the integrity of the nations that make up our state.  If instead of focussing on sifting through all the information they’ve gathered on us, they choose to expend all that energy on massaging and manipulating our attitudes to their labour, they’re bound to be wasting a helluva lot of time and money on what is little more than a rolling PR operation.  And it”s not even as if they’re any good at it.  As the Atlantic piece I linked to above underlines:

[...] Given how ham-handedly the NSA has handled PR as each document was exposed, it seems implausible that it wanted advance knowledge so it could work on a response. It’s been two months since the first Snowden revelation, and it still doesn’t have a decent PR story.

In this sense it would seem that the NSA, GCHQ and the rest of the security bundle have been attacked by the same malaise that affects corporate organisations all over the globe: first, keep it secret at all costs; second, if you can’t keep it secret, deny it; third, if you can’t deny it, find some dirt on the enemy; fourth, if finding dirt doesn’t work, pay the enemy off; and fifth, if paying the enemy off doesn’t work, put it all in the hands of a platoon of lawyers.

And if all that fails, put it in the hands of an advertising agency with a solid reputation in rebranding.

No wonder David Cameron is our Prime Minister.  It’s quite fitting that an adman should be running a government whose security services practically own our airwaves at the moment.

No attempt or desire to deal with stuff at all correctly.  Just a continuous and ongoing attempt to brazen their way out of the hole they’ve stupidly gone and dug themselves.

Getting to the point where these guys and gals would appear to be more worried about how we see them than they are about the reality of defending Queen & Country.

Getting to the point where we can only expect a 21st century version of the Spanish Inquisition:

Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs’ decision to found the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column.

Though I’m sure I’m wrong, of course.  As I’m just as sure none of the following sketch bears any relevance to the above.

Jun 152013

I once had a next-door neighbour who was clever enough to know how, and stupid enough to go ahead.  This individual split the cable that came out of another neighbour’s Sky dish and hogged half of the service for free for probably a year.  They caught him in the end.

Nothing came of it though.

I’d like you to watch a podcast before we continue, which eventually – in its studied and careful way – takes us back to basic physics.  Remember what that beautiful object we called a prism actually did?  Split a pure white light into a rainbow of illuminating colours.  And that is just about what this video from last Wednesday invokes both figuratively and literally.  If you’ve not too much time on your hands, start from a little after twenty minutes in.  You might also want to read this EFF document (.pdf format) which describes a highly relevant legal deposition from way back in 2006.  It gets mentioned in the podcast; it’s a crucial part of the audit trail.

Worth every damn minute, right?  As I said, that next-door neighbour of mine.

So really, if they’re right in their analysis, what’s happening here is permanent wire-tapping, possibly legal (the Internet after all is a public space), on a hugely infrastructured scale.  Maybe a bit like (then again, who am I to say?) those episodes of CSI where they gain DNA by getting someone to drink a cup of coffee and then throw away the cup.

You discard something into that public domain and we’ll hoover it up by splitting the signal as close to its node as we can, without even telling the companies which harvest it in the first place what we’ve decided to do.

So where do people congregate?  What do people use?  The services of – and routers closest to – Google & Co’s massively centralising communication facilities.  All that careful language in their denials of any possible server back-doors, when the issue – semantically – wasn’t the servers.  Direct access to the data the servers contained, yes; but not direct access to the servers themselves.

So it is our society has trodden a long path from once being “economical with the truth” to saying “the least untruthful thing” a politicised figure could think of.

But I’d like to take the issue one step further.  What if Prism doesn’t only allow the light to be split off?  What if it also allows the data to be manipulated?

Last week, just a day before the podcast linked to above, the Greek broadcaster ERT – described to me by Greek citizens recently as the Greek equivalent of the British BBC – was suddenly taken off-air.  News, current affairs, history, culture – all gone at the drop of a hat.  The shock, if replicated here in Britain with our own organisation, would be powerful and lasting for sure.  Yet I argued, for only a moment it is true, that perhaps the Greek way was better: at least someone was taking ownership for obfuscation by clearly closing down its outlet.

The BBC, in the meantime, has been accused of multiple acts of perfidious journalism – an institutionally implemented censorship, in fact, of considerable consequences; a censorship never admitted nor answered by anyone in charge; a censorship, for the majority of its viewers, never even perceived.

Under such circumstances, wouldn’t a manifest – even where shockingly sudden – absence be a cleaner and more hygienic way forward than this grubby messing-about with the parameters of our perceptions and realities?

Except that, of course, for those who use it as a tool to transmit on-message content, keeping it all going is going to be far more productive and in keeping with their overarching objectives than any honest admitting of the truth.

The aforementioned opportunities for manipulation being far more useful than simple tracking and observance.

Don’t just be a spectator is what I’m suggesting here; far more proactively, actually become an actor.

This brings me back, then, to Prism.  If the NSA is accessing everyone’s data, and has allowed in some indirect way for our knowledge of this information to finally hit the public domain, it will surely – now – have the parallel capacity to intervene, interrupt, modify and falsify almost anything which flows around the Internet.

I’m not saying it would, mind you; just suggesting that it’s impossible that the facility wouldn’t have been included.

That is to say, it would include not only the ability to split out of the Internet a perfect copy of everything that hit Google & Co’s servers just before it actually did but also the ability to replace a digitally manipulated alternative of what was originally on the point of being there, just before it actually ended up being so.

There could be many desperate reasons why someone might wish to reserve the right to do this: not least, in times of awful war or some other ongoing conflict, the desire to short-cut legal niceties and thus allow the summary removal from circulation of people who otherwise might be far too clever by half.

And I’m not saying even in this case I’d agree with such a position; all I’m saying is that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone thought engineering such a feature into the infrastructure might be a natty thing to do.

Whatever the substantive reality of the situation, I’m pretty sure one of the drivers of all these repressive instincts is that maybe, just maybe, the Internet as constructed has, at least in the eyes of those who would continue governing, given us far too many freedoms: far too many freedoms for governments to treat their peoples with justice; far too many freedoms for the establishments across the world to feel safe; perhaps, I wonder, even far too many freedoms for even the most sensible and stable of the planet’s citizens to know how to choose consistently reasonable ways of using them.

I’m not saying they’re right; I’m just trying to understand their fears and behaviours – as well as their downright illegalities.

I’m trying to understand how rational human beings can justify using “the least untruthful” way of answering questions from political representatives speaking in permanently-recorded public forums.


Let’s finish on a pertinent piece of legalese.  Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says the following:

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Now that’s pretty sweeping – correspondence for example, at least these days, may cover everything from the more analogous emails to tweets and Facebook “likes”.

And remembering Doctorow’s intelligent separation of the words “privacy” and “secrecy” this morning, I do wonder if anyone who’s fighting the good fight still recalls why they went into the business in the first place.

Stop Watching Us?  Well, quite.  It’s an important thought.

Though when 60 percent of Americans say they just don’t care any more, perhaps the good fight has already been lost.

Jun 152013

This needed to be said, and I’ve never seen it said better:

You should care about privacy because privacy isn’t secrecy. I know what you do in the toilet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to close the door when you go in the stall.

Read the rest of this brilliantly pointed post.  It sets up the market-stall for those of us who find attacks on privacy disturbing and resistable – even as that government argument of “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” both resonates weightily and sees rebuttal as a complex process.

Privacy is a human right.  The flipside of the coin of integrity.

We mustn’t allow government discourse to interfere with that right, nor dirty it with broad-brushed arguments which attempt to criminalise us or make of all our activities suspicious indicators they must feel obliged to track for ever and always.

In truth, whilst governments becomes evermore disagreeably secretive, they avoid all constructive debate on the matter by shifting the onus onto the voters and represented who must – often with a sense of overriding guilt these days – pledge themselves to fight for the few remaining freedoms out there.

Our desire to be private has been corrupted by their need to maintain their own secrecy.  And so they confuse and conflate their desire to hide stuff from democratic oversight by arguing our human requirements for privacy equal their hierarchical and corporatising thirst for permanent obfuscation.

But when we righteously, rightly, demand our privacy, we are not asking for secrecy.  And when they refuse to concede our privacy democratically, arguing that it is little more than the anteroom to criminal secrecy, they curiously, perhaps revealingly, do not choose to give up on their own secretive games.

We ask for little.  They reject this little.  And, what’s more, they assume oversight over so much more.

This, and so much more, is why we must separate the words “privacy” and “secrecy”.  The battleground is so much clearer for me today.  I hope it is also clearer for you.

Mar 052013

Last night I concluded my post with the following train of thought:

My question as follows: what have the establishment seen in the future that terrifies them into so much repression in the present?

All these moves around the edges to control and target and define.  And in a century where computing powers and predictive tools have multiplied their perspicacities in an almost terrifyingly exponential way.

So what have they seen – these lords and masters of ours – which leads them to scurry about in such unseemly and unremitting ways?

Why have our brave and powerful eagles suddenly become rabbits in the headlights of the future?

What, in the future, really awaits us?

Today, via Rupert on Twitter, comes this website on a subject I only touched on by-the-by: drones.  You can see the video he urged me to watch below.

America’s new Guantánamo – it’s quite an accusation.  A new recruiting tool for Islamic militants, they say.  And it’s a sorry state of affairs, both politically and morally.  As if, of course, politics was somehow separate from the exercise of morality.

But what worries me most – what worried me most about Guantánamo itself – is that it serves as a clear signal of future intent from our security services: without properly informed public debate, without going – in an open and honest way – into the ins and outs of the matter, the security services – our security services – are burning our bridges on our behalf.

You create a generation of Pakistanis who only know the US as a death machine, a generation which will never know everything else the American people in the round have to offer them, and there is only one way forward for the rest of us to proceed: to continue in the future with equally destructive means of defence.

The potential for awful anger and the thirst for dreadful revenge, described almost off-hand in very calm language on the Living Under Drones website itself, is clearly being manufactured by the West – and, at the very least, hardly being discouraged.

And as citizens and generations whose turn will one day come, we will have no alternative – however progressive we consider ourselves – to maintaining the oppressive tools of distant remote-control engagement, as we strive to keep these newly-moulded enemies at bay.

The parallels between what our Coalition government is doing to the economy to destroy sensible British socialism (Legal Aid, the NHS, disability support services – that is to say, to make turning back an impossibility), and what our security services are doing to our future room for diplomatic and international manoeuvre (drones, secret courts, the automatic tracking of worldwide electronic communications – in essence, promulgating the publicly-shared mindset that anything and everything belongs to the military) really could not be closer than here.

It’s a bad sad day when younger generations are deliberately constrained by their forebears.  It seems to me that people who know far better than we do how the future is going to unfold are deliberately devising a series of straitjackets in order to prevent sense and sensibility ever returning to our species.

And I ask the question again: what are they really so afraid of?

What is it about the world that approaches which makes them so terrified of their own acts, their own peoples, their very own legacies?

So much insecurity signposts a serious lack of control over one’s destiny – or, at least, a serious perception that one’s destiny is not there to be forged by oneself.  Perhaps it is here where we discover the true reason for all the straitjackets.

Perhaps they are afraid not of the distant Pakistani tribes but, far more, of their own homelands.

The fear that a continuous beating-up on the harmless engenders, eventually, in the bully.

Mar 042013

Living in Britain is getting to be a moderately scary proposal.  At least from where I’m sitting, it would seem that both the past and the future are now weighing too heavily on the present.  Two examples tonight which may set you thinking as they have done me.

Last night, I was revising History with my daughter.  She was preparing for a mock exam she thought she had today – an exam, which in the event, won’t take place until Wednesday.  She loves doing mind maps to help her remember stuff: the mind maps we used yesterday were beautifully neat, cogent and well-structured.  Two items jumped out at me and made me wonder – whilst I asked her pertinent questions – whether here, right in front of us, we had the ultimate explanations for the Coalition’s incessant referencing of British history.

The first went as follows, in relation to Political Change:

In 1800 Parliament believed it should not interfere in people’s lives.  If people were unhealthy it was their business.

By 1900 Parliament was making laws to improve people’s health e.g. forcing towns to install sewers.

The second, meanwhile, said this on Entrepreneurs:

Medicine became big business.  Some entrepreneurs made millions of pounds from almost useless remedies.  However others put money into scientific research to find drugs which would help to cure disease.

My daughter is not yet fifteen, and yet, unknowingly to her, though perhaps not to her father, in these few words of hers – snatched and garnered from this book or that class – we have all we need to understand the historical drivers behind the past three years of political upheaval.

For the Coalition knows exactly where it wants to take us: for them, it’s pretty clear, the future means the past.  Not any old past, though.  Instead, the beginning of the century which arguably brought about an astonishing renaissance of persistent legacy.

Not a European renaissance couched in linguistic dissonance but a very British renaissance of a singularly English-speaking colonialism.

A singularly English-speaking colonialism which knew all too well how to traffic in the trade of death and infirmity, both abroad and at home.


Whilst British parliamentarians vote to introduce the concept of secret courts (more here), and everyone seems increasingly to see the virtues of spies-in-the-skies, and even privacy seems to be a concept from very forgotten times indeed, I am minded to wonder why the establishment is so very fearful.  As I tweeted this evening:

My question as follows: what have the establishment seen in the future that terrifies them into so much repression in the present?

All these moves around the edges to control and target and define.  And in a century where computing powers and predictive tools have multiplied their perspicacities in an almost terrifyingly exponential way.

So what have they seen – these lords and masters of ours – which leads them to scurry about in such unseemly and unremitting ways?

Why have our brave and powerful eagles suddenly become rabbits in the headlights of the future?

What, in the future, really awaits us?

Oct 032012

This story came my way via Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter feed this evening.  I retweeted it after reading it, then tweeted my own tweet.  I did neglect, however, to take account of the date before doing so.  In the event, the article in question was dated 2007.  Essentially, it accused a major science-journal publisher, which publishes amongst others the hallowed Lancet, of also being involved in the business of arms fairs.  This paragraph in particular captured my gobsmacked attention:

Through its subsidiary, Reed Exhibitions, Reed Elsevier runs arms fairs in Britain, the United States, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany and Taiwan. The same subsidiary runs Lancet conferences, including the forthcoming one in Asia. The Lancet told us how the fairs have in the past included cluster bombs, which are especially dangerous to civilians because they fail to explode and thus create minefields.6The Lancet has consistently spoken out against cluster bombs. Last year’s fair in the US included torture equipment sold by Security Equipment Corporation, who use the grotesque slogan ‘Making grown men cry since 1975.’ The Lancet has long been a leader in condemning torture.

Which was when I then resorted to Wikipedia to see if I could discover anything else.  This section described the current situation as follows:

Members of the medical and scientific communities, which purchase and use many journals published by Reed Elsevier, agitated for the company to cut its links to the arms trade. Two UK academics, Dr. Tom Stafford of Sheffield University and Dr Nick Gill, launched petitions calling on Reed Elsevier to stop organising arms fairs.[21][22] A subsidiary, Spearhead, organised defence shows, including an event where it was reported that cluster bombs and extremely powerful riot control equipment were offered for sale.[23][24]

In February 2007, Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, published an editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, arguing that Reed Elsevier’s involvement in both the arms trade and medical publishing constituted a conflict of interest.[25] He suggested that if academics began to disengage with Reed Elsevier, the company would be likely to end their arms fairs, as arms fairs only comprise a small proportion of their business.

On 1 June 2007, Reed Elsevier announced that they would be exiting the Defence Exhibition business during the second half of 2007.[26]

This means that the company no longer organises arms fairs around the world. The decision followed a high-profile campaign, co-ordinated by CAAT, which highlighted the incompatibility of Reed’s involvement in the arms trade and their position as the number one publisher of medical and science journals and other publications. CAAT welcomed the decision and applauded the board of Reed Elsevier for recognising the concerns of its stakeholders.[27]

So far, so good.  And there was I, kind of feeling a bit guilty for retweeting Tim’s tweet without doublechecking the date and context of the article it referred to.

Which is when a thought did come to my mind: what if Reed’s retreat from the arms business was a tactical one?  What if they continued in, say, related areas?

No.  Surely not.

And really, I’m pretty sure it isn’t the case.  Corporate governance wouldn’t allow a company like Reed Elsevier to retreat so publicly from a position once held so unhappily – and criticised by so many – only for it to once again take up the reins in related areas.

Except …

Here’s a link, hidden under an anodyne TLA on Reed Elsevier’s homepage.  The exhibition ISC West is a security exhibition which “showcases technology and solutions for Law Enforcement, Urban/Border Protection, Campus Safety, and Transportation Security” and includes, in its Global Expo section, “more than 150 international companies featuring leading-edge security solutions from around the world”.

Here you can get a flavour of 2012′s edition on the exhibition’s own Public Security & Safety webpage.  As it coolly points out:

If your job is to protect our borders, towns, cities, schools, healthcare facilities, government institutions, and cargo facilities, Public Security & Safety Expo has all the solutions available for you to research and source. Hundreds of targeted products and services for securing homeland, municipalities, and infrastructure – in all sectors including:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Campus Security
  • Urban/Border Protection
  • Air, Land, Sea and Rail Security

I guess, again, that this is really rather small beer compared to the full-blown arms fairs which used to be the case in the bad old days of 2007 – but even so, hobnobbing with security professionals from 900 companies in total – more than 150 of which appear to come from outside the US – hardly seems to my inexpert eye to be the most compatible activity with that of publishing medical and scientific journals.

What’s more, there’s a helluva lot of money involved in ISC West.  This much, for example:

[...] According to the event’s website, the show’s attendees represent more than $50 billion in purchasing power and more than 50 percent of buyers there do not attend any other major security event.

That’s a lot of money out there for those involved simply to be spending on “access control solutions”, “closed circuit television” and “wireless transmitters”.

So what is Reed Elsevier – a medical- and scientific-journal publisher – doing with a security-exhibition business which allegedly gathers into its fold those kinds of dollars?  If truth be told, at least according to their web presence, at least as I saw it today, they facilitate lots of other exhibitions too – ranging from jewellery to books and production machines.  It’d be churlish and unfair on my part, therefore, not to recognise the breadth of their offer – or to give the impression it was more focussed on security than any other activity.  But without having the resource to corroborate the data, I do wonder if any other exhibition the company organises attracts anywhere close to $50 billion worth of purchasing power – if, indeed, this figure is an accurate one.

One final thought.  If Reed Elsevier’s exhibitions arm was looking to manage this event as simply one more arrow in its quiver of corporate offerings, mixed in with jewellery, book and production-machine expos, I don’t suppose I could find it in myself to argue – at least commercially – with such an approach.  Fair dos, in fact.  Spread your risks; dabble in this and that; ensure shareholder interests are protected … it’ll be, after all, a complex business of contradictory overheads, the cycles of which will need to be balanced very carefully.

Except that, sadly, it wouldn’t appear to be the case.  This, for example, on Reed’s expansion into the security-exhibition business in Mexico:

Expo Seguridad Mexico, Mexico Safety Expo, ISC and ISC Brasil will collaborate on the development of world-class content and customer value for exhibitors and visitors by extending strong customer relationships across borders. Both Expo Seguridad Mexico’s and Mexico Safety Expo’s established strategic partnerships and knowledge of the Latin American marketplace will provide an additional gateway for North American, Central and South American physical security and safety sectors.

And this:

“We are truly excited about the addition of Expo Seguridad Mexico and Mexico Safety Expo into our global portfolio of ISC events and look forward to the co-location with ROC-NFPA’s Mexico Fire Expo”, said Ed Several, Senior Vice President & General Manager, ISC Events. “Together, we will leverage our mutual and combined strengths for this exciting and strategic opportunity to support Mexico’s thriving security marketplace. We are well poised to help customers create an increased profile among international buyers and open new opportunities in this part of the world.”

And this:

ISC Events are part of Reed Exhibitions’ 13 physical, safety and IT security events on five continents: Asia; Africa; Europe; N. America; S. America. The ISC portfolio consists of ISC West, an annual event, held in Las Vegas, NV, USA showcasing the newest products, technologies and solutions to a global audience of security professionals; ISC Solutions, offering the regional Northeast security marketplace with an educational and exhibition platform in New York; ISC Brasil, an annual event in São Paulo, showcasing physical security technologies and products for the South America marketplace and a portfolio of One2one Summits, high-level, exclusive meetings between buyers and sellers to solve specific security needs;

Now it’s clear from all the above that Reed Elsevier and its subsidiaries don’t just do security.  But a trend does seem to be pretty clear – and the temptation to follow the money must be difficult to resist.  Is this a case of that tactical retreat I spoke of earlier – or is it simply a case of a completely and appropriately above-the-board set of business relationships which don’t impact, in any way, on the integrity of the company’s other publishing-related activities?

I do hope the latter is the case, of course.  It’s just that alleged figure of $50 billion that gets me.  It’s an awfully grand amount of money for its expo attendees to be spending on innocuous tech.

Anyone from the company care to comment on, correct or clarify any of the above?

Apr 192012

The prostitution scandal currently affecting the American Secret Service, and which has already led to three dismissals, is interesting.  If we were still living in a world where WikiLeaks held sway, this would surely have been a story they’d have run.  But it isn’t such a world.

So why – and more importantly how – is the story being run?

It’s not being run because upstanding Americans from the Moral Majority – or indeed the liberal left – are unhappy at such acts.  This is clear enough from recent political declarations, which, while mentioning ethical issues in pretty quick passing, go on to display the following narrative arc:

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ms Collins, a Republican who represents Maine in the Senate, also said she had asked Mr Sullivan a number of questions during her phone briefing.

“Who were these women? Could they have been members of groups hostile to the United States? Could they have planted bugs, disabled weapons, or… jeopardised [the] security of the president or our country?”

The question of course, as always, is who does it benefit to run such a story at such a time?  Obama, because it distracts from other matters out there?  The Republicans, because it casts Obama in a bad light in the eyes of Hispanic voters?  Or maybe the newspapers themselves from a pecuniary point of view, because they’re owed one for previous favours rendered?

In reality, it leads one to believe that an intruded-upon secrecy simply doesn’t exist.  Whatever we see, it’s because someone who knows wants us to see it.  We’re always going to be at the mercy of that manipulatory instinct to engineer our perceptions; always going to be unable to see things directly and with clarity ourselves.

If our politics is really as “crap” as some are now saying, we need look no further than the above impulse to know the reason why.

Politics does not search out the truth.  Politics looks to degrade our appreciation of what’s right and what’s wrong.  And pretending, occasionally, that our media serve to cast light on dark realities is just one more part of the game those in power are playing with their voters.

Aug 192011

Before you get the idea I’m currently on a crusade against my own party, let me make it clear that the example I lay out in this post is almost certainly true of all other parties and many other organisations at the moment in our troubled society.

I guess it’s a sign of the times – and I shouldn’t be surprised – but the Labour Party Conference’s self-denominated Open Day this year requires the following information from anyone who wishes to attend:

Due to the high level of security surrounding the Annual Conference 2011 all applicants are required to complete a full security application and are subject to police checking.

The following information is a list of all the security information you will be required to submit:

» Passport Number (if you have one)
» National Insurance number
» Driving Licence number (if you have one)
» Your private and company vehicle registration numbers
» A passport style photo in an appropriate digital format – please click here for image guidelines
I have read and understood the photo guidelines

» You must provide the following details for a countersignatory:
Name, date of birth, home address, home telephone number, work or mobile telephone number, e-mail address.

Please ensure that you read the information regarding deadlines and late application surcharges before completing your application.

I have read and understood the application guidelines

So if you don’t have a passport and you don’t have a driving licence, a national insurance number is considered enough.  But if you do have either of the aforementioned, plus a private and company car, whether it would seem you’ll be bringing them with you or not, you need to provide five times as much information as others who are less thoroughly identifiable by the state.

Does no one else see the bizarreness of a situation where, on the one hand, we politicos are rightly driven to open ourselves to a wider public through a laudable desire to identify more closely with our voters whilst, on the other hand, going through a laborious process of demanding so much personal data for the honour?

Or is it just me that thinks something’s not quite right in the hierarchy of rights and duties?