Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Twitter ordered to turn over tweets Twitter went to court on behalf of the Harris, according to the story. I guess that's good. I continue to think that the public's stance towards tech corporations disregards the idea that corporations are too big to say no to any request from authority. This request happens to be public, but in the case of an unfounded NSL with a gag order, Twitter would do what they were asked to do in secret, because getting in trouble by violating a gag order is nothing to do with the business they are running and could cost them a lot of money. And there are false-positive NSLs, just like there are false positives in all other aspects of the endless global war. Facebook and Twitter have become de facto heroic, for being the platforms for messages around the Egyptian and other revolutions. The messages got through, so there's nothing concrete to complain about. And the high-tech conduit gets a sort of credit, or is the hub of a sort of fondness, for being the medium that certain messages went out on. Even though Facebook and Twitter do not give a shit and would just as easily carry messages for the near right, the far right, the Flat Earth Society and everyone else. Facebook and Twitter are no different than Yahoo, who cooperated with the Chinese government and helped get dissidents arrested. Eventually, if activists have some reason to think that Twitter would exercise a prior restraint over some messages and not over others - or, take private Twitter messages and leak them in the moment rather than months later - the activists will move their communication to their own inventions. No time like the present. Occupy had an "Occupy Facebook" software development initiative a while ago. That's all fine, but my point is that the compromised situation is going to happen sooner or later, so the various social movements around the world may as well get out of the corporate medium business now, on a preventive basis, for the sake of whatever canaries are in the coal mine when a request comes in to compromise the privacy of certain communications in the moment rather than months later. Added later: "...Information requests will include data pursued in connection with criminal investigations. Twitter says it does not automatically comply with every request and that users are informed of prying into their accounts in cases where it is legal to do so. Cases in which notification is not permitted would include those involving a National Security Letter. Such a request is a demand for information issued by government agencies about which the recipient is forbidden to talk ..." What disincentive does the government have for going wide with their NSLs? The voters are hardly going to politically punish them for it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NYT 'Kill List' story

Here is the New York Times story on the targeted killings by drone.

I don't agree with the even-handed, centrist point of view that Obama is dealing with a tough situation rationally and methodically and doing what he can.

- Innocent false-positive casualties are described as "minimal" throughout this story. True positives and false positives are both important, but one perspective missing from this article is the trauma and suffering of those false positives. At the least, this perspective would be a component in assessing how to formulate an opinion about the fact that such a program is going on. Once you tell the story of Khaled al-Masri, it shines a powerful light on the arrogance of the programs that allowed him to be rendered, imprisoned and tortured for five months. Also, the false positives who are described are mostly family members of people who, by virtue of glimpse that the article gives us into weeks of deliberations, we are supposed to accept as probably OK to feel good about killing. Cruel or not, I think most people would probably feel ambiguous towards the close family of someone they are satisfied is a terrorist. But al-Masri is not even close. al-Masri was a case of mistaken identity and had nothing to do with anything. When George Tenet found out about al-Masri, his remark was "oh shit." What is the record of Obama's program in killing or traumatizing people who were complete accidents?

- The article alludes to the fact that Russia and China are eyeing the precedent we are setting. There is a reciprocity argument that the killings are counterproductive. If Russia has a dispute with Georgian nationalists, they may track a Georgian nationalist to an apartment building in Oakland, CA, kill him, and eight other people while they're at it. This would only be commensurate with the astonishing decisions by Obama that various innocent bystanders are acceptable to kill. The broadening of the categories also allows us to kill innocent bystanders and just categorize the killings in a way that makes us feel it must be okay- they must have been militants. This may eventually be a precedent for Russia to do the same in a conflict with Chechnya or Georgia. Just call whoever happened to be around a militant.

- We aren't there *yet*, but the lower and lower bar towards "militants" is a problem. The carrying out of indefinite detention until the end of hostilities was just put on hold by the injunction from Judge Forrest. I don't know what will happen next with the NDAA in particular. But it is also a picture of where the barometer is at a particular moment in time. A lot of people push the envelope as much as they possibly can over true positives. A missed attack is on their minds, day and night. It's important to have some compassion for people at the other end of the true positive/false positive spectrum from you. Both are important, and the point of keeping this blog is not to belittle the sleepless nights that go into prevention of attacks. What is a problem is the possible coming together of preemptive detention in the U.S. along with a very broad definition of militant. The economy is a driver. Even if Occupy has gotten quieter, the same conditions that gave rise to Occupy are ongoing and are an engine for something new from the progressive side. So there are things which aren't happening now, but I think are a hell of a lot more plausible and evidence-based than the things Alex Jones raves about: (1) austerity drives unemployment and poverty (2) The degree to which some people radicalize is a function of whether they are getting a fair deal and a decent existence according to the current system. As the perception widens that this isn't happening, with Citizens United and the broad meme of back-and-forth collusion between rich people in industry, lobbying and government, some of the newly unemployed will go further out politically. (3) They are preemptively imprisoned under NDAA, or even (4) killed on U.S. streets, accurately or inaccurately portrayed as militants through an ever-eroding standard of what is acceptable to do to who, and where.

- The other type of false positive is a deliberate false positive. I don't know of Obama targetting anyone on false pretenses. I think the outing of Valerie Plame by Bush/Cheney is an example of this, though, and the Times story makes it clear that Obama used subtlety to give himself loopholes on a lot of other Bush policies that the common imagination has him heroically ending. The finality of the drone strikes create a disturbing possibility that the next accidental al-Masri could be dead instead of just traumatically tortured, and the next Plame scapegoated as a political enemy could be dead instead of just exposed to danger through the abrupt exposure of the secrets that ensured her safety in a foreign country.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sherman Antitrust Act - precedent for scope creep

I don't expect much out of an editorial by Tim Griffin on the NDAA in the Daily Caller. And Griffin was as big of an apologist shit as I would have expected given his history. However, the Daily Caller has angry paleocons, civil libertarians, Ron Paul libertarians or whatever labels they want to use for themselves, in its commenters. So that's a little heartening. Some of us want to call a harmful law what it is, no matter if it comes with a (D) or an (R) next to its name.

In response to Griffin's downplaying of the danger that vague legislation will be applied in a new context later on, commenter Stewart Dawson said this:

Here's the problem. The Sherman anti-trust act. Anti-monopoly legislation warped to apply toward union busting ... Congress has a long and storied history about using vague phrasing to warp meanings to apply to whatever they want.

I am interested in learning more about Stewart's example. I'll put it on my copious reading list. By staying on top of the fact that there are real precedents of scope creep in U.S. history, this is how you have some substantiation for saying that it can happen again in spite of the possible good intentions of the non-disingenuous ones who want to use the new detention powers just on true positives intent on mass murder.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ian Tomlinson / Sousveillance

I feel uninformed.. I happened to stumble on coverage of this incident of Ian Tomlinson's death. He was a newspaper vendor in the area at the 2009 G-20 meeting and was killed by police who were already in the mindset of fighting protesters.

From Wikipedia... "Ian Tomlinson ...was an English newspaper vendor who collapsed and died in the City of London after coming into contact with the police while on his way home from work during the 2009 G-20 summit protests. A first postmortem examination indicated he had suffered a heart attack and had died of natural causes. His death became controversial a week later when The Guardian obtained video footage showing him being struck on the leg from behind by a police officer wielding a baton, then pushed to the ground by the same officer. The video appeared to show no provocation on Tomlinson's part—he was not a protester, and at the time he was struck was walking along with his hands in his pockets. He walked away after the incident, but collapsed and died moments later. ... After The Guardian published the video, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began a criminal inquiry. Further postmortem examinations, conducted by different pathologists, indicated that Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with cirrhosis of the liver. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in July 2010 that no charges would be brought against the officer, PC Simon Harwood, because the disagreement between the pathologists meant prosecutors could not demonstrate a clear causal link between the death and the alleged assault. In May 2011 an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, ruling that the push and baton strike had involved excessive and unreasonable force. As a result the CPS reviewed its decision, and Harwood was charged with manslaughter. He entered a plea of not guilty in October 2011; his trial is set to open at the Old Bailey in June 2012."

This seems a little like ancient history now because it all happened before 2011 and the rising thermostat of civil unrest - Tunisia, Egypt, Occupy, Indignados, Tottenham. It's part of the same story in a way. After Oscar Grant was killed, I was discussing the Oakland protests with someone who said he was undecided. He is open minded towards the left and right, but probably has the sensible centrist's indignation towards the aesthetics of marchers and the far left. I brought up the Toronto G20 and his reply was, "yes, but Canada is a whole separate country from the U.S."

I think incidents where false positives are killed, combined with a shrinking world with instant global communication, are going to gradually erode separations and perceived distances. So a false positive killed by cops in any country is gradually going to have more and more immediacy to anyone else in another country, maybe depending if the viewer/reader has the predisposition to accentuate the dangers of breaking a few eggs, rather than centrists or people on the right who temperamentally might tend to emphasize the stability of entire cultures and time periods. Maybe-- I'm not sure. That's the international angle of it. Also, it happened at a specifically international, neoliberal meeting, which provides a certain backdrop but there might be an exaggeration of the relationship between the inside and the outside. Paul Jay was positing the police response to the G20 in Toronto as a demonstration of one facet of the program being ratified inside the meeting. Almost like a perverse, creepy showcase: the people are not going to like what we're cramming down, so we have to be ready with a draconian smackdown and you can see a preview right here out your window. Sometimes the story of the Democratic Convention in 1968 is told like that too. Maybe it's accurate... I would tend to go with Paul Jay's impressions.

I happened to wander around the Wikipedia article on Tomlinson and click over to 'sousveillance.' Interesting. I usually feel really late to adopt or hear about a particular meme, so I wonder how long this one has been around. The article on sousveillance has an interesting photo of a guy with a necklace that is one of the black, semicircular CCTV cameras. It's interesting to take the "privacy is over" viewpoint to extremes. I listened to one of Vernor Vinge's Long Now talks a few years ago where he was spinning out possible trajectories for the future. One of his ideas was that when privacy is over, the bar for what's unacceptable actually becomes pretty high. So there's that.. I'd like to re-listen to what he said. Another thing on the subject comes to mind. The first fifty pages of Samuel Delany's _Triton_ are so jam-packed with ideas, it stands out as a rainbow in the mind. It is such an odd book. I love it. So in the very first few pages, this character Bron Helstrom steps into a special booth. Inside the booth, you can see little bits of surveillance footage of yourself. Apparently Delany is positing that people can be mollified for the same reasons that the most beautiful sound is supposed to be the sound of your own name. People don't care that much about surveillance cameras so long as they can get a little bit of a narcissistic thrill out of it.

My preoccupation is false deaths and harming innocents. So it's interesting to think about how ubiquitous surveillance changes impunity, if at all. You can't be rendered to a secret prison if there are no secret prisons. I am not inclined to support or approve of this idea that sousveillance makes everything OK, because I suspect there are and will continue to be inequities that favor power, corporations, the military-industrial and other complexes. What about ubiquitous surveillance and trade secrets? I'll be more impressed with ubiquitous "sharing" when Facebook makes all its intellectual property open source. There's a double standard. Sousveillance is intriguing when it breaks down the double standard and says, hey, this is cheap technology that everyone can use.

Weren't there some reports of police in Zuccotti Park "going for the cameras", hitting people at the pocket or the waist to try to break their phones? Did I hear something about phone-video-recording the police being illegal? Was there some sort of "blackout" when OWS was raided? And how is this possible.... maybe the next stage after a blackout is that the cheapness and the ubiquity of cameras goes way up, even higher than it is now, so that a blackout is technically impossible. I say this as a sort of devil's advocate. I hear it coming out of someone, but not out of me. Actual flatness would be one thing. But it never seems to work out that way. The bell that some of this is ringing for me is towards the people who argue for pure capitalism. It never comes to that because of monopolies and cartels. I think there's an analog there. I suppose in a way, an argument for sousveillance could be like an argument for market solutions. Don't legislate privacy rules. Just spread the cameras around and let the mechanism doing the work do the work for rich and poor alike, for the enforcers and the Ian Tomlinsons and Maher Arars. I don't think anyone is actually saying this - I'm just speculating. In both situations, it's no good because of hypocrisy.

I don't know though. What if every person on the planet had unblockable GPS and unblockable cameras rolling. Let's say, coming from the pupil. You can no longer do disappearances. I guess one reason why this isn't a helpful avenue if you're Amnesty or Human Rights Watch is that the people with impunity don't care if you find out. They do it in broad daylight. If you can't go to a black site, you just go to a white site. You control the person's recourse - habeas corpus, due process - the things they would do if they COULD do anything. Maybe the difference is that outrageous videos outrage the swayable center. There is a variability in how many apolitical centrists will come out in the streets for different reasons. Some won't, some will and some might. If every Abu Ghraib and Bagram is constantly on camera 24/7, it might not stop the Lynndie Englands. They'll just do it anyway. But it shocks the conscience, and video footage shocks the conscience in a tangible way.

(Though pictures and videos can be doctored. But aha - now we have massive redundancy! I suppose redundant videos can be faked or altered as well, but I have a hunch that redundancy is going to become a shorthand for true events as time goes on. So the officer beating someone up - if it can be seen from three angles, with three resolutions and sound qualities - you start to doubt it less.)

If you keep on doing it, you might get 2011 levels of people fighting back. If you still keep on doing it, you might get yourself deposed. If you try to do it quietly, maybe that's possible and you solve your PR problem. But if it becomes less possible as time goes on, maybe a completely fair and even-handed, ubiquitous, 24/7, cheap, easy and unblockable panopticon could be a positive thing for human rights? I don't think we'll be there for a couple of hundred years.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

FDL: Twitter allows for censorship of tweets in individual countries.

David Dayen story here.

At least it forces the issue when they make an overt announcement. It is the type of news story I have been wanting to see for five years. Cover Twitter executives - cover Evan Williams - don't just cover stories that break ON Evan Williams' medium.

This means that *every* news outlet and every piece of the internet that makes a de facto standard out of having the Twitter "T" in the corner is going to have to contend with the fact that they are using a medium that censors when governments ask. I have never liked the damn thing because I always felt as though this censorability and master switch-ability was being downplayed or ignored.

I guess as this notion of censorship erodes trust in Twitter, it probably drives some people to set up their own services with strong encryption. See recent Wired story about development of replacement social networking :here. So what I'm wondering is, then does strong encryption get criminalized, or given the reliance of business on encryption, will there be strong encryption licenses, and will it be illegal to SE without permission from a government?

There has never been a better time for Eben Moglen's Freedom Box.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hedges sues Obama administration over NDAA

I am glad he is doing this. But don't these types of suits usually get thrown out because of standing? By pointing this out, I am not opposed to the suit. I am just discouraged.

Eventually, it probably *will* be found unconstitutional. But there is a temporal trick in there, which I've noticed coming up from time to time. It could have been passed with the authors knowing perfectly well it would eventually be thrown out by SCOTUS. But this gives them a couple of years of carte blanche in the meantime. Doesn't it? So you can detain a lot of false positives and screw up a lot of innocent peoples' lives in the time it takes for your justification for doing so to be thrown out by the courts.

It's like a broader form of police taking advantage of what they are permitted to do in the moment, maybe knowing perfectly well it won't hold up. So protesters can be arrested in the moment, and if the police don't have a case or have overreached, just release them and don't file charges. Isn't this a sort of checkmate? For any trial balloon you want to launch, just structure it to only work for as long as it will take to be shot down by the courts. Then move on to something else short-term.

I don't know if Hedges is correct in what he says about why it was passed. He probably is. So it's bankers who want austerity and read austerity for its impact on an *investment.* When money isn't spent on social services, that's good, because it means it will be put towards debts, or I guess they also like it because it means a hospitable operating climate for them. I'm partially getting this from Klein, partially from James Crotty and others, like on Real News. Michael Hudson, for example. It's very helpful that Paul Jay is constantly asking interviewees what's in it for them, who wants austerity and why?

So populations will fight back and protest movements will grow. Hedges says that bankers/governments don't trust the police to enforce their crackdowns, so they want the military to do it. That's interesting. I get the impression from some of what I read that maybe the military is as likely to rebel as the police are. Someone commenting on Daily Bail made the fascinating point that a few unemployed JSOCs who go down to Zuccotti Park would probably be able to run rings around the police, because they're trained. It puts blowback in a whole new light. Another thing that it puts in a whole new light is the recent advent of "Hire-a-Veteran" initiatives. Keep them busy - they are the people you DON'T want siding with the unemployed.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Newton's Third as a rationalization for bad policy

There's an argument that I hear and see around for why something that the left is concerned about is really no big deal. It sounds like Newton's Third Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So bad policy will be its own undoing. If the NDAA is used to detain someone, there will be suits. The Supreme Court will eventually hear it. Bill Scher gave this argument for why the left should "calm down" about the NDAA. He and his co-host were basically criticizing Cenk Uygur for expressing his doubts about re-electing Obama.

I don't agree with this argument. For one thing, the process that occurs as this reaction plays out is stressful to the individuals involved. It is a kind of de facto punishment. Real News had stories about demonstrators who were detained at the G20 in Toronto. First they were arrested, in the moment. By virtue of being arrestees, they were subject to a low buzz of verbal abuse and degrading treatment by police. This is all in the middle zone between the action and the equal and opposite reaction. So then after a period of time, charges are dropped, or no charges are filed. This activity that can happen *right away* in the moment is actually not a side story, but the main event. There are many other stories of this nature. Democracy Now journalists were arrested at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, MN. They challenged the police conduct in a federal suit and eventually won a large settlement. The settlement is an equal and opposite reaction, years later. But does their ordeal, in & of itself, work as a chilling effect on others?

Hopefully not, but the point is that real psychological and physical damage to innocent people's lives can be done in this temporal middle zone. In the case of the activist work and court challenges that are going to come against the NDAA, people may die in detention while waiting to find out that that detention is unconstitutional. The notion of a future ameliorating event should not be an excuse or a reason to shrug off new bad policy and bad laws. If the center left is apologizing for these things and the eventual counterweight is their reason why, they ought to be ashamed.

Tom Lantos on Yahoo cooperation with China

This is a few years old and I wasn't aware of it at the time. I admire Rep. Lantos for saying these things.

Thank you Richard for pointing out Yahoo and talking about this hearing when we were discussing the role of name-brand IT in Occupy and the new post-Lehman left.

In this graphic, the EFF calls out thirteen corporations: Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Myspace, Skype, Twitter, Verizon and Yahoo. Yahoo has since gotten one star out of four from the EFF, for fighting for user privacy in the courts. Good. But I think there is a serious deficiency of journalism that covers these 13 companies in a critical way. And in my opinion, the fact that some of them are part of the media's essential "social networking strategy" in itself will tend to ameliorate the coverage. Specifically, Apple and Google, for their mobile platforms, Amazon, for Kindle, and Facebook and Twitter as the de facto mediums for dissemination of news and ancillary promotions around news.

The elephant in the room is that as the endless war rolls into its third presidency (either now or in 2016,) I think quite a few of these information and computer corporations will continue to sell people out and cooperate with governments that are repressive now, and governments like the USA that are not facing a hell of a lot of outcry for codifying preemptive military detention. There is some, but not from the center. I don't view a Chinese dissident differently from an American one, but the idea of U.S. companies helping go after Americans, and being wrong a lot of the time, would shock a lot of Americans. Especially if you consider the high false-positive rate that JSOC is having with assassinations, according to Dana Priest, according to Stanley McChrystal. One would assume that the "elite" JSOC is about as good as it gets, and that isn't very good. It's a different agency, but I don't think that matters.

In addition to Yahoo we have the example of AT&T. I think Google did say no to something, so yeah, kudos to Google on that. I hope there will be a lot more people in the coming years who see through the fetishization of Silicon Valley's cool inventions, read them as news and not simply as an inert conduit over which you read news. And consider that they may be participants in a military-industrial complex where in place of military you can substitute the octopus legs of a militarized police response to Occupy, war, DHS, fighting terrorism and surveillance in the U.S., and in place of Boeing or Lockheed, the cooptable information sector. And the response could be aimed towards any Occupy demonstrator or, if the JSOC example is any guide, a high rate of innocent bystanders per success.