Regulating trade and restricting communications

The TPP: An Attack on the Internet

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, initialed by the delegations of the 12 participating countries in early October, is one of the most talked-about mysteries of our time. The moment the treaty was announced, there was a tidal wave of commentary and criticism: most of it based on previous versions, speculation and a few leaks. Because it won’t be published for months (even years perhaps), nobody really knew what the document actually said.

Then Wikileaks, the on-line bible of revealed secrets, published several leaked sections of what its editors believe is the final edition and the collective groan morphed into an outcry. It was, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation puts it, “all that we feared.” The TPP internationalizes some of the worst inequities and abuses specific signing governments are currently committing and nowhere is that more true than with surveillance and communications repression.

We now know the answer to that question.We now know the answer to that question.
 

Its measures deepen the illegality of whistle-blowing and broaden who can be held responsible for it. They use copyright law to make online dissent and online scholarship and research much more difficult. And they chop away at the rights to online privacy.

The deal would fundamentally repress the Internet and, while proponents insist that the agreement would not over-ride the specific laws of each country, it allows and even encourages countries to pass more repressive laws.

It is, in short, a nightmare.

Europe's Stricter Privacy Protections Conflict with NSA's Spying

EU Court — NSA Surveillance is Illegal

As expected, the European Union court has thrown out an agreement, forged in 2000, that allows virtually uninhibited data sharing and transfer between the United States and EU countries and is the legal basis for National Security Agency’s on-line surveillance and data capture programs.

The Court’s decision is binding on all EU members and violation of its decisions could end in punitive measures including fines and trade restrictions.

EU Court Chief Justice Koen LenaertsEU Court Chief Justice Koen Lenaerts

The decision validates an opinion issued by the EU Court’s Advocate General last month that the Safe Harbor Framework — a group of trade regulations approved by the EU in 2000 — violates the laws of various EU member countries and the EU’s 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The split between Europe and the U.S. just got wider!

EU Court Advocate General Deals Severe Blow to NSA Surveillance

A legal case, virtually unreported in the U.S., could very well unhinge a major component of this country’s surveillance system. In any case, it certainly challenges it.

Yves Bot, he Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (the European Union’s litigation arena) just published an “opinion” that the privacy and data sharing arrangements between the EU’s 28 countries and the United States are “invalid”, must be revised and cannot now be used to regulate data transfer.

This is to surveillance what an earthquake would be to a city: it wouldn’t halt surveillance but it would destroy one of its major components. While the EU court’s 15 justices have yet to issue their ruling on the opinion, they seldom deviate very much from their AG’s advice and, given that they published his opinion and circulated it to the media, it’s a good bet they are going to approve something close to it. They’ll make that ruling later this year.

 taking on a giant!Maximillian Schrems: taking on a giant!
 

But the opinion alone is undoubtedly sending shudders through the halls of the NSA which gets all kinds of data from cooperating big-data companies (like Facebook and Google) and steals data from the ones that don’t cooperate through a program called PRISM.

The most draconian information-gathering law yet!

The Senate Wants to Make Internet Companies and Providers Spies

How much noise does the other shoe make when it drops? If the shoe is a law that would complete the development of a police surveillance state in the United States, it’s almost silent.

Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee quietly sent a bill to the Senate that would require Internet companies (like Twitter and Facebook) and on-line Internet content and service providers (from giants like Comcast to more specialized providers like May First/People Link) to literally become part of the country’s intelligence network by turning over to the government — without any government request — any posts on their systems related to “terrorist activities” and the identities of the posters.

News about the bill only became public when Reuters noticed and reported on it.

Turning the Magnifying Glass on UsTurning the Magnifying Glass on Us – original http://www.davidicke.com
 

The provision, Section 603 of Senate Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, is terse, simple and frightening. If passed, it could force Internet companies and providers to turn over information on organizations, activists, journalists, researchers and even interested commenters whose posts touch on “terrorist activity”: the over-used under-defined term that drives so much of our contemporary legislation. It would also encourage these services to monitor their systems for any material that could possibly be considered relevant to “terrorism”.

Not only does the provision chill communications but it turns the Internet into a law enforcement agency and that would fundamentally change its character and the society it serves.

The full Senate will now debate the law and it will probably sail through in the Fall. The House hasn’t announced a similar measure but, given who runs the House, such a companion bill is very likely.

A tale of sexism, racism and corporate pressure?

Ellen Pao's Resignation from Reddit

The Internet — always ablaze with controversy — is a wildfire these days with revelations about more pernicious government spying, deals between governments and corporate “hacker companies”, and Ellen Pao’s resignation as head of Reddit.

I’ll have things to say about the rest later this week but the Pao blaze is shining brightest right now and there are some important lessons to be drawn from it.

Since last Fall, Pao has been the “interim CEO” of the privately held corporation (a subsidiary of Conde Nast) that owns one of the Internet’s most remarkable phenomenon. In its ten years of existence, Reddit has grown so large and become so complex that it defies definition.

Happier times? Ellen Pao at Reddit's OfficeHappier times? Ellen Pao at Reddit's Office
 

At its core, it’s a message board system, but with 160 million users and tens of thousands of message boards under its roof tied together by dizzying interaction, it is the closest thing the Internet has to a city. True to Internet culture, it’s run by a kind of anarchistic democracy. People start message systems (called “subreddits”) whenever they want about whatever they want and users who start them moderate and control them. You can post text, photos, links to any kind of content you want (including videos) and people answer each other constantly.

For the most part, it works wonderfully, making it potentially a model for larger societies — except that in this case the “mean user” is male between 18 to 29 years old and living in the United States. Whether that particular demographic is a cause or an effect, the fact is that this is no utopia. While most subreddits are friendly informative communities talking about the subreddit’s subject, there are subreddits that are virulently sexist, homophobic and racist. Reddit can, and sometimes does, quickly turn into a lynch mob of immature young men acting destructively and viciously.

Ellen Pao was brought in to deal with the craziness; the craziness has forced her out.

It approves the spy program and makes it permanent

USA Freedom Act is Anything But

To get to the point: there is nothing — nothing at all — in any recent law or legislative action that will in any way weaken the police state structure our government has put into place for rapid deployment. You are not any more free than you were last week and, no matter what the Congress has done with the expired provisions of the Patriot Act or the newly developed and Orwellian-named “USA Freedom Act”, you are not going to be any more free next week.

This week’s big news is the expiration of the Patriot Act or actually a few of its provisions, since this humongous illustration of a fascist’s wet dream is comprised of hundreds of laws that expire at different times. The provisions that have expired are, however, significant because they involve phone data capture that affects every U.S. citizen. The Congress had to renew those measures and they didn’t, so the provisions are dead. In his most recent contribution to TCBH, my colleague Dave Lindorff presents a fuller picture of what those expirations really mean (and don’t).

They're Still Going to Watch Us!They're Still Going to Watch Us!
 

The expirations make the USA Freedom Act, which the Congress has now passed in apparent lieu of the expired Patriot Act provisions, apparently important. In fact, reading the commercial media, one would think that democracy lost had now been found and reinstalled. Reflecting that buzz, Business Insider said the vote “significantly reigns in the federal government’s ability to spy on citizens”.

But the USA Freedom Act is basically a public relations and discourse-control maneuver that changes almost nothing about surveillance or repression. It is the culmination of a cleverly orchestrated campaign of diversion which positioned the spying as an intrusion into the lives of the average citizen. It’s certainly that but its true purpose is to gather information on opposition movements. So, while the law takes a small step back on general spying, it actually entrenches the data-collection on movements of protest and change by maintaining it and making it permanent.

Rather than a cause for celebration, this is a blaring alarm.

Our rights are forgotten.

The Government/Corporate Debate on Encryption: How Best to Spy on You

 

A debate, going on in the quasi-private and well-catered halls of government-corporate collusion, has reached the post-smoldering stage. It’s now a virtual forest fire in full public view.

It pits government spies against corporate cannibals and is about the often misunderstood and somewhat tedious issue of encryption.

Like so many “raging debates” among the powerful, this one is more important to most of us not for what is being said but what is assumed.

The all-important key!The all-important key! (courtesy of Hackwhiz – http://www.hackwiz.com)
 

To believe the corporate PR releases (and some media reports), the two sides are debating the balance between protecting our rights and protecting our lives.. In fact, the debate is more about how to effectively manage spying: the government says it wants companies to give it the codes to crack all encryption while the companies are devising ways to make sure the government has a court order, or inter-agency collaboration, before doing that.

Nobody is saying the obvious: cracking encryption to steal data is unconstitutional and illegal and this debate is taking place at a moment when massive movements of protest are convering the streets of our cities organized through social media and cell-phone communications. In a sense, this is the fight over how they’ll cross the line we can’t let them cross.

The ubiquitous doll is now an information-gathering device!

Barbie the Spy!

For many people reading this, there are at least two concepts that will offend.

One is surveillance, about which we’ve written often on this site. The other is the Barbie doll: the ubiquitous toy that has for decades molded girls’ (and boys’) concept of “the perfect female” as having an impossible-to-achieve figure derived from sexist fantasy and has taught them that their lives should be about dressing up and attracting the attention of a boring male named “Ken.”

There are, of course, many other offensive things going on in the world but these two catch the writer’s attention because, in a new version of this product toy-maker Mattel Inc. is introducing to the market this Fall they are combined. Barbie, the girl you can never be (and shouldn’t ever want to be), is now a spy.

 Reporting for DutyHello Barbie: Reporting for Duty
 

The company introduced its new doll, called “Hello Barbie,” at a February trade fair in New York and…well, you can’t make this stuff up.

This doll can converse with you (or with your child unless you play with dolls) and record the answers. It then transmits these answers to a data-bank at the company’s headquarters and stores them under the child’s name and other personal information, then analyzes this data and responds to it…immediately or months later. Given a little time, it will have profiled your child and turned her into an information gathering source.

Is it imminent? It's ever-present!

Venezuela's Continuous Coup

When Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested last week, charged with organizing and leading a coup, the U.S. State Department’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false. The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”

That remarkable quote — denying what has been a well-known and fully documented pillar of U.S. foreign policy for the last 30 years — tells us more truth than the lie Psaki was trying to spread. Why, at this point, would Washington make such a definitive and laughably false statement?

 Maduro salutes Chavez at rallyLegacy and Challenge: Maduro salutes Chavez at rally
 

The evidence is overwhelming that the rich and powerful of Venezuela have followed a continuous, constantly morphing plan to de-stabilize the country and take over the government by any means necessary and that the United States government knows about that plan, supports it and, as much as it can, is assisting in it.

“There’s been an ongoing effort to destabilize the government,” said author Miguel Tinker Salas, a top authority on the Venezuela’s situation, “to represent the government as a crisis in crisis mode, and to depict the country as if it’s on the brink of a precipice.”

Everything about Venezuela — including its progress and successes, its growing status as a leader in its continent and its difficulties, stumbles and failures — is driven by two realities. One is its government’s commitment to a genuine program of fundamental political and economic change and the other is an equally committed effort to sabotage that program and overthrow this government.

Is there a coup planned in Venezuela? All the time.

FCC Chair Proposes Net Neutrality Protection

Wheeler's Moment of Clarity

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed Wednesday new FCC rules that would protect and preserve the Internet’s Net Neutrality.

The proposals, coming after years of debate and an intense campaign of grass-roots community organizing and activist pressure on the FCC, would treat Internet communications as a Title II service — the same FCC Title used to govern telephone communications. That change was at the center of activist movement demands since Title II services are automatically neutral under FCC rules.

(An important clarification: this does not mean you can get high-speed service for the same price as regular modem service. It means that access to data and content speed to your device must be the same. If you have a slower connection, all content would flow at that speed. Faster connection, all content flows at that faster rate.)

 Finally!FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: Finally!
 

It is a stunning victory for the Internet-freedom movement which includes scores of organizations nationwide and that movement celebrated the announcement immediately.

The questions now are whether the FCC will approve the Chairman’s proposals, what the reaction might be from corporations (like Comcast) who vigorously oppose this change and what, if those corporations unleash their lobbyists, might Congress do.

At this point the answers seem to be: yes, scream and not all that much but in Washington you never know.