Tag Archives: freedom of speech

How to Buy Public Opinion: the Saudi Cables

Saudi_Cables

Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media (wikileaks website)

Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.  Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the “carrot and stick” approach, referred to in the documents as “neutralisation” and “containment”. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question.

The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to “neutralise” it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. “Neutralised” journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The “containment” approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for “containment” are expected not only to sing the Kingdom’s praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.

One of the ways “neutralisation” and “containment” are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an “asset” in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman and Nouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse “shares” in the media outlets, where the cash “dividends” flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political “dividends” – an obliging press.

An example of these co-optive practices in action can be seen in an exchange between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. On 24 November 2011 Egypt’s Arabic-language broadcast station ONTV hosted the Saudi opposition figure Saad al-Faqih, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to task the embassy with inquiring into the channel. The Ministry asked the embassy to find out how “to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom’s policies”.  The document reports that the billionaire owner of the station, Naguib Sawiris, did not want to be “opposed to the Kingdom’s policies” and that he scolded the channel director, asking him “never to host al-Faqih again”. He also asked the Ambassador if he’d like to be “a guest on the show”.

The Saudi Cables are rife with similar examples, some detailing the figures and the methods of payment. These range from small but vital sums of around $2000/year to developing country media outlets – a figure the Guinean News Agency “urgently needs” as “it would solve many problems that the agency is facing” – to millions of dollars, as in the case of Lebanese right-wing television station MTV.

The “neutralisation” and “containment” approaches are not the only techniques the Saudi Ministry is willing to employ. In cases where “containment” fails to produce the desired effect, the Kingdom moves on to confrontation. In one example, the Foreign Minister was following a Royal Decree dated 20 January 2010 to remove Iran’s new Arabic-language news network, Al-Alam, from the main Riyadh-based regional communications satellite operator, Arabsat. After the plan failed, Saud Al Faisal sought to “weaken its broadcast signal”.

The documents show concerns within the Saudi administration over the social upheavals of 2011, which became known in the international media as the “Arab Spring”. The cables note with concern that after the fall of Mubarak, coverage of the upheavals in Egyptian media was “being driven by public opinion instead of driving public opinion”. The Ministry resolved “to give financial support to influential media institutions in Tunisia”, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”.

Persecuting Hackers in the United States: the case of Barrett Brown

Truth-Warner-Highsmith

A federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown [pdf] and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance.

The court order, imposed by the district court for the northern district of Texas at the request of the US government, prohibits the defendant and his defence team, as well as prosecutors, from making “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case, other than matters of public interest.”  It goes on to warn Brown and his lawyers that “no person covered by this order shall circumvent its effect by actions that indirectly, but deliberately, bring about a violation of this order”…

But media observers seen the hearing in the opposite light: as the latest in a succession of prosecutorial moves under the Obama administration to crack-down on investigative journalism, official leaking, hacking and online activism.Brown’s lead defence attorney, Ahmed Ghappour, has countered in court filings, the most recent of which was lodged with the court Wednesday, that the government’s request for a gag order is unfounded as it is based on false accusations and misrepresentations.

The lawyer says the gagging order is a breach of Brown’s first amendment rights as an author who continues to write from his prison cell on issues unconnected to his own case for the Guardian and other media outlets.In his memo to the court for today’s hearing, Ghappour writes that Brown’s July article for the Guardian “contains no statements whatsoever about this trial, the charges underlying the indictment, the alleged acts underlying the three indictments against Mr Brown, or even facts arguably related to this prosecution.”

Brown, 32, was arrested in Dallas on 12 September last year and has been in prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 100 years in custody.  Before his arrest, Brown became known as a specialist writer on the US government’s use of private military contractors and cybersecurity firms to conduct online snooping on the public. He was regularly quoted by the media as an expert on Anonymous, the loose affiliation of hackers that caused headaches for the US government and several corporate giants, and was frequently referred to as the group’s spokesperson, though he says the connection was overblown.

In 2011, through the research site he set up called Project PM, he investigated thousands of emails that had been hacked by Anonymous from the computer system of a private security firm, HB Gary Federal. His work helped to reveal that the firm had proposed a dark arts effort to besmirch the reputations of WikiLeaks supporters and prominent liberal journalists and activists including the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

In 2012, Brown similarly pored over millions of emails hacked by Anonymous from the private intelligence company Stratfor. It was during his work on the Stratfor hack that Brown committed his most serious offence, according to US prosecutors – he posted a link in a chat room that connected users to Stratfor documents that had been released online. The released documents included a list of email addresses and credit card numbers belonging to Stratfor subscribers. For posting that link, Brown is accused of disseminating stolen information – a charge with media commentators have warned criminalises the very act of linking.

As Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, has put it, the Barrett Brown case “could criminalize the routine journalistic practice of linking to documents publicly available on the internet, which would seem to be protected by the first amendment to the US constitution under current doctrine”.

Excerpt, Ed Pilkington, US stops jailed activist Barrett Brown from discussing leaks prosecution, Guardian, Sept. 4, 2014

See also Persecuting the Hactivists

How the United States is Persecuting the Hacktivists

hacktivism

The government is treating hackers who try to make a political point as serious threats.   [T]he state has come down on them with remarkable force. This is in large measure evidence of how poignant, and troubling, their message has been.

Hacktivists, roughly speaking, are individuals who redeploy and repurpose technology for social causes. In this sense they are different from garden-variety hackers out to enrich only themselves. People like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates began their careers as hackers — they repurposed technology, but without any particular political agenda. In the case of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Wozniak, they built and sold “blue boxes,” devices that allowed users to defraud the phone company. Today, of course, these people are establishment heroes, and the contrast between their almost exalted state and the scorn being heaped upon hacktivists is instructive.

For some reason, it seems that the government considers hackers who are out to line their pockets less of a threat than those who are trying to make a political point. Consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer, better known as “Weev.” When Weev discovered in 2010 that AT&T had left private information about its customers vulnerable on the Internet, he and a colleague wrote a script to access it. Technically, he did not “hack” anything; he merely executed a simple version of what Google Web crawlers do every second of every day — sequentially walk through public URLs and extract the content. When he got the information (the e-mail addresses of 114,000 iPad users, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff), Weev did not try to profit from it; he notified the blog Gawker of the security hole.  For this service Weev might have asked for free dinners for life, but instead he was recently sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of more than $73,000 in damages to AT&T to cover the cost of notifying its customers of its own security failure.  When the federal judge Susan Wigenton sentenced Weev on March 18, she described him with prose that could have been lifted from the prosecutor Meletus in Plato’s “Apology.” “You consider yourself a hero of sorts,” she said, and noted that Weev’s “special skills” in computer coding called for a more draconian sentence. I was reminded of a line from an essay written in 1986 by a hacker called the Mentor: “My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.”  When offered the chance to speak, Weev, like Socrates, did not back down: “I don’t come here today to ask for forgiveness. I’m here to tell this court, if it has any foresight at all, that it should be thinking about what it can do to make amends to me for the harm and the violence that has been inflicted upon my life.”  He then went on to heap scorn upon the law being used to put him away — the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the same law that prosecutors used to go after the 26-year-old Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January.  The law, as interpreted by the prosecutors, makes it a felony to use a computer system for “unintended” applications, or even violate a terms-of-service agreement. That would theoretically make a felon out of anyone who lied about their age or weight on Match.com.

The case of Weev is not an isolated one. Barrett Brown, a journalist who had achieved some level of notoriety as the “the former unofficial not-spokesman for Anonymous,” the hacktivist group, now sits in federal custody in Texas. Mr. Brown came under the scrutiny of the authorities when he began poring over documents that had been released in the hack of two private security companies, HBGary Federal and Stratfor. Mr. Brown did not take part in the hacks, but he did become obsessed with the contents that emerged from them — in particular the extracted documents showed that private security contractors were being hired by the United States government to develop strategies for undermining protesters and journalists, including Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for Salon. Since the cache was enormous, Mr. Brown thought he might crowdsource the effort and copied and pasted the URL from an Anonymous chat server to a Web site called Project PM, which was under his control…..

Other hacktivists have felt the force of the United States government in recent months, and all reflect an alarming contrast between the severity of the punishment and the flimsiness of the actual charges. The case of Aaron Swartz has been well documented. Jeremy Hammond, who reportedly played a direct role in the Stratfor and HBGary hacks, has been in jail for more than a year awaiting trial. Mercedes Haefer, a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, faces charges for hosting an Internet Relay Chat channel where an Anonymous denial of service attack was planned. Most recently, Matthew Keys, a 26-year-old social-media editor at Reuters, who allegedly assisted hackers associated with Anonymous (who reportedly then made a prank change to a Los Angeles Times headline), was indicted on federal charges that could result in more than $750,000 in fines and prison time, inciting a new outcry against the law and its overly harsh enforcement. The list goes on.

In a world in which nearly everyone is technically a felon, we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors to decide who should be targets and how hard the law should come down on them. We have thus entered a legal reality not so different from that faced by Socrates when the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens, and it is a dangerous one. When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society.

Excerpts, By PETER LUDLOW, Hacktivists as Gadflies, NY Times, April 13, 2013

Web Mining and Beyond: FBI against Internet Freedom

Google-Says-the-FBI-Is-Secretly-Spying-on-Some-of-Its-Customers

National Security Letters [NSLs] are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.  NSLs are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have even received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has to merely assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

The lack of court oversight raises the possibility for extensive abuse of NSLs under the cover of secrecy, which the gag order only exacerbates. In 2007 a Justice Department Inspector General audit found that the FBI had indeed abused its authority and misused NSLs on many occasions. After 9/11, for example, the FBI paid multimillion-dollar contracts to AT&T and Verizon requiring the companies to station employees inside the FBI and to give these employees access to the telecom databases so they could immediately service FBI requests for telephone records. The IG found that the employees let FBI agents illegally look at customer records without paperwork and even wrote NSLs for the FBI.

The first challenge to NSLs occurred around an NSL that was sent in 2005 to Library Connection, a consolidated back office system for several libraries in Connecticut. The gag order was challenged and found to be unconstitutional because it was a blanket order and was automatic. As a result of that case, the government revised the statute to allow recipients to challenge the gag order. .  Now companies can simply notify the FBI in writing that they oppose the gag order, leaving the burden on the FBI to prove in court that disclosure of an NSL would harm a national security case. The case also led to changes in Justice Department procedures. Since Feb. 2009, NSLs must include express notification to recipients that they have a right to challenge the built-in gag order that prevents them from disclosing to anyone that the government is seeking customer records.

Few recipients, however, have ever used this right to challenge the letters or gag orders.

When recipients have challenged NSLs, the proceedings have occurred mostly in secret, with court documents either sealed or redacted heavily to cover the name of the recipient and other identifying details about the case.

On March 2013  U.S. District Judge Susan Illston (California) ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”  The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.

After the telecom challenged the NSL, the Justice Department took its own extraordinary measure and sued the company, arguing in court documents that the company was violating the law by challenging its authority.

In her ruling, Judge Illston agreed with EFF, saying that the NSL nondisclosure provisions “significantly infringe on speech regarding controversial government powers.”  She noted that the telecom had been “adamant about its desire to speak publicly about the fact that it received the NSL at issue to further inform the ongoing public debate” on the government’s use of the letters.  She also said that the review process for challenging an order violated the separation of powers. Because the gag order provisions cannot be separated from the rest of the statute, Illston ruled that the entire statute was unconstitutional.

Illston found that although the government made a strong argument for prohibiting the recipients of NSLs from disclosing to the target of an investigation or the public the specific information being sought by an NSL, the government did not provide compelling argument that the mere fact of disclosing that an NSL was received harmed national security interests.  A blanket prohibition on disclosure, she found, was overly broad and “creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted.” She noted that 97 percent of the more than 200,000 NSLs that have been issued by the government were issued with nondisclosure orders.

——

Number of NSLs Issued by FBI

2003——-39,346

2004——56,507

2005—–47,221

2006—-49,425

2007—-16,804

2008—-24,744

2009—14,788

2010—24,287

2011—16,511

(Source: DoJ reports)

She also noted that since the gag order on NSL’s is indefinite — unless a recipient files a petition with the court asking it to modify or set aside the nondisclosure order — it amount to a “permanent ban on speech absent the rare recipient who has the resources and motivation to hire counsel and affirmatively seek review by a district court.”

This case is remarkable for a number of reasons, among them the fact that a telecom challenged the NSL in the first place, and that EFF got the government to agree to release some of the documents to the public, though the telecom was not identified in them. The Wall Street Journal, however, used details left in the court records, and narrowed the likely plaintiffs down to one, a small San-Francisco-based telecom named Credo. The company’s CEO, Michael Kieschnick, didn’t confirm or deny that his company is the unidentified recipient of the NSL, but did release a statement following Illston’s ruling.

“This ruling is the most significant court victory for our constitutional rights since the dark day when George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act,” Kieschnick said. “This decision is notable for its clarity and depth. From this day forward, the U.S. government’s unconstitutional practice of using National Security Letters to obtain private information without court oversight and its denial of the First Amendment rights of National Security Letter recipients have finally been stopped by our courts.”

The case began sometime in 2011, when Credo or another telecom received the NSL from the FBI.EFF filed a challenge on behalf of the telecom.   In May that year on First Amendment grounds, asserting first that the gag order amounted to unconstitutional prior restraint and, second, that the NSL statute itself “violates the anonymous speech and associational rights of Americans” by forcing companies to hand over data about their customers.

The redacted documents don’t indicate the exact information the government was seeking from the telecom, and EFF won’t disclose the details. But by way of general explanation, Zimmerman said that the NSL statute allows the government to compel an ISP or web site to hand over information about someone who posted anonymously to a message board or to compel a phone company to hand over “calling circle” information, that is, information about who has communicated with someone by phone.

An FBI agent could give a telecom a name or a phone number, for example, and ask for the numbers and identities of anyone who has communicated with that person. “They’re asking for association information – who do you hang out with, who do you communicate with, [in order] to get information about previously unknown people.

“That’s the fatal flaw with this [law],” Zimmerman told Wired last year. “Once the FBI is able to do this snooping, to find out who Americans are communicating with and associating with, there’s no remedy that makes them whole after the fact. So there needs to be some process in place so the court has the ability ahead of time to step in on behalf of Americans

Excerpts, Kim Zetter, Federal Judge Finds National Security Letters: Unconstitutional, Bans Them, Wired,  Mar. 15, 2013

Environmental Protests: ruling class against middle class and the internet

An investigative report by the New York Times on October 25th has blown a hole in Mr Wen’s [Prime Minister, China]-

Chevron, 50 Activists and their Email Accounts

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and EarthRights International (ERI) asked judges in California and New York today to quash subpoenas issued by Chevron Corporation to three email providers demanding identifying information about the users of more than 100 email accounts, including environmental activists, journalists, and attorneys. The information Chevron wants could be used to create a detailed map of the individuals’ locations and associations over nearly a decade.

The subpoenas are the latest salvo in the long-running battle over damage caused by oil drilling in Ecuador. After years of litigation, an Ecuadorian court last year imposed a judgment of over $17 billion on Chevron for dumping toxic waste into Amazon waterways and causing massive harm to the rainforest. Instead of paying, Chevron sued more than 50 people who were involved in the Ecuador lawsuit, claiming they were part of a conspiracy to defraud the oil giant. None of the individuals represented by EFF and ERI has been sued by Chevron or accused of wrongdoing.

“Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron,” said Marcia Hofmann, EFF Senior Staff Attorney. “These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador.”

The motions to quash filed today asked the courts to reject the subpoenas, pointing out that anonymous speakers who are not parties in a lawsuit receive particularly strong First Amendment protections. EFF first won court recognition of this protection in Doe v. 2theMart.com in 2001. Chevron’s subpoenas also violate the legal protections for the right of association for political action that were developed during the civil rights era.

“The courts have long recognized that forcing activists to reveal their names and political associations will chill First Amendment rights and can only be done in the most extreme situations,” added Marco Simons, Legal Director of ERI, which has provided legal assistance to third parties affected by the Chevron litigation in two international proceedings. “We look forward to having those longstanding principles applied in this case so that people can engage in journalism and political activism and assist in litigation against environmental destruction without fear that their identities and personal email information will be put at risk.”

EFF and ERI are challenging the subpoenas to Google and Yahoo! in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the subpoena to Microsoft in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. .

EFF and ERI Fight to Quash Speech-Chilling Subpoenas from Chevron, Press Release of Electronic Frontier Foundation, Oct. 22, 2012

See also Chevron and Amazon

Shut up: torture techniques in clandestine prisons

The al Qaeda suspects who were subjected to so-called harsh interrogation techniques, and the lawyers charged with defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the treatment they consider torture.  Defense attorneys say that and other Kafkaesque legal restrictions on what they can discuss with their clients and raise in the courtroom undermine their ability to mount a proper defense on charges that could lead to the death penalty.  Those restrictions will be the focus of a pretrial hearing that convenes this week.  Prosecutors say every utterance of the alleged al Qaeda murderers, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, must be strictly monitored precisely because of the defendants’ intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency’s clandestine overseas prisons.  Defense attorneys called that view extreme.  “Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn’t tell you that,” Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, said after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  At one point in the arraignment, another of bin Attash’s attorneys, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, was explaining why his client refused to cooperate. Just when things got interesting, a security officer cut the audio feed to the media and others observing the proceedings from behind a soundproof glass wall with a 40-second audio delay.  “The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big-boy pants down at the CIA, it makes it impossible …,” Schwartz said during the blocked portion of the arraignment, according to a partial transcript later declassified.  Prosecutors have said in court filings that any revelations about the defendants’ interrogations could cause “exceptionally grave damage.”

Civil libertarians argue that if those interrogation methods really are top secret, then the CIA had no business revealing them to al Qaeda suspects.  Defense attorneys will challenge the secrecy rules at the pretrial hearing that begins on Wednesday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.  Prosecutors have about 75,000 pages of evidence to turn over to defense attorneys in the 9/11 case, but they won’t do it until the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, issues protective orders aimed at safeguarding the material.

Hundreds of men suspected of supporting al Qaeda or the Taliban were rounded up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and shipped to Guantanamo in response to the September 11 attacks. (Of the 779 men who have been held at Guantanamo since the prison operation began in 2002, 168 remain.)  The CIA took custody of the “high-value” captives believed to have top-level information that could help the U.S. and its allies prevent further attacks.  It held them incommunicado for three or four years and transferred them among secret overseas prisons, questioning them with interrogation methods that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and which the Obama administration has since banned.  Some details of the program, including waterboarding, mock executions and sleep deprivation, have already been disclosed by Bush and the CIA itself. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official, recently defended them in news interviews to promote his book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Action After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”

Yet in both the 9/11 case and that of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of sending suicide bombers to ram a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000, the government presumes that every word spoken by the defendants, in the past and in the future, is classified at the highest level — “Top Secret,” with a “Sensitive Compartmented Information,” which is routinely shortened to TS/SCI.  The defendants’ words are also “born classified,” a status their lawyers said has previously been used only to safeguard details about nuclear weapons. So are all documents and legal motions related to their cases, which cannot be made public unless they’re cleared by a Department of Defense Security Classification Review team.  How that team works is a secret.  “I’ve never seen them. I’ve never communicated (with them). No one has ever been able to tell me that,” said James Connell, a lawyer for 9/11 defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.  The Pentagon would say only that the review team includes both civilians and uniformed military personnel and that it can take up to 15 business days to make its decisions.

Proscribed topics include details of the defendants’ capture, where they were held and under what conditions, the names and descriptions of anyone who transferred, detained or interrogated them and the methods used to get information from them, according to the court documents.

Defense lawyers say the classification system used at Guantanamo violates President Barack Obama’s 2009 order that prohibits using secrecy labels to conceal lawbreaking or prevent political embarrassment. They say it also “eviscerates” the legal defense protections Congress set down in the law that authorizes the Guantanamo tribunals.  The government’s secrecy rules mean that every lawyer, paralegal and expert on the prosecution and defense teams must undergo an extensive background check and obtain a TS/SCI clearance. Once they get clearance, they are briefed on what has to stay secret. The document that forms the basis of the presumptive classification is itself secret.  “It is ridiculous,” said Army Captain Jason Wright, one of the lawyers for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “The briefing is classified, so I can’t discuss what I can and cannot discuss.”

Mohammed’s lawyers have asked the UN special rapporteur for torture, Juan E. Mendez, to investigate claims that their client was tortured. But they could only share with Mendez the information that has been publicly declassified.  “We are prohibited from sharing any details of his mistreatment, even to the special rapporteur,” Wright said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a challenge arguing that the government has no legal authority to classify information that it not only disclosed to the defendants but forced them to learn.  “The question here is: Can the government subject people to torture and abuse and then prevent them from talking about it?” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.  The ACLU said the claim of broad authority to gag defendants infringes on the American public’s right to open trials and goes far beyond what the courts have allowed, namely that censorship must be narrowly tailored and aimed at protecting a compelling government interest.

Excerpt, Jane Sutton and Josh Meyer, Insight: At Guantanamo tribunals, don’t mention the “T” word, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2012

Uncensored Communication as a Human Right;hackers, satellites and internet freedom

Computer hackers plan to take the internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit.  The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin.  The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites.  Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon.  Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit – usually only for brief periods of time – but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects.  The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project.

“The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said.  He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.

Although space missions have been the preserve of national agencies and large companies, amateur enthusiasts have launched objects into the heavens.  High-altitude balloons have also been used to place cameras and other equipment into what is termed “near space”. The balloons can linger for extended amounts of time – but are not suitable for satellites.  The amateur radio satellite Arissat-1 was deployed into low earth orbit last year via a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts from the International Space Station as part of an educational project.  Students and academics have also launched other objects by piggybacking official rocket launches.  However, these devices have often proved tricky to pinpoint precisely from the ground.  According to Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old enthusiast from Stuttgart who is working on the Hackerspace Global Grid, this is largely due to lack of funding.

The Berlin conference was the latest meeting held by the Chaos Computer Club, a decades-old German hacker group that has proven influential not only for those interested in exploiting or improving computer security, but also for people who enjoy tinkering with hardware and software.  When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme.  Mr Bauer says the satellites could help provide communications to help put an amateur into space.  He and his teammates are working on their part of the project together with Constellation, an existing German aerospace research initiative that mostly consists of interlinked student projects….

“It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Mr Bauer said. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.”  Mr Bauer said the team would have three prototype ground stations in place in the first half of 2012, and hoped to give away some working models at the next Chaos Communication Congress in a year’s time.  They would also sell the devices on a non-profit basis.  “We’re aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station. That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend,” Mr Bauer added.

Experts say the satellite project is feasible, but could be restricted by technical limitations…..”There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats. So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites.”……….

Asked whether some might see negative security implications in the idea of establishing a hacker presence in space, Farr said the only downside would be that “people might not be able to censor your internet”.  “Hackers are about open information,” Farr added. “We believe communication is a human right.”

Excerpts, By David Meyer, Hackers plan space satellites to combat censorship,BBC, Jan. 4, 2012

Not Anonymous Anymore, internet and the street

The rise of groups of geeks and hackers organized — however loosely — around a political agenda is a fairly new phenomenon, experts say. And combining such activism with more traditional forms of protest is perhaps a natural evolution.  “One of the big errors of our time is believing that what happens online is separate from what happens offline,” says Paul Levinson, author of New New Media and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York.  He says there’s a long tradition of disrupting the activities of the establishment to make a point, and that Anonymous is drawing on that tradition on multiple fronts.

What Anonymous has done by joining its online and offline presence comes out of the flash-mob craze that started in 2003, says Virag Molnar, a sociology professor at the New School for Liberal Arts in New York.  “We’ve seen a huge evolution in the purposes that flash mobs have been used,” she says. “Some can be used for progressive purposes, but they can also be used for rioting, hooliganism or gang activity.”Flash mobs set up via Twitter and Facebook have appeared at BP gas stations to demonstrate against the company’s handling of the Gulf oil spill. In Switzerland, Greenpeace organized a flash mob in which more than 100 people pretended to drop dead to protest nuclear power.  Social media tools also were linked to riots this summer in Vancouver and across Britain.

Anonymous claimed responsibility last month for hacking into some 70 law enforcement websites, garnering “a massive amount of confidential information,” including emails and credit card numbers. The move was in retaliation for the FBI arrest of 16 suspects for their alleged involvement in the PayPal denial of service attack…

History of Anonymous operations:

2006: The loosely organized collective carries out some of its first major acts of online mayhem, including a distributed denial of service [DDoS] attack that disables the website of radio host Hal Turner, known for racially charged remarks.

2008: Anonymous launches Project Chanology in retaliation for the Church of Scientology’s demand that YouTube remove a church video interview of actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise. In addition to launching DDoS attacks against Scientology websites, followers wearing masks of Guy Fawkes turn out for street protests at church centers mostly in the U.S. and Europe.

2009: Following the Iranian presidential election, with its widespread accusations of vote-rigging, Anonymous launches a website supporting the Iranian Green Party with the aim of skirting official censorship.

2010: Anonymous launches a DDoS attack against Australian government websites in retaliation for Canberra’s plan to implement anti-child-pornography Internet filtering software.  The group launches Operation Payback in support of WikiLeaks and its embattled chief, Julian Assange. Denial of service attacks hit the websites of PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon.

2011: Anonymous launches various operations in support of the Arab Spring, including denial of service attacks and hacks against government websites in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordon and Morocco.

Operation BART draws followers into San Francisco train stations to protest the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s decision to shut down cell phone service on the trains in an effort to quash an anti-police protest. Anonymous also hacks a BART website.

It has also spawned splinter groups such as Lulz Security (recently disbanded) and the Anti-Security Movement (still active) that have gone on to launch their own hacktivist attacks.   As the group’s name suggests, anonymity — particularly the kind that can be found in cyberspace — is important to many of its followers. Giving it up doesn’t come lightly. Members typically show up at protests sporting a mask in the likeness of the 16th century English radical Guy Fawkes.   Many Anons are in their 20s and 30s, but a few are in their 60s — the “grandfathers” of the movement….”  There is a sort of across-the-board free-speech sensibility that many Anons share, which many geeks and hackers share,” she says. “The libertarian label, though, ends at, ‘We believe in free speech.’ ”   While free speech and anti-censorship is a key part of the group’s ideology, there’s also a definite leftist and anti-capitalist strain in some Anons. “Beyond that,” she says, “it’s a pretty diverse lot.”…

Excerpt, Scott Neuman, Anonymous Comes Out In The Open, NPR, Sept. 16, 2011

Ongoing Violations of Human Rights:how to use Google to suppress freedom

Facebook and other social media services have created opportunities for dissidents and revolutionaries to organise and voice their opposition. But those in power have discovered that they, too, can use the internet, in their case to stifle freedom of speech. The dream of all dictators is to know as much about you as Google does, says Jacob Mchangama, a Danish human-rights lawyer.

Authoritarian states have also learned how to use the language of human rights to legitimise their oppressive tactics, for instance by claiming to defend religious groups. But their tools of abuse—violence, torture and censorship—remain depressingly familiar. The grand tradition of making opponents “disappear,” perfected by the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, is still flourishing today. In Bahrain doctors and nurses who treated protesters injured by security forces have vanished. Also in Bahrain, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the former head of the Centre for Human Rights and a fierce critic of the regime, was seized by armed men in the middle of the night. A month later he reappeared, tortured and is now facing trial.

Post-revolutionary leaders can find it all too easy to slip into the abusive habits of their predecessors. In Oslo Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger, talked of her fear that the transitional government will use the methods of the ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. When fresh demonstrations broke out in Tunisia in early May, police used tear gas and live ammunition. Journalists were beaten and had their equipment seized.

Nor do governments have a monopoly on violence. From Jamaica to South Africa, gays and lesbians continue to be the victims of vicious intolerance. Lesbians are raped in an effort to “correct” their sexuality. At the Oslo conference the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, the first group of its kind on the Caribbean island, said it was remarkable that only one of its founders had been murdered in the past decade, such is the violence typically directed at its people.

Yet there was also brighter news in Oslo. As those in power become more inventive in their clampdowns, so do their opponents. Some have started to help victims make their experiences public. In Malawi children who have been raped or forced into marriage are encouraged to write letters to Radio Timweni, a national news programme, which then interviews them. In the age of Facebook and Google, the truth remains the most powerful weapon of all.

Excerpt, Human-rights abuses: Nothing new under the sun, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 76