The Australian government is trying to get more powers to snoop on Internet users. Mark Newton, a network engineer at a large Australian ISP, has attacked, angrily, these plans at New Matilda. He points out the dishonest way law enforcement keeps demanding new powers, the threats to civil liberties, the cost to telcos (and thus their customers), of keeping 2 years’ worth of messages for *every single subscriber*, and the dangerous temptation to steal or leak such valuable information on a large scale.
He’s of course correct on every one of these points. But there’s something missing – it’s rarely mentioned when people talk online about how to deal with these dangerous planned powers. Newton’s final paragraph says:
Before data retention proposals are taken seriously, the law enforcement community should be required to explain, in detail and in public, why the existing measures they’ve demanded every other year since 2001 are insufficient.
which means he’s demanding greater oversight. And that’s where we get to a problem. For a start, we probably won’t get much more oversight except for what Greens Senator Scott Ludlam can extract from public servants in Senate committees. Ludlam does good work on this issue, but he’s not going to have the resources to carry out a wide-ranging investigation of the entire proposal. But even if he had those resources, there’s still a deeper problem: Relying on the government to play by the rules is a terrible idea, and one that leaves us complacent.
There’s a better approach – using the tools that exist, right now, to defend our privacy. There’s a very useful interview with a man who had his Twitter account information seized by the US government at n+1 magazine. The details of the legal procedures used to snoop only apply to the US, but there’s also an explanation of some of the ways we can protect ourselves – sometimes as simple as not taking a mobile phone with you to a highly confidential meeting, because cellphones are “tracking devices that make phone calls”.
We’re almost at the stage where we can use easily-available, simple-to-explain technology to defend our privacy. Small computers the size of a large power plug are already available – they plug into a wall socket and cost a few dollars a year to run. FreedomBox is a project to develop and sell such “plug servers” pre-configured to protect users privacy. Because of the low power cost they can remain on all the time, meaning that instead of keeping all our personal information on Stalkbook’s computers, we’ll use a new type of social network where WE control our private info on OUR computers, and people we give permission to will be able to see it, “like” it, comment on it and so on. Diaspora has been an attempt to do this, but it is difficult to install and does not work very well yet.
We need to swing the Australian debate around to “How can we protect our privacy and take control of our personal information?”, instead of “How can we get the government to respect civil liberties?”. One simple way is to tell people about the n+1 article – it’s good at explaining some of the risks and trade-offs of different types of communication. Surveillance Self-Defence is a great wrap up of the risks and our defence options in some detail at the US Electronic Frontier Foundation website. I hope to write some articles later in the year about my experience minimising my contact with Google – I stopped using my Gmail account and set up my own email server, taking personal control of my email and stretching my computer knowledge while I did it.
Of course, if the government REALLY wants to snoop they’ll be able to. But we have the power to make it much harder for them to do it. Let’s start talking about this and get Australians realising the answer to snooping by our over-reaching, busy-body government is to take power into our own hands.
Thanks to the Australian technology blog Delimiter for pointing me to Newton’s article.
We only work here? True enough, but it lacks flesh and bone, it lacks sweat and tears.
The lyrics to Tracy Chapman’s The Fast Car plays out that sentiment as a real life story with all its problems, hopes and dreams ending in disillusion with the unanswered question: How do we live and die?
It outlines a problem. She belongs to a poor family, a broken family, she has a drunk father and feels some responsibility towards him and so she drops out of school.
The fast car is a romantic symbol for escape and belonging. The studied, descriptive lyrics burst into a life of romantic hope, freedom and the yearning to belong to something worthwhile, in the chorus:
I remember we were driving driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone
The escape happens but before very long hope fades. She feels let down by her partner:
You got a fast car
And I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
She finishes with the haunting question which she began with. We have come the full circle of social reproduction. There is no solution yet. We still have to think about the original question: How do we live and die?
You gotta make a decision
You leave tonight or live and die this way
Here’s another version, this one has all the lyrics:
Right-wing conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has perplexed some of his followers by putting on his site a youtube clip of Woody Guthrie singing “This Land is your Land”. Another right-wing site, Just Grounds Community , has commented on those conservatives who do not have the knowledge of history or the “empathy” to understand why and how Guthrie supported socialism and sympathized with communism during the 1930s. I’m not precisely sure where JGC is coming from but they certainly make sense in their understanding that Woody Guthrie would not have been impressed with the pseudo-left of today – “the two bit hustlers… the present day chancers and fuzzy thinkers who would claim his endorsement”.
I sometimes wonder how many people identify with the right – the libertarian right in particular – because what passes for ‘the left’ is so appallingly unworthy of support.
Cuba definitely deserves our special attention because the hideous regime there calls itself socialist and people believe it. Current developments mean that things may start to get a bit more interesting. The current economic “reforms” are in full swing. Basically they are sacking about a million government employees while allowing them to set up small businesses and “cooperatives”. Also the fibre optic cable connection to Venezuela is complete and the government will now endeavor the tricky task of trying to manage wider use of the internet which is presently very limited.
Being basically a mix of feudalism and state capitalism, “socialism” in Cuba is a total disaster and needs a massive injection of “normal” capitalism to get any growth from its economy. Vietnam and China managed to get a lease of life from doing this. It will be interesting to see if Cuba can pull off the same trick. Any sort of socialist trajectory of course is out of the question because the privileged strata would suppress it and the populace at large are not subjectively equipped for the task, in any way shape or form.
I’ve got some books about Cuba on my Kindle which I have started to plow through. The first one is Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution by Jorge Edwards who was Chilean Charge d’Affaire in Cuba under Allende and is a famous novelist. Here are some interesting quotes from the book followed by a few comments. Continue reading ‘Cuba: Viva la dissolution’
Ideas become a material force when taken up by masses of people. So, too, can music play a part in inspiring large numbers in the fight for democracy against tyranny. This is true everywhere, no exceptions. Including Iran.
The Pink Floyd classic, “Another brick in the wall” was first released in the UK in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution. It became an anthem for those of us who don’t like constantly being told what to do by our supposed betters, be they teachers, politicians, priests, the ‘Moral Majority’, food fascists or Nature Worshippers.
Befitting a rebellious song, a version released in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle was quickly banned there. In 1990, the song was the leitmotif for the bringing down of the Berlin Wall.
And now, thanks to Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, a band called ‘Blurred Vision’, fronted by two Iranian brothers living in exile in Canada, have released a version of the song as part of Iran’s struggle for freedom. Waters gave them the rights to cover the song.
The title is the same except for the bit in parenthesis, which now says “Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone”! It’s on youtube and has proven very popular.
No doubt there will be those who see the song as a pernicious device in the Great Satan’s ‘plan to conquer Iran’. To those Iranians on the ground fighting repression, it will be encouraging and very uplifting, a source of hope. As it is for me, in solidarity with them.
Via ZDNet News Editor Renai LeMay comes news that the Australian Government has received a report of its trial of systems to censor the Internet. Amusingly, as I type, the Government’s website announcing the report is down, presumably because of the amount of people visiting
The crucial finding is:
Filtering Refused Classification (RC) content
The pilot demonstrated that ISPs can effectively filter a list of URLs such as the ACMA blacklist with a very high degree of accuracy and a negligible impact on internet speed.
While it’s possible for technical people to argue about whether this is true or not, the political reality is that it will give the Government a good technical argument to go ahead with its plans to censor the internet. Therefore the plan will need to be defeated on political grounds.
At the moment, the Australian Greens and the Liberal/National Coalition still oppose the censorship plan, despite the Greens recently choosing to run Clive Hamilton, the moral architect of the censorship plan, as their candidate in the recent Higgins by-election. If this remains the same, it is likely that the plan will fail in the Senate as the Government is unlikely to ever have enough votes to pass the censorship plan without the support of one of those groups.
After the discussions we had here a year or so ago about this issue, I think we need to spread the idea that Australians need to take responsibility for their own viewing habits and not expect the Government to nanny them, and we need “maximum freedom for the maximum amount of people”. There was also a good discussion about laying a political cost on the Government by painting THEM as the creepy weird ones who are obsessed with people looking at nude pictures of children.
Another day older
And deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me
‘coz I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.
‘Sixteen tons’ is one of many songs about alienation under capitalism. The song was recorded in the USA in 1946 by Merle Travis , whose father had worked in the mines of Kentucky. Merle’s father often used the phrase “another day older and deeper in debt” around the house. The song has been covered by many country artists, as well as blues and rock performers – my favourite version is by Eric Burdon. (Merle Travis’ version is here:
Check out Eric’s too:
The ‘sixteen tons’ refers to work, specifically in the coal mines during the era of the ‘truck system’ (under which workers in company towns were paid with vouchers recognized only by the local store rather than paid in cash). This may seem to date the song, even make it irrelevant to the current time. However, I think ‘sixteen tons’ can mean any kind of work people do for wages under a system in which wealth is socially produced yet privately appropriated. It’s certainly true that mechanization and automation continue to reduce the numbers of people doing such work; the kind of toil that my father always referred to in my youth as ‘dirty work’. (He worked in factories and used to nag me: “Son, study hard and go to uni and then you’ll be able to become a school teacher. Don’t end up in a dirty job.”).
A Denial of Service attack appeared to take down Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s website and other official sites, for a few minutes tonight at around 7.20PM AEST.
The attack was announced on the website http://www.09-09-2009.org using the name of Anonymous, the loose disorganisation of Internet users which has previously acted against the Church of Scientology.
There has been some criticism of this tactic, notably by Michael Meloni at the “Somebody Think of the Children” website. Stephen Conroy, the Minister with the political job of selling the censorship plan, has used his favourite lie – that the censorship will only affect things that are already illegal, and Meloni takes this down very well.
Meloni’s argument against the illegal attacks is that they “will do nothing to help the fight against net censorship” and that “…such methods and demands suggest little understanding of how political policy is changed in Australia. Acts like this have the potential to unravel the hard work already done by many to try and end this policy”.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority threatened the host after a discussion thread on Whirlpool linked to an anti-abortion site banned by ACMA.
Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.
“Freeview” (Wikipedia) is a campaign by Australian free-to-air channels to convince you that free-to-air TV is not mostly boring rubbish. The campaign boasts about the fact that Australians will have fifteen digital channels to choose from on free-to-air TV, instead of the six free-to-air channels that Australians have (at least the ones who live in a major city).
What the campaign doesn’t mention is that most of the new channels are just exact rebroadcasts of the already-existing free-to-air channels (exceptions include ABC2 and SBS World News, which broadcasts foreign-language news reports). So some Melbourne comedians doing a show about TV today decided to parody the Freeview TV commercial.
However the video is available on several other video-sharing sites, including this copy from break.com:
Freeview: More of the same sh#t – Watch more
Kieran Salsone has written a piece about Clive Hamilton’s essay “Rethinking Sexual Freedom” at his “Websinthe” blog. He identifies Hamilton’s views on sexuality as conservative, and I agree.
Salsone identifies Hamilton’s intellectual dishonesty:
He [Hamilton] also goes too far straw-manning ‘post-moderns’.
The debate over the sexualisation of girls has outed these post-moderns. They have always argued that children are sexual creatures and should be allowed to explore and express their sexuality without the guilt imposed on them by neurotic adults and conservative clerics. Luckily, they believe, children are much smarter than neurotic adults and slip easily into a savvy, ironic, critical mode whenever there is any danger of falling under the sway of advertisers or media.
He then goes on to describe an unholy alliance between those that think children shouldn’t be punished merely for touching themselves in ‘a naughty place’ and corporate vampires trying to push ‘corporate peadophilia’ as a means of selling their wares.
While I have no problem with attacking commercial interests having anything to do with children’s sexuality, it’s wrong to say that there is a causal relationship between the two without undermining a movement to remove shame and denigration from the lives of children.
The blog “Woolly Days”, written by Derek Barry, has just published an article about the way the media and police have stirred up hatred against the people accused of arson in relation to the recent Victorian bushfires, saying that “the presumption of innocence is a sick joke. Within hours of being charged, he [Brendan Sokaluk, the most well-known of the accused] was viciously attacked in the media and in social network sites to the point where some have questioned whether he is capable of getting a fair trial.
In response to a comment asking what the approach should have been, I responded:
I’d go deeper than Duncan, and ask “what long-term strategy could people who oppose this sort of lynch-mobbing adopt to make that behaviour less rewarding for the media and police?”
Which is a mouthful, I know, but it’s the only possible way IMO to come up with a strategy that doesn’t just mean we want people in the media to act against the interests of their employers, which is unlikely.
The only way this sort of behaviour would stop, or become less prevalent, is if it appealed to fewer people. Is it possible, for instance, to somehow confront school students, in a systematic way, with the effects of this mob mentality, perhaps in a similar way to Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise?
I think that even if every arsonist is guilty as hell, there are plenty of fires that had no arson involved, and getting people worked up lets them identify “evil” people and have a good old hate, but avoids the hard questions about what bushfire policy should be, as was debated here in the article “Australia’s Bushfires – both trees and people suffer from green policies”.
Anyone who’d like to see a revolution survive has a vested interest in asking how reactionary propaganda aimed at encouraging people to boil over with anger might be stopped, I think.
In a sense, this vision of elite, brainy environmentalists on one side and a baying, insult-hurling crowd on the other speaks, however accidentally and however crudely, to an underlying truth: environmentalism remains a largely elitist project, beloved of politicians, priests and prudes keen to control people’s behaviour and curb our excessive lifestyles, and it rubs many ‘ordinary people’ up the wrong way. Of course much of the public goes along with the environmentalist ethos, bowing to the central idea that mankind is destructive and observing such rituals as sorting their rubbish, but they do so half-heartedly, recognising that, fundamentally, greens’ anti-consumerist, anti-reproduction, anti-travel arguments run counter to their own personal aspirations. Yet rather than recognise this frequently hidden divide between the green elite and the ‘baying crowd’ as one built on differences of opinion, on clashing aspirations, even on rational assessments by sections of the public that recycling is a waste of time, increasingly environmentalists pathologise it, turning it into evidence of their wisdom in contrast to the public’s mental instability.
I’d just observe again that IMO it’s important to divide authoritarian, reactionary, anti-human Greens from people who’d identify as Green but who aren’t opposed to human progress, and also from those who may hold ideas we disagree with but might actually be won over in debate.
Getting out there and defending social ownership has numerous challenges. One of them is the need to disown various past and present regimes in Third World backwaters that give the idea a bad name. There hadn’t been any new ones for a while, and then along came Hugo Chávez in Venezuela with his “Bolivarian Revolution” and “21st Century Socialism”.
This “process” has two main features – limiting democracy and freedom both for opponents and adherents, and using oil revenue to buy support. There are also various bits of window dressing but these are of secondary importance. Continue reading ‘Saying No to Hugo Chávez’s Baloney Revolution’