The First and Last Freedom

When reading and writing become a myth, the people will finally know true bliss.

Category: Internet Politics

Kony 2012, or Phony 2012?

“[S]uperficial focus on the activities of one man and a few of his commanders largely sidesteps the point.”

I did not want to be so cynical about the wave of slacktivism that took over the online youth only a few months ago, but the Ugandan People’s Defence Force has committed (and still does commit) atrocities just as awful and devastating as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Additionally, the humanitarian situation in Democratic Republic of Congo is a much more serious and wide-scale problem; with an estimated 4-8 million dead since 1998, half of these being under the age of 5. Where is their viral internet campaign? Or their NATO ‘no-fly-zone’ and humanitarian emergency forces?

More importantly, as Allen et al. have noted in Foreign Affairs, the mission does not focus on any sort of civilian protection, and the first two missions failed, leading to brutal retaliation by the LRA on the local civilian populous. The LRA are only a small symptom of a much larger and more destructive problem. Bringing Kony to justice, although noble, will do little to solve the political, social, and economic problems in the region. Nor will it stop his army from forming their own (just as destructive) rebel forces — if he is killed.  The final three paragraphs sum up the issues perfectly:

“Beyond the ins and outs of dealing with Kony, the political challenges in the region are simply too massive for Obama’s new operation to yield much fruit. The violence in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan has been the most devastating — anywhere in the world — since the mid-1990s. Even conservative estimates place the death toll in the millions. And the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.

Until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace. Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require engagement of a much larger order. A huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clearly recognized legal mandate would have to be part of it. Those forces would need to be highly trained, have an effective command structure, be closely monitored, and be appropriately equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment and helicopters, among other things. It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA. Moreover, it would make the protection of the local populations a key priority. Finally, the deployment of such a force would need to have emerged from concerted efforts in international diplomacy — including with the African Union, the United Nations, the ICC, and governments in the region — not as a knee-jerk reaction to the most recent media splash.

Kony and his colleagues lead a dreadful but relatively small organization that punches above its weight. If achieving stability and relative prosperity in this blighted region of Africa is the real objective, devoting the month of November to the LRA will obviously not be anything like enough.”

Further reading and watching:

http://news.yahoo.com/kony-2012-viral-campaign-scam-094450230.html

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/kony-2012-activist-filmmaker-arrested/

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=29777

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esskoSaATXk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvqFi_HRPmk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J2P4Diu-TM


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SOPA and PIPA Versus ‘Cyber-libertarianism’

In light of the current legislation now being proposed by Congress, intended to strengthen the laws against copyright infringement and intellectual property thefts, yet destroying key aspects of the nets uniqueness; John Perry Barlow’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ has never seemed so relevant. The declaration was first declared in 1996, and highlighted the perceived originality of the Internet compared to other communication mediums and technologies, stating: “We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different” (Chadwick, 2006:33). Indeed, the internet is different, and from the reaction of many of the most prominent websites in the world, it would be wise for Congress to remember who and what they are trying to regulate; whilst also remembering that the very ideology that the Internet has manifested into is one which the United States itself was founded upon: Libertarianism.

Libertarianism promotes the idea that individuals can and should interact with one another economically, socially, and politically without intervention from the state; or coercion by any other entity or individual. It is quite easy then to understand why cyber-libertarianism is so popular and held in such high esteem around the Western world. The internet is a new space in which states and power elites cannot wholly dominate for their own gains, an almost equal playing field for all who wish to actively engage – this is what makes the internet special for so many in the West, and this is why a rebellion of many mainstream websites has taken place: Freedom is popular.

On the 18th of January 2012 the largest ever web protest took place in opposition to the PIPA and SOPA bills, heavy hitters such as Wikipedia, Wired, WordPress and Reddit completely censored or blocked access to there sites for a number of hours; whereas Google and the Drudge Report continued with with business, yet advertised their opposition to the legislation and linked to useful information and petitions regarding the bills. The effect was astounding, with huge amounts of awareness raised not just in the U.S but over the whole world. It also convinced many politicians to drop their support for the bills, however, so far it has not been enough, as Wikipedia notes:

“Are SOPA and PIPA dead [after the protest]? Not at all. SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith stated that the House of Representatives will push the bill forward in February. Senate sponsor Patrick Leahy still plans for a PIPA vote on January 24. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are symptoms of a larger issue. They are misguided solutions to a misunderstood problem. In the U.S. and abroad, legislators and big media are embracing censorship and sacrificing civil liberties in their attacks on free knowledge and an open Internet.”

More fighting must take place if true internet freedom is to be maintained, or, as the line taken from one of Virgil’s poems, now used by the Libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute, goes: “Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.” 

Update: 

Victory for cyber-libertarianism and anti-censorship! The online protest has had its desired effect — the PIPA bill has been postponed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who statedIn light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act.”  

On top of this the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith is also postponing SOPA, “Until there is wider agreement on a solution.”  

However, the bills are not truly dead in the water yet and as sopastrike.com has announced “If they return we must be ready.”

But for now cyber-libertarianism should celebrate its first victory against such anti-Internet legislation. For surely all those who use the Internet know its true potential is best enabled through each individual, not through states or elites, who will always attempt to manipulate such technologies for their own agendas.  

Bibliography:

Chadwick, Andrew; “Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies”, Oxford University Press, 2006.

(Multiple embedded links throughout article.)

Further reading and watching:

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/why-weve-censored-wired-com/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57360665-503544/sopa-pipa-what-you-need-to-know/

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71584.html

Mass Hypocrisy

ACTA Versus ‘Cyber-Libertarianism’ (Round Two)

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a controversial plurilateral agreement, which seeks to establish stronger international standards on intellectual property rights. Although the agreement covers a vast variety of goods, products, and services; the agreements based around the internet and copyright infringement (Section 5) have once again proven to be the most contentious. Concern about ACTA and its potential impact on the internet has been growing steadily since the draft agreement was first leaked by Wikileaks in 2008. Concerns were fueled by the fact that the agreement was not only edited and amended in secret, but that powerful interests helped mold and determine the treaty.

Unfortunately the campaigns to raise awareness and debate key ACTA proposals haven’t been as successful as the ones that stopped the SOPA and PIPA bills in the U.S. Now time is running out, as most of the developed world has signed up to the agreement; leaving only the EU, Mexico and Switzerland still undecided. The final push to stop the agreement is being aimed at the European Parliament (EP), which has the ability to stop ACTA from being enacted. For now time is on their side, as the debate is scheduled for June. However, considering that the U.S, Japan, and many other trading partners to the EU have already signed the agreement, it looks unlikely that ACTA will be blocked; which would be a devastating blow to cyber-libertarianism worldwide.

However, the protest movements and awareness raising campaigns against ACTA are still growing; they do have time to convince the MEPs to reconsider the agreement. Hope has been renewed by protests breaking out in Poland against the signing of the agreement, and Kader Arif, the EP’s rapporteur for ACTA resigning over the way it has been managed by officials, stating that he had witnessed:

[N]ever-before-seen manoeuvres” and that he “condemn[s] the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.” 

If other MEPs follow Kader Arif’s lead then maybe a snow-ball rebellion can build up in the EP; possibly enough MEPs will revolt to strike down this draconian trade agreement. Perhaps cyber-libertarianism will remain supreme, perhaps states and politicians will realise freedom is not theirs to take, but rather, an unalienable human right. Perhaps one day the people will wake up…

Further Reading and Watching:

http://in.reuters.com/article/2010/06/09/idINIndia-49179920100609

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/01/22/poland-netizens-protest-governments-plan-to-sign-acta-next-week/

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/01/acta-would-usurp-congressional-authority-threatens-numerous-public-interests-a-backroom-special-interest-deal.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8Xg_C2YmG0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQdMtSmkVBs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=spapXznZf4I

Polish members of Sejm house protesting the governments signing of ACTA into law

Web 2.0: Hope, or Hopeless?

Web 2.0 means different things to many different people — as does the Internet itself — however, in the context of this blog, Web 2.0 encompasses the Internet facilities, domains, and the spaces online which allow: information sharing, collaboration, interaction, and inter-operability. The most famous examples of Web 2.0 are social networking sites such as Facebook, blogs (such as this one), and video sharing sites such as YouTube. Yet, the vast access to information, the opportunity to voice dissent, and spread discontent via Web 2.0 has not necessarily had the desired outcomes that some cyber utopians have dreamed of, in my blog I will critically analyse certain key aspects of Web 2.0.

Many would assume that increased access to information would leave greater trust in the political establishment, and the political process in general; one could argue that it would naturally lead to increased participation through the use of online media and blogs, however, studies and academics have shown this to not always be the case (Bimber, 2001; Kaid, 2002). One reason for this is that the Internet facilities of Web 2.0 also tend to reflect the real world biases and inequalities, such as: class, elitism, arrogance, and gender. (Hill and Hughes, 1998). However, the main reason for the lack of direct increase of participation, or trust in politics, is that much of the new information and access is actually being geared towards entertainment purposes, which are difficult to compete with, i.e. video sharing sites, online television, pornography etc. (Althaus and Tewksbury, 2000; Shah, 2001). On top of this, access is by no means an equal playing field, as economic and political elites also have access to such means, which allows them greater ability to: “[S]hape the public agenda, and the ability for these elites to communicate directly with the electorate” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:235). All of these issues lead to a more pessimistic (or realistic) conclusion, as Zizi Paracharissi states:

“[G]reater access to information and communication channels does not ensure increases in civic engagement… Online political conversations can be easily dominated by elites as offline ones. Access to information does not guarantee that information will be assessed. Similarly, access to information does not render an electorate more active of efficacious” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:235).

The idea that Web 2.0 would reign in a new era of direct democracy and vast political participation, has been weakened by these studies and multiple others. This is because individuals are more likely to access interest group, non-partisan websites whilst online (Cornfield, 2003); preferring also to access major media outlets and television shows for current affairs information, analysis, reporting, and informing, rather than obtaining and reading internet based news (Kohut, 2003). Web 2.0, when examined with critical analysis, has not been able to fundamentally change the systemic political processes as:

“Availability of information alone is unable to sustain and encourage civic engagement. Those connected enjoy participating in online polls and circulating political jokes and cartoons, but are not drawn to conventional formats of political content online (such as news releases and endorsements)” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:239).

This means that although Web 2.0 can bring benefits and improvements, in terms of information access and community/civic/public/local organisations and activities; is does not necessarily promote such things or encourage such participation, rather; it facilitates people who already do carry out said activities and gives those organisations a chance to grow. However, ideas such as direct democracy, and mass participation via Web 2.0 are still utopian pipe-dreams — dreams that I doubt the elites will ever share themselves…

Bibliography: 

Althaus, S. L. and Tewksbury, D., ‘Patterns of internet and traditional media use in a networked community’, Political Communication, 17, (21-45), 2000.

Bimber, B., ‘Information and political engagement in America’, Political Research Quarterly, 54, (53-67), 2001.

Chadwick, A. and Howard, N. P., ‘The Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics’, Routledge, 2010.

Cornfield, M. and Rainie, L., ‘The Impact of the Internet on Politics’, Washington DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2003.

Hill, K. A. and Hughes, J. E., ‘Cyberpolitics: Citizen activism in the age of the internet’, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Kohut, A., ‘Perceptions of partisan bias seen as growing – especially by Democrats’, Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2003.

Kaid, L. L., ‘Political Advertising and Information Seeking’, Journal of Advertising, 31, (27-35), 2002.

Shah, D., Kwak, N. and Holbert, R., ‘Connecting and disconnecting with civic life’, Political Communication, 18, (141-62), 2001.

What about 2.0?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: ACTA’s evil twin?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) is similar to ACTA, in that it is a multilateral agreement which has a variety of effects on Intellectual Property (IP) law; some of which could have serious consequences for the Internet. The TPP started life back in 2005, with only Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore entering into the agreement; since then, global economic powers such as the U.S., Japan, and Australia have all entered the negotiations, highlighting the serious and possibly universal consequences of the agreement. Much like ACTA, the TPP was drafted behind closed doors, is supported and influenced by powerful interests, and has been kept out of limelight for sometime, however, with further negotiations coming up shortly, it’s worth analysing just how bad the TPP could be.

According to Canadian Professor of law Micheal Geist, TPP is: “[E]verything [the U.S.] wanted in ACTA but didn’t get.” Of importance is how the agreement will strengthen the U.S. ability to clamp down on others, Professor Geist explains that the TPP agreement will give the U.S. an ability to export its harsh copyright laws on other countries that sign the agreement, and allows the U.S. to amend its own domestic laws concerning certain IP provisions. Additionally, the agreement creates“[L]egal incentives for [Internet] service providers to cooperate with copyright owners in deterring the unauthorised transmission of copyrighted materials.” As well as demanding that Internet service providers deny web access to all who repeatedly infringe against the draconian copyright laws. However, the agreement doesn’t stop there, and according to the senior editor of Ars Techina, Nate Anderson, it will:

“[P]rovide a “making available” right to copyright holders, such that simply offering a file through BitTorrent would be grounds for a lawsuit even if no one downloaded the file… And all countries must set up a process to identify Internet users for any ISP, going beyond US case law.”

Wikipedia also notes that the agreement could impose a legal regime stricter than that of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and the U.S Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), requiring criminal enforcement even if there might not be a copyright infringement.

Unfortunately, the TPP agreement hasn’t been given the attention that it deserves, with such harsh and sweeping powers to regulate and reform the way IP is managed, and also how ISP will be effected, it should be as well known as the controversial ACTA and PIPA bills in the U.S. The usual organisations and groups have voiced there concerns regarding the TPP agreement, and many Congressmen in the U.S. have also dissented against TPP, especially on how restrictive the agreement is, with regards to the IP of medicines. Else where in the world, legal experts in New Zealand had a conference expressing their concerns over how the agreement would negatively effect Maori culture, and genetically modified products; Japanese commentators are also worried that the agreement would harm Japan’s unique Manga industry, and damage part of their culture.

Overall, the TPP agreement is another way for governments and big business to push through draconian laws to try and regulate and punish those who maximise the Internets full potential. If the culture of cyber-libertarianism is to continue into the future, then such agreements need to be pulled out of the shadows by the public, and scrutinised in every possible way.

Further Reading and Watching:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/11/us_tpp_proposal_leaked/

http://tppdigest.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=291%3Abig-pharma-lobbying-intensifies-as-ustr-signals-ip-proposal-deadline&catid=1%3Alatest-news&Itemid=1

https://occupytppa.wordpress.com/

http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/tpp/

http://tppwatch.org/what-is-tppa/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzZTr4-4gt4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InaiuTEMC3k

TTP Protest

Is the U.S. Government Obsessed with Social Media?

In the last decade the United States (U.S.) government has become rather aggressive with its eaves dropping and spying activities, especially towards its own citizens. All of this is carried out in the name of ‘War on Terror’. Now the government has decided that online social media is not only a threat to U.S. national security interests abroad, but also a tool used prolifically by both international and domestic terrorists.

In March 2011 it was reported by the Guardian that the Pentagon is developing a piece of software which will:“[S]ecretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” The article goes on to explain how the software will allow one U.S. serviceman to control up to 10 different ‘people’ online, which can be based all over the world. The online term for these fake personas are “sock puppets”, and they are apparently one aspect of Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which is a psychological warfare operation used against jihadists as a tool for countering their ideologies and propaganda. The Pentagon has stated that such technology wouldn’t be used to target U.S. citizens or Western social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; yet it still alarming to see that the U.S. is willing to create hundreds of fake online identities to counter enemy propaganda and spread its own.

Another branch of the U.S. government, using online social media to achieve its goals, is the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). It was discovered, after a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), that the DHS monitors social media sites for counter-terrorism and event-awareness activities, and has been doing so since 2006. The sites monitored include: Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post; they inspect the social media for key words and sentences, hoping to get ahead of the curve when a crisis or terrorist attack hits. However, organisations and people such as EPIC and Representative Jackie Speier have heavily criticised the program, calling it an invasion of privacy and waste of taxpayers money. Even stranger still, is that the DHS looks for certain extremely common  key words and terms in online social media. The more ridiculous ones, including: ‘2600’, ‘Pork’, ‘Snow’, and the real kicker… ‘Social media’… On a more serious note, the DHS’s Media Monitoring Capability (MMC) team do have the power to:“[T]ranismit personal information […] The MMC watch may provide the name, position and any other information […] over the telephone [to the National Operations Center].” It is even more alarming that in 2009 the DHS monitored residents in Standish, Michigan to see how they reacted to the proposal by the government to move Guantanamo Bay detainees to one of their local prisons.

Now even the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed), announced plans to start monitoring what is said about it. Aimed at the ‘primary social media platforms’ that are: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the Fed’s goals are to: “Continously monitor conversations […] Identify and reach out of key bloggers and influencers [and is requesting all information is provided in real-time].” Basically, the Federal Reserve wants to know–in real time– whether its policies and overall public perception is good, bad, or neutral. Once these institutions monitoring activities are combined with those of the NSA, FBI, CIA and all other intelligence agencies, then it makes one wonder, does online privacy even exist in America any more? Or is it just an illusion? Even if most of the public knew of such invasive surveillance, would they really care? Many willingly post in-depth personal information on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like, for the whole world to see. Does privacy even matter to the new ‘online’ generation? Unfortunately it seems that privacy for citizens is increasingly just a ‘thing of the past’… All this while evermore the U.S. government guards its activities in a black-hole of bureaucracies and official secrecy due to ‘national security’.

Further Reading and Watching:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8912714/Apple-iTunes-flaw-allowed-government-spying-for-3-years.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/08/2011830103018962738.html

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/fix-fisa-end-warrantless-wiretapping

http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/18/the-government-is-spying-on-you-through-facebook-right-now/

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzCNY-o5k8M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWnqaHYEVH0

Internet eyes.