Free speech and surveillance online

Written By: - Date published: 12:00 pm, January 7th, 2015 - 46 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, human rights, internet, interweb, Spying - Tags: , , , ,

A long, fascinating piece by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept this morning. Please head on over there and read the whole thing, but here are some extracts:

WITH POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA GROWING, POLICE NOW MONITORING AND CRIMINALIZING ONLINE SPEECH

police-surveillance-social-media

… Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK, notorious for its hostility to basic free speech and press rights. As The Independent‘s James Bloodworth reported last week, “around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online.”

But the persecution is by no means viewpoint-neutral. It instead is overwhelmingly directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions. … this is not merely an attack on free speech but on specific ideas. Writing about Ahmed’s case in The Guardian, Richard Seymour described him as “the latest victim of a concerted effort to redefine racism as ‘anything that could conceivably offend white people.’”

Like all technologies that threaten to subvert prevailing authority, social media–along with the Internet generally–is being increasingly targeted with police measures of control, repression and punishment. Just like mass surveillance does to the Internet, this is all part of an effort to convert these new technologies from a potential tool of subversion into one that further bolsters governing power factions.

It is thus unsurprising that the national police of Scotland postedthe above-displayed warning last week. That warning tweet is starker and more honest than the tone typically used to convey such messages, but it perfectly captures the mindset of states throughout the west about the “dangers” of social media and the repressive steps they are now taking to combat them. As Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation documented this week, legal suppression of online speech is spreading throughout the west and democracies worldwide.

As is true for all War on Terror abuses, this American version of criminalizing speech is spreading far beyond its original application, and is increasingly applied domestically. Anti-police messages are now being subjected to the same criminalizing treatment as anti-military and anti-U.S.-foreign-policy ideas.

Last month in western Massachusetts, police issued a criminal summons to 27-year-old Charles DiRosa for posting an “anti-police Facebook post.”  … There’s no question that DiRosa’s “anti-police” post is pure free speech, constitutionally protected. Even if one wants to construe it as a recommendation to others that they kill police officers, the First Amendment bars any prosecution.  … Under the most basic free speech principles, nobody can be prosecuted for expressing those views. These principles reflect a vital recognition: empowering officials to criminalize the expression of those views is far more dangerous than the views themselves.

Like the law generally, criminalizing online speech is reserved only for certain kinds of people (those with the least power) and certain kinds of views (the most marginalized and oppositional). Those who serve the most powerful factions or who endorse their orthodoxies are generally exempt. For that reason, these trends in criminalizing online speech are not so much an abstract attack on free speech generally, but worse, are an attempt to suppress particular ideas and particular kinds of people from engaging in effective persuasion and political activism.

The fact that the most effective communications medium yet invented is monitored, surveilled, and increasingly being used as a tool to protect the power and position of the privileged, isn’t exactly news of course. But Greenwald has written a compelling summary, with several example cases and plenty more analysis – the full article is well worth a read. Consider it in the recent NZ context of dirty politics, the raid on Hager, the media raids following the “teapot tape”, the Snowden revelations (CORTEX, XKEYSCORE and the like) and our recent extensions to state surveillance powers. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

46 comments on “Free speech and surveillance online”

  1. Ad 1

    So we get to one of the problems.

    On the one hand, Greenwald, Snowden etc are heroised by the left for exposing the whole Deep State operation. In reality they had little option, but it was still illegal.

    But on the other hand neither the activist left nor central governments want fully free speech. It enables exposure not only of the state, but of citizens’ lives. The State’s digital “terrorist” is the citizens “freedom fighter”, and largely vice-versa.

    The framing cancels each other out – as is already occurring in NZ after the publication of “Dirty Politics”. We need a different ground to speak from – this one is a slippery slope.

    • Ross 1.1

      What “ground” are you thinking of Ad? The internet? I think I get what you’re saying, but I’m not sure of your dichotomy: activist left versus central government. What this is about is fear versus reality. Those who would control have long known the value of fear. Hence we get the ludicrous assertions that kids playing with computers are <scarequote>hackers</scarequote> (read: evil) and social commenters are <scarequote>offensive</scarequote> (read:terrorist). Everyone gets scared and votes for the guys that warned them of the threat. Works every time. What we need is more reality. What is real is true. Nothing else actually exists. The new “ground” we need is a place to tell that story.

      • Coffee Connoisseur 1.1.1

        “What we need is more reality. What is real is true. Nothing else actually exists. The new “ground” we need is a place to tell that story.”

        Ross any chance you could elaborate a little bit on what you mean when you say this?

        • Ross 1.1.1.1

          The debate, the story is being defined by the Orcs. Lies are central to this. But lies being untrue don’t actually exist. Like a babies nightmare the only appropriate response is, you are safe. Not, Oh My God Monsters. That is the ground we’re standing on – omg monsters. This forum often trends toward omg, monsters. We need to be talking about solutions which are real, and not the lies, which are not.

          To paraphrase Laurence Lessig here … the challenge is not to convince New Zealand that there’s a problem. The challenge is to convince New Zealand that there’s a solution.

          • Coffee Connoisseur 1.1.1.1.1

            Thanks that is exactly what I thought/hoped you were meaning. Completely agree.

    • Manuka AOR 1.2

      “but it was still illegal. “

      When the laws themselves are designed and used to protect corrupt and harmful practices from within corrupt arms of government, then the word “illegal” as you have used it becomes meaningless. It is applied to anything and everything that corrupt and powerful entities wish.

    • Manuka AOR 1.3

      “neither the activist left nor central governments”

      You are conflating two entirely different groups. Central govts are powerful entities, near all-powerful in some cases. As well, much of the power is often held by other entities – corporations and the military for example. In contrast “the activist left” is not an entity. It is comprised of individual human beings. (Who have very little power, if any.)

      • Ad 1.3.1

        No I posed them as opposites.
        As for the power asymmetry, well duh!

      • Coffee Connoisseur 1.3.2

        The activist left.
        I don’t like that phrase at all there are many activists that do not see themselves as left or right in fact they understand the ridiculousness of the L vs R paradigm and that with the way the entire system is structured neither the left or the right will ever be able to achieve their ideals.

        The use of the term activist left is too easy to pigionhole and lable as fringe and loony left.

        perhaps entire framing should be changed to more Us (the people) vs them the Central Government.

        Even when you break down what voters on the right want i.e. lower taxes, more freedom from government (unless there’s the possiblity of a terror attack and they seem to be the first in line to hand back their rights to Central Government).

        The correct framing is critical and powerful. If used effectively and consistently it will be a key tool in helping change the system in my view.

        Conside4v that much of what the right do to waterdown the effectiveness of the lefts message is done with how they frame things.

        The three things that need to be used more and more is
        the people or society (needs to be an all inclusive term)
        The Central Government (it even sounds totalitarian)
        The System

        This narrative further weakens the rights effectiveness at framing issues as they want them to be framed and getting traction with voters. They lost a lot of their ability to do that through ‘dirty politics’ in my view. They no longer seem to be getting a free ride through the media.

    • Colonial Viper 1.4

      On the one hand, Greenwald, Snowden etc are heroised by the left for exposing the whole Deep State operation. In reality they had little option, but it was still illegal.

      Yep, like a Black sitting in the wrong part of a bus or restaurant in 1950’s Georgia was breaking the law.

      • Manuka AOR 1.4.1

        ” In reality they had little option” (Ad)

        I don’t understand this comment. Hundreds, even thousands of agents have access to the same information as Ed Snowden. If there was “no other option”, why the deafening silence from so many? (Sorry if I sound picky Ad, but trying to get clearer thoughts on all of this, and on what you are essentially trying to say.)

        • Coffee Connoisseur 1.4.1.1

          It takes the right person in the right place at the right time with the right amount of courage.

        • Colonial Rawshark 1.4.1.2

          A $150K pa job plus benefits in Hawaii is a pretty good reason to turn a blind eye and go along with the system. Plenty of people do it. Especially when the alternative is freezing your balls off in exile in Russia.

    • Coffee Connoisseur 1.5

      Its not so much as the framing cancelling each other out. It’s more that the most effective framing will win.

      There have been terrorist attacks in the US and the UK. We need to take away some more of your rights here in New Zealand.

      There is the possiblity that there are some muslims extremists that have slipped through our border checks and into New Zealand. We believe there is a serious risk that they want to do harm to New Zealanders and our way of life. We are going to allow surveillance up to 2 days in advance of getting a search warrant.

      Correct framing is everything.

  2. Manuka AOR 2

    “The framing cancels each other out “

    Change the framing.

    • Ad 2.1

      See my commentary on Dirty Politics in other post today.

      • Manuka AOR 2.1.1

        Ad I have read through all your comments on that thread and I am still not really any more enlightened as to your essential argument. Sorry I have missed it. (And you still seem to be subtly validating the existing framework rather than changing it.)

        Also, you say that what Glenn Greenwald did was “illegal”. Please can you name one thing he has done that is illegal in any sense of the word? And if he has, why is he able to travel freely to the US to accept journalism awards? If something he has done is illegal, wouldn’t they arrest him?

        As for your reference to “left wing heroism”, the Washington Post is known for many things but being “Left Wing” is not primarily one of them, as far as I am aware. Yet the WaPo along with the Guardian, for reporting lead by Glenn G., were Pulitzer Prize winners. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/apr/14/guardian-washington-post-pulitzer-nsa-revelations

  3. Miracle Worker 3

    Don’t forget the hand-in-glove relationship between the MSM and Police either.

    They definitely co-operate with each other.

    I have experienced this first hand in New Zealand, when a Fairfax reporter wrote a completely defamatory article about me in relation to a very high profile case I was involved in, in which the issues I was raising via social media forums were damaging to the Key led government.

    When I wrote to her editor and threatened them with defamation action, they deliberately deleted portions of my email to remove any reference to the legal action I threatened them with and framed it as a threat of physical violence against the reporter in their complaint to the Police.

    The Police then put me through a six week “investigation”, which they eventually shut down within 45 minutes of hearing from my lawyer, marking the file as “no offence committed”.

    My copy of the original email nailed it.

    The disturbing aspects of the Police file, which my lawyer obtained for me after two months of wrangling with the Police in order to obtain it, disclosed precisely why they didn’t want us to see it.

    It shows they dispatched multiple patrol cars to various locations throughout New Zealand, with officers given instructions to warn me, and/or arrest me if I refused to accept a warning – all before I had even been spoken to or interviewed by the Police, or given any opportunity whatsoever to explain my side of the story.

    A significant breach of my rights, with potentially disastrous consequences for me.

    If the Police had succeeded in actioning those unlawful orders, it would have enabled Fairfax to publish an article saying I had been warned for threatening their reporter with physical harm, which Fairfax would have had no need to prove.

    Even if I sued both the Police and Fairfax after the fact, which I absolutely would have done, the reputational damage to me would still have been done.

    If your home was burgled, would the Police throw as many resources at it as they did in this case?

    The Police took no action against the Fairfax reporter when it became obvious she had fabricated the complaint.

    Even worse, the Police file (which I still have) clearly shows that when the reporter was contacted by the Police and told the file would be closed and marked “no offence committed” due to a lack of evidence, she replied that the matter was “trivial anyway”.

    I immediately sent a copy of the file upon receiving it to the General Manager of Fairfax NZ and asked him to explain if the matter was trivial *before* she complained to the Police, or after?

    That was in 2011.

    I am still waiting for their reply.

    • Ad 3.1

      You have been in some mighty scrapes.

      That is a mean lesson for us all: we are engaging with the Deep State, and neither they nor the political order nor the MSM will be motivated to change Dirty Politics unless its in their interests.

      Even daring to see that is very hard when power is so networked against the left, so asymmetrical, so motivated by the lifeblood of public process conduits: the messier they get the story, the better it is for the life of the story.

      This is going to be a very very hard road.

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        That is a mean lesson for us all: we are engaging with the Deep State, and neither they nor the political order nor the MSM will be motivated to change Dirty Politics unless its in their interests.

        You’ve implied it right here. We do not live in a democracy, although at a casual glance that is what it appears to be. The first step is to stop pretending that we do.

        • disturbed 3.1.1.1

          Here here CV 1000%.

          We are living in a fools Ad world.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2

          +1

          We’ve never lived in a democracy. All we have is an illusion of democracy. Throughout history a few people have worked to prevent us living in a democracy. Even representative democracy is actually a means to prevent us having a democracy and a very successful one at that.

    • Manuka AOR 3.2

      Reply to Miracle Worker

      This is beyond shocking. I knew things were bad, but this is a whole other level.
      What chance would someone have in similar circumstances if they lacked the resources for legal help etc?

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1

        They would have been fucked. IMO, in NZ justice is only for those that can afford it and with National’s cuts to Legal Aid it’s becoming more so.

  4. Miracle Worker 4

    Selective morality on the part of most people on the left in terms of turning a blind eye to appalling abuse of proper process on the Key government’s part was one of my biggest hurdles in terms of raising awareness of the issue(s) at stake, and ultimately became the very factor which caused me to give up in frustration.

    Well, that and the fact that I became isolated after my employer claimed to have been visited by two govt representatives and asked questions about my involvement in the issues I was raising, leaving him with the distinct impression our company would/could be hit with “unspecified sanctions” if I didn’t cease and desist.

    I was told to give it up or lose my job.

    Or maybe it was because they identified my ex partners family via my Facebook friends list and systematically turned them against me.

    For me, ‘Dirty Politics’ was not only a form of vindication, it was also 3 years too late.

    If only you knew what I know 🙂

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      About the Left…just look at how the Labour Government of the day treated conscientious objectors and critics of NZ’s participation in WWII.

    • Murray Rawshark 4.2

      Write a book.

      • Miracle Worker 4.2.1

        My life has already been threatened twice over it, and I have been given compelling reasons to take the threats seriously. A book is not out of the question, but it won’t be until some time in the future when the current players are no longer around to present any real danger. A judicial inquiry with wide enough parameters would bring down the government, without question. Those with an understanding of how these things really work, know why this is as far as it is safe for me to go at this time. I have already pushed the envelope far enough. This is why I am so disappointed with the opposition parties. The core issue is not whether or not they can get traction with judicial inquiries. The core issue is that they have publishing power with the MSM simply by raising the issues which necessitate those inquiries, and they are consistently using a combination of selective morality and political expediency to cherry pick which issues to raise in the public forum. National is not the only party guilty of risk averse, poll driven conduct inspite of the immeasurable harm it is causing society and the economy. If I seem critical of Labour for this reason, it comes only from a place of crushed hope and bitter disappointment, because I once genuinely believed they knew better. Now I am no longer sure. The scales have fallen from my eyes. Pun intended. Yes there was political risk for Labour in taking on the challenges involved in the issues I refer to, but I sincerely and fervently believe that it was (and is) in the public interest for the whole truth to come to light in the public forum, because it would eventuate in a long over due clean up of our entire political, judicial and financial system. Labour has absolutely sided with vested interests on this one and that is my greatest disappointment. I didn’t expect better from National but I (obviously foolishly) believed I had a right to expect better from Labour.

        • Draco T Bastard 4.2.1.1

          National is not the only party guilty of risk averse, poll driven conduct inspite of the immeasurable harm it is causing society and the economy.

          Yeah, noticed that. It became readily apparent when Labour teamed up with National and NZ1st to ensure that IMP would be in parliament. The stink of fear from all of them permeates the country still.

  5. Anne 5

    Wow Miracle Worker. That’s some story!

    What it shows is a profoundly unhealthy relationship between the police and certain sections of the fourth estate which really needs to be widely aired. One day soon I hope you will see your way clear to having it publicly revealed by a ‘reputable’ journalist.

    The other best known recent example is the difference in attitude between New Zealand’s most vile public hate speecher, Cameron Slater and New Zealand’s most principled investigative journalist, Nicky Hager. On the one hand, the hate speecher is afforded an immediate and active police response to his complaint… and a former Security Intelligence director supplies him with inaccurate information he then uses to undermine a former Labour leader just before an election. On the other hand, Nicky Hager has the book flung at him and a 10 hour police search of his home looking for info. they could then use to bully and threaten him into silence. Because, mark my words, that was the real reason the police hierachy (I don’t include the officers charged with carrying out the search) moved so swiftly against Hager.

    Edit:

    my employer claimed to have been visited by two govt representatives…

    Can you elaborate on ‘the govt. representatives’?

  6. philip Ferguson 6

    Some good reads:

    Andy Warren, States of surveillance: http://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/states-of-surveillance/

    Yassamine Mather, We’re all data in the end: the rise of the surveillance state: http://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/were-all-data-in-the-end-the-rise-of-the-surveillance-state/

    Phil

  7. Miracle Worker 7

    @Anne:

    I strongly suspect there was political influence in the Police search of Hager’s home, which is why I applaud his request for a judicial review.

    As far as telling my story to a “reputable journalist” goes, does such a person still exist in New Zealand?

    I gave a ton of information to Nicky Hager a long time ago but never received a reply.

    I suspect it was because the issue(s) I was raising has the potential to embarrass both (if not all) sides of the political divide, and was a highly political hot potato in spite of being about systemic corruption so large in scale that exposing it threatens to undermine public confidence in our entire system of government.

    Arguably valid political reasons for Labour to ignore it, if you look at it from their perspective.

    Like I said, I gave up trying to raise awareness of it because the personal toll became too great and I realised in the end that the left has no interest in the facts coming to light because the issue divides public opinion so intensely that the argument is virtually unwinnable by any side because so few people are interested in the facts or the human/civil rights and/or democratic principles at stake.

    Like Dirty Politics, any attempt to raise the subject quickly degenerates into a sh*t fight no one can win where the majority of people (on all sides) lose sight of the core principles at stake.

    Two things I learned from it are that selective morality is fuel for politicians on all sides, and financial illiteracy on the part of most people is allowing corrupt politicians to run rings around the easily provoked and extremely gullible public.

  8. Miracle Worker 8

    @Anne: re government representatives:

    I was told it was two representatives of the (then) MED.

    • Anne 8.1

      Thanks MW.

      As Ad said: it’s a very, very hard road.

      I had among other things… a whistle-blowing experience 20 odd years ago and what shocked me the most was the determination on the part of the government agencies involved not to believe a word I said. This, in spite of my previous immaculate (in the sense of trustworthiness and honesty) back-ground which could easily have been substantiated. I appreciate now it was more to do with ‘not wanting to believe me’ because of the political content involved. So, the next best thing to do in such circumstances is to undermine and threaten the whistle blower rather than seek out the perpetrator(s).

      As far as Nicky Hager is concerned, he is politically neutral when it comes to investigating wrong-doing. I remember him revealing not long ago that he has had an enormous amount of material sent him over the years – far more than he could ever hope to be able to investigate. I think you might find that is why you received no response.

      • RedLogix 8.1.1

        Yes I had the interesting experience of giving Nicky a lift many years ago – and I still recall some of the extraordinary things he mentioned.

        None of which I’ve ever repeated. Period.

  9. Colonial Viper 9

    So anyone still keen on online voting? You know, so all these great law enforcement and government agencies know exactly how/who you have voted.

    • gsays 9.1

      ok y’all can colour me stupid…
      when you vote, doesnt the electoral officer write a number (that comes from the electoral roll), onto your ballot paper.
      i have often thought that this was a way the man could pry.

  10. Miracle Worker 10

    Interestingly, David Cunliffe was directly involved personally in the issue(s) I am referring to.

    I met him in person when he came looking for information about it.

    He even called me on my cellphone once in relation to it.

    He publicly pledged (the exact term he used was “pledged”) a judicial inquiry into the issue(s) in question, in November 2011.

    I am still waiting for Labour to honour that pledge.

    • Colonial Rawshark 10.1

      Be patient. Labour can’t order a judicial inquiry into jack shit while it is in Opposition.

  11. esoteric pineapples 11

    Essentially the internet/cyber space has become the brain/nervous system for humanity. Almost inevitably there is a power struggle going on between various forces for its control. It may have been created in a spirit of anarchic freedom but it has become too vital for power structures to allow it to carry on this way. A mere 100 years or so where NZers have enjoyed individualfreedom has still been long enough for them to become naive and complacent
    Even now, I am sure there are people working on ways to shut down sites like The Standard in a round about way.

    • Murray Rawshark 11.1

      They can effectively shut down The Standard with PG type antics, where they just make it painful to read. I’m sure he’s aware he drives people away, and there are some others who have the same effect.

  12. Sable 12

    The UK and US are probably the most corrupt, least free places in the West. Looking at what is happening here it clear the sleazy Keys government would like to export the tyranny to our shores.

    Bet the Scots now wish they have voted to give Shameron and his mates the boot. Indeed still could happen….

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