Obama’s DOJ assault on civil liberties

Obama’s been really bad for privacy, due process, and discretion when it comes to a litany of topics. Many of these issues aren’t really discussed in the mainstream media and it’s beginning to really bother me. I take that back, it’s been bothering me for quiet some time, but I’m going to be talking about it a lot more now. In fact, many of these issues have dated back to before this past election. I was extremely close to voting for a third party candidate for president because I find it repugnant that the US president would kill US citizens abroad without a trial by jury, because the Bush administration created a legal gray zone called “enemy combatant.” I’m not a fan of conjecturing what our founding fathers think about modern day issues, however, I feel that this one is pretty obvious. People were being imprisoned and killed without trail under British rule. The right to a trail was to ensure this wouldn’t happen to a citizen.

The next area that’s really starting to disturb me is the efforts to shut down some types of DDoS activities. It was just discovered within the past few days that the FBI has backdoor access into a company that does DDoS for hire. Which likely means that they’re used as part of the US Cyber Security Defense League of National Homeland Safetiness. It also means that anyone that uses a service like this can be tracked and arrested for using the service, if the FBI decides to – essentially if the FBI feels that the use would have been justified from their perspective the customer wouldn’t be bothered. However, this isn’t the case at all when it comes to teenagers, young adults, or whatever age you are if you’re in Anonymous, Lulzsec, or just Kim Dot Com. According to a great Guardian article, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/may/04/security-alert-war-in-cyberspace, there’s a general all out attack on people that decide to use the internet in new ways to do different things. These are people that are notifying others of risks to their own security. For example, Weev, was just sentenced to 3 years in prison for alerting AT&T that the had some email addresses associated with iPads exposed, sure he went through Gwaker, but this information was easily accessible and in plain text. This creates a risk to all security researchers, the people that are called “white hats” that are the good Samaritan hackers which find security exploits, inform the firm give them 30 days or so to fix the issue and then release the information into the public to force the fix. Many cases of hacking are “Black hat” hackers that are really up to no good, but as the generation younger than mine continue to explore the web there will be continued clashed of culture of what is right and wrong on the internet. To me, these prison terms (and attacks that lead to Aaron Swartz’s suicide) is the old guard trying to assert authority in an area they don’t understand and cannot control.

The final area of DOJ assault is on whistle blowers and journalists. I’ve long been an advocate for releasing more information to the public and applying more scrutiny to the government. The scandals with the IRS, Benghazi, and military leaderships only indicate we need more transparency not less. The Obama administration has taken the idea of national security needs to new heights and this has created a pervasive atmosphere throughout the US that governments can simply do as they please. For example New York City, which famously said privacy is off the table, refuses to respond to legally binding Freedom of Information Requests. They are simply ignored. If it’s good for the federal government then it’s good for state and city government! Greater transparency to the public is the only way to prevent corruption throughout the government. I believe the only reason we learned of the IRS fiasco is because it was a government issued report to the public. Otherwise, it would have been buried for years and we wouldn’t have heard of it for some time, and even then there would have been a nasty fight over getting the information public.

Back to my main point of the assault on journalism – the DOJ secretly sopenaed phone records from the AP, then charged an investigative reporter from Fox as a co-conspirator which allowed the DOJ to access emails and other records skirting typical judicial oversight when dealing with the press. Furthermore, nearly all aspects of the US Government feel they can just access whoevers email they want without a warrant.

All of these things are setting really bad precedents and we need to hold people accountable to them. I know that many of you out there are apathetic towards voting. Instead of not voting, vote for a third party. Aside from Obama and the guy that ran against Lamar Smith, I voted third party for anything I could. I knew it wouldn’t have much of an impact, but I’m starting to do that and I plan to continue to do so. I also plan to support activities to get money out of our government. You should too.

Is the internet a truly democratizing technology?

Boring title I know. However, I believe this is an extremely important discussion to have. Are technologies political things? Many people claim that the internet has radically changed things. That through the internet now all sorts of political activities can happen. Things are freer and more open. Is this true? Is this a result of technology? Does this technology have to be democratizing? I’m going to argue that while there are political implications of many technologies, there are other factors to considered when talking like this.

Can a road have political implications? Most people would argue that, no it’s a road, you use it to get from point A to point B, or just for fun. Well, what if you have to use public transportation and some one designed a bridge so that the bus couldn’t go over it? Would it be political then, or would the person who designed it be instilling political capabilities into a technologies? I would say in this case, the technology was used to prevent the lower class from reaching a nicer area in New York. A designer named Robert Moses designed many bridges for NYC from 1920-1970 that prevented exactly this type of traffic from occurring (Winner, 1986).

Other cases include using assembly lines to control how workers work and the steam engine to force people to work at a steady pace, or a takt time. Other technologies such as an automated tomato picker forced a lot of other changes in California. For instance it laid off workers, forced small farms to combine into larger farms to use the technology, which drove down the cost of tomatoes which big farms were taking advantage of, and also changed the tomato itself. It actually forced the development of a harder tomato so it could survive the automated picking. Which really pissed people off.

Ok, but we’re in the age of the internet. Big deal, what’s your point with all these old technologies? Arab Spring. Protesters were able to rally using the internet. The US government created these things called suitcase internet This allows users to create a mesh network and connect to websites so users are able to get around the walls that governments put into place. Wikileaks is another source of political technology. Sure, it’s just a site where you can upload files, but you could say that anything is just a site. The point is that there are norms and expectations around Wikileaks that allows some one to feel secure if they leak something to.

Additionally, governments are starting to and continuing to control the internet and how it is used. Eric Schmidt, of Google, is worried that this sort of governmental control is only going to increase. Hacktivists such as Lulz Sec and Anonymous are only going to increase the likelihood of this. The US government itself has a conflicting approach to hackers. In the cases where these hackers are going after groups that are not within the US or not the US government, the State Department has been extremely supportive. However, as soon as these groups change focus to the US, they are declared terrorists groups, or something close, which much be destroyed. NATO recently declared much the same thing.

We are in the beginning of a struggle over the future of the internet. Hacking groups are standing up for regular users and attempting to change the direction of governments. There have been a few successes coming from unexpected locations. This op-ed has some of them. The TL;DR of the article is that the UN lambasted some of the UK’s laws, and that an Australian ISP backed out of a filtering agreement with the Government.

Clearly there are many different uses for the internet. These uses can be good and bad. However, these uses have political ramifications. The choice to hack, the choice to be social on the internet, and the choice to educate yourself all impact how the future of the internet goes. I don’t support hacking. However, it is forcing transparency and increasing awareness of people both in and out of cyber space, what is actually going on in the Interwebs.

Also, the UN declared the three-strike laws for copyright, where if you get caught three times you lose internet for life, to be a violation of human rights.

References:
Winner, L. (1980) “Do Artifacts have Politics?” Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 1: https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/download/attachments/75695134/Langdon+Winner+Artifacts+and+Politics.pdf

Soft War: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504943_162-20073030-10391715.html