Jun 162019

Let me admit at once that my news source is not normally The Intercept. I prefer a rather more chatty paper, one that is not too angry, one that helps me feel that I am a member of society, not a besieged and defenceless island.

The problem is that most such papers need sponsors and sponsors tend to have money, and those who have money are usually not all that keen on promoting equitable distribution of wealth (with, say, progressive taxes, and free health care and university education), not to put too fine a point on it.

We hear about “the wealthy” in all sorts of contexts, not least in statements about “the top ten percent” versus the remaining 90 percent. We know statistically who they vote for, how much they spend on lobbying activities and what media outlets they own. We also know that many rich people are “very nice”, love their children and spend vast sums on charity. But there is no doubt about it: disparities in almost all our countries are growing. They are growing sharply.

Nevertheless, we continue reading papers owned by members of “the top ten percent” and we hope all the bad things will just sort of disappear, just as we avoid reminders of the fact that we, yes, you and I, will die some day, maybe even someday soon, that climate change will deprive our grandchildren, maybe even our children, of most of the good things in life. It hurts to think about it, so we don’t; we don’t think.

Thus, our pusillanimity helps us make unsound choices, choices that will harm us and our children.

Sometimes the unsound choices we make can be downright dangerous. One such choice was made by the majority of the voting electorate in Brazil, when they raised the fascist-minded Jair Bolsonaro to the presidential throne. Now Brazil is already sometimes referred to as a “fascistoid” state. That spells d-a-n-g-e-r for a lot of innocent people.

Before he was elected, Bolsonaro was not the favourite candidate of the “wealthy”, but he was the only candidate on the right who had sufficient charisma to attract voters. So the press supported him and denigrated the left, as usual.

Now Brazil is a country of extreme inequality – and the overwhelmingly numerous poor would probably have voted for Lula da Silva if Lula hadn’t happened to be in jail. Why was Lula in jail?

Well, that is really the magician’s trick, you see. This is where The Intercept comes in.

The Intercept — the Political Earthquake in Brazil

I’m not here to tell you The Intercept’s story. You should read it yourself.

What I do want to point out, however, is that somebody provided The Intercept with the evidence. I would not like to be that somebody. Whoever it is, is a hero, but if the Brazilian or US authorities ever get their hands on him or her, … I say no more.

And as for my country, your country, the UK, Equador, and Sweden and all the countries that are kowtowing to the US in the Julian Assange case and who refused to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, they are accessories before and after the fact to the crimes Assange and Snowden exposed.

Whatever the identity of the hero who provided The Intercept with the evidence, you and I had better be prepared to demand that not a hair be touched on his or her head, and that no legal or other steps be taken against The Intercept.

Nov 292015

The other day a colleague who is familiar with my slightly subversive views maliciously presented me with a philosophical challenge:

– How come you who so fervently believe in the rule of law defend people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange?
It is true that I passionately believe in the rule of law, defined by the UN as follows:

“… a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

(You will find other definitions of the “rule of law”, definitions from which the last clause – “and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards” is absent.)

Back to my malicious colleague: I took the moral highground: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange did not have the right to violate certain legal provisions; they had a duty to do so.

– Ah, said my colleague with a sly smile, so when you face the enemy, the rule of law no longer applies?

I must admit that my mumbled reply was not very impressive. I saw where he was going, and I am a terrible chess player. He would make sure I’d soon be writhing in a corner (figuratively that is) admitting that to defend my values, we must do whatever it takes, whereas to defend your values – if they differ from mine – we must play by the rules.

Now I am an extremely law-abiding citizen. I don’t even cheat on my taxes, and wouldn’t do so even if I had the chance, for the simple reason that I’m proud of paying my share of the upkeep of this country. Nevertheless, my sympathy for rule breakers does not stop at Snowden and Assange. I also have full sympathy with hackers “Anonymous” when they claim to be taking down the “enemy’s” Twitter accounts (again, on the assumption that their enemy is my enemy, and ISIS certainly is a shared enemy.) Taking down a Twitter account is, however, a far, far cry from “Guantanamo Bay” and universal telecom surveillance.

The self-styled “Islamic State” and Boko Haram are not the only monsters lurking in the shadows. There are other agents of rape and mutilation out there. And some of them are friends of our friends. Take the Uzbek government, for instance – just about as bad as they come, yet several European governments including my own, have invested heavily in Uzbekistan. A recent scandal rocked the press in my country for a couple of days, but all is surprisingly silent now. Was it too close to home for the powers that be?

I quote the Norwegian Helsinki Committee:

It is widely known that authoritarian regimes put as a condition for providing licenses to mobile telephone and internet providers that they get full access to content and meta ‐ data of communications on the systems. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has inter alia criticized the Swedish company Telia Sonera and the Russian company Vimpelcom (partly owned by the Norwegian company Telenor) for providing authorities in Uzbekistan and Belarus full access to their systems.

Meanwhile, in Sweden (source: the Guardian), the prosecuting authority is taking an Uzbek hit-man to court. He is suspected of having been acting at the orders of the Uzbek government when he shot an Uzbek opposition politician in the head. He did it in Malmö. That’s in Sweden. The impudence!! Yet, Sweden has also been investing heavily in Uzbekistan.

If our own governments don’t play by the rules, how can they expect us, to whom they are accountable, to do so? If our governments practise realpolitik  why should not we also do so, at least in self-defence. The question is: Should hackers in one country, mine for instance, defend violently suppressed people in another, eg, the “ganster state” Uzbekistan?

That, I think, is the real philosophical challenge. Would the consequences be all-bad, as have those of the military intervientions in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya?

Finally, should it occur to you to you to ask me, let me be clear: Any hacker who, for personal gain, abuses his/her skills (e.g. online bank fraud, industrial espionage, etc.) will find no more sympathy at my door than a medical doctor who kills his/her patients. There are certain things one just doesn’t do!