Thursday, October 19, 2006

Land of the Free?

GEORGE W. BUSH is bringing the "War on Terror" home to Americans, with measures to hit the freedoms that citizens thought their birthright. Some fear the administration can rely on public panic, lack of awareness and tame corporate media to push these measures through without encountering enough resistance.

This warning alarm is sounded in a broadcast on Tuesday evening - A Time Of Shame National yawn as our rights evaporate’, by Keith Olbermann - Anchor, 'Countdown'.

"First thing this morning, the president signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which does away with habeas corpus, the right of suspected terrorists or anybody else to know why they have been imprisoned, provided the president does not think it should apply to you and declares you an enemy combatant.

"Further, the bill allows the CIA to continue using interrogation techniques so long as they do not cause what is deemed, quote, “serious physical or mental pain.” And it lets the president to ostensibly pick and choose which parts of the Geneva Convention to obey, though to hear him describe this, this repudiation of the freedoms for which all our soldiers have died is a good thing."

Video and transcript.

They are interested to know what you are interested in

Those of us compensating for our lack of power or media ownership by chattering away on the Internet might note another move afoot to close or restrict this window of freedom. Here's an extract from a report by Declan McCullagh:

"FBI Director Robert Mueller on Tuesday called on Internet service providers to record their customers' online activities, a move that anticipates a fierce debate over privacy and law enforcement in Washington next year. 'Terrorists coordinate their plans cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet, as do violent sexual predators prowling chat rooms,' Mueller said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Boston.

"'All too often, we find that before we can catch these offenders, Internet service providers have unwittingly deleted the very records that would help us identify these offenders and protect future victims,' Mueller said. 'We must find a balance between the legitimate need for privacy and law enforcement's clear need for access'.

"The speech to the law enforcement group, which approved a resolution on the topic earlier in the day, echoes other calls from Bush administration officials to force private firms to record information about customers. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for instance, told Congress last month that "this is a national problem that requires federal legislation."

Justice Department officials admit privately that data retention legislation is controversial enough that there wasn't time to ease it through the U.S. Congress before politicians left to campaign for re-election. Instead, the idea is expected to surface in early 2007, and one Democratic politician has already promised legislation.

Law enforcement groups claim that by the time they contact Internet service providers, customers' records may have been deleted in the routine course of business. Industry representatives, however, say that if police respond to tips promptly instead of dawdling, it would be difficult to imagine any investigation that would be imperiled.

'One proposal would go beyond Internet providers and require registrars, the companies that sell domain names, to maintain records too. And during private meetings with industry officials, FBI and Justice Department representatives have cited the desirability of also forcing search engines to keep logs--a proposal that could gain additional law enforcement support after AOL showed how useful such records could be in investigations.
A representative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said he was not able to provide a copy of the resolution.

'At the moment, Internet service providers typically discard any log file that's no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention or billing disputes. Companies do, however, alter that general rule when contacted by police performing an investigation--a practice called data preservation.

'A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act regulates data preservation. It requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity."'

Not surprisingly, to those of us familiar with the ways of British government, it seems Britain is leading the way in moves to control the Internet:

"When adopting its data retention rules, the European Parliament approved U.K.-backed requirements saying that communications providers in its 25 member countries--several of which had enacted their own data retention laws already--must retain customer data for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years.

"The Europe-wide requirement applies to a wide variety of "traffic" and "location" data, including: the identities of the customers' correspondents; the date, time and duration of phone calls, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls or e-mail messages; and the location of the device used for the communications. But the "content" of the communications is not supposed to be retained. The rules are expected to take effect in 2008."

The FBI director's reference to "terrorists" and "violent sexual predators" is just the way those in power use current panics to conceal their wider aim. The call to monitor Internet customers reminds us of the reported request to library staffs to keep records on who gets out which books.

Note how nothing is said about controlling websites inciting violence, or exploiting children for degrading pornography. Business is business, and though material and victims are now provided from eastern Europe, we'd guess most of the porn websites are still hosted in the USA. So is the Redwatch site used by British and European Nazis to circulate details on people targetted for death threats and violence. But the current stereotype of "terrorist" does not feature those who are right-wing and white.

Can governments or commercial Internet Service Providers be trusted to respect our freedoms and not interfere with legitimate communication? Well, some while ago a friend and I found some e-mails were being blocked from reaching people, and intended recipients were neither consulted nor informed. It transpired that AOL was responding to a call from someone to block anything containing the web address of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom. This automatically triggered university servers to reject such e-mails - just at a time when academics were debating whether to boycott Israeli institutions and might have been interested in what left-wing Israelis had to say.

The timing might have been a coincidence. But I expect we can guess what kind of bodies might have sought to block the views coming from Gush Shalom.
(for instance the US-based B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League which has objected to Gush Shalom website material before also boasts of its efforts to secure co-operation from Internet Service Providers.) As it happens a way was found around this censorship, but no apology was ever recieved, nor any admission there had been anything wrong. After all, we have heard how big companies co-operate with the requitements of the Chinese authorities in restricting material, so how much more willing might they be to collaborate patriotically with the authorities in the USA?



At 7:18 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Very frightening post. Good you got that information out early.


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