Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Arrested for Watching the Watchers

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The British police officer used to be regarded worldwide as the epitome of fairness and the protector of the public peace. That was rubbish even back in the old days of course. But, as they say (all together now): EVERYTHING CHANGED AFTER 9/11... Looking at this footage of women being arrested for monitoring the police at Kingsnorth climate camp, I am a lot less enthusiastic at the thought of travelling to the UK next month... welcome to the authoritarians' paradise created by New Labour. The two ladies in question were involved with Fit Watch, the organization that watches the British police's Forward Intelligence Teams (whose job is to harass demonstrators at protests in the UK). More information about the cops in this video and their identities (they are required to provide badge numbers if requested by members of the public) is available at The Guardian and at this Fit Watch blog entry. Oh... need I add that the women were of course cleared of all charges in court, having spent a total of four days in prison without bail or access to their lawyers - just for asking the cops for their badge numbers?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Did Nokia Siemens Network Give Iran Surveillance Technology?

The Wall Street Journal and WIRED magazine are reporting that Nokia Siemens Network, a subsidiary of the German and Finnish telecom companies, supplied technology for monitoring and censoring communications as part of a larger deal for a mobile phone network with the Iranian government late in 2008. According to the WSJ, the deal included provisions for "deep packet inspection", which involves not only the ability to block or restrict access to specific websites, but also the capability to inspect the content of individual communications. The company confirms the deal, but denies that the technology provided allows deep packet inspection, instead claiming that the contract included what it refers to in lovely newspeak as "provision of Lawful Intercept capability":
In most countries around the world, including all EU member states and the U.S., telecommunications networks are legally required to have the capability for Lawful Intercept and this is also the case in Iran.
Whether the requirement by EU and US bureaucrats to include spying/censorship backdoors for law enforcement in telecommunications software is itself legitimate and commensurate to democratic standards relating to the rule of law is of course highly questionable (for the record, I say no). Another matter is whether a European company should sell such equipment to a regime with a record like that of the Islamic Republic, which suppresses free speech (and may have manipulated the elections of last week) as a matter of course. Yet the two issues are closely related. Had the European and US governments decided to defend democratic/civil-rights principles even under pressure from "security experts", it would be much more difficult for companies like Nokia Siemens Networks to defend their decision to trade integrity for profit.

I found this an interesting question to consider in the context of the important role of mobile communications technology for documenting eand coordinating events during the current unrest in Iran.

N.b., not to unfairly single out Iran for violations of privacy, whether clandestine or "legal": It turns out that the NSA, which is able to read the e-mails of all US citizens without court orders using the Pinwale software, has also been accessing the personal communications of former US president Bill Clinton.

Feel free to communicate with Nokia Siemens Networks and their damage control man Ben Roome at this address or via e-mail at They will certainly be delighted to hear from you provided you state your opinion respectfully.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fox News Obliquely Smears Obama as Jew-Hater accompanied its coverage of the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with one stock picture of Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University, and one picture of US President Barack Obama wearing a keffiyah. The latter image was obviously photoshopped; what is interesting is the provenance of this not-very-subtle smear, with its blatant overtones of Obama being a "secret Muslim" and similar debunked nonsense: It is cropped from this picture of a poster seen in Israel, which proclaims "Barack Hussein Obama" (of course!) to be an "Anti-Semitic Jew-Hater":

Now, this is clearly not an error; somebody in the newsroom intentionally selected this picture of Obama to accompany the report on Netanyahu's comments, in which he stipulated that any future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and accompanied by security guarantees for Israel. (While it goes without saying that the second of these demands is perfectly reasonable, the first will be unacceptable to the Palestinians and at this point constitutes a de-facto rejection of real Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories.)

The picture was pointed out by a commenter on the extreme right-wing discussion board Free Republic, who called the choice of image "pretty stunning" and said quite rightly that it "seems to be an editorial decision". The next commenter asks "Is there a FReeper working for Fox? I nearly fell off my chair seeing that!", while others gleefully respond with " that a real picture? I like it!" and "Whoa! At first I thought you were pulling my leg but the picture really is on Fox’s site! I wonder how long it’ll be there?".

At the time of writing, the picture was still there, cf. the following screenshot:

By promoting the idea that Obama is a "Jew-Hater" and antisemite, is further stoking the fire of those nutjobs who already feel tempted to take the law into their own hands. Without going into the details of the delicate relationship between right-wing extremists and philosemites (among many militant conservatives in the US, philosemitism frequently appears to be constantly on the verge of tipping over into prejudice against Jews), suffice it to say that casting Obama as a new Hitler, while obviously completely crazy, will egg on those who believe any means are justified in stopping him. FoxNews knows no shame, of course, but they should be called out on this.