Wednesday 27th of January 2021

don't look up...


The US government has a tendency to hijack and weaponize revolutionary innovations, Edward Snowden said, noting that natural human desire to communicate with each other is now being exploited on an unprecedented scale.

“Our utopian vision for the future is never guaranteed to be realized,” Snowden told the audience in Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada via live stream from Moscow this week, stressing that the US government “corrupted our knowledge... towards a military purpose.”

They took our nuclear capability and transformed it into the most horrible weapon that the world had ever witnessed. And we’re seeing an atomic moment of computer science... Its reach is unlimited...but its safeguards are not!


The whistleblower, who in 2013 leaked a trove of highly classified information about global spying operations by the National Security Agency, argued that armed with modern technology and with the help of social media and tech giants the governments are becoming “all-powerful” in their ability to monitor, analyze and influence citizens’ behavior.

It's through the use of new platforms and algorithms that are built on and around these capabilities that they are able to shift our behavior. In some cases, they are able to predict our decisions and also nudge them to different outcomes.


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they know you better than you know yourself...

Facebook’s lawyer has denied the social media platform invaded American users’ privacy when it allowed their personal data to be slurped up by Cambridge Analytica, claiming they had no privacy to begin with. No crime, no victims?

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” attorney Orin Snyder argued in a motion to have a class-action lawsuit against Facebook dismissed in California’s Northern District Court this week. The suit alleges Facebook’s failure to protect user data from predatory third parties like Cambridge Analytica constitutes invasion of privacy, breach of contract, and negligence and violates other privacy statutes. 


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Picture at top by Gus Leonisky

what they do behind your back...

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer said that interviews he recorded with Sky News and the BBC on Julian Assange were never broadcast, as he responded to criticism on Twitter for appearing on RT.

Melzer was replying to trolling he received for appearing on “premier propaganda network” RT by Idrees Ahmad when he made the disclosure about the media outlets’ alleged dropping of his interviews.

“For the record: On 31 May, I have also given similar exclusive TV interviews to both @SkyNews and @BBCWorld,” he said, adding, “but it seems they decided not to broadcast them.”

Melzer spoke to a number of media outlets, including RT and Democracy Now, this week about his assessment that the jailed WikiLeaks founder is suffering from the effects of psychological torture as a result of his ongoing detention and threats of being extradited to the US, where he faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act.  

The UN expert also accused “a group of democratic States” of “ganging up” on Assange to “isolate, demonize and abuse”him.

BBC Radio did air an interview with the UN rapporteur and he was quoted in an article on the BBC website, but no video interviews appeared on BBC or Sky News.

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Meanwhile, US prosecutors are said to have backed down on plans to charge Assange for the infamous Vault 7 leak because of time constraints and concerns that such a move could result in the leaking of more classified documents.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK's foreign secretary who is tipped as a frontrunner to replace Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister, said he wouldn't block the extradition of disgraced whistle-blower Julian Assange to the United States.

Referring to the espionage charges brought forward by US prosecutors, Hunt argued that it is "absolutely right that he (Assange) faces justice and he has no more reason to escape justice than anyone else who is alleged to have committed crimes."

"We would have to follow our own legal processes just as the US has to follow its own legal processes. But would I want to stand in the way of Julian Assange facing justice? No I would not," he said on CBS' Face the Nation.

His statement came hot on the heels of reports that the US Justice Department won't go after Julian Assange over his role in exposing the CIA's global secretive hacking programme.

This refers to the so-called Vault 7, a cache of over 8,700 documents disclosed by WikiLeaks in 2017 which detailed the CIA's cyber operations and stealth hacking tools including viruses, trojans and other "weaponised" malware.

According to the Vault 7 leak, a software development group within the agency's cyber intelligence unit has built malware capable of hacking into smart phones, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, Linux, as well as removable media, routers and smart TVs.

The documents also indicated that the CIA had been using the US consulate in Frankfurt, Germany as a covert base for hackers operating in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Although the CIA has neither confirmed nor contested the authenticity of the disclosed files, they are understood to be genuine, according to statements by former CIA staffer Edward Snowden and unnamed government officials.

The US government won't press charges against Assange over the Vault 7 leak because US prosecutors have apparently failed to bring additional charges (as required by extradition law) within 60 days of the first indictment, which was filed on 6 March over his connection with leaks by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Moreover, prosecutors are said to be worried that the Vault 7 documents, if they were to surface in court, would lead to the exposure of more intelligence secrets, Politico reported on Sunday, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

READ MORE: UN Torture Report, Espionage Act Charges May Turn Public Opinion Toward Assange

Julian Assange is currently serving a 50-week jail term for a bail offence to avoid extradition to Sweden — a sentence WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described as an "outrage".

Assange broke bail conditions in 2012 and took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London at a time when Swedish prosecutors wanted him over allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denied.

The US Justice Department, meanwhile, indicted the 47-year-old whistle-blower last week on 17 charges under the Espionage Act, claiming that he and his anti-secrecy website "have repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United Sates classified due to the serious risk that unauthorised disclosure could harm the national security of the United States".

These new accusations came on top of a single count of conspiracy with Chelsea Manning to hack into a government computer in a bid to access classified military reports about the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as information about detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail in 2013 after she was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act. But in January 2017, Barack Obama commuted all but four months of the remaining sentence and she was released in May later that year.

As for the separate Vault 7 leak, the Justice Department has charged one person so far. Joshua Schulte, a former CIA coder, was indicted in 2017 for leaking the documents to WikiLeaks. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial has been pushed to November 2019; if convicted, Schulte faces up to 135 years in prison.



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HE HAS NOT COMMITTED ANY CRIMES — UNLIKE TONY BLAIR, JOHN HOWARD AND GEORGE W BUSH, and Obama (with Hillary) by illegally bombing or destroying countries — now joined by the Tariff Man, Donald TRUMP.

the persecution of heroes must stop...

“Whistleblowers like Julian Assange are the heroes of our time”


Since the detention of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on 11 April in the London Embassy of Ecuador and his conviction to 50 weeks imprisonment, there have been numerous protests, demonstrations, appeals for the release of Assange worldwide. Edward Snowden spoke from his asylum in Russia in a letter that was read in Berlin.


In Switzerland, a group of lawyers has asked the Federal Council to grant Assange asylum in Switzerland because he is politically persecuted and threatened with torture and the death penalty if he is extradited because of his revelations of war crimes in the USA. 


Assange himself has repeatedly expressed this fear since his flight to the Ecuadorian embassy. Numerous articles can be found in the alternative media. Many mainstream media, which at the time were keen to publish the WikiLeaks material on war crimes on their front pages, are now demonstrating at best restrained reporting.


But there’s more at stake here. It is about the protection of people who uncover war crimes, serious violations of international law by governments for the public, about the right to public participation of citizens. It is about protecting those for whom the UN Charter and human rights are still important. To protect democracy and the dangers to world peace. “In a democratic society, everyone must have access to reliable information […] so that a personal opinion can be formulated,” as Alfred de Zayas, who visited Assange 2015 in the embassy, stated in his demand for a charter of whistleblower rights already in 2016.


And: “The weight of the law should fall on the persons whose criminal acts are uncovered by the whistleblowers. But those who commit war crimes, those who engage in corruption, those who conspire to defraud states of their tax revenue, continue to enjoy impunity.” (Current Concerns No. 11 from 18 May 2017).

It is also and above all about truth and justice for the countless innocent victims of the wars. Quite a few of these victims have expressed their gratitude to Assange for publishing with WikiLeaks the truth about the war, as Mairead Maguire, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1976) from Northern Ireland, writes in her haunting appeal. The hunt for Julian Assange – as the extensive chronicle makes clear – Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and many other whistleblowers must stop.

Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller


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And this goes for the ABC reporters in Australia.

sniffing through 9,214 items of democratic rights...

It was a surreal moment: standing with a group of Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers around a big screen, sifting through 9,214 emails and documents belonging to my colleagues.

I felt like I was having surgery but was still conscious. I was seeing and hearing things which I'd rather not be.

It felt a complete violation of us both as journalists and citizens — and it had nothing to do with national security.

It was at that moment that I felt there was something sick about modern Australia — that an institution as important as the media had come to this.

Responsibility to report

I spent nine hours in this room with the federal police officers while ABC headquarters was raided on Wednesday.

As the person responsible for investigative journalism at the ABC and the two reporters named on the warrant — Dan Oakes and Sam Clark — I felt it was important for me to try to shadow the AFP while they were in the ABC building. From the moment they entered until the moment they left.

I wanted to see where they went and what they tried to access.


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a second-rate country ...


by Geoffrey Robertson

What an irony. As the free world celebrates D-day and the heroes who kept it free from the Gestapo’s “knock on the door”, the international news on the BBC leads with the spectacle of the police raid on the ABC offices.

This could not happen in other advanced democracies, which all have constitutional protections for journalists and their sources of information, although of course it does go on in Istanbul and Rangoon – and now in Sydney. How did we become so out of sync on press freedom, invasions of which are the sign of a second-rate country?

The government can only say that police are independent. So they may be, but independence is no protection against police incompetence, illegality or plain stupidity (see, for example, the Victorian Police and “lawyer X”).

The safeguard against overzealous policemen is meant to be the courts – that is,  the judges – but this warrant was granted by “a Queanbeyan court registrar”. The warrant that allowed police to ransack News Limited journalist Annika Smethurst’s home on Tuesday was said to have been signed in secret by an “ACT magistrate”. This could never happen in Britain where any police application for “journalistic material” must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions and then put before a judge, with the media represented, and on no account can it seek to identify journalistic sources.

How come we allow inconsequential officials to authorise police to intimidate news-gatherers?

Scott Morrison says “no-one is above the law” so why should journalists have any special right? For one simple reason, Mr Morrison – democracy depends on it. It depends on an informed public, which means that journalists must be free to cultivate and to protect sources of important information about government agencies and businesses, otherwise news will diminish to what is fed to them by public relations departments, press releases and ministerial statements.

The public has a right to know about such matters as the alleged murder of women and children by Australian soldiers and plans for secret surveillance of Australian citizens: to ensure that information of this importance sees the light of day, some special protection must be provided to news organisations.

This is now accepted in the US – the first amendment, backed by “shield laws” that protect  journalists from police inquiries into their sources. It is accepted by the UK and by the 48 other countries that adopt the free speech guarantee in the European Human Rights Convention as a result of Goodwin v UK back in 1996. My client, a young journalist, had been ordered to disclose his source but the European Court ruled that protection of journalistic sources was essential to democracy, otherwise “the vital public watchdog role of the press” would be mooted and it’s duty to provide accurate and reliable information would be adversely effected.

Australia, unlike all other advanced nations, has no constitutional charter of rights protecting press freedom. However, the High Court, some years ago, discovered an “implication” in favour of free speech from the fact that the constitution establishes a democracy for which free speech is essential.

This implication has evidently not been noticed by those who pursued the warrant.

This week's raids have diminished Australia’s international standing, so Parliament must at least make amendments requiring police to obtain the DPP’s approval before any future attack on the media and requiring them to make an application to a real judge which the media can contest before any action is taken.

The behaviour of the AFP should be put under intense scrutiny by Parliament. Did it take legal advice before it applied for a warrant and from whom? Did it consider that the ABC had an obvious public interest defence? Does the AFP not consider the alleged murder of civilians by the Australian army is a matter of public interest? The ABC program went out in 2017. Why the long delay if national security were really at stake? What if anything did police tell the court registrar? The source of the leaks, former military lawyer David William McBride,  identified himself in March when he said he would defend charges on the grounds he had a duty to report the information. The leaker identified, were not the raids on the ABC entirely unnecessary?

And why did the AFP consider it necessary to ransack Smethurst’s home? If these and many other questions are not answered satisfactorily, then heads should roll.

This spectacle of AFP’s heavies looking over an editor’s shoulder should serve as a reminder that police raids on media officers, other than in times of emergency, are anti-pathetic to our law and our traditions. Captain Arthur Phillip brought with him the laws of England, including the famous precedent of John Wilkes awarded heavy damages for a general warrant allowing raids on his home and printing presses for criticising King George III.

Our first notable court decisions, following this precedent, were those of Chief Justice Frances Forbes, striking down Governor Darling's ill-tempered attempts to close down early versions of The Sydney Morning Herald. All judges, law enforcers and even Queanbeyan court registrars should be aware of this proud history and Parliament should make free speech a reality, not a “mere implication”, by enacting a proper shield law to protect journalistic sources and ending the secret rubber-stamping of national security warrants.

Better still, of course, would be a Charter of Rights of the kind that protects journalism in the US, Britain and Europe. Murdoch newspapers, which have long opposed it, should think again.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, is a London-based Australian human rights barrister. He is the author of Rather His Own Man: In Court with Tyrants, Tarts and Troublemakers. 

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you've been engoogled...

Modern censorship is more dangerous than open totalitarianism, it being concealed and incorporated in our daily routine, says Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, commenting on the insider leak detailing Google’s news blacklist.

The intellectual told RT he’s not advocating for online anarchy, comparing it to snuff movies in hardcore pornography – some regulation should be in place to block harmful content on the internet, he says. But hiding political motives for suppressing voices online is what worries Zizek the most. 

“We all know we have to censor things at some level, but the main rule for me is that the process should be transparent. Not in the way – I’m talking about the developed West – it is done now, when all of a sudden somebody is prohibited and you are not even allowed to debate it,” Zizek explains. The “false choice” between politically correct censorship and radical liberalism is a trap, he believes.

This week, conservative transparency group Project Veritas published documents it received from an ex-Google employee. The documents appeared to confirm that Google can boost or de-rank news sources based on a seemingly biased set of internal rules. Calling the practices “dark and nefarious”the whistleblower, Zachary Vorhies, also leaked a doc detailing Google’s “blacklist” that lists nearly 500 websites, including both conservative and leftist media outlets.

Zizek believes the Big Tech's practice of blacklists and shadow bans could prove an opportunity for right-wing activists to show themselves as a group fighting establishment politics and targeted for their opposition. The philosopher thinks this tactic will actually backfire against liberals by giving “the new populist right a position where they can say: you see, we’re the true alternative, we’re the true oppressed.”

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you've been analytically cambridged...

Australia's privacy regulator is taking Facebook to court over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said Facebook had seriously infringed the privacy of more than 300,000 Australians.

The social media giant left personal data "exposed to be sold and used for... political profiling".

The scandal involved harvested Facebook data of 87 million people being used for advertising during elections. 

"Facebook failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals' personal information from unauthorised disclosure," the Australian commissioner's office said. 

Australia's federal court can impose a fine of A$1.7m (£860,000) for every serious or repeated interference with privacy, it added. 

A Facebook spokesperson said the company had "actively engaged" with the commissioner since it opened the investigation in 2018. 

They said Facebook had "made major changes... to help people protect and manage their data".

"We're unable to comment further as this is now before the Federal Court," the spokesperson said.

How did the Cambridge Analytica scandal happen?

Researcher Dr Aleksandr Kogan and his company GSR used a personality quiz called "This Is Your Digital Life" to harvest the personal information of people who used it.

But because of the way Facebook's rules worked at the time, it could also access the information of a user's friends, even if those people had never authorised the app.

Some of that information was given to Cambridge Analytica, which used it in US political advertising.


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CA — moving to the carribeans...

'Antiquated process': data regulator on obtaining Cambridge Analytica warrant.

UK information commissioner calls for international approach to emerging threat.

The information commissioner has criticised the “antiquated process” that led to Facebook getting hold of Cambridge Analytica’s servers before the UK regulator itself, and renewed calls for an international approach to data privacy to tackle the emerging threat of data havens.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, spoke to Damian Collins MP, the former chair of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, who led the parliamentary enquiry into disinformation, on his podcast Infotagion. She described discovering that Facebook was inside the offices of defunct electioneering consultancy Cambridge Analytica while in the middle of an interview with Channel 4’s Jon Snow.

“We had been trying to get a warrant for several days, using an antiquated process in the former law,” Denham said. “That’s a story that I’m going to tell my grandchildren, because when we finally got the warrant, at the end of three days and two different judges, I felt like I was in Hogwarts, going down the dark halls of the courthouse, looking for a seal for the warrant.

“We served the warrant on Cambridge Analytica at 11 o’clock at night,” she added. “When we heard that Facebook was going in on its own to audit Cambridge Analytica, we had to act very quickly to get their tanks off our lawn. It was inappropriate for Facebook, because they were involved in the misuse of data, for them to be auditing before a public authority got in there.”

The investigation resulted in a £500,000 fine for Facebook, the highest the Information Commissioner’s Office was legally able to levy. A year later, following an appeal, Facebook agreed to pay the fine, but “made no admission of liability”.

In the course of that investigation, Denham says, the ICO discovered “that Cambridge Analytica was looking to move its services to a jurisdiction where it could actually be outside of any kind of scrutiny of a regulator… The thinking was to move to the Caribbean.”

“And I think that that’s another reason why parliamentarians around the world need to look at this problem internationally. Liberal democracies have to have strong electoral laws, they have to have strong data protection laws, and strong cybersecurity.”

Denham also called on the US president-elect, Joe Biden, to introduce a federal privacy law in 2021. “I don’t think it’s out of the question that we will see a federal privacy law in the US in the coming years,” she said, “and that’s certainly the hope that many in my field have. And it seems the time has come for federal law in the US.”


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