Archive | Human rights

Sanctuary for Snowden!

There is a widespread misinterpretation of what the European Parliament had to say about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden last week.

The EP did not grant Snowden asylum. It can’t. This is what was decided:

2. Calls on the EU Member States to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistleblower and international human rights defender;

In the EU, only member states can grant him asylum or other forms of sanctuary. And they rather not.

So, it’s up to us.

If you live in an EU member state, you must try to influence your government to do the right thing.

You will have to start petitions, set up Facebook groups, hold rallies, write to politicians and increase the political pressure in your country. That’s the only way to move this matter forward.

Edward Snowden exposed global mass surveillance. He showed the world that politicians do not trust the people. He revealed that our political leaders and their functionaries do not care about human and civil rights.

Edward Snowden is a hero. And he should be treated as one.

But to make that happen, you must get involved.



European Parliament supports Snowden and Badawi

Thursday was in some aspects a good day in the European Parliament.

In a resolution on mass surveillance (I’ll get back to that one when we have the final, consolidated text) the EP voted on the Edward Snowden case. (Link»)

By 285 votes to 281, MEPs decided to call on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender”.

A very slim victory, but still a victory.

However, most EU member states refuse to give Snowden asylum or other forms of protection. It has been said that they cannot deviate from normal asylum routines (including that the asylum seeker would have to show up in an EU country to have his case examined). But one should keep in mind that most EU states have granted human rights activists and dissidents protection on purely political grounds outside the ordinary asylum process.

So, it’s purely about political will.

Today the EP also rewarded its human rights award — the Sakharov prize — to the Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi. (Link»)

Badawi has been put in prison for ten years and is also sentenced to 1,000 lashes for having “insulted” the Saudi political system and the religion.

“This man, who is an extremely good man, an exemplary man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties,” Mr Schulz told a packed European Parliament assembly in Strasbourg, France.

“I call on the Saudi king to immediately free him. Relations depend on human rights being respected by our partners… they are not only not being respected but are being trodden underfoot.”

This is a strong political signal, even though it might not really interfere in any substantial way when it comes to relations between the EU and Saudi Arabia. (Unless the Saudis goes bananas, as they have done when being criticised about the Badawi case on earlier occasions.)



Mass surveillance is a perversion of democracy

Mass surveillance raises not only questions about privacy, Big Brotherism in general and the surveillance state as such. It is also a matter of democracy.

Proponents of mass surveillance often argue that there is a collective interest that eclipse private individuals right to privacy (which, by the way, is a fundamental human right).

They argue that mass surveillance is necessary to guarantee all citizens security. They say that we must balance the need for security against our fundamental rights. (But the very reason some rights are considered to be fundamental is that they should never be limited or violated, no matter what.) And the nomenklatura suggests that all that they do is done for your benefit and security.

But as we have learned, care for private citizens are not the real concern for NSA, GCHQ & Co. The purpose of mass surveillance is to protect the state — politicians, bureaucrats, special interests and the system. Everything else is just window dressing.

One should recognize that society is not our political leaders and their functionaries. Society is a large number of private individuals, who are unique and free citizens. Not a faceless mass of subordinates.

Mass surveillance is an indication that the ruling classes considers themselves — not the people — to be the core of democracy. That is a perversion of the word democracy. True public interest must focus on respecting all citizens and their fundamental rights.

In a democratic society, you only apply surveillance against people who are suspected for serious crime — not the general public. In a decent society, you trust people until there is substantial reason to do otherwise.

Simply, you cannot defend a free and open democratic society by violating the people’s fundamental civil and human rights.



Anonymous declares war on the Thai junta

This is interesting. In strong language, Anonymous Asia declares war against the military Thai government. Carefully avoiding to mention the Royals.

So what brings Anonymous back to life?

Government of the Kingdom of Thailand, it has come to our attention that you have decided to disregard your citizens, the people of this country, and have persisted to project an unique Gateway to the Internet, in running a system which only benefits yourselves and the giant corporate bodies operating.

Internet mass surveillance, in other words. Leading to…

The latest project of the Thai military government is to deploy a single gateway in order to control, intercept and arrest any persons not willing to follow the Junta orders and your so called moral.

And it gets personal…

We will not only fight against the single gateway project but will expose your incompetence to the world, where depravity and personal interests prevail.

Copy to kill for.

So what is all this? Let’s pick an online article, of many: Big Brother is watching Thailand »

Apparently it is not just about censorship any longer, but total mass surveillance. Including HTTPS.

The words ending the Anonymous Asia message are strong and brave, for addressing a military junta…

Together we stand against the injustice of your Government, tomorrow you will pay the price of your oppression against your own people.
You can arrest us, but you can’t arrest an idea.

Thailand is now on our radar.

Anonymous Asias proclamation, as published on Pastebin »



The rise of soft authoritarianism

The mere knowledge of mass surveillance will have a chilling effect on free speech, opposition and an open society. Even if no politician or bureaucrat will say it out loud — this might be a very calculated side effect of modern Big Brotherism.

In UK schools an add-on to its existing Education Pro digital classroom management tool will be used to monitor schoolchildren, bringing the teachers attention to use of “radicalisation keywords”.

“The keywords list, which was developed in collaboration with the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism organisation that is closely aligned with the government, consists of more than 1,000 trigger terms including “apostate”, “jihadi” and “Islamism”, and accompanying definitions.”

This might flag any pupil working with fully legitime school work as a potential terrorist. The list also includes terms used in a “far right” context and names of groups and individuals defined as “terrorists or extremists”. And, of course, no one will know what words and terms will be on the list in the future. That will be up to tomorrows politicians and bureaucrats to decide. We can only hope that they are fair and decent people. All of them.

“Teachers can also save screenshots or video of a student’s screen which, Impero suggests, could provide “key evidence” to be shared with Channel, the government’s counter-radicalisation programme for young people. The software also features a “confide” function, allowing students to report concerns about classmates anonymously.”

So, British schoolchildren will have to think carefully about what they write in the future. They also must be aware of the fact that other students might act as informants. It is not difficult to see how this will create a climate of fear and uneasiness. (And new forms of bullying.)

Read more: UK: Keyword warning software in schools raises red flag »

And the Chinese have taken soft authoritarianism and informant culture one step further: There your credit score is now affected by your political activities and opinions — and those of your friends. This will apply to everything from your online shopping to your possibility to get a visa for travelling abroad.

This is nightmarish. If you stand up for your ideas, opinions and human rights in China, you will not only put yourself in harms way — but also your friends and your relatives.

This might be a much more effective way to stifle dissent than using classic tools of oppression.

Read more: In China, Your Credit Score Is Now Affected By Your Political Opinions – And Your Friends’ Political Opinions »

The modern orwellian society seems to be turning out to be more orwellian than George Orwell could ever have imagined.



UN proposes web policing and licensing for social networks

The United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development just made some controversial and disputable recommendations. They want social networks and platforms to police the Internet and to be “proactive” against harassment and violence against women and girls. Only web platforms doing so should be licensed.

Washington Post reports…

“The respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center,” the report reads, not only for those “producing and providing the content,” but also everyone with any role in shaping the “technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society.”

How that would actually work, we don’t know; the report is light on concrete, actionable policy. But it repeatedly suggests both that social networks need to opt-in to stronger anti-harassment regimes and that governments need to enforce them proactively.

At one point toward the end of the paper, the U.N. panel concludes that “political and governmental bodies need to use their licensing prerogative” to better protect human and women’s rights, only granting licenses to “those Telecoms and search engines” that “supervise content and its dissemination.”

This is bad, in so many ways.

It is a well-established principle that internet service providers and social networks are not responsible for what their users do. (Mere conduit.) Now, the UN Broadband Commission wants to throw that principle out the window. Meaning that concerned parties will have to monitor everything every user do — to be able to police the net in line with the commissions recommendations.

Then there is the idea of licensing social networks. This is a terrible idea, unacceptable in a democratic society. Period.

And knowing the modus operandi of the UN — you cannot rule out that this report is being encouraged by UN member states with a general interest in limiting a free and open internet.

One might also question the principle that “the respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center”. First of all, everyone deserves respect and security. Second, it is very dangerous to give different groups different rights, advantages or treatment. Everyone should have the same rights and be treated the same way by government.

A final reason to keep this door closed is that “respect” and “harassment” are relative terms. This is often in the eye of the beholder. There is a tendency in some circles to label all dissent as harassment. And then we have the “trigger warning” discussion, with countless examples of claims of annoyance and inconvenience used to limit freedom of speech.

Regardless of whether you think those are worthwhile ends, the implications are huge: It’s an attempt to transform the Web from a libertarian free-for-all to some kind of enforced social commons.

This UN report is ill thought out and dangerous for democracy.


Washington Post: The United Nations has a radical, dangerous vision for the future of the Web »


Too Cute to Die?

CO5KMaDWIAAfq9QThe medieval-style regime in Saudi Arabia continues to disregard human rights in the most terrifying ways.

The past year the world have learned about the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for writing critical texts about the religions hold on Saudi society. This has lead to an outcry of anger, distress and frustration around the world.

As if that isn’t horrific and appalling enough, the Saudis now have sentenced another young man — Ali Mohammed al-Nimr — to death, to be beheaded and crucified on politically motivated grounds. World.mic reports…

In 2012, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, then 17, was arrested in the country’s Qatif province on reportedly shaky charges of illegal protesting and gun possession, the International Business Times reported Wednesday. There was never any evidence to support the guns charge.

After being arrested, al-Nimr was held in jail and not allowed to speak to a lawyer. According to the British legal aid group Reprieve, al-Nimr was subject to torture to extract a forced confession. A closed appeals process — which he was not invited to and occurred without his knowledge — dismissed any remaining possibility that the nation’s legal system would prevent his biblical execution.

“No one should have to go through the ordeal Ali has suffered — torture, forced ‘confession’ and an unfair, secret trial process, resulting in a sentence of death by ‘crucifixion,'” Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said in a statement.

Al-Nimr was reportedly targeted because his uncle, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, is a noted critic of the kingdom…

This is nightmarish. Trumped up charges, no rule of law, no respect for human rights or human life. The Saudis are murderous bastards.

It might be a bit cynic, but I hope this case will be an Aylan Kurdi moment for the world. Here we have a good looking and seemingly likeable young man going to be murdered in the most barbaric way by a totalitarian regime.

This might, and should, send chock waves of outrage around the world!

Yes, looks matter. One might think what one likes about that, but that is the way it is. So let’s use the puppy trick — Al-Nimirs sympathetic appearance — to outrage the world and to shame the Saudi regime. It might stop his execution. It might increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia on human rights issues. It might lead to the Saudis halting their killing spree, as the rest of the world won’t have it anymore (and the Saudis are dependent of the rest of the world). And it might save many others, not blessed with a winning look and global media attention.

Enough is enough. Let’s show some global outrage! Free Raif Badawi and Ali Mohammed al-Nimr!


(BTW: Did I mention that Saudi Arabia will be elected chair of UN Human Rights Council Panel?)

• Who is Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and why is Saudi Arabia planning to behead and crucify him? »
• Saudi Teenager Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Has Been Sentenced to Death by Crucifixion »
• Saudi prisoner, arrested at age 17, faces death by crucifixion »




European Commission tries to evade Data Retention squabble

In April last year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated the EU Data Retention directive. The court found it to be in breach with human rights to collect and store data about all citizens all telecommunications.

Since then some countries have backed down from the idea, some (like Germany) are trying to go forward with some form of Data Retention “light” and some EU states (like Sweden) tries to ignore the ECJ ruling all together, continuing the practice as if nothing happened.

In a rather unexpected statement today, the European Commission (EC) tries to duck out of this controversy.

As the European Commission has repeatedly said since the European Court of Justice annulled the EU Data Retention Directive: the decision of whether or not to introduce national data retention laws is a national decision. The European Commission has no intention to go back on this statement or reopen old discussions.

We are aware that data retention is often the subject of a very sensitive, ideological debate and that sometimes there can be a temptation to draw the European Commission into these debates. The European Commission is not ready to play this game.

We have been very clear that the Commission is not coming forward with any new initiatives on Data Retention. In the absence of EU rules, Member States are free to maintain their current data retention systems or set up new ones, providing of course they comply with basic principles under EU law, such as those contained in the ePrivacy Directive.

We are therefore neither opposing, nor advocating the introduction of national data retention laws.

Link: European Commission statement on national data retention laws »

It’s easy to understand that the Commission would like to keep away from this dispute. But what the EC says in the statement is not self-evident.

The ECJ invalidated the directive on the basis that it is in breach with human rights, such as they are defined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

And if Data Retention was unacceptable as an EU directive, it should also be unacceptable as national law in EU member states. The principal problem with Data Retention is the same, regardless.

Now, both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights are parts of the EU treaties. And the EC is the Guardian of the Treaties. Hence, the EC should have an obligation to uphold the ECJ ruling on Data Retention — in all of the EU, at all levels.

But it won’t. As usual in the EU, rules and treaties only apply when in line with what the EU elite wants.


Update: The EU eService Directive mentioned in the statement | Wikipedia » | Eur-Lex »


Bring mass surveillance back on the EU agenda

At springtime last year the European Parliament was conducting hearings om mass surveillance. In parts, it was rather thrilling and tense. The hearings ended with a resolution, where the MEP:s stated (in a rather vague way) that they are ill at ease with what is going on.

Formally, they could do nothing more — as national security does not fall under EU competence.

But informally, it was important that the peoples elected representatives tried to get to grips with what is going on.

Then came the European elections, a new parliament was elected and mass surveillance was not an issue on the agenda anymore.

It’s about time to bring some new life to this issue, on the EU level.

Even though the European Parliament cannot interfere with national security — it has the authority to make statements when it comes to human rights. (The right to privacy is considered to be a human right, according to binding european statues.)

And the European Commission (the only EU institution that can submit real proposals) is formally the “guardian of the treaties” — including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Also, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights can uphold our civil liberties, as stated in the documents above.

The problems with mass surveillance are still the same as a year ago. As a matter of fact new national laws in some EU member states have made things worse since then.

We need to figure out how to apply renewed pressure on our EU politicians when it comes to mass surveillance. And some judicial activism wouldn’t hurt either.