Opinion - Civil Liberties

2007 - 2021

The Internet is Being Recast


The incredible bigotry and misogyny cast against Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy on Twitter, Cameron’s proposals to combat abusive imagery and the secret Soca list – are just some of the recent crisis-points of the web as a new form crashes against wider deeply-held human values.

It seems to be reaching a high-point. It seems we need to re-cast how we use and access the internet. I think we need to examine ways to prevent us being manipulated by the new experience of immersive technology and constant information. These clashes between technology and us human folks focuses attention on what it means to have free communication and the relationships between the state, citizens and commercial power-brokers. At the centre of this debate is a war of information between state terrorists and whistle blowers from McCrone to Snowden.

Manning Guilty, but of what?

Bradley Manning, the US soldier who handed thousands of classified government files to WikiLeaks, today faces spending the rest of his life in prison despite being acquitted of helping al-Qaeda in its struggle against America. Manning faces 136-year jail sentence for leaking files. He was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to the website WikiLeaks. He’s been imprisoned ever since. Julian Assange of Wikileaks criticised the treatment of the US soldier since his arrest in 2010, saying he had been stripped, kept isolated and in a cage to “break” him.

The sentencing process will begin on Wednesday but Assange said there were two appeals within the US justice system as well as the supreme Court.

“WikiLeaks will not rest until he is free.”

Here’s the brilliant powerful I am Bradley Manning …

Assange said the aiding an enemy charge was absurd, put forward as a red herring to detract from the other charges.

He described the soldier as the best journalistic source the world had ever seen, uncovering war crimes in Iraq which he maintained had led to the removal of US troops from that country. See Julian Assange’s response here:

It’s worth remembering the context from which Wiklieaks emerged. See Collateral Murder here:

But it’s important to remember that this is not a story happening somewhere else, far away. As James Naughton has written:

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story. The story is what he has revealed about the hidden wiring of our networked world. This insight seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media…in a way, it doesn’t matter why the media lost the scent. What matters is that they did. So as a public service, let us summarise what Snowden has achieved thus far.

Without him, we would not know how the National Security Agency (NSA) had been able to access the emails, Facebook accounts and videos of citizens across the world; or how it had secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; or how, through a secret court, it has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users’ data.

Similarly, without Snowden, we would not be debating whether the US government should have turned surveillance into a huge, privatised business, offering data-mining contracts to private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton and, in the process, high-level security clearance to thousands of people who shouldn’t have it. Nor would there be – finally – a serious debate between Europe (excluding the UK, which in these matters is just an overseas franchise of the US) and the United States about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

These are pretty significant outcomes and they’re just the first-order consequences of Snowden’s activities.


Prism is a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007. Its existence was leaked six years later by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew and included what he characterized as “dangerous” and “criminal” activities.The disclosures were published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6, 2013.

But this isn’t just case of the terrible fall-out of civil liberties in the aftermath of 9/11 in America. Britain’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) has confirmed the use of surveillance material obtained from the US Prism programme, but then cleared itself of any wrong-doing.

The ISC also cleared GCHQ of illegal conduct in its access to the Prism programme, which gave American intelligence a window on the daily communications made by millions of people around the world.

It’s document concluded: “It has been alleged that GCHQ circumvented UK law by using the NSA’s Prism programme to access the content of private communications. From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded.”

Thankfully, our old friend Malcolm Rifkind is looking into things. Should all be fine.

This incredible free documentary lays out why London is the worlds capital of surveillance. The film documents several horrifying cases of police being told by computers that someone might be up to something suspicious, and thereafter interpreting everything they learn about that suspect as evidence of wrongdoing:

What’s any of this got to do with Scottish independence?

First, no-one’s independent to the global network of information but we need to discuss how to protect civil liberties from both state interference and from corporate invasion – and from the likely collusion between the two.

Second we need to understand the British State (GCHQ) role in this and their relationship to the US. The Atlantacist tendency in Labour has strong Scottish connections and these need exposed and explored.

Third the forces for We Think – creative synergy, network enabled collaborations – citizen journalism – and the outpouring of creativity that matches ideas and innovators with funders through crowd-sourcing all jostle for competition on the highway.  Many have already begun to shape the new Scotland – with far more to come. But they need to be nurtured consciously and they need the space cleared for creativity, with the rubble of excessive and invasive commercialism the worst offender for dumping psychological detritus around our cultural headspace.

Open Government Partnership has its annual summit in October, has issued a call for proposals. http://bit.ly/14ifzIP  for Wikimedian ideas. Bella will be there but is keen on ideas from anyone who has something useful to contribute to the debate about Scotland’s digital and civic future.

For more in this area follow Smári McCarthy (‘software developer, writer, hacker, freedom fighter’ @smarimc or visit : https://immi.is/

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  1. A pity that, after mentioning it, you then choose to then utterly ignore the very important issues of personal freedom and responsibility arising from the horrendous examples of online bigotry.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Hi Paul – thanks I should have developed that more clearly you’re quite right. I find myself while utterly unconvinced by Cameron’s arguments on porn I also find the libertarian’s arguments pretty unconvincing in the need for something to protect vulnerable people (that’s probably all of us) but particularly children from exploitation. But you are right that this is also an issue of personal failure and values, maybe accentuated and given a profile by anonymity but also part of a wider problem of bigotry and hatred directed against women and anybody defined as ‘other’. I think this is a form of online fascism in time of economic crisis.

  3. Doug Daniel says:

    My favourite non-Scandinavian series of the last couple of years is a programme called Person Of Interest (created by Jonathan Nolan, brother and collaborator of the director of Batman, Inception, The Presitge etc), about a former CIA operative who works with a computer genius who designed a system (referred to simply as “The Machine”) which gathers data from every electronic system imaginable – phones, CCTV, government records etc – and uses it to identify people whose recent behaviour suggests they are about to become either a victim or perpetrator of crime, so that he can stop it happening.

    I assumed I was watching a sort of science-fiction/police procedural hybrid, but it seems it’s actually a documentary series. Who’d have thought it?

  4. James Dow a voice from the diaspora says:

    It is interesting to consider that 100% every electronic communication by the leaders of the YES campaign are being monitored by GCHQ and shared with the NO representatives.
    As you speak they listen, as you write they read, that’s British democracy at work, for what use are spooks if not to protect their paymasters.

  5. maxi kerr says:

    And there are are still people who say the referendum was not rigged in any way.
    If we don’t deal with these psychopathic officials, we– and all of our families will be in very grave danger from which there just might be no returning.
    ps. Thats them got my name?????

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