Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Post Wikileaks snub, hard having faith in Amazon with Washington Post

The role of an accountable press has never been more important. The role of Wikileaks, whistle-blowers, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden should inspire us all and bring a realisation that transparency in a democracy requires brave souls.

Here’s a great piece by Jay Rosen at his PressThink site:

In exchanges with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman prior to his name becoming public, Edward Snowden said something that got overlooked.

“Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted “to embolden others to step forward,” he wrote, by showing that “they can win.””

It’s not enough to defy the government and reveal what it wants to keep secret. When you go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet, you have to try to win. It sounded kooky at first, or completely outrageous, but after President Obama’s August 9th press conference it was difficult to deny that Snowden had won— not a complete but still a significant victory.

Congress had woken up to its oversight responsibilities and was finally debating the limits of the surveillance state. Lawmakers in both parties were advertising their doubts. Other parliaments around the world were asking questions they had not asked before. The President had been forced to respond with an announcement of some (tepid) reforms and a press conference intended to restore public confidence after the Snowden effect flipped the polls around. (Link.) When Obama tried to argue that he had been ahead of the game on transparency and the protection of whistleblowers and would have wound up in the same place without Snowden’s actions, it was hard to imagine anyone in the know buying it. As The Economist said:

Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama. 

On Meet the Press they also talked about the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. But they did not try to connect the two stories, even though one of the living connections — Barton Gellman, who writes for the Post and was contacted by Snowden — was on the program.

“…Bart Gellman, the kind of work you do requires not only sources deep inside the intelligence community, but editors and owners who are willing to defy the government and publish over its strongest objections. If you had been able to talk to Jeff Bezos before he bought the Washington Post, what would you have told him to expect about this part of the job– publishing the secrets his reporters dig up?”

David Gregory didn’t ask Gellman that, but he could have. For one of the biggest unknowns in the story of Bezos taking over the Post has nothing to do with adapting to the internet or finding a new business model for newspapers. It’s whether Bezos has the inner strength to go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet. When his free press moment comes — and it will come — will Jeff Bezos answer the bell?

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China’s gargantuan web filtering system

There has never been anything like it in human history. Then again, the internet is the perfect tool for officials to monitor and censor material.

Disturbing piece in the New York Review of Books by Perry Link:

Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country that say things like, “Report on the new provincial budget tomorrow, but do not feature it on the front page, make no comparisons to earlier budgets, list no links, and say nothing that might raise questions”; “Downplay stories on Kim Jung-un’s facelift”; and “Allow stories on Deputy Mayor Zhang’s embezzlement but omit the comment boxes.” Why, one might ask, do censors not play it safe and immediately block anything that comes anywhere near offending Beijing? Why the modulation and the fine-tuning?

In fact, for China’s Internet police, message control has grown to include many layers of meaning. Local authorities have a toolbox of phrases—fairly standard nationwide—that they use to offer guidance to website editors about dealing with sensitive topics. The harshest response is “completely and immediately delete.” But with the rapid growth of difficult-to-control social media, a need has arisen for a wide range of more subtle alternatives. For stories that are acceptable, but only after proper pruning, the operative phrase is “first censor, then publish.” For sensitive topics on which central media have already said something, the instructions may say “reprint Xinhua but nothing more.” For topics that cannot be avoided because they are already being widely discussed, there are such options as “mention without hyping,” “publish but only under small headlines,” “put only on back pages,” “close the comment boxes,” and “downplay as time passes.”

We know all this thanks in large part to Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at Berkeley, who leads the world in ferreting out and piecing together how Chinese Internet censorship works. Xiao and his staff have collected and organized a repository of more than 2,600 directives that website editors across China have received during the last ten years. Some are only a line or two long; others run to many pages. Some are verbatim, others are paraphrases. Some were collected from Twitter, Sina Weibo (China’s domestic Twitter), and Internet forums, while others were sent to Xiao by editors in China who were frustrated or angry—either at what the directives said or at the fact of censorship itself.

And as Xiao has discovered, the new censorship strategies show the government’s growing awareness of the power of social media. Informal news stories—often accompanied by photos from smart phones—now spread widely and quickly enough that official media lose credibility if they do not at least mention them. In such cases, “on the back page” might be the best option. Moreover, Web users now understand Internet censorship well enough that the issue can itself be one that angers them. (The traditional print and electronic media are censored, too, but directives for them arrive via unrecorded telephone calls, which are much harder to trace and seldom leak. Because the Internet is too large to manage by telephone, its directives go out in writing.) Under the scrutiny of Web users, propaganda officials face the unwelcome task of censoring the Internet while trying to appear as though they are not—or at least not doing it “unreasonably.” This forces them to seek balance. In one instance, a story about two policemen who were killed in an auto accident got out on the social media; censors anticipated an outcry if they “completely and immediately deleted,” so they allowed the story to appear but added the instruction “close comment boxes”—apparently from fear that the boxes might fill with cheers of the kind that normally spring from generalized resentment of the police.

But as Xiao has revealed, the censors expend even more effort on the parallel task of “guiding” expression in pro-government directions. When a story reflects well on the Party, Web editors receive instructions to “place prominently on the home page” or “immediately recirculate.” Authorities also organize and pay for artificial pro-government expression in chat rooms and comment boxes. Provincial and local offices of External Propaganda and Party Propaganda hire staff at salaries of about US $100 per month (less, for part-time work) to post pro-government comments. It is hard to say how many salaried commenters exist nationwide, but estimates run to the high 100,000s. Some of this commenting is outsourced as piece-work. A few years ago, people who agreed to do this work were given the satiric label “fifty-centers” because they were said to be paid fifty Chinese cents per post. By now there are commercial enterprises that contract for comment work. Even prisons do it; prisoners can earn sentence reductions for producing set numbers of pro-government comments.

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Julian Assange on fighting reach of the superpower

Typically tough piece by Julian Assange, published in the Guardian, that outlines the risks faced by every citizen around the world and why trusting state power is a fool’s game:

The original cypherpunks were mostly Californian libertarians. I was from a different tradition but we all sought to protect individual freedom from state tyranny. Cryptography was our secret weapon. It has been forgotten how subversive this was. Cryptography was then the exclusive property of states, for use in their various wars. By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.

The resulting crackdown, under various “arms trafficking” laws, failed. Cryptography became standardised in web browsers and other software that people now use on a daily basis. Strong cryptography is a vital tool in fighting state oppression. That is the message in my book, Cypherpunks. But the movement for the universal availability of strong cryptography must be made to do more than this. Our future does not lie in the liberty of individuals alone. 

Our work in WikiLeaks imparts a keen understanding of the dynamics of the international order and the logic of empire. During WikiLeaks’ rise we have seen evidence of small countries bullied and dominated by larger ones or infiltrated by foreign enterprise and made to act against themselves. We have seen the popular will denied expression, elections bought and sold, and the riches of countries such as Kenya stolen and auctioned off to plutocrats in London and New York.

The struggle for Latin American self-determination is important for many more people than live in Latin America, because it shows the rest of the world that it can be done. But Latin American independence is still in its infancy. Attempts at subversion of Latin American democracy are still happening, including most recently in Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.

This is why the message of the cypherpunks is of special importance to Latin American audiences. Mass surveillance is not just an issue for democracy and governance – it’s a geopolitical issue. The surveillance of a whole population by a foreign power naturally threatens sovereignty. Intervention after intervention in the affairs of Latin American democracy have taught us to be realistic. We know that the old powers will still exploit any advantage to delay or suppress the outbreak of Latin American independence.

Consider simple geography. Everyone knows oil resources drive global geopolitics. The flow of oil determines who is dominant, who is invaded, and who is ostracised from the global community. Physical control over even a segment of an oil pipeline yields great geopolitical power. Governments in this position can extract huge concessions. In a stroke, the Kremlin can sentence eastern Europe and Germany to a winter without heat. And even the prospect of Tehran running a pipeline eastwards to India and China is a pretext for bellicose logic from Washington.

But the new great game is not the war for oil pipelines. It is the war for information pipelines: the control over fibre-optic cable paths that spread undersea and overland. The new global treasure is control over the giant data flows that connect whole continents and civlisations, linking the communications of billions of people and organisations. 

It is no secret that, on the internet and on the phone, all roads to and from Latin America lead through the United States. Internet infrastructure directs 99% of the traffic to and from South America over fibre-optic lines that physically traverse US borders. The US government has shown no scruples about breaking its own law to tap into these lines and spy on its own citizens. There are no such laws against spying on foreign citizens. Every day, hundreds of millions of messages from the entire Latin American continent are devoured by US spy agencies, and stored forever in warehouses the size of small cities. The geographical facts about the infrastructure of the internet therefore have consequences for the independence and sovereignty of Latin America.

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Repeat after me, you have no privacy online ever

If we have discovered only one thing recently with the revelations of Edward Snowden, it’s that the US has established an all-seeing and all-hearing surveillance apparatus that knows no bounds.

This investigation in the Washington Post adds to this picture:

The U.S. government had a problem: Spying in the digital age required access to the fiber-optic cables traversing the world’s oceans, carrying torrents of data at the speed of light. And one of the biggest operators of those cables was being sold to an Asian firm, potentially complicating American surveillance efforts.

Enter “Team Telecom.”

In months of private talks, the team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security demanded that the company maintain what amounted to an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances. Among their jobs, documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.

This “Network Security Agreement,” signed in September 2003 by Global Crossing, became a model for other deals over the past decade as foreign investors increasingly acquired pieces of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The publicly available agreements offer a window into efforts by U.S. officials to safeguard their ability to conduct surveillance through the fiber-optic networks that carry a huge majority of the world’s voice and Internet traffic.

The agreements, whose main purpose is to secure the U.S. telecommunications networks against foreign spying and other actions that could harm national security, do not authorize surveillance. But they ensure that when U.S. government agencies seek access to the massive amounts of data flowing through their networks, the companies have systems in place to provide it securely, say people familiar with the deals.

Negotiating leverage has come from a seemingly mundane government power: the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to approve cable licenses. In deals involving a foreign company, say people familiar with the process, the FCC has held up approval for many months while the squadron of lawyers dubbed Team Telecom developed security agreements that went beyond what’s required by the laws governing electronic eavesdropping.

The security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fiber-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents, required the company to have a “Network Operations Center” on U.S. soil that could be visited by government officials with 30 minutes of warning. Surveillance requests, meanwhile, had to be handled by U.S. citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy — in many cases prohibiting information from being shared even with the company’s executives and directors.

Our telecommunications companies have no real independence in standing up to the requests of government or in revealing data,” said Susan Crawford, a Yeshiva University law professor and former Obama White House official. “This is yet another example where that’s the case.”

The full extent of the National Security Agency’s access to fiber-optic cables remains classified. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that legally authorized data collection “has been one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s — and our allies’ — security. Our use of these authorities has been properly classified to maximize the potential for effective collection against foreign terrorists and other adversaries.”

It added, “As always, the Intelligence and law enforcement communities will continue to work with all members of Congress to ensure the proper balance of privacy and protection for American citizens.”

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Background and context to revealing Edward Snowden NSA stories

It’s been quite a month since the details emerged of massive spying by the NSA. Here are two interesting interviews and a speech by key players.

First, Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson discuss how the paper managed the ways in which a mainstream media news organisation publishes sensitive information. They’re speaking to Charlie Rose:

One of the major figures in this story, Glenn Greenwald, spoke to this week’s Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago via Skype. It’s an inspiring talk about journalistic bravery, gutlessness in the media and taking a risk. It’s why both he and Jeremy Scahill, who introduces Greenwald, are two of the most important and brave reporters currently working:

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How the disabled can make and inspire music

A truly remarkable and moving experience in Britain. Watch and be amazed with what technology can bring:

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What Ed Snowden’s revelations say about our so-called democracy

It’s the kind of story that necessarily interests the general public. Surveillance, leaking, US power and Wikileaks (note, for the record, in today’s New York Times yet another clear indication that the US wants to destroy/punish the vitally important website). Last week I wrote for the Guardian about the PRISM revelations by Edward Snowden and the deafening silence in many establishment circles. Now, an interesting idea that continues the conversation (written by Comment is Free editor Jess Reed):

In a new series, Comment is free writers and editors want to highlight some of the best comments on the site. Each week, either an editor or the author of a recent piece will pick a comment that they think contributes to the debate. Hopefully, it will give staff and readers an opportunity to see how thought-provoking such contributions can be and allow great posts the chance to be seen by a wider audience.

In our fifth instalment, Antony Loewenstein, who recently wrote about the Prism surveillance scandal and the lack of outrage that followed in Australia, has picked a comment by rustyschwinnToo:

“Where is the outrage over Prism in Australia? In the same place as Australian outrage over Echelon. Next to the US, Australia is probably the second most insular “western” democracy in the world. And even more ready to believe that it’s all about foreigners, which doesn’t include them but does include anybody slightly brown tinged or with a funny accent on the continent, than the Americans.

“I was talking to a (typically) frighteningly casual racist Australian yesterday. And he was genuinely convinced that NSA would only be spying on “immigrant darkies” in Australia. He couldn’t grasp the concept that TCP/IP and the ISO communications model don’t have an ethnic identification layer. And the NSA don’t (can’t) racially profile meta data.”

Antony explains why he picked this comment:

“One of the constant refrains about the Snowden revelations, from supporters of unaccountable surveillance, is that the state and authorities would never peek into lives that have no connection to terrorism. Or that Washington has a watertight court oversight (Glenn Greenwalddemolished that lie recently). The commenter understands that the post 9/11 world has seen development of a massive, privatised system of monitoring and gathering metadata on us all. I have to agree that insularity is an Australian speciality (not unique to us, alas). These Prism revelations should alarm politicians and media but far too many of them are sucking on the drip-feed of sanctioned US government and intelligence leaks and information to care. The online rage against the Obama administration recently shows that many in the public are demanding action.”

• Let us know your thoughts on this exchange in the comments below, and tell us whether it has given you a new insight into the issue.

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Rare Australian voice backing whistle-blowers/Wikileaks/transparency

There’s really nobody in the Australian Parliament quite like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, a constant voice against excessive government surveillance and the national-security state. His speech this week is a cracker, covering Michael Hastings, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. If only more politicians saw their role like Ludlam, questioning the ever-increasing role of the state into our daily lives:

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Silicon Valley and US intelligence doing more than heavy petting

Following the recent revelations about global surveillance and Prism by leaker Edward Snowden, the mainstream media is finally seriously investigating the intimate and unhealthy links between tech firms and the US government. This New York Times story reveals some of those connections and why none of us should trust the privacy pledges given by Facebook, Google and their merry mates:

When Max Kelly, the chief security officer for Facebook, left the social media company in 2010, he did not go to Google, Twitter or a similar Silicon Valley concern. Instead the man who was responsible for protecting the personal information of Facebook’s more than one billion users from outside attacks went to work for another giant institution that manages and analyzes large pools of data: the National Security Agency.

Mr. Kelly’s move to the spy agency, which has not previously been reported, underscores the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the agency and the degree to which they are now in the same business. Both hunt for ways to collect, analyze and exploit large pools of data about millions of Americans.

The only difference is that the N.S.A. does it for intelligence, and Silicon Valley does it to make money.

The disclosure of the spy agency’s program called Prism, which is said to collect the e-mails and other Web activity of foreigners using major Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, has prompted the companies to deny that the agency has direct access to their computers, even as they acknowledge complying with secret N.S.A. court orders for specific data.

Yet technology experts and former intelligence officials say the convergence between Silicon Valley and the N.S.A. and the rise of data mining — both as an industry and as a crucial intelligence tool — have created a more complex reality.

Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly.

“We are all in these Big Data business models,” said Ray Wang, a technology analyst and chief executive of Constellation Research, based in San Francisco. “There are a lot of connections now because the data scientists and the folks who are building these systems have a lot of common interests.”

Although Silicon Valley has sold equipment to the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies for a generation, the interests of the two began to converge in new ways in the last few years as advances in computer storage technology drastically reduced the costs of storing enormous amounts of data — at the same time that the value of the data for use in consumer marketing began to rise. “These worlds overlap,” said Philipp S. Krüger, chief executive of Explorist, an Internet start-up in New York.

The sums the N.S.A. spends in Silicon Valley are classified, as is the agency’s total budget, which independent analysts say is $8 billion to $10 billion a year.

Despite the companies’ assertions that they cooperate with the agency only when legally compelled, current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the N.S.A. and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency. The companies do so, the officials say, because they want to control the process themselves. They are also under subtle but powerful pressure from the N.S.A. to make access easier.

Skype, the Internet-based calling service, began its own secret program, Project Chess, to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials, according to people briefed on the program who asked not to be named to avoid trouble with the intelligence agencies.

Project Chess, which has never been previously disclosed, was small, limited to fewer than a dozen people inside Skype, and was developed as the company had sometimes contentious talks with the government over legal issues, said one of the people briefed on the project. The project began about five years ago, before most of the company was sold by its parent, eBay, to outside investors in 2009. Microsoft acquired Skype in an $8.5 billion deal that was completed in October 2011.

A Skype executive denied last year in a blog post that recent changes in the way Skype operated were made at the behest of Microsoft to make snooping easier for law enforcement. It appears, however, that Skype figured out how to cooperate with the intelligence community before Microsoft took over the company, according to documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the N.S.A. One of the documents about the Prism program made public by Mr. Snowden says Skype joined Prism on Feb. 6, 2011.

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ABC Radio’s The World Today on Edward Snowden and Prism

I was interviewed today for ABC Radio’s The World Today program:

ELEANOR HALL: In the Federal Parliament today, The Greens will attempt to get an explanation from the Government about Australia’s involvement in the US PRISM surveillance system.

America’s National Security Agency confirmed last week that it is running a clandestine internet surveillance program which pulls in data from large social networks.

The Federal Government in Australia has refused to confirm or deny if US spy agencies have shared information with Australian authorities.

As Will Ockenden reports.

WILL OCKENDEN: It’s been a big few weeks for national security, intelligence and big data enthusiasts.

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM project by former contractor Edward Snowden have caused a controversy and debate in America.

The US government has answered some questions about how widespread the program is, how deep the monitoring goes, and where collected data ends up.

But in Australia the Federal Government has remained more tight-lipped, and Greens’ communications spokesman Scott Ludlam wants answers.

SCOTT LUDLAN: I want from the Government to know whether this warrantless surveillance scandal that’s unfolding in the United States is occurring here.

Are Australian agencies using this technology or are we importing large data dumps from the United States?

WILL OCKENDEN: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus hasn’t confirmed or denied if intelligence agencies in the US have shared information from PRISM with authorities in Australia.

Senator Scott Ludlam raised the matter in the Senate yesterday.

SCOTT LUDLAM: Minister, are Australian authorities and agencies receiving huge volumes of information from the United States?

WILL OCKENDEN: The Minister representing the Attorney-General in the Senate is Joe Ludwig.

JOE LUDWIG: As a matter of principle – a long standing one at that – the Government doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.

WILL OCKENDEN: He says if there were any Australian involvement in the sharing of intelligence, like the operation of US PRISM system itself, it would be within the bounds of law.

JOE LUDWIG: The relevant Australian agencies are discussing with their US counterparts any possible implication the NSA disclosure may have for the Australian Government. There is – can I be plain about this – no basis to claim the Australian agencies get access to information from the US that would not otherwise be legal in Australia.

WILL OCKENDEN: The Greens say they’ll try to get Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to explain to Parliament Australia’s involvement in the PRISM system, via a motion today.

Information activist and writer Antony Loewenstein says, even if the motion does pass, any statement is unlikely to provide much information.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Regardless of who’s in power in Canberra there’s a sense somehow that although the US prosecutes intelligence security around the world, Australia wants to be seen under that umbrella and rarely asks questions privately or publicly.

WILL OCKENDEN: He also wonders why the surveillance debate in Australia has been less than the debates overseas.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Some in the media and many of the political elites on both major sides collude to keep the issue as unimportant or simply, business at usual.

WILL OCKENDEN: While it’s not known if US spy agencies are sharing data with Australia, authorities here are increasingly requesting data from the big US technology companies.

Government requests for data about Australian users of Google went up by more than 11 per cent in the last half of 2012 to 584 requests.

It’s somewhat of a trend. Requests for Google user data have gone up every year since 2009.

The World Today asked the Attorney-General’s office how often the Government asks for data from social media and email providers, like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

In a statement, it said it doesn’t report on how many individual requests are made to specific providers.

ELEANOR HALL: Will Ockenden.

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Why Prism is important; we’re watching the watchers

My following article appears in today’s Guardian Australia:

Politicians and journalists ignore public opinion at their peril. Less than two weeks after the explosive revelations by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden on the creation of a privatised, American surveillance apparatus, a TIME poll finds a majority of Americans support the leak, and Snowden receives a higher approval rating than US citizens view Congress. History has also been kind to one of the great leakers in history, the Pentagon Paper’s Daniel Ellsberg (who backs Snowden, too). Never under-estimate the public’s desire to discover what the state is doing in its name.

In Australia, however, the story has barely caused a ripple. Attorney general Mark Dreyfus refuses to acknowledge that Canberra receives information from the Prism system, instead saying that Australians should rest easy and feel protected by the warm glow of intelligence sharing with Washington. In reality, evidence has emerged that the Labor government is building a massive data storage facility to manage massive amounts of information from the US. Unsurprisingly, the US claims its monitoring is proportionate and legal, despite some members of Congress having no idea of the scope of the secret programs.

This is spying by any other name – and Snowden makes clear that everybody is doing it, despite protestations from Australia and America that only China is unleashing constant cyber attacks (Foreign Policy recently revealed that the NSA hacks into Chinese systems).

Dreyfus tried to appease whatever public anger exists – and thus far it’s been muted – by calling an inquiry into protection of information in the digital age. The Federal Greens rightly want far greater transparency on government surveillance, knowing that both Labor and the likely incoming Liberal government have spent decades colluding on ever-expanding powers of security services to monitor and track citizens with little accountability. Don’t expect support from the privacy commissioner, either, who shrugged his shoulders and implied in a statement that national security should trump privacy. Nothing to see here, move along now.

It’s shocking that so few Australians even know about the existence of the intimate intelligence sharing known as “five eyes” between Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Trust the system, we’re told by The Australian’s editorial last week; it isn’t just “extreme libertarians” who question the prevalence of the surveillance state. Australia’s role as a US ally should never be to blindly accept dictates from Washington though if history is any guide Canberra sits too comfortably under America’s hypnotic war machine.

If this current assault on our communications isn’t bad enough, the growth of internet censorship and the private companies that back it is a growing issue across the world, including Australia and Asia-Pacific. Although Labor’s plans for web filtering were squashed, it’s inevitable that such calls will grow in the coming years, as is already happeningacross the globe. Besides, ThailandMalaysiaIndonesia and Singapore are just some of our neighbours that proudly restrict access for their citizens.

Democracies are increasingly being pushed into a pincer move of censorship and surveillance that would be impossible without the co-operation of private firms making billions in profits. The US hires corporations to monitor social media; Israeli-linked companies have been essential in assisting the NSA spying program as well as, in one case, selling Big Brother monitors to Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi.

Snowden’s NSA revelations only touched the surface of the deep collaboration between government and outsourcers. US journalist Tim Shorrock estimates that about 70% of America’s intelligence budget is spent on private industry since 9/11. The extent of the NSA’s cyber army is enough, according to a feature in Wired, to “launch devastating cyber attacks”.

Whistle-blowers are an essential part of any democracy, despite the bleating of officials in Canberra, London and Washington. Governments are only outraged when embarassing leaks are finally unveiled; they continually give details to the press that makes them look strong.

The largely supine response of the Australian parliament to the Prism revelations – with opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull being a notable exception – proves how far this country is from proudly displaying an independent streak. Global surveillance, along with internet censorship, is a threat to both our personal freedom and ability to communicate openly.

The post 9/11 world has taught us that states exaggerate threats to scare citizens into acquiescence. Multinationals have picked a side and it’s the bottom line. Shining a light on the NSA and its global couriers is a public service that is only opposed by those with a vested interest in keeping the public in the dark.

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Why Edward Snowden is a hero for our times

Listen to his words on the ever-growing US surveillance state and why his whistle-blowing is so essential to accountable democracy; clear, concise, passionate, angry and truthful:

There’s been countless vital stories on the role of Snowden, his talking to the Guardian’s Glenn Gleenwald and how so many in the corporate media fail to hold power to account. A good selection here, here, here, here and here.

One of the most interesting details of this case is the role of US film-maker Laura Poitras, one of that country’s finest chroniclers of the post 9/11 world. In this interview with Salon, she explains why independent journalists and minds are so vital in this age:

So how did this all begin?

I was originally contacted in January, anonymously.

By Edward Snowden?

Well, I didn’t know who it was.

What was the format?

Via email. It said, I want to get your encryption key and let’s get on a secure channel.

And he didn’t say what it was about?

He just said — that was the first, and the second was, I have some information in the intelligence community, and it won’t be a waste of your time.

Do you get a lot of those kinds of requests?

No, I don’t.

Did you immediately know what was the best, most secure protocol to go about it?

I actually did. I have a lot of experience because I’ve been working with — as you note in your thing, I’ve done filming with WikiLeaks, I know Jacob Appelbaum. I already had encryption keys but what he was asking for was beyond what I was using in terms of security and anonymity.

How did it proceed from there?

So that’s where I’m not going into a lot of details, but sort of ongoing correspondence. I didn’t know, I didn’t have any biographical details or where he worked, had no idea. He made claims and said he had documentation. At that point it was all completely theoretical, but I had a feeling it was legit.

Why do you think he contacted you? Were you the first person he contacted?

I can’t speak for him. Glenn and I just touched base about, what was your story, because we connected later in the spring. He, I think, got an email in February. But I didn’t know he’d gotten an email.

He told me he’d contacted me because my border harassment meant that I’d been a person who had been selected. To be selected –and he went through a whole litany of things — means that everything you do, every friend you have, every purchase you make, every street you cross means you’re being watched. “You probably don’t like how this system works, I think you can tell the story.” … Of course I was suspicious, I worried that it was entrapment, it’s crazy, all the normal responses you have to someone reaching out making, claims. He said he’d seen a piece that I’d done on Bill Binney in the Times.

I can say from conversations I had with him after that, I think he had a suspicion of mainstream media. And particularly what happened with the New York Times and the warrantless wiretapping story, which as we know was shelved for a year. So he expressed that to me but I think also in his choices of who he contacted. I didn’t know he was reaching out to Glenn at that point.

And you and Glenn were already colleagues, right, you sit on a board together?

At that point the foundation had just opened. So we knew each other and we were colleagues and friends.

How did it get to the point where you knew it was going to be a story, and how did you decide where it was going to be published?

Those are the details I’m not going to go into. What I can say is that once I had a few pieces of correspondence, I said, let me ask a couple of people about this, people who have experience, and I sat down with a couple of people, one of whom was Bart Gellman … and he said, it looks like this person could be legit. And that was probably February.

These disputes that have been played out on the internet about who got in touch with whom and who needed assurances –

In a situation like this, this is a confidential source and has been until very, very recently, actually has been a person whose identity I did not know. To actually go on the record and talk about — it seems to be a violation of a lot of relationships with someone who’s trusted you. There’s partly that, so I’ve been hesitant. I’ve asked, you know, like, Bart, don’t go try and tell my story. I’ll tell my story, you know, about my reporting. I don’t need reporters reporting on my reporting. So maybe that stuff contributed to different timelines. But that seems now — I’m not quite sure, what makes the most sense. Because I don’t want to tell the whole story now, I don’t think it’s the right time. And I want to tell it in my own words. I’m a storyteller. I’ll tell it when I’m ready to tell it, in detail.

But it makes sense to go on the record to explain why I was attached to both of those stories.

So you ended up getting in touch with Bart and Glenn because you wanted their help to vet the claims in documents?

There weren’t documents yet … I wanted to know if this correspondent — it was possible something else would be entrapment or just crazy, that’s always an option. I had an instinct that it was legit. I wanted to talk to people who knew.

So then they said, my paper would be happy to publish it?

No, it was just colleagues saying, this was happening, what do you think. There was nothing to — it was just somebody wanting to start a conversation and claiming to have information … There was no material at that point.

So how did it then become two separate stories in the Washington Post and the Guardian?

The source also has a relationship with Glenn. Which I can’t speak to.

I know that Glenn said he had more stories to come. Do you have more footage you’re planning on using in your documentary?

Of course. I’m here working.

Are you still in touch with him?

I’m not going to comment on that.

Do you know where he is?

Not going to comment.

Are you going to be working on more stories in print before your documentary comes out?

I really can’t predict.

Are you going to be sticking around Hong Kong for awhile or do you think you’ll come to the U.S.?

I haven’t decided. I’m trying to figure that out right now. But I’m actually based right now outside the U.S.

Are you worried about retaliation in any investigation that goes forward?

You know what? I’m not. I’ve been harassed for a long time, I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues. Being here and seeing the kind of — actually, Glenn was really inspiring. Really incredible courage in journalism and just saying, we need to talk to him about these things. It’s not OK that we have a secret court that has secret interpretations of secret laws; what kind of democracy is that? I felt like, this is a fight worth having. If there’s fallout, if there’s blowback, I would absolutely do it again, because I think this information should be public. Whatever part I had in helping to do that I think is a service.

People take risks. And I’m not the one who’s taking the most in this case.

And you feel like the person who is taking the most risk — meaning Snowden — is aware of all the possible ramifications of it?

You can see it in the video, right? I think he is. I think he wanted to reveal his identity because he didn’t want to create a situation where he was anonymous and everyone would have been investigated. In these investigation cases, there are repercussions for many, many people. I think he wanted to take responsibility.

Did he always plan to reveal his identity?

I don’t know. At some point I became aware of that but I don’t know what his intention was.

It’s this complicated situation because we have a source who decided to reveal himself. I still feel like I have journalistic obligations to the source even though they’ve made that choice … There’s something that Glenn said that I actually want to contradict. He said we began “working with” him. There was no working with. We were contacted. It was totally cold contact.

Since he contacted you before he started working at Booz Allen, the implication people were drawing was that he went to Booz Allen with the express intention of leaking this.

That’s completely absurd. I had no dialogue about what the information was — there were claims, that’s all I received.

So the implication that you sent him into Booz Allen to spy was incorrect.

Are you kidding? I didn’t know where he worked, I didn’t know he was NSA, I didn’t know how — nothing. There was no like, Oh do you think you …, no nudging. It’s like the crazy correlations that the NSA does. There’s no connection here. We were contacted, we didn’t know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents.

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