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Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

Some time ago I re-published in this blog The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto written by a young online activist called Aaron Swartz. This last Friday came the news that Swartz had committed suicide at the age of 26. At the time of his death, Swartz was facing charges for breaking into the MIT network to download paywalled academic articles that could have placed him in prison for a very long time.

I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why Swartz decided to end his life, or comment on the disproportionality of his charges. Instead, I’m going to highlight a remarkable campaign that has been spreading in the social media: hundreds, if not thousands of academics have been tweeting free download links to their own papers that have been published in subscription journals, in tribute to Swartz. One can only hope that this will be the beginning of an awakening that will see an end to the information monopoly that has the academic world in a stranglehold. After all, it’s the academics whose work has been essentially stolen by these corporate vultures that have never contributed anything to society.

The US government has, predictably, positioned itself firmly on the side of capital and against freedom of information and human progress. However, while they may be able to destroy the life of one man, but they won’t be able to terrorise the entire international academic community. The Open Access Manifesto is now more relevant than ever.

Edit: You can now honour Swartz’s memory with a couple of clicks by liberating an article from the JSTOR library using this bookmarklet.

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This is the introduction from the new book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet (2012), based on discussions Julian Assange had earlier this year with fellow hackers Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann.

“This book is not a manifesto. There is not time for that. This book is a warning.

The world is not sliding, but galloping into a new transnational dystopia. This development has not been properly recognized outside of national security circles. It has been hidden by secrecy, complexity and scale. The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen. The internet is a threat to human civilization.

These transformations have come about silently, because those who know what is going on work in the global surveillance industry and have no incentives to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.

While many writers have considered what the internet means for global civilization, they are wrong. They are wrong because they do not have the sense of perspective that direct experience brings. They are wrong because they have never met the enemy.

No description of the world survives first contact with the enemy.

We have met the enemy.

Over the last six years WikiLeaks has had conflicts with nearly every powerful state. We know the new surveillance state from an insider’s perspective, because we have plumbed its secrets. We know it from a combatant’s perspective, because we have had to protect our people, our finances and our sources from it. We know it from a global perspective, because we have people, assets and information in nearly every country. We know it from the perspective of time, because we have been fighting this phenomenon for years and have seen it double and spread, again and again. It is an invasive parasite, growing fat off societies that merge with the internet. It is rolling over the planet, infecting all states and peoples before it.

What is to be done?

Once upon a time in a place that was neither here nor there, we, the constructors and citizens of the young internet discussed the future of our new world.

We saw that the relationships between all people would be mediated by our new world, and that the nature of states, which are defined by how people exchange information, economic value, and force, would also change.

We saw that the merger between existing state structures and the internet created an opening to change the nature of states.

First, recall that states are systems through which coercive force flows. Factions within a state may compete for support, leading to democratic surface phenomena, but the underpinnings of states are the systematic application, and avoidance, of violence. Land ownership, property, rents, dividends, taxation, court fines, censorship, copyrights and trademarks are all enforced by the threatened application of state violence.

Most of the time we are not even aware of how close to violence we are, because we all grant concessions to avoid it. Like sailors smelling the breeze, we rarely contemplate how our surface world is propped up from below by darkness.

In the new space of the internet what would be the mediator of coercive force?

Does it even make sense to ask this question? In this otherworldly space, this seemingly platonic realm of ideas and information flow, could there be a notion of coercive force? A force that could modify historical records, tap phones, separate people, transform complexity into rubble, and erect walls, like an occupying army?

The platonic nature of the internet, ideas and information flows, is debased by its physical origins. Its foundations are fiber optic cable lines stretching across the ocean floors, satellites spinning above our heads, computer servers housed in buildings in cities from New York to Nairobi. Like the soldier who slew Archimedes with a mere sword, so too could an armed militia take control of the peak development of Western civilization, our platonic realm.

The new world of the internet, abstracted from the old world of brute atoms, longed for independence. But states and their friends moved to control our new world — by controlling its physical underpinnings. The state, like an army around an oil well, or a customs agent extracting bribes at the border, would soon learn to leverage its control of physical space to gain control over our platonic realm. It would prevent the independence we had dreamed of, and then, squatting on fiber optic lines and around satellite ground stations, it would go on to mass intercept the information flow of our new world — its very essence even as every human, economic, and political relationship embraced it. The state would leech into the veins and arteries of our new societies, gobbling up every relationship expressed or communicated, every web page read, every message sent and every thought googled, and then store this knowledge, billions of interceptions a day, undreamed of power, in vast top secret warehouses, forever. It would go on to mine and mine again this treasure, the collective private intellectual output of humanity, with ever more sophisticated search and pattern finding algorithms, enriching the treasure and maximizing the power imbalance between interceptors and the world of interceptees. And then the state would reflect what it had learned back into the physical world, to start wars, to target drones, to manipulate UN committees and trade deals, and to do favors for its vast connected network of industries, insiders and cronies.

But we discovered something. Our one hope against total domination. A hope that with courage, insight and solidarity we could use to resist. A strange property of the physical universe that we live in.

The universe believes in encryption.

It is easier to encrypt information than it is to decrypt it.

We saw we could use this strange property to create the laws of a new world. To abstract away our new platonic realm from its base underpinnings of satellites, undersea cables and their controllers. To fortify our space behind a cryptographic veil. To create new lands barred to those who control physical reality, because to follow us into them would require infinite resources.

And in this manner to declare independence.

Scientists in the Manhattan Project discovered that the universe permitted the construction of a nuclear bomb. This was not an obvious conclusion. Perhaps nuclear weapons were not within the laws of physics. However, the universe believes in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. They are a phenomenon the universe blesses, like salt, sea or stars.

Similarly, the universe, our physical universe, has that property that makes it possible for an individual or a group of individuals to reliably, automatically, even without knowing, encipher something, so that all the resources and all the political will of the strongest superpower on earth may not decipher it. And the paths of encipherment between people can mesh together to create regions free from the coercive force of the outer state. Free from mass interception. Free from state control.

In this way, people can oppose their will to that of a fully mobilized superpower and win. Encryption is an embodiment of the laws of physics, and it does not listen to the bluster of states, even transnational surveillance dystopias.

It isn’t obvious that the world had to work this way. But somehow the universe smiles on encryption.

Cryptography is the ultimate form of non-violent direct action. While nuclear weapons states can exert unlimited violence over even millions of individuals, strong cryptography means that a state, even by exercising unlimited violence, cannot violate the intent of individuals to keep secrets from them.

Strong cryptography can resist an unlimited application of violence. No amount of coercive force will ever solve a math problem.

But could we take this strange fact about the world and build it up to be a basic emancipatory building block for the independence of mankind in the platonic realm of the internet? And as societies merged with the internet could that liberty then be reflected back into physical reality to redefine the state?

Recall that states are the systems which determine where and how coercive force is consistently applied.

The question of how much coercive force can seep into the platonic realm of the internet from the physical world is answered by cryptography and the cypherpunks’ ideals.

As states merge with the internet and the future of our civilization becomes the future of the internet, we must redefine force relations.

If we do not, the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.

We must raise an alarm. This book is a watchman’s shout in the night.

On March 20, 2012, while under house arrest in the United Kingdom awaiting extradition, I met with three friends and fellow watchmen on the principle that perhaps in unison our voices can wake up the town. We must communicate what we have learned while there is still a chance for you, the reader, to understand and act on what is happening.

It is time to take up the arms of our new world, to fight for ourselves and for those we love.

Our task is to secure self-determination where we can, to hold back the coming dystopia where we cannot, and if all else fails, to accelerate its self-destruction.

— Julian Assange, London, October 2012”

How to take up the challenge, then? One way to start is to organise a CryptoParty. We need to bring cryptography into the mainstream.

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  1. Seed is the source of life, it is the self urge of life to express itself, to renew itself, to multiply, to evolve in perpetuity in freedom.
  2. Seed is the embodiment of bio cultural diversity. It contains millions of years of biological and cultural evolution of the past, and the potential of millennia of a future unfolding.
  3. Seed Freedom is the birth right of every form of life and is the basis for the protection of biodiversity.
  4. Seed Freedom is the birth right of every farmer and food producer. Farmers rights to save, exchange, evolve, breed, sell seed is at the heart of Seed Freedom. When this freedom is taken away farmers get trapped in debt and in extreme cases commit suicide.
  5. Seed Freedom is the basis of Food Freedom, since seed is the first link in the food chain.
  6. Seed Freedom is threatened by patents on seed, which create seed monopolies and make it illegal for farmers to save and exchange seed. Patents on seed are ethically and ecologically unjustified because patents are exclusive rights granted for an invention. Seed is not an invention. Life is not an invention.
  7. Seed Freedom of diverse cultures is threatened by Biopiracy and the patenting of indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. Biopiracy is not innovation – it is theft.
  8. Seed Freedom is threatened by genetically engineered seeds, which are contaminating our farms, thus closing the option for GMO-free food for all. Seed Freedom of farmers is threatened when after contaminating our crops, corporations sue farmer for “stealing their property”.
  9. Seed Freedom is threatened by the deliberate transformation of the seed from a renewable self generative resource to a non renewable patented commodity. The most extreme case of non renewable seed is the “Terminator Technology” developed with aim to create sterile seed.
  10. We commit ourselves to defending seed freedom as the freedom of diverse species to evolve; as the freedom of human communities to reclaim open source seed as a commons.

To this end, we will save seed, we will create community seed banks and seed libraries, we will not recognize any law that illegitimately makes seed the private property of corporations. We will stop the patents on seed.

You can sign this declaration here. See also information about the ongoing fortnight of action for Seed Freedom which runs from October 2 to October 16.

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The final ACTA vote in the European parliament has been scheduled for Wednesday next week. Despite recommendations from all the parliamentary committees to reject the treaty, the pro-ACTA lobby is still hard at work to convince the parliamentarians to vote “yes” anyway. They’ve now even decided to play the terrorist card. La Quadrature du Net writes:

“This Wednesday July 4th, the European Parliament will have an opportunity to reject ACTA as a whole, in plenary, and destroy it forever. After four years of citizens’ hard work, such a rejection would create a tremendous political symbol of global scale. La Quadrature du Net calls on all citizens to contact Members of the EU Parliament to urge them to reject ACTA, and beyond, to start a process to positively reform copyright law. A strong victory would set the ground for future reforms.

Last week’s adoption by the “International Trade” (INTA) committee of a voting recommendation against ACTA is extremely encouraging, but the final step ahead is indeed the most important: all the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will cast their vote in plenary on July 4th, 12:00PM, in favour or against ACTA. Citizens of the Internet must unite forces for this unique and historic occasion!

If chances of winning are now high, nothing is won yet. Last week, industry lobbies and the European Commission (responsible for negotiating on behalf of the EU) attempted to influence the Members of the INTA committee, and are already trying very hard to save face. We must therefore win this vote by a strong majority, to make it impossible for the Parliament to go back and stick to blind repression once ACTA is rejected.

As a citizen platform, La Quadrature du Net provides the PiPhone, a web tool allowing to call free of charge MEPs who are still not clearly against ACTA, along with some guidelines and key arguments against ACTA. Personnalized contacts should always be favoured over copy-paste of templates!

While engaging with the MEPs and their assistants, citizens are encouraged to start an open discussion about the need, beyond ACTA, to reform the EU copyright framework. Our online cultural practices must be encouraged rather than repressed. The voice of citizens, the free and open Internet, as well as our cultural practices matter more than a few industry lobbies’ interests!

“The ACTA debate could mark the beginning of a new era, where citizens organized online have the power to counter the influence of powerful industrial lobbies and short-sighted policy-makers keen on sacrificing our rights, along with the free Internet. By engaging with our representatives ahead of next week’s vote, we can not only achieve a huge victory of tremendous political significance against ACTA, but also help lawmakers understand how Internet and online culture work. Let’s win big on ACTA!” concludes Jeremie Zimmermann, spokeperson of the citizen group La Quadrature du Net.”

Rick Falkvinge has posted some email templates and even provides an email alias that resolves to all the addresses of the parliamentarians.

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We’re now only two weeks away from the final vote on ACTA in the European parliament and the pro-ACTA lobby is stepping up its efforts to push the treaty through. For the first time the lobby has now decided to make its campaign public by setting up a website. This is a clear indication that the anti-ACTA campaign has had an effect on public opinion and, what’s more frightening to the lobbyists, on the opinion of the political representatives. La Quadrature du Net writes:

“This Thursday, June 21st, the “International Trade” (INTA) committee will recommend the rest of the Parliament to either accept or reject ACTA.

For months, many NGOs and public institutions produced analysis and commentaries, showing that ACTA is dangerous for innovation, freedom of speech and privacy online. Hundreds of thousands of citizens took the streets this past winter against ACTA, urging for a reform of today’s outdated copyright regime. This has led to an intense political debate within the EU Parliament. The different opinion reports recently adopted by several committees of the Parliament urged for the rejection of ACTA.

But as the final vote of the EU Parliament gets closer (scheduled for July 3rd-5th), all these efforts could be smashed.

Whereas the draft report of INTA rapporteur David Martin (UK, S&D) recommends the rejection of ACTA, other INTA members have tabled amendments asking either for the adoption of ACTA or for postponing the vote for years, pending an opinion of the EU Court of Justice on the legality of the agreement. Postponing the vote would ruin all chances to have ACTA rejected any time soon, and would pave the way to more repressive policies in the meantime. Citizens must remind Members of the INTA committee that postponing ACTA vote is a tactic of both the EU Commission and copyright lobbies to save face. If the final vote is postponed, the EU Parliament would be seen as playing into the hands of ACTA supporters, renouncing to its political power and its mission to defend citizens.

“Confirmed rumours in the corridors of the Parliament suggest that Thursday’s vote could be held in secret. Such a trick would allow Members of political groups who are officially against ACTA to escape their political responsibility. Important progress has been made in the last months as policy-makers increasingly understand the need to break away from repression and to reform copyright. We cannot allow powerful lobbies and the EU Commission to erase it all”, says Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net.

Every citizen can participate in this final push against ACTA. Our PiPhone can be used to call Members of the INTA committee for free, and tell them to vote against ACTA!”

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La Quadrature du Net writes:

“The final phase of the ACTA’s process in the European Parliament begins: “Industry” (ITRE), “Legal Affairs” (JURI) and “Civil Liberties” (LIBE) committees are about to vote on their reports, which will recommend to the European Parliament to adopt or to reject ACTA. These reports will have a strong political weight, and will influence the definitive decision. Until the Thursday’s votes, we still can make heard our voices and convince these committes’ members to express themself in favour of a firm and definitive rejection of ACTA.

The drafts of the reports of LIBE and ITRE committees, positive for the moment, still could be neutralized by the amendments deposited by pro-ACTA MEPs. We can act and defend these reports by calling the LIBE and ITRE members to vote against all these amendments. (read also: each amendments voted in ITRE and LIBE: http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/ITRE_ACTA_report_amendments and http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/LIBE_ACTA_report_amendments)

Within the JURI committee, the last public version of the Marielle Gallo’s report was completely favorable to ACTA. The voted one on Thursday will very probably be similar, even MEPs cannot propose those amendments. We cannot let this new procedural tricks become a success: it is still time to convince the JURI members to reject the Marielle Gallo’s report!

More than ever, to win during the final vote of July, we have to stay mobilized and to make our voice heard. Whether it is by relaying this information or by calling (free of charge) MEPs thanks to the PiPhone (https://piphone.lqdn.fr), each of us can act for the ACTA’s rejection.”

Remember also the 3rd international day of action against ACTA, IPRED & Co on June 9.  A map of the planned events can be found here. See the Stopp ACTA -wiki for more information.

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Tomorrow, May 12, will be the second global day of action called by the Occupy and indignant movements. The first day of action on October 15 last year was a major success as it managed to spread the movement to dozens of new countries, spawning protest camps all over the world. On that day, there were events at over 1000 different locations in 82 countries. Some have promised that tomorrow will be even bigger, but this seems unlikely. Still, at least several hundred cities have announced their participation this time around.

There doesn’t seem to be any comprehensive list of tomorrow’s events, but see these maps for a sampling of where things are happening:
http://map.squaresdatabase.org/
http://map.12m-15m.org/

Tomorrow will be only a part of a series of events that has been dubbed the Global May. The most important of these events are probably going to be the anniversary celebrations of the 15M movement in Spain on and around May 15, the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt on May 16 to 19 and the protests that have been planned in Chicago during the NATO summit on May 20 to 21. It remains to be seen whether the mainstream media will pick up on these activities, or try to bury them like they did with the Occupy May Day protests.

The waning mainstream media interest has given the states a good opportunity to tighten their grip on the movements, whether it’s by means of illegal police violence or totalitarian jurisdiction. Further conflicts are to be expected at least in Frankfurt and Chicago. How these conflicts will be presented to the public could have remarkable effects on the future credibility of the movements. It’s important that we get our own point of view through or it won’t look good.

While street protests are useful for spreading the message and getting in touch with the greater populace, hopefully the movements will be now moving towards building the kinds of alternative institutions we need to sever our ties of dependence to the 1%. Sprouts of these already exist, with the cooperatives, free universities, social centres and other initiatives that have grown out of the movements. Some notable examples that could be duplicated elsewhere include the CASX financial cooperative in Barcelona, the Gill Tract farm occupation in Albany, California and the Global Square project. We need these institutions to serve as a base of operations if we want to turn our losing battle into a real offensive.

See you in the streets!

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