By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Paul Jay of The Real News Network interviews Michael Ratner on the revelations of Edward Snowden; the first Guardian story ran on June 5. Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. Ratner is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Here’s the video:
June 5. Has it really been such a short time? Or so long a time? Ratner explains:
[W]e’re recording this on June 5, which is Thursday, which is the day the first article based on Snowden documents appeared in The Guardian. .. And it’s also the second anniversary or coming on the second anniversary of two years of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. That’ll be June 19. So the anniversaries in June… are quite important.
Let’s go back to the first story, the first story of June 5, the work of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras. They had gotten to Hong Kong a few days before that. They met Edward Snowden. … They met with him on June 3. And they do the first story, which I said is a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order, secret court order, concerning Verizon in particular, but saying that Verizon had to turn over all of the metadata on our phone calls in the United States and elsewhere–basically, how long, what cell towers they’re from, all kinds of information. And from that, of course, they make a tree of everybody, who’s in contact with who, and they get a huge range of information about it. That was the first story, a big story, because it was a misinterpretation, in many of our views, by the secret court of the FISA powers, of the Foreign Intelligence Act powers. And it also showed just how pervasive the surveillance is.
Second day, June 6, which will be an anniversary of, on this Friday, the day after tomorrow, they expose the PRISM story. That’s the NSA has direct access, through our computers, through Google, Facebook, Apple, and other U.S. internet giants, to data held by those internet giants, our actual content of our data–my emails, etc., another huge story.
This year, Edward Snowden Day, June 5, was also #ResetTheNet Day, of which Edward Snowden wrote:
Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. …
We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.
Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back.”
The #ResetTheNet Privacy Pack has a lot of helpful suggestions for keeping your browsing, chats, phone conversations, texting, and mail private. On some of these, I have the best protection of all: I don’t own a smartphone, and I don’t text or chat. For mail, I’m waiting for ProtonMail to spin up. For browsing, I’ve installed HTTPS Everywhere. But I’ve also installed the Tor Browser Bundle, which is a Tor-enabled Firefox clone, and it comes as a very pleasant surprise: It’s fast enough! The first time I tried browsing through Tor, a couple of years ago, the experience was frustratingly slow. Now, the performance is fine. I wouldn’t want to watch movies with it, but then I watch movies hardly at all, and then not online (I like movie-theatre popcorn). Why the performance is better, I don’t know, but I’m guessing more nodes. Now, I know these technologies are not perfect, but we have to start somewhere! I also feel, just as with “home protection,” it’s useful to deter amateurs and the incompetent, even if the real pros can do whatever they want. And readers, if you have thoughts on specific technologies, please share in comments. (ProtonMail, for example, is not the only Swiss or EU company in the secure email business, so it would be nice to know if any of you have experience with such a service.)
The savage irony of the post-Snowden era is that so many of us experienced computers as freedom; I know I did. Before I got my Mac 512KE, I was never able to finish any writing I started, unless it was very short; the sequence of type- or handwritten pages defeated me; I’d start polishing in the middle, and get lost. Along came the Mac, with an outliner — fruit, like the Mac itself, of Doug Engelbart’s NLS system, developed at Stanford — and for the first time I could put down my thoughts in any order, then re-arrange them. The day I installed Acta, I wrote an article. And then I wrote another one, just to show. Joyful liberation! Total empowerment.
Or so it seemed at the time. Now, almost thirty years later, I’m still using a Mac, and a time traveller from 1986 would see very few changes… Except for the new port and the new antenna that connect to something called the Internet (not part of Engelbart’s vision, although hypertext was), and the concomitant complete destruction of our right to be secure in our “persons, houses, [digital] papers, and [digital] effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” So, on the one hand, thirty years of minor incremental changes (despite the hype) in the user interface, with files, disks, and most software that would be instantly recognizable to a time traveler from the 80s, and on the other, incredible “advances” in the ability of secret institutions to capture data off our machines, store it, relate it to other data, analyze it, and make whatever use of it the powers that be may think best, under secret law. Not liberating. Not empowering. Funny, life. Makes you wonder what was really going on. Ratner continues:
[M]y message for people is–it’s the same message Mother Jones had: organize, organize, and take your actions, and just–you know, you assume you take whatever security you can, but in the end you don’t know whether your best friend is an informant. … But in the end, they cannot stop the inevitability of people moving toward the kind of change and revolution that will make their lives better. …
But the story I want to tell–. In Berlin, I was with a group of representatives from a group called the landless peasants movement of–the landless movement of Brazil, MST, a million and a half people. They’re fighters to get the land back for these million and a half or two million displaced or impoverished farmers who have no land. And I talked to them for many hours. And at the end they started asking me all about Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, Ed Snowden, and they went on for 20 minutes about it. And I said, why do you have so much interest in this? You’re the landless peasants movement of Brazil; you know, you’re fighting, you know, to get land for the peasants, etc. What’s your interest in WikiLeaks, in Julian, Ed, etc.? And they said to me as strongly as I’ve ever heard, they said, all of this work, all of this material from Snowden, from WikiLeaks, from Chelsea Manning, it’s a blow against imperialism..
And in the end, that’s what you have to look at….
Well, I don’t know if I’m as optimistic as Ratner, or pessimistic. I’m not a “historical inevitability” kind of guy, because we had some very bad experiences with that idea in the Twentieth Century. (Or, if you like, in the Nineteenth, where, under the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny,” we took up The White Man’s Burden in the Phillipines.)
However, I do believe that Ratner and the Brazilians are right about the nature of the fight, and the role surveillance plays in it. Matt Stoller has a wonderful post on this topic. Surveillance is, as it turns out, as American as apple pie:
Think about it this way. Slaves were controlled in a largely totalitarian society, even before the American Revolution, and this lasted until the Civil War. This society involved radical restrictions on peoples’ ability to read, travel, work for pay, trade, own property, marry, and not be physically and mentally abused. At the core of slavery was an aggressive need for control, it was the mother of all totalitarian surveillance cultures. This surveillance didn’t just involve slaves, but surveillance of those who sought to free slaves via such institutions as the Underground Railroad.
But political surveillance, it’s important to remember, is part of the fabric of American culture, and always has been.
And, as both today’s optimists and pessimist know, the slave power and its surveillance state lost. The harder they come…
So get your privacy pack and install it now!