A THREAT (ALMOST) WITHOUT PRECEDENT

An English translation by Bernard Bouvet of my post Une menace sans précédent (ou presque).

You will recall what Dick Cheney, the former U.S. Vice President, said at the time, it was 2001, about Saddam Hussein? No, not that, I mean before there was any question of “weapons of mass destruction.” Cheney’s affirmation was that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al-Qaeda, implying that even if Saddam himself didn’t happen to be a terrorist, it was still very much all the same. Although various official reports over the years disproved any contact between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, a 2005 poll revealed that 63% of Americans were still convinced that such links existed.

Let’s fast forward about nine years, to last week, in Washington D.C., at the White House. In the course of meetings held there, according to The Wall Street Journal, dated yesterday Feb. 21st, an assessment was provided by Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) (*), the agency tasked primarily with keeping an ear on all which is being voiced around the world, on Internet, in phone conversations, or otherwise.

As reported by the Journal: “Possible scenarios discussed, the former official said, included one in which a foreign government developed the attack capability and outsourced it to a group like Anonymous, or if a U.S. adversary like Al-Qaeda hired hackers to mount a cyberattack.”

Support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is wavering as the result of the joint strike action by Wikipedia, Google, and the social networks. The multinational Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), after several countries have been reluctant to sign it, looks like a sitting duck. That doesn’t seem to trouble Washington: the “self-evident” threat presented by all those Internet protests will be “managed” by means of a more… how should we put it…

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(*) The National Security Agency (NSA) is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting U.S. government communications and information systems, which involves information security and cryptanalysis/cryptography…

By law, NSA’s intelligence gathering is limited to foreign communications, although domestic incidents such as the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy have occurred…” (Wikipedia)

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LE MONDE ÉCONOMIE, e-G8 : the new upcoming world, a spitting image of the old one, June 6th 2011

“Without the networks, Internet is nothing … Internet is not just a question of liberties, it is a question of money.”

When Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, one of the main sponsors of the e-G8, held in Paris on 24 and 25 May, uttered these unambiguous words, everybody in France seemed to be relieved: the debate about civil liberties on the Internet – which Bernard Kouchner wanted to make the central topic of this e-G8 – was put off until later, while the inexorable course of its commodification has been going on unhindered.

Lawrence Lessig, a Law professor at Harvard, was one of the few members of civil society who were invited to this event, quipped about the e-G8’s underlying philosophy: “I have only vague memories about philosophy, he said, but I cannot imagine a French philosopher saying: “Let’s ask the business world to define the state policy”, and he added sadly: “We recently gave it a try in the United States in matters of finance, and we cannot say it’s been an unqualified success.”

A wall of silence fell on the Internet at this county fair that was e-G8. Its first component is that of commodification. The second one, according to the final report of the e-G8, which was being circulated – as usual – before the festivities began, is the maintenance of law and order, which is already unscrambled or implicitly readable in some national/local laws, and particularly in France, in LOPPSI and HADOPI 2 Acts/Laws.

Of course, none of these pretexts is lacking of ethical rationale and they justify with equanimity global monitoring: the fight against terrorism and child protection, as if they were in themselves the justification for the establishment of a widespread system of spying on citizens by their own governments.

John Perry Barlow, one of the founders in 1990 of the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American union of Internet users, was one of a few personalities in the e-G8 who defended the values that don’t immediately translate into a price. He mentioned another justification for the proposed repressive apparatus: the intellectual property, which he rightly characterized as a concept distinct from “copyright”: like a patent issued by a company upon the ideas of someone who finally will only reap a few crumbs out of the harvested amount.

There is something common between these various projects of constraining the internet with legal shackles aiming at maintaining the commercial order of substantial profit margins and the more prosaic police order: the fear of what the Internet symbolizes by now. Its abilities on the one hand for establishing gratuity and the gift as the basis of social relationship by default, and on the other hand, for sweeping away in a few weeks, political regimes where, as e-G8 underlined, the state has been legally or illegally ruled by the business world.

The Internet community is fortunately not defenseless facing such diktats, at least those who are not impressed by such a program. John Gilmore, another founder of the EEF, has the last word as he one time had the opportunity to state: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

(translation by Bénédicte Kibler)

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