Posts Tagged Individual Rights

Pres. Obama Comments On Encryption

At music and film conference “South by Southwest” in Austin, Texas, President Obama was asked to comment on encryption and smartphone security.  His response was lengthy, detailed and unscripted.  Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the primary objection to the argument that government should have the ability to penetrate any device: that if the government has that ability, anyone else can also have that ability.  Anyone from hostile governments, competing businesses to criminals in search of information which will expose people to the threat of identity theft or the exposure of intimate photographs or messages.

The tech communities message is not “you know what, either we have strong perfect encryption or else it’s big brother and orwellian world” as President Obama puts it, it is “if you don’t want any unauthorized person to access your smartphone, your only choice is to not build a weakness into its security”.  This is indeed one of the absolutes that Obama insists we mustn’t bring to this discussion but it is not the tech community that is taking an absolute perspective on this, it is reality that presents us with an absolute, to wit: you cannot teach a smartphone to distinguish between an FBI agent with a warrant and a malefactor who wants to post your intimate photos on your facebook page.

Once the weakness in the devices security has been introduced, anyone can use it.  Anyone at all.  FBI agents with warrants, police officers without warrants, agents of unfriendly nations, competing businessmen, identity thieves or garden variety pornographers with a financial incentive to expose your most intimate photographs and communications to complete strangers.

We use our smartphone for an ever increasing range of activities and carry the devices, usually with GPS tracking enabled, everywhere we go.  We do our banking, we chat with friends and acquaintances and flirt with our romantic interests.  This means that these devices contain information of interest not just to FBI agents with warrants, but to an array of far less lawful persons with considerably less oversight or constraints.

Even assuming our smartphones can be turned into black boxes without doors or any way in, information is vulnerable to intercept going into those black boxes and going out.  Our telecommunications provider can tell the government who we called, when and for how long we spoke with them and where we were when we did so.  The FBI has demonstrated the ability to penetrate the security even of persons using the strong encryption based web browser TOR and even technically savvy persons frequently make mistakes which can result in their communications being compromised.  The possibility of peoples communications “going dark” is a fantasy peddled by those with a vested interest in ease of access to those communications.  That’s the absolute that President Obama refuses to acknowledge in his own argument; that we must surrender the security of our smartphones or law enforcement will be powerless to disrupt terrorist attacks.

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Pope Francis endorses continuing the war on drugs

June 20, 2014 — Updated 1327 GMT CNN reports:
Pope Francis said “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise…”

According to the CNN report, Francis regards policies that support the legalization of marijuana “not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”

“To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem,” he said.

Very well, Pope Francis, the floor is yours. Let’s hear your alternative to the police state nonsense that criminalizes and incarcerates countless millions of people worldwide over a plant; that leaves those peoples lives tainted by criminal convictions despite never having raised their hand in violence nor seized any person’s wealth by deception.

Put up or shut up, Pope Francis; should governments be sending law enforcement officers masquerading as soldiers into peoples homes screaming threats and brandishing fully automatic rifles at the inhabitants along with the concomitant risk of accidentally killing those inhabitants? How else should government set out to eradicate the scourge of burning a plant and getting all mellow?

Does Pope Francis truly find the violence involved in pointing law enforcement at wholly consensual activities preferable to offering the participants in those activities peaceful alternatives such as treatment or support?

Details, Pope Francis, Details. That’s where you’ll find the devil after all. What, exactly and in detail, practically speaking, should governments be doing to reign in the scourge of a plant?

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NSA Spying Is Shielded From Public Or Judicial Scrutiny By Smoke And Mirrors

In this video, Woolsey was given ample opportunity to respond to the concerns being raised and unlike his conduct on the subject of firearms laws, Peirs Morgan made no attempt to interrupt or badger Woolsey despite being plainly hostile to the nature of the answers Woolsey was giving him. I was pleasantly shocked by Morgan’s conduct, it being consistent with that of a responsible host of a talk show focusing on matters of political importance.

Woolsey twice refused to address the question posed to him regarding the constitutionality of the NSA intelligence gathering activities exposed by snowden preferring to talk about “Balancing these two very important interests” (Security and Liberty). His response focused on a number of factors;

  1. The NSA program was put together by America’s elected representatives
  2. It had been upheld by the courts
  3. It is monitored by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
  4. It is monitored by the Attorney General and officials in the Executive branch
  5. It has been “systematically supported” by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Feinstein

These matters are, with the exception of point 2, completely irrelevant. The Constitution of the United States of America defines the limits of America’s elected representatives, of the Attorney General and any official in the executive branch and of members of the legislature such as Senator Feinstein. The fourth amendment specifies a boundary beyond which these people may not go regardless of any countervailing considerations. Put very simply, the federal government of the United States of America may not violate the fourth amendment. The balancing of interests referred to by former Director of Central Intelligence Woolsey is moot, the government of the United States may not balance the constitution against any other consideration. It is simultaneously the source of and the limit on, their authority.

Which brings us to point 2. As I mentioned earlier, this is the only cogent point in his entire response and his failure to focus on it, rather than raising an array of other, irrelevant considerations, illustrates the weakness of this argument. When he says that the intelligence gathering operations of the NSA have been upheld by the courts, this is smoke and mirrors. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a body that conducts its deliberations in secret and the victims of NSA surveillence are unable to present arguments before this court; This means that the only persons or entities able to influence the outcome of this “courts” deliberations are those with interests that conflict with the subjects of that surveillance. This does not describe a court of law. In fact, the inability of the persons being deprived of liberties protected by the fourth amendment to make their case before this court is itself a clear violation of the fifth amendment.

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that the ACLU has no standing to challenge NSA surveillance as there is no evidence that the ACLU has been or is being monitored by the NSA. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court is therefore completely protected from review by higher courts by the inability of the subjects of it’s rulings to so much as be aware that there was to be a ruling at all.

Although Woolsey’s response suggests he is unaware of how the United States Constitution limits the power of the government, this would be an absurd assumption. It is impossible to imagine that he could be unaware that one cannot balance security against the supreme law of the land and that all federal law must be made pursuant to the Constitution of the United States of America. I can only conclude that his attempt to mislead the public is not a simple misunderstanding of the constitution, but malicious; an attempt to shield a program unauthorized by the constitution from public scrutiny.

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Universities Boss Glyn Davis Thinks I’m Paid Too Much

Glyn Davis has called for higher taxes because teachers should get pay rises. The people who have to pay increased taxes apparently deserve pay cuts so he can be paid more. Charming.

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Unrelated Thoughts

In the report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation, the Hon R Finkelstein, QC made the following statement: (From section 6.76 of the report)

” In the United States, free speech is given primacy among rights, and therefore the potential harm caused by restrictions on speech is thought to outweigh the potential harm caused by speech that is not restricted. In Australia free speech does not necessarily have the same primacy”

Could it be that our lack of a bill of rights is the reason that a respected Australian jurist treats freedom of speech with open contempt?

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Suppression Of Dissenting Voices

On the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation: Part Four.
Suppression Of Dissenting Voices

In order to determine the purpose of a political initiative such as the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation (IIMMR) it is important to examine both who is responsible for the initiative and what prompted them to proceed with that initiative. The Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation was the result of a campaign by the Green party, led by Federal Senator Bob Brown.

The Opening for Sen. Brown to call for the inquiry was the phone hacking scandal in Britain in which the now defunct newspaper “News Of The World” committed criminal acts in the pursuit of news. But what is the connection to Australia? News Of The World is owned by “News International” which is, in turn, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s “News Corporation”. There are several News Corporation Newspapers, notably, “The Australian” and “The Daily Telegraph” who have embraced editorial policies that oppose Sen. Browns vision for Australias future. In particular, on the Green parties belief in and proposed solutions for the threat of global warming.

Having been initiated as a result of conflict between News Corp and Sen. Brown over global warming, it is unsurprising that the IIMMR focused on reportage and commentary by The Australian and The Daily Telegraph on the subject of global warming and the Gillard governments response to global warming. In section 4.31 through 4.42 the IIMMR deals with this subject. In doing so, it gets to an inauspicious start. Quoting from “A skeptical climate”, a report published by the Australian Centre for Independent journalism, claiming that “overall, negative coverage of government policy outweighed positive coverage by 73 per cent to 27 per cent” and that ” negative coverage across News Limited papers (82 per cent) far outweighed positive coverage (18 per cent)” Finkelstein manages to leave out crucial information: these numbers omit neutral coverage of the subject. From the same report: “The Australian gave far more space to the coverage of climate change than any other newspaper. Its articles were coded 47% negative, 44% neutral and 9% positive”

The report contains a table showing reportage of Julia Gillards policy response to climate change:

Newspapers Negative Neutral Positive
The Daily Telegraph 65% 27% 8%
Herald Sun 59% 28% 12%
The Courier Mail 57% 26% 16%
The Australian 54% 33% 13%
The Northern Territory News 53% 29% 18%
The Advertiser 50% 26% 23%
Hobart Mercury 48% 27% 24%
The West Australian 45% 33% 22%
Sydney Morning Herald 42% 23% 36%
The Age 36% 33% 31%
Total 51% 29% 20%

This paints a very different picture to the one preferred by Finkelstein: “Its headline finding was that, overall, negative coverage of government policy outweighed positive coverage by 73 per cent to 27 per cent”. Why omit neutral reportage from the statistics? Perhaps because doing so is less supportive of the conclusion the IIMMR was intended to obtain?

It is entirely proper, when government makes a proposal which will enormously increase that governments power, that the press should respond in a profoundly skeptical manner. Part of the purpose of the press, discussed in the IIMMR is for the press to act as a check on government. Nor is there any shortage of coverage on this subject from various perspectives, from negative through neutral to positive. In my opinion and on the basis of the information found in “A Skeptical Climate”, the Australian public was well served by the press on this subject. The suggestion that the Australian public was insufficiently exposed to material supportive of Julia Gillards policy response to climate change is entirely unsupported by facts.

The use of “A Skeptical Climate” by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism is questionable in itself. From “A Skeptical Climate”:

“The words used to describe issues also frame the terms in which an issue is discussed. The carbon emissions reduction policy was originally referred to as the carbon pricing policy, although the Opposition leader Tony Abbott from the beginning referred to it as a ‘tax’. Under questioning, Julia Gillard agreed at a press conference announcing the policy on February 24 that the policy would be “effectively like a tax” (7.30 Report, 24 Feb, 2011). From then on, the word ‘tax’ was used more frequently than ‘policy’. This framing of the issue as a ‘tax’ tended to encourage a perception that the policy was aimed at individual consumers rather than large companies.”

This attempt to paint the use of the word “tax” in reference to the Gillard government’s response to climate change as somehow misleading unveils the publication’s partisan agenda. Gillard herself admitted that the policy whould be “effectively like a tax” and the claim that large companies would be the only entities affected by carbon pricing not only puts the authors of the report firmly in the left wing class warfare camp but is a bold faced attempt to mislead the reader into believing that individuals would not be affected by increasing the expenses borne by large companies. We are expected to ignore the fact that increased business costs get passed on to individuals by way of increased prices.

So why use, in an independent report, a publication so plainly committed to a partisan left wing perspective on the subject? It seems to me that the reason can only be that the individual using such a publication shares that perspective.

The above is all very interesting (to me, at least) but what on earth does it have to do with the title of this blog “Suppression Of Dissenting Voices”? It goes back to the fairness doctrine discussed, then airily dismissed with a perfunctory handwave by Finkelstein. I quote Bill Ruder, a public relations specialist for the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations who in the book “The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment” (New York: Random House, 1976) is reported to have said: “Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue.”.

The CATO institute has published a document titled “Broadcast Localism and the Lessons of the Fairness Doctrine” by John Sample.  I quote from that document: “In a report to the Democratic National Committee, the leaders of the campaign proudly noted: “Even more important than the free radio time was the effectiveness of this operation in inhibiting the political activity of these right-wing broadcasts”

Which brings me to section 9.49 of the IIMMR “An enforceable right of reply is a desirable reform for the media. There are no significant moral or policy objections to such a right and while there are arguments against making a right of reply enforceable, the advantages of enforcement outweigh the disadvantages of leaving the matter in the hands of the very body that published the adverse material in the first place.”

An enforceable right of reply is a means that has, in the past, been used by the left to suppress political speech by right wing commentators. It seems obvious that it would be used as such once established here in Australia. Small wonder Bob Brown and the Green party are in such a hurry to implement the reccomendations of the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation.

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Unexamined Assumptions

On the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation Part 3: Unexamined Assumptions

In section 2 of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation (IMMR), from section 2.14 up to section 2.51 the report examines rationales for the maintenance of free speech.  Covering 12 pages in all, Finkelstein covers various rationales for the maintenance of free speech.

  • The search for truth, also called the marketplace of ideas
  • Democratic discourse
  • Self fulfillment and autonomy
  • The fourth estate

Each of these rationales are discussed in detail with copious references to philosophers both alive and dead. They are then subject to criticism, almost as if the rationales are being examined then discarded as inadequate or flawed.

Finkelstein then proceeds to justify regulation of speech with bald assertion on his own authority and that of one Professor Stone, who made a verbal submission to the Inquiry. There is no search for historical justification from respected philosophers or revered public figures, there is no search for critics of the ideas which justify regulation of speech.

The implication is clear, at least to me. Finkelstein regards regulation of speech to be a default position, which must be disproven before his “court” rather than the reverse.  That advocates of free speech stand in the position of prosecutor, burdened with the requirement that they prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt while advocates of regulation stand in the position of the defendant, required only to create in the receptive mind of the judge the seeds of reasonable doubt. Once again, Finkelstein has shown that he is steeped in the morality of government. That he regards as normal and proper the threat and initiation of the use of force. That restraining the state from exercising the use of force requires justification rather than that it is the use of force which requires justification.

Finkelsteins unexamined assumption is this: it is freedom that must justify itself, not regulation. Am I alone in finding this deeply frightening? Is it paranoid that this strikes me as a terrible harbinger of what the future holds for the Australian community?

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