Internet Crimes

Recently I saw a movie on the life and death of Aaron Swartz, who is nowadays often called a martyr for the freedom of the Internet.

People, nations and governments like martyrs. They love them, they need them. Martyrs are part of our bipolar, black and white society constructed from good and bad guys, who always do good and bad deeds. Martyrs are those who have escaped our human condition, of being judged by people as people. Martyrs are beyond judgement, they become the scapegoats for our biggest failures, for the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt phrased it.

I don’t believe Aaron Swartz ever wanted to become a martyr. He just wanted to live within a world that he believed he could fix, a world that was technically malleable and hackable, where he could be active and ingenious, even if that reform effort might involve a few false steps.

I find it unjust, unfair, maybe even outrageous to treat his suicide as a martyrdom. The legal machinery that crushed Aaron Swartz could have crushed any of us, at least if we happened to get apprehended and charged within the USA. We need to pay due heed to the fates of those who get singled out as examples. The system by its nature represses hackers, freelance thinkers or Internet activists. Some will die of that mistreatment, especially if they are neglected, or shunned, or met with public indifference and numb stupidity. The exaggerated honor we pay to “martyrs” is a guilty, posthumous reparation for our failure to keep them alive.

More “Internet martyrs” are clearly on the way for a host of nations. Aaron Swartz was a particularly brilliant MIT “burglar” and was therefore repressed with particular vigor by an ambitious American prosecutor. But America has a huge prison system with millions of people behind bars — everyone but bankers, basically. If Aaron Swartz was still alive today, having pled guilty and gone to American prison for a felony, how much effort would we spend to get him out of jail, or to help him once he was free?

Prosecutors of all nations will always play fast and loose with computer crime laws, if they think that nobody is watching or cares. Recently, three bloggers in Serbia were condemned to one year of prison with a particular ingenious prosecutorial scheme. These bloggers, who were writing under their online nickname pseudonyms, made some sarcastic wisecracks about a right-wing filmmaker who is a darling of violent right-wing Serbian nationalist goons. They bloggers were promptly charged and convicted with hate crime and death threats of this author.

This is the exact sort of behavior that the EU would most like to see out of Serbia: vigorous defense of an imperiled author. They probably didn’t expect to see this kind of hate law applied in a vigorous defense of the government’s own apologists and some street-fighting right-wing extremists. However, the current Serbian government demonstrates a true genius for stealing the opposition’s clothes. So here is a case of online dissidents and university teachers being promptly condemned and sentenced as hooligans.

Most anything said or written can become a verbal crime, if the rule of law doesn’t mean much. Back in the Yugoslavian Communist regime, a poet could go to prison for a single word, if it was the wrong one; singing politically non correct song could land a private in court. No Communist ever wrote laws or doctrine to make that situation entirely clear. Legality would have defeated the entire purpose of a totalitarian atmosphere.

You just had to know what was sayable or unsayable, sense it, feel it. If you did not feel it, then you were either hopelessly stupid, or an enemy of the state. Both the stupid and the enemy were entirely expendable. They provided good practical examples for the others, to learn the everyday behavior for a society devoid of rules.

The modern Internet jungle quite reminds me of those lost days. Much like the victims of the Communist regime, the victims of the modern Internet can be pretty much anybody who somehow demands too much, in some awkward, embarrassing or disruptive way. The modern Internet is overrun with spies, hacker thieves, intrusive databanks, filters and censors. This is no longer a free and pristine electronic wonderland — any more than late-period Communism was all about being genuinely communal.

Of course Communist societies relentlessly described themselves as liberated and avant-garde, and they even claimed that everything was freely shared even when shops were empty. It took real struggle to realize that this blizzard of official rhetoric just didn’t coincide with people’s lived reality. Today’s Internet users haven’t gotten this far as yet; they still talk about their “free services,” as if not paying for commercial big-data spyware was somehow utopian.

Computer communication systems were not born free. The original freedom of the Internet came as a second-hand unplanned consequence, as the work of brave activists and hackers, and as a glitch.

It’s only when you transgress that you can fully feel and understand the borders, the limits. Aaron Swartz’s big mistake was to believe in the limitless possibilities of a media system, just because he was good at coding for it.

Serbian computer users also thought they could permanently outsmart the technically illiterate police and blinkered Communist court system. That worked, too, for about a generation’s time. However, the current Serbian government isn’t by no means a tottering Communist nomenklatura. Today’s Serbian state system and its enthusiastic majority voters do not consider the Internet any obstacle to their nationalist and Orthodox religious ambitions. If anything, the Internet helps to reveal who their enemies are, not that they had many doubts. The new state needs new enemies, and new martyrs, too.

The Internet was once an oasis for those who thought and spoke differently, a global arena of public opinion in which to demonstrate the power of the powerless. That’s not how it works in this decade. But maybe that is good news of a kind: as we lose our anonymity, that old Internet in which no one knew you were a dog, the chains of the dog’s masters also become more visible to everyone.

Serbia is so small and poor that the NSA could scarcely be bothered to spy on it, the NSA being busy spying on its major NATO allies in the EU. However, living out of the imperial limelight has both upsides and downsides for Serbia. The downside is that the modern Serbian state has all kinds of unaccountable power over virtual Serbian life, but the upshot is that the repressed Serbian bloggers are still alive. Their quarrel was too small to get them liquidated, for there just wasn’t all that much at stake.

Serbia lacks the public conscience of a major third-world player like Brazil, which fought for years for its own, national, internet civil rights constitution.

However, Serbia does have one good thing: genuine activism in the streets. Recently, Women in Black from Serbia had a lynch threat on Facebook. The porte parole of the serbian antiterror police on Facebook, addressing his usual audience of right-wing Facebook hooligans, advised them to beat up Women in Black in the streets instead of uselessly brawling with each other. Women in Black have always been the target of hate and violence and foul language, due to their persistent street presence. However, to have this customary behavior blatantly revealed to everyone on Facebook changed the situation, and the Serbian porte parole will be suspended from duty for his indiscretion. He might even be charged and convicted of something or other,since Women in Black are presssing charges.

There must be some difference between the three Serbian bloggers, who were convicted of death threats and hate speech while meaning no real harm other than sarcasm, and this policeman, an agent of the state who would rather like the state’s opponents to come to some extralegal harm at the hand of thugs. That difference is called “justice.” The more of that you have, the less need you have to loudly exult about all of your martyrs.

Austin Music

Hacker Hymn

In English, In french

Mine eyes have seen the misery of the coming cyber wars
my heart had felt the sorrow of young lives yet to fall
my mind has been corrupted with the garbage cyber trolls
and the Drones come buzzing on

Rolly polly evil google boy
Rolly polly baby facebook toy
Rolly polly spy NSA boy
and the drones come buzzing on

the codes and the drones of the spying internet lords
have trumpled over fields of our software joys
face books google glasses NSA devices trolls
And their lies are marching on

rolly polly evil google toy
glory glory google deserter boy
rolly polly evil Facebook toy
and their lies are marching on

I have seen my boys become the soldiers of warlords
I have lost my cyber sons to patriotic trolls
I am the mother of the victims of the lies
who deserted the wicked spies

glory glory google deserter boy
glory glory Facebook deserter toy
glory glory NSA defector boy
and the truth comes marching on

I have seen the rising of the brave NSA spies
I have seen the rebellion for the freedom of their toys
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
Hacks
and the lies don’t march no more

Glory glory hacker NSA boys
Glory glory hacker NSA girls
Glory glory free internet worlds
and the lies won’t march no more

Hacker Hymn
Mes yeux ont vu la misère des guerres cyber à venir
Mon cœur a senti la tristesse de jeunes vies pas encore tombées
Mon esprit a été corrompu par les âneries des cyber trolls
Et les drones qui viennent bourdonner au-dessus

Rolly polly vilain gars google

Rolly polly jouet de bébé de Facebook

Rolly polly un gars espionnant de NSA
Et les drones qui viennent bourdonner au-dessus

Les codes et les drones des seigneurs espionnant internet
On trompété sur les domaines de nos joies software
Ont fait face aux lunettes de livres google aux stratagèmes de trolls de la NSA
Et leurs mensonges nous coupent les pieds.

Rolly polly vilain jouet google

Glorifiez glorifiez le gars qui déserte google

Rolly polly le vilain jouet Facebook

Et leurs mensonges nous coupent les pieds.

J’ai vu mes gars devenir les soldats des seigneurs de guerre
J’ai perdu mes cyber fils à des trolls patriotiques
Je suis la mère des victimes des mensonges
Qui a déserté les espions vicieux

Glorifiez glorifiez la gars déserteur de google

Glorifiez glorifiez le déserteur du jouet Facebook

Glorifiez glorifiez le gars transfuge de NSA

Et la vérité commence à s’écouler

J’ai vu la montée des espions NSA courageux

J’ai vu la rébellion pour la liberté de leurs jouets

Mes yeux ont vu la gloire de l’arrivée des hackers

Et les mensonges ne marchent plus

Glorifiez glorifiez les gars hackers de NSA

Glorifiez glorifiez les filles hackers de NSA

Glorifiez glorifiez des mondes internet libres

Et les mensonges ne marcheront plus

Italy: The Show Must Go On!

“I am convinced that behind the decisions of Grillo (suggested by his internet guru Casaleggio) exists a true subversive plan in Italy that could take us to a civil war.

If somebody doubts of what I am saying, just go to Youtube and look: ‘Gaia’ by Gianroberto Casaleggio. We are in the hands of two crazy people with secret missions. Mussolini’ s fascism compared to this was just a joke!”

This radical online comment, by some anonymous reader, reveals the fear that commonly generates confrontational extremes in Italian political history.

At this moment, when the Italian government has fallen yet again, the youngest premiere ever in Italy and even the EU is about to form a new government. Another online commentator points out: We had eight premieres in the past twenty years, and only two of them were elected by the Italian people.

The Italian electoral system is the major target of the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. The future premier Renzi doesn’t like it either, although he and Grillo agree on very little else. Italy has a long history of attempts to game the electoral system: populist movements, mafia conspiracies, back room intra-party deals, and maybe electronic “direct democracy” may get a chance.

Even without Berlusconi and his gaudy sex and corruption scandals, the Italian political scene is still a show. The general social climate of the country was obvious at the traditional television fiesta, the 64th San Remo music festival. The usual pop stars, crooners and show girls were elbowed aside by political disruptive banners, while a panoply of good and bad political types crowded together into the first row to seize a chance to be on TV.

On the festival’s opening night, two spectators threatened to throw themselves from the top of the stage to their death, plummeting right into the audience. They demanded that their letter be read out loud by the host of the show in front of millions of RAI television viewers.

These histrionic suicides wanted to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers in Italy — which they did. This wasn’t the first time that desperate workers have threatened suicide during the music show. Italian viewers are a crowd highly sensitive to social injustice, enthusiastic members of trade unions and people’s movements. Somehow, however, they never form a national government capable of favoring the interests of working people. Why is this, I wonder? Am I missing something?

Many things have changed in Italy since the M5S Five Star Movement unexpectedly became a significant presence in the Italian Parliament. The new movement, which organized through weblogs and street rallies, managed to elect large numbers of youthful political amateurs and women. However, electing legislators isn’t the same as an ability to rule or manage the state. More

Bello Ciao

Berghain/Transmediale

Berghain in Berlin is a very famous night club, but the bouncers didn’t like my attitude. When I cheerfully walked up to pay the entrance fee and hear some techno, one of the bouncers suddenly shoved me aside, so hard that I almost fell.

Later I heard that Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton got a similar swift rejection, but this didn’t make me like it any better. What happens inside Berghain stays in Berghain because its border guards are worse than East German police.

This year’s Transmediale, Berlin’s festival of media art, was named “Afterglow.” The presentations, workshops and art had a retrospective feeling. The mournful realization is here that the Internet is now the post-Internet, that Western democracy is post-democratic, and that people might even be verging on the post human.

The hottest topic in Berlin was, of course, NSA, Snowden and company.

So much for the network utopias of the pre-dotcom Internet; the business world and government alike have finally found their own use for this great innovation: the post-Internet is the ideal surveillance network. Philip K Dick, always one of Europe’s favorite science fiction writers, gets a brisk revival in this air of paranoid irrational oppression.

The devil demands his due as everything is turned on its head. In the post-Internet “anti-panopticon,” everybody knows they are being secretly watched, anonymous geeks become the post-Internet’s star activists and jailed martyrs; yesterday’s ultra-secret agencies become globally notorious. There seems to be nothing more to say or to lose. Everybody knows the truth now, but nobody knows what to do about it.

The hacker lab in the basement of Transmediale’s weird “Oyster” building served as our dungeon of despair. It was also by far the most lively space in Transmediale. Given 48 brief hours and no budget at all, the feverish hacker artists created their exhibits out of trash and debris: working devices, exhibitions, performances, objects, most of them with themes of surveillance and critical self surveillance.

Wading through that loud, trashy interactive space was like clear-cutting an electronic jungle — the tangled mess that humans have made for themselves in the name of cyber-progress while forgetting entirely about civil rights. Art is always critical, self conscious and cathartic: but tech art nowadays is political and confrontational.

An artist hacked our cell phones sending us weird messages. Spanish girls self inflicted electronic tattoos on their nude bodies. Google’s fancy network hardware arrived in a cheap cardboard box, entire high-tech router units smashed and shredded into tiny chunks and flakes, so that Google’s precious algorithms could never be reverse-engineered.

A “hacker honey-pot” appeared as a golden pot full of sticky honey in which mobiles were suspended as fossils in amber.

A surveillance camera embedded in goggles allowed you to surveil your own movements from a distant, third person point-of-view. Virtual stones were flung against webpages to smash the information, while glitch art offered a randomized exit strategy.
A hysterical robot bird in a cage circled endlessly over a heap of techno-debris, until the battery slowly failed and her flight stopped entirely.

For my own part, I sang inside the Transmediale hack lab. I publicly performed the old war song, “Lili Marlene,” which is all about the tender darling who loyally waits for her national soldier under a street lamp. My hacked 2014 version of “Lili from Belgrade” is fed up with that aggressive, sexist rubbish, and she isn’t going to wait around for anybody any longer.

It’s been a long 25 years since the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Berlin in 2014 is an extraordinary modern city, a global safe-haven for leftists marxist feminists artists conceptualists dissidents & activists. It’s as if Berlin’s heavy history of terror against the Other has given it a healthy immunity; when the network society turns upside down, and all that once meant pure freedom means pure surveillance, Berlin knows all about that. Berlin has abandoned depots where the Cold War NSA once built their very best radio aerials. Berlin’s rusty NSA stronghold is the paradise of graffiti street art people nowadays.

I like everything about Berlin, except for bouncers, the demons of the techno disco, world famous for sexual tolerance, weird design, and ear-shattering 48-hour techno-music orgies which they judged must be beyond my understanding.

As a veteran of the 20th century, it’s wars and miseries that I’ve been through I doubt that.

But, maybe they have less to hide than I do. An exclusive nightclub keeps its secrets just for the sake of the allure of secrecy: no mobile photos allowed in there, no Google Glass, no Angela Merkel with her compromised smartphone. There’s nothing much to show or hide in a mere nightclub, except for the basic cabaret principle of who gets to look, and who is on display. Berlin has never lacked for mystery, or horror, or decadence, or cabarets either. There is only one banal issue left: how to avoid repeating the same story over and over.

Snowden’s Berlin

IMG_1731
In English, in French

I attended a two-day conference in Berlin, “As Darkness Falls: theory and practice of self empowerment in the age of digital control.” It threw me into complete distress.

http://www.einbruch-der-dunkelheit.de/en/index.php

Sometimes it’s entirely necessary to speak behind closed doors. I remembered the women’s activists international meetings, where activists from all over the world told each other of personal experiences of killings torture and rape. How we would share sorrow and empathize, befriend formal enemies, and make exit strategies, then cry in a final catharsis.

But here in Berlin, after the angry speeches of hackers, cypherpunks, activists, philosophers of communication, coders…. I could feel my Internet optimism crumbling. The Snowden case placed a dark, troubled perspective on our post-Internet era.

It’s covert surveillance and violated privacy, versus freedom of speech and the public visibility of citizens. As an addicted activist and internet user, I was cordially warned against using almost every service I’ve already been cheerfully using for years.

How to stay connected and publicly visible, without being controlled, used and abused by the metadata corporations and the secret police scanners? Sure, some computer-security experts know all about these issues, but my friends and feminist activists are still digital beginners! I had to stare in dread into the screen of my own beloved laptop, as my Facebook profile suddenly erupted with unsolicited posts thrown my way by sinister algorithms I’ve never heard of. During the event, my Mac Air suddenly crashed, then came back to life displaying the date: January 1, 2012. Wasn’t that year supposed to be the end of the world? Maybe the year 2012 was just the Armageddon for the free and open Internet, and now it’s already 2014!

Is this big-data Internet of 2014 — the new post-digital, Post-Internet — an oppressive system entirely typical of failed and managed democracies? Will the Post-Internet become the main antisocial weapon for a future neo feudal totalitarian regime… Or is there is a way of saving the precious democratic values and structures of civil rights, so often casually routed-around by the Internet? Did we “empower the individual” so much that our states and nations failed, and now we’re nakedly exposed to the secret police and the machines of the globalized ultra-rich?

Dystopias are always more convincing than utopias, skepticism has stronger words than optimism, while Berlin in the winter of 2014 is a place where daylight is precious and rare in the snow storms, with temperatures below freezing.

Nevertheless, cyber-dissidents, political refugees flock here to Berlin to free their floating anxiety, exchange their encrypted codes, help each the intricacies of national laws and to name-check their fellows in prison.

What’s more, Edward Snowden is now appearing on German TV, having become a genuine political figure rather than a dramatic refugee. Snowden remarks that somebody may well kill him for one reason or another, but he has no more big bundles of data to reveal to the public. Everything is already public in the hands of the press politicians and citizens and, well, the Post-Internet.

It’s never easy to become a dissident or a defector. Some cyber-activists and hackers have already cracked up and even commit suicide from the pressures of political activism and legal countermeasures. Edward Snowden seems to be a more solid and inspiring figure than his predecessors and colleagues. Calm and precise as usual, Snowden conveys the message that it is now up to everybody else in the world besides him to do something about all this trouble he showed us.

What can we practically do, besides trembling and shivering in folk-paranoia? Are we empowered enough, maybe too empowered and not well-enough organized? Who are “we,” who are our allies, and what is the likely or desirable outcome of this new, global-scale struggle in the long history of mankind? Are we all supposed to become Anonymous activists, smiling at the surveillance cameras in the streets while we strike back from our bedrooms and garages? Or are we are supposed to abandon the keyboards, flood into the roads, streets, and squares, occupy the banks, trade Bitcoins for bread?

Resistance methods are not a recipe for civil law and order. Reading history and theories is never enough, while the world has more than its share of stupid, dangerous, egocentric martyrs. Describing political reality is half way to solving a political problem. The Post-Internet is a potentially collective intelligence, but it’s also collective stupidity. It is not a machine entirely separate from us, and has always been a mirror that shows us to ourselves in real-time.

After the darkness fell on my Darkness event, I visited the Stasi museum in Berlin. This “museum” is simply the re-purposed headquarters of the Stasi secret police, the administrative center of analogue espionage and surveillance during the Cold War.

Our modern digital spies should be ashamed by the perfection of this system, where everybody was spying on everybody all the time, and even the political prisoners in the secret prisons were forced to inform against their own jailers. Our spies are lazy and slipshod digital button-pushers, mere code jockeys, while the Stasi files were manually written and preserved in big stacks of brown sacks.
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