Archive for September 2013
Under intense rain hundreds marched through the streets of Madrid demanding the abdication of King Juan Carlos. The event, dubbed “Jaque el Rey” was organized by 25S, the coordination committee of diverse political associations and activist organizations to mark the one year anniversary since the group surrounded Spain’s Congress of Deputies in protest of massive privatizations, public expenditure cuts, corruption and the general “plundering of finance capitalism.” Although the protesters planned to conclude their march in front of the Royal Palace police cordons set up along access streets prohibited protesters from reaching their destination. 1,400 anti-riot police formed barricades across the city using metal fences, vans and their armored bodies to confine the protesters to designated areas and limit their movement across the city. Above the roar of helicopters flying overhead people shouted “policia fascista” before turning back towards the Opera House to convene a general assembly.
Speaking through a megaphone a protester acknowledged the overwhelming police presence: We would like to break the siege and enter Plaza de Oriente, but today is not the day. The police forces impede us.” Plaza de Oriente is the public garden in front of the Royal Palace. Another protester who declined to give his name stated, “the new law recently approved in congress makes crossing the police cordon a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.” He was referring to the controversial new laws making their way through parliament that clamp down on rights of assembly. “Once implemented,” he continued, “they will be able to imprison you for up to a year if you have posted information related to unlawful protests on your twitter account.”
As the rain continued the protesters dispersed, some shouting “we’ll be back”. Waiting at Puerta del Sol, the major public square the protesters had to pass through before going their separate ways, were phalanxes of police guarding every street leading to the heart of Madrid.
A new controversy aggravating already strained relations between Washington and Caracas threatens to destabilise relations with other South American countries. On Thursday night Venezuelan Secretary of State Elias Jaua announced that the United States denied the Presidential Plane the right to fly over Puerto Rico on it’s way to China for diplomatic meetings. Outraged at American refusal to grant Venezuelan state leaders authorisation to fly over American airspace President Nicolas Maduro denounced Washington’s decision: “To refuse permission to a head of state to fly over airspace that they colonized in Puerto Rico is a serious offense.” This comes months after the United States refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s elections in the aftermath of President Chavez’s death. Canadian based Foundation for Democratic Advancement ranked Venezuelan elections number 1 in fairness. The International Elections Report released by the Carter Center for Peace also found Venezuelan elections to be among the fairest in the world.
Responding to the news Ecuadorean Secretary of State Ricardo Patino posted on his twitter account:”First it was Bolivia. Now it is Venezuela. What do they want? To jeapordize the goodwill between peoples and peace in the world?” Patino was alluding to the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales this past July. The United States ordered European countries to prevent the plane from flying through their airspace because, the US believed, Edward Snowden may have been aboard the President’s plane.
From Venezuela’s perspective Thursday’s rift fits into a wider context of American aggression in Venezuela. Less than a decade ago the Bush administration sought to oust Hugo Chavez from the Presidency of Venezuela. In a secretly backed coup, America threw its weight behind businessman Pedro Carmona. Carmona was installed. But the coup was reversed within 48 hours restoring Chavez to power. Washington’s ambitions to prop up a leader running on deregulation, privatization and hacking social programs (the typical conditions of securing US financed loans) would never materialize. Chavez bounced back bedeviling the Bush administration. Salivating foreign investors and oil tycoons lost their shot at bonanza in the resource-rich country.
Washington’s latest airspace bully controversy also comes just days after Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff canceled a meeting with President Obama at the White House. Leaks by Edward Snowden that were reported by Glenn Greenwald and TV Globo revealed that the NSA had been spying on President Rouseff’s personal communications and had targeted the computer systems of Petrosbas, Brazil’s majority-owned state oil company.
Refusing to recognize election results, grounding planes or refusing their travel, backing coups in Latin America as the Bush Administration did in 2002 or tacitly supporting coups as the Obama Administration did in Honduras in 2009 are all indicators of the arrogance of US Foreign Policy. Furthermore they highlight Washington’s refusal to accept the geopolitical shift known as Latin America’s “second independence”, that has resulted in a wave of popularly elected governments across the region. The rising tide of Latin American governments challenging neoliberal orthodoxy and refusing to bow to Washington reflects a real rebalancing of power. America’s aggressive tactics aren’t persuasive to leaders who were elected without covert American military backing. Reacting to the US forced landing of Morales’ plane in July Argentina’s President Christina Kirchner tweeted, “They’ve definitely gone crazy.” That the Obama Administration could have possibly calculated any strategic advantage in prohibiting Venezuelan heads of state from flying over Puerto Rico is, just that, crazy.
We’ve heard of Doctors Without Borders and Reporters Without Borders. What about Surveillance Without Borders? On Tuesday the FISA Court released the legal opinion explaining why the NSA’s “bulk collection” of phone calls is legal. The telephone data collection program has been stated to exist for the sole purpose of hatching terrorist plots, a point that is reiterated in the opinion. This NSA program also happens to record every phone call made by every American every single second of the day.
Legal scholars and constitutional lawyers are weighing in on the newly released opinion.
In her 29 page opinion, Judge Claire V. Eagan sided with the the Obama Administration’s chief defense of the program. The Administration has been arguing since the Snowden revelations that phone call metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. According to this legal theory phone call metadata, unlike the content of the phone call, is not afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy as it is handled by third parties, the telecommunications companies. Quoting from the Supreme Court decision in Smith v. MaryLand Judge Eagan explains why phone call data doesn’t warrant Fourth Amendment protections: “Telephone users…typically know that they must convey numerical information to the phone company; that the phone company has facilities for recording this information; and that the phone company does record this information for a variety of legitimate business purposes.” Basically the burden falls on the telephone subscriber to (dis)trust the phone company’s handling of their data. Leaks involving Verizon and AT&T’s cooperation with NSA record requests makes this responsibility a bitter pill to swallow.
Judge Eagan affirmed that the government can legally collect all calling records under Patriot Act provision 215. She argued that 215 gives the government legal authority to obtain business records considered “relevant” to investigations. Judge Eagan also noted that members of Congress were given occasion to be notified about how secret interpretations of the Patriot Act were being used to justify the phone call data collecting program prior to their vote reauthorizing the law.
Salon reported that Nate Cardozo – the Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney pressing lawmakers to make the process surrounding national security requests transparent – “said the court order is flawed because it assumes that all lawmakers were given the opportunity to learn the NSA was collecting and storing phone records in bulk.
Alex Abdo writing for the ACLU National Security Project criticized the ruling for providing no limits as to what kinds of pervasive and indiscriminate surveillance could also be upheld as constitutional.
Here’s the key passage from the opinion called into question:
Because known and unknown international terrorist operatives are using telephone communications, and because it is necessary to obtain the bulk collection of a telephone company’s metadata to determine those connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives as part of authorized investigations, the production of the information sought meets the standard for relevance under 215
Abdo previews three future opinions used to justify secret surveillance programs that we may expect to follow from this logic:
1.)Because known and unknown international terrorist operatives are using email, and because it is necessary to obtain the bulk collection of an email provider’s metadata to determine those connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives as part of authorized investigations . . . .
2.)Because known and unknown international terrorist operatives are engaging in financial transactions, and because it is necessary to obtain the bulk collection of a financial institution’s transaction history to determine those connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives as part of authorized investigations . . . .
3.)Because known and unknown international terrorist operatives are using the Internet, and because it is necessary to obtain the bulk collection of an internet provider’s usage history to determine those connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives as part of authorized investigations . . . .
What’s frightening is that Abdo’s cases aren’t farfetched conjectures. Through PRISM the NSA is already vacuuming up email metadata, email content, live chats and file transfers. The FBI has been using 215 to mine financial transaction records from financial institutions. And XKeyscore is the NSA’s weapon of choice when intercepting “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”.
Once the courts rule that the planet’s most widespread surveillance programs and the laws justifying them constitutional, the government has been given carte blanche to implement radical forms of social control. Legal interpretations like Judge Eagan’s swiftly eliminate constitutional protections from government surveillance. Surveillance was once only legally authorized to be carried out on limited targets who demonstrated probable cause in criminal wrong doing. Now it is implemented in indiscriminate dragnet fashion on millions of unsuspected people and their “tangible things”. Surveillance was once approved in advance by a court on an individual basis. Now it’s approved with a rubber-stamp to conduct blanket record retrievals, sweeping data interceptions and massive eavesdrops.
As public debate about the dangers of Big Brother give way to the spectacle of enforcing international law in Syria (what was last week called war with Syria) the courts continue to embolden The Administration’s consolidation of totalizing surveillance. Legal recourse to curb sprawling surveillance is fading into the realm of non-option.