Crafting Gentleness

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New 1984 [from a German Blog]

Happy New 1984 ... is a slogan I heard a lot during the last days at Chaos Communication Congress (24c3). In fact there was a strong demonstration as a part of the congress with 500-1000 people (depending on the sources) against data retention and surveillance: the German data retention law was introduced last year and came into effect today. Very nice action in the middle of after-x-mass hopping at Berlin Alexanderplatz. There's some videos and pictures.(Conference recordings and more links below)

During the demonstration as well as during the conference itself Iwas surprised, and glad, to find that the links between hacking, surveillance, technology and the war on terror seemed almost self-evident. Article 129a, the German law to prosecute terrorism, was mentioned in the demonstration when everybody chanted "We are all 129a" (it rhymes better German) as well as several talks and e.g. during the famous 'Hacker Jeopardy' game show. This year a new category was introduced: 'Brave new world'; and at least one question referred directly to terrorism. My lecture on living with surveillance and blogging about it was starting point for a number of discussions. Isn't it a contradiction to suffer from police surveillance, to not want to have your privacy violated on the one hand and then to go out and seek the most of publicity through blogging and talking at an event like the 24c3? Interesting point and in fact this did made me think about whetherI actually wanted to blog for at least a month before I started. I

am very fond of my privacy. I still advise people to encrypt andto anonymise as much as possible, and luckily the Federal Court ofJustice was kind enough to argue in its decision in October that it is*not* criminal to encrypt emails and that in fact you are perfectly entitled to *not* take your mobile whereever you go and still that's not terrorist in itself.

My point is that I (mostly) don't blog about personal things other than surveillance and how that interferes with our lives (of myfamily, that is). One goal of surveillance is to intimidate and shut you up, at least when it is done in such an obvious way. The threat of locking someone up for years is quite effective.

Talking and writing about it is a way of not accepting to be shut up.

Also I learned that a wide majority of my readers and listeners are extremely shocked about the extent and methods of surveillance 'ina democratic country like ours'. There are a lot of comments saying they'd imagined something like that in China, Russia, Eastern bloc, but not here. This is not so much about my, or our, privacy any more because that was fundamentally destroyed by police and agencies as it is. It's about attacking a privacy, or better secrecy (of intruding into people's lives) the authorities seem to assume and in fact have when they target someone.

At least in Germany it seems that nobody has blogged about what it is like when all available means of surveillance are used against you and what that is like in everyday life. And so while many people are generally aware that this exists and many approve of using these measures against 'real terrorists' a typical reaction was: "But I didn't think they'd use this with ordinary people" (meaning: 'like me'). Of course, just some years ago there was no web 2.0, and getting through to mainstream media with something like this is a whole different ballgame. As was told very impressingly by Annie Machon, former MI5 agent who became a whistleblower.

The number of German phones that are tapped are published every year -close to 40.000 last year. Data retention is in place now, UK has it,I taly has it, Denmark has it, other countries are going to follow and we're far from public outcries about it.

I was stunned to see so many people apparently be genuinely shockedabout our experiences. Through comments to my blog and elsewhere, but also during the CCC Congress - there were hundreds of people in the audience and many expressed the same things after my talk. And these are the very people who deal with surveillance and how to prevent itall the time. In this case blogging seemed to make the difference.

Obviously my ultimate aim is not to shock people. It's a very thin line between giving information about this and scaring people with the result that then they dare to do/say even less. We've seen it- there are students now who wonder whether it's wise to research gentrification.

When I started blogging my main motive was to not have all these crazy little stories stuck in my brain and body. Writing helps. I had hoped to stir debate as a side effect maybe and I am not flattering myself with the idea that my blog will make a big difference. But I do hope now that it'll contribute also to people not wanting to accept this general direction of more control, more 'security', less freedom.

I'd be interested in ideas and comments. Preferably on a only semi-abstract level - e.g. with examples from real life: what worked,what didn't? I am after all more activist than academic ;).

Living my life, living with the terrorism proceedings against my partner and blogging about it didn't leave the time to do this in two languages and so most of my blog posts were (are) in German since my main audience is the German public. At the same time it's not singular and I'm sure very similar things are happening in other parts of the 'civilised world'.

After my (English) talk at the 24c3 someone stood up and offered to translate the blog into English. A wiki site was set up and people are working on this. I have started copying these texts into my blog. You can find these translations plus the few things I wrote in English myself here:

Anna, aka Anne Roth

Links24c3 conference recordings

mp4's e.g. at*mp4

24c3 program

My talkon sevenload:


ipod cpmpatible

Demonstration against data retention

24C3: From the diary of a spy


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