Assange warns of Information Apartheid & Encompassing State: “This is the Last Free Generation”

(By Juan Cole)

Wired notes that Wikileaks activist Julian Assange addressed the Chaos Communication Congress by Skype Sunday. Assange said,

“This is the last free generation
“This is the last free generation… The coming together of the systems of government and the information apartheid is such that none of us will be able to escape it in just a decade.” . . . “We are all becoming part of this state whether we like it or not . . . Our only hope is to help determine what kind of state we will be a part of.”

Assange called on systems administrators to attempt to foil government spying and to volunteer to penetrate security agencies and out their covert practices.

RT reports on the Wikileaks documentary “Mediastan” & interviews Assange and others ”

In the interview, Assange argues that powerful media are inextricably intertwined with government power, on which they profess to report critically. They are constrained from doing so however, since they require access to power in order to report.

He further outlined a generational struggle now being fought out in cyberspace between the 15-35-year-olds, for whom government intrusion is unacceptable, and the baby boomers and their elders, who for the most part acquiesce in this government power and information-grab.

Assange pulled no punches with regard to Russia Today itself, which, he said, has a power interest and is a projection of Russian government interests. He underlined, however, that it is no different in this regard from other press organs, all of which have power interests of their own, and which engage in self-censorship.

It seems to me that Assange is too grudging in his estimation of The Guardian, whose owners and editors took a lot of risks in opposing the GCHQ and the British government, given that the UK has no bill of rights and they were exposed to possible reprisals from the state. Likewise, while it is true that the New York Times and the Washington Post hold revelations back where they are convinced that they would harm US security in an immediate way, they don’t hold that much back and they have taken risks. The Pentagon Papers were the wikileaks of its day, after all.

As for the informational apartheid (the government has all the info, the people much less and very little on the inner workings of government), it is simply a manifestation of the more general Weberian principle of the iron cage of bureaucracy.

In any case, Assange is correct that there is a huge struggle going on about internet privacy. The governments took advantage of their size and budgets to sweep up all the information they could gather on the internet from people, in a wholly lawless way, which they hid from the people who elected them and who pay their salaries. Yet those same governments are relentless bullies to anyone who captures and reveals their information, even when the public deserves to know that information because it pertains to corruption or criminal activity.

The NSA has essentially turned all American computer hardware and software into spyware. It would be illegal for an individual or a gang to do this. It is illegal when the government does it.

In short, James Clapper and Keith Alexander of the National Security Agency should be in jail for extensively and wantonly violating the US constitution and in Clapper’s case for perjury (he lied to Congress about what the NSA was doing). But those two are not in jail. They’re walking around free as birds and still have their jobs! But Edward Snowden, who simply pointed out that they were operating like a criminal cartel, now Snowden is under indictment.

They can spy on you. You can’t make revelations about them. It is a feudal system of lords and peasants, who are by no means equal under the law.

21 Responses

  1. The dilemma here is that even if we fix the NSA, rein it in with laws and budget cuts the problem is still not solved. The Chinese, criminal gangs, hackers all operate the same way as the NSA but will not be effected.

    What is needed is to secure the internet. It was designed in an era when a “gentleman’s agreement” was sufficient to insure a reasonable civility on the net. Those days are over, long over.

    We need all parties, even the NSA, to work together to improve the security of the net. In the past NSA people were members of these standards setting groups and subverted their efforts. When new standards are set everyone will be looking at everyone else with suspicion. This one fact may make the process work this time around.

    We cannot prevent people from trying to spy; we can make it very hard to do.

    • Is the cloud computing sky falling? The problem grows exponentially and we have so little time. One of our two parties won’t even acknowledge that there is a problem. In the democratic sense our country appears to be ungovernable. Following our national interests in foreign policy has become virtually impossible. The country is awash with military weapons. And gradually the gun nuts’ defense that government is the enemy contains little flashes of credibility. Where, after all, are the greatest of all leakers? In prison, in an Ecuadorian Embassy and in that epicenter of civic rectitude, Moscow.

      I’m ordering a copy of “Brazil” so as to most vividly recall the future, and a history of the civil war in Somalia with the same intent.

  2. The most interesting thing about this is the libertarian framing.

    The government isn’t the expression of the popular majority, and a distant “other” against whom we struggle.

    Government officials having power, through their offices, that the general public doesn’t have is some sort of problem.

    Leaving out the corporate data gathering element entirely, and discussing collection purely as a government endeavor.

    Even the misappropriation of a term – apartheid – to put a liberal-friendly face on his argument.

    There are a lot of directions from which one can approach data issues. It’s always interesting to me how Assange’s esoteric techno-anarchism gets folded into more liberal critiques, when in a lot of ways, it doesn’t really fit.

    • libertarian framing

      Where does this meme come from?

      Did you watch the video of Assange’s talk from the CCC?

      His talk – to me – repudiates a libertarian frame. He is arguing that tech workers must collectivize and use their industrial power to alter policy.

      You don’t have to love Assange, but at least recognize that his position on unaccountable power is at least as critical of unaccountable corporate and private sector power as it is of state power. Indeed, the closeness of the two – an understanding of which forms the basis for any sophisticated left critique – is a good reason why we ought not to regard NSA as an “other” against whom we have to struggle, and not as an “expression of popular majority.”

      In what sense is the NSA’s surveillance vortex – which is what Assange is taking aim at here – the “expression of the popular majority”? Yes, it remains nominally within the control of notionally public-sector institutions, although those institutions are riddled with private sector incursions. But the entire thing arose in the last decade or so without so much as a notification, never mind a public consultation. This is an accumulation of structural power that does not answer to – and has up until recently remained invisible to – the popular majority. Ought lefts to remain silent on NSA spying because NSA is a government organization? Why is it that many American lefts remain tepid on this issue because of an apparent reluctance to ‘sound too much like a libertarian’?

      This is a troubling simplification I see very frequently with American lefts: the right hates the public sector and the left hates the private sector and anyone who transgresses against this order should be regarded with suspicion. More and more lately I think this idea does more harm than good. I think on the left we ought to be concerned with structural inequality wherever it manifests itself.

      Government officials having power, through their offices, that the general public doesn’t have is some sort of problem.

      There is no evidence he said anything like that. It’s simply a straw man.

      Leaving out the corporate data gathering element entirely, and discussing collection purely as a government endeavor.

      False.

      It’s always interesting to me how Assange’s esoteric techno-anarchism gets folded into more liberal critiques, when in a lot of ways, it doesn’t really fit.

      I think you should watch his talk and explain how it is not a positive and decisively left-ish development that Assange is advocating that the only way to make serious inroads against the surveillance state is by applying a class analysis to the situation, by collectivizing tech workers, and by means of some form of industrial action.

      • You managed to go three sentences on the topic of Assange’s framing before jettisoning the topic entirely and diving into your take, in your framing, on the underlying issues.

        On topic: the notion that the solution to a political problem is for private-sector actors to conspire together to undermine the government’s capacity, as opposed to engaging in politics, is the very model of a techno-utopian anarchist approach to politics. Are Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden, or any of the actual liberal/leftist critics of the NSA ignoring the political process and calling for industry to roll over the public sector? Or are they calling for government reform through the democratic political process?

        Beyond that point, you just devolve into grouchy “Nuh-uhs,” even ignoring very clear statements from Assange because you don’t want to acknowledge that any critic of the NSA could be wrong about something. I mean, Assange goes into a great deal of effort to explain that “information apartheid” of the government having access to data that the public doesn’t have access to, and I am creating a “straw man” to point that out?

        I refuse to buy into your “with us or with the terrorists” duality. I do not have to agree with Julian Assange, even to the point of ignoring most of what he says out of a determination to be on his side, in order to find fault with the NSA.

  3. You are too kind to the NYT and the WP. In this century, they have hardly served the public interest as did the NYT and the WP of the early seventies.

  4. As the Greeks ignored Cassandra in ancient times so too most Americans will likely ignore Assange and others (e.g., Snowden) like him.

  5. Strikes me his rhetoric was a bit over the top, but on reflection I’m not sure his observations aren’t fairly accurate. And no, its not the result of any well-managed conspiracy, but rather the natural course of bureaucratic momentum and human nature. Until there is an offsetting check societies will stratify, the rich get richer etc, in terms of money and power (information and otherwise). This would would seem to be the natural course of events driven by introduction of new technologies to fallible humans.

    So, we’re now at the point of seeing whether there is such an offsetting force emerging…..or whether we have to wait until the inevitable widespread abuses, at which point dissent may well be impossible.

  6. In my humble opinion, it is just a matter of whether you trust the gov’t with every bit of what you do online. You might allow them to plant a camera in your bedroom. Once you know a foreign gov’t is granted access to all raw data from the information pipelines, it is clear that the national interest is not the goal, or at least not the only one.

  7. But, like, that would impact people’s CAREERS, and Settled Relationships, man! Not to mention the profitable stuff that flows from having All That Information ready to hand, subject to parsing, and convertible to money’n’power…

    Besides, there’s NO PRECEDENT FOR IT! or President, either! And where the skulks and sneaks and peeping-Toms play, down in the dark, there’s an endless history of interconnection and data-sharing and co-ordinate subGames. Check out the staffing improvements of the CIA after WW II, benefiting from the happily incorporated expertise of all those Nazi SS and Sicherheitspolizei including the Gestapo, and those “engineers” who migrated so happily into what became NASA… link to en.wikipedia.org

    • Nope, no excuse at all. The English must have had a difficult time swallowing the “engineer” part of it in gentlemanly silence.

  8. There is no doubt in my mind that all the people who perceive Assange’s opinion as extremist/libertarian are just not paying attention and completely misinformed.
    In fact, considering the gravity of the situation, Assange’s words were of a moderate left tone, calling for an association of IT workers to defend the rights of people. I can’t understand how is that extreme by any means.

    For anyone wanting to actually learn what’s the true state of affairs regarding the NSA, I recommend you watch Jacob Appelbaum’s presentation at the same venue:
    link to twitter.com

    After watching the Appelbaum presentation, ask to yourself the following questions:

    1) If Obama and Congress didn’t know, why aren’t they demanding a halt of operations now they do?

    2) If Obama and Congress can’t stop what the NSA does, why have they kept the general public in the dark, explaining it with outright lies?

    3) If Obama & Congress don’t want to stop NSA criminals, and if they, in fact work for the people, what does that mean? Or if you’re feeling charitable, what do they fear would happen if they did?

    If Obama and Congress don’t know, can’t, or don’t want to stop what Appelbaum showed, the US is effectively under dictatorial rule, and the only remaining question is who is really in charge in the struggle for absolute power.

    • I didn’t read your comment until after I posted mine, sorry to dup yours. It does make you wonder who really runs the so-call govt. of Amerika doesn’t it.

      • I’ll let wiser people than me answer that:

        “I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. ” — Thomas Jefferson

    • Theora, have you ever actually read Assange’s Wikileaks manifesto?

      To say that his vision is not radical or libertarian is an exercise in wishful thinking.

      If you wish to understand and discuss someone’s philosophy, noting that he is on your side on one issue isn’t enough.

      • “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive”
        –Thomas Jefferson.

        Notice for Joe: Jefferson is dead, and he was an American, founder of the United States of America. He was never in touch with any of the very bad philosophies that you demonize.

  9. It is unfortunate that employee coalitions have no such power: morally concerned technologists are bypassed by hirng naive tribal loyalists instead. Right wing bully boys win in business and the dark state.

    The minority concerned with protecting democracy cannot do so where the mass media and elections are controlled by economic concentrations, so moral leadership is lost. The public will to protect those institutions was insufficient in the exuberant emergence of the middle class, and now internal reform is precluded. The plutocracy which digested the democratic organism within this empty suit of armor will stand until it toppled by external economic power.

    The 15-35 year old rebels don’t have a chance: the science of reform within intricately corrupted and elaborately self-defended institutions is not begun, and would only be turned against itself.. Immoral oligarchies have been deposed, sometimes by economic disaster or unrelated wars, but I find no precedent for reconstruction of the spirit of democracy in the people. It can be preserved as a seed within the universities and the dreams of idealists, but many winters will pass before it finds a fertile soil. And even then, the right wing mechanisms of tyranny described in Plato’s Republic, now advanced far beyond the public comprehension, will flourish and bring about its downfall. Perhaps the tree of democracy can flourish only at the periphery of this struggle of the most powerful state with the disease of tyranny, in the small dependent states.

    • Very well said, John. Re: ” The public will to protect those institutions was insufficient in the exuberant emergence of the middle class, and now internal reform is precluded.” it appears that our “good Americans,” like the “good Germans” of an earlier era, are complicit.

      • Yes, complicit and credulous in an improving economy, that the right wing drove that and served them rather than itself. Economic crashes have not brought political reform, and not even economic reform this time. There are rare surprise reforms, and Obama might have used emergency powers to remove gold from elections and mass media, but the democrats emerged as partners of the right wing, and we will be given more excuses and minimalism in the next meltdown.

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