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Wikileaks again

by Henry on January 6, 2011

This “Vanity Fair”:http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2011/02/the-guardian-201102 piece on the journalistic politics of Wikileaks is well worth reading – it’s the most comprehensive account of the evolving relationship between Wikileaks, the Guardian and other news organizations that I’ve seen. I _think_ (this perhaps reflects my preconceptions as much as anything else) that the piece provides implicit support for two propositions. [click to continue…]

Wikileaks: A Modest Defence

by Henry on December 22, 2010

Gideon Rachman wrote a somewhat arch “article”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/61f8fab0-06f3-11e0-8c29-00144feabdc0,s01=1.html#axzz182N9peXP last week, suggesting that the US should give Julian Assange a medal for “inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.” I wasn’t really convinced by his argument (I am far from sure that he was fully convinced himself), but “this Bloomberg piece”:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-22/wikileaks-joins-forces-with-billionaire-lebedev-gorbachev.html perhaps suggests a more convincing justification.

bq. Novaya Gazeta, the Moscow newspaper controlled by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and billionaire Alexander Lebedev, said it agreed to join forces with WikiLeaks to expose corruption in Russia.

bq. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which publishes secret government and corporate documents online, has materials specifically about Russia that haven’t been published yet and Novaya Gazeta will help make them public, the newspaper said on its website today. “Assange said that Russians will soon find out a lot about their country and he wasn’t bluffing,” Novaya Gazeta said. “Our collaboration will expose corruption at the top tiers of political power. No one is protected from the truth.”

I’ve been reading Evgeny Morozov’s “forthcoming book”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586488740?ie=UTF8&tag=henryfarrell-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1586488740 on how the Internet _doesn’t_ release magically sparkling freedom-and-democracy ponies that transform autocracies into thriving civil societies etc, which has an interesting discussion of Russia. As Morozov notes, there is relatively little active censorship of the Internet in Russia. Instead, authorities rely on friendly websites that they can rely on to pump out useful disinformation. They can also lean on Russian’s widespread (and partially justified – if I had been the victim of Sachs, Shleifer & co’s experiments in creating a market in a vacuum, I would not have warm fuzzy feelings myself) distrust of information and policy prescriptions from the West, to prevent alternative accounts from leaking through from international media. The result is a country where the government is usually able to shape public debate with a high degree of success. Alternative viewpoints are not so much censored as shouted down.

But Wikileaks – precisely because the US government hates it so vociferously – arguably has much better street-cred than any number of Western-funded civil society grouplets. It doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a US front group . The plausible result is that Russians may be more inclined to trust it than foreign funded media, or, perhaps, domestic news sources which are too obviously biased in favor of the government.

None of which is to say that such trust would be entirely justified if it is given. Precisely because Wikileaks seems independent, it is likely to present irresistible temptations to e.g. intelligence agencies as a laundry-shop for information and disinformation. Nor, for that matter, is Lebedev devoid of political self-interest. But if Wikileaks succeeded in either becoming a major news source in itself, or of transferring some of its legitimacy to news sources which relied on information from it, it would help inject a little diversity into Russian public debate. Not that the US government should be giving it medals still – this would obviously be self-defeating. But to the extent that the US wants to see some opening up of kleptocracies like Russia, it might, in the long run, tacitly end up preferring a world with Wikileaks to one without it.

I have a legal question about the Wikileaks case, prompted by this this Guardian piece, by John Naughton, linked in Henry’s comments. I must confess: I wasn’t surprised or particularly scandalized when Amazon kicked Wikileaks off its cloud, because I figured Amazon was probably technically in the right. Wikileaks had probably violated whatever terms of service were in place. I thought this sounded like the sort of thing any private company was likely to do, whether or not Joe Lieberman actually brought pressure to bear. If you have a problem customer who has violated your terms of service, you terminate service. (Just to be clear: I think ongoing attempts to shut down Wikileaks in patently legally dodgy ways are an utter scandal. Joe Lieberman pressuring Amazon is a scandal. I’m with Glenn Greenwald. I also think existing intellectual property laws are, by and large, an atrocious mess. Still, the law is what it is, so the question of how a private company like Amazon can and should be expected to react to this sort of situation is narrower than certain other more general questions about free speech and the press and so forth.)

My thought was this: Wikileaks obviously can’t own the copyright, so Amazon should not be expected to be slower to shut them down than they would be to shut down someone hosting pirate copies of Harry Potter novels. An annoying consideration, because it’s perfectly obvious that, if there is a good reason to take Wikileaks down, it isn’t because it’s like Napster in its glory days, or whatever. But there you go. But the Guardian piece says this is wrong: [click to continue…]

State Power and the Response to Wikileaks

by Henry on December 8, 2010

The US response to Wikileaks has been an interesting illustration of both the limits and extent of state power in an age of transnational information flows. The problem for the US has been quite straightforward. The Internet makes it more difficult for states (even powerful ones such as the US) to control information flows across their own borders and others. It is much easier than it used to be for actors to hop jurisdictions by e.g. moving a particular Internet based service from one country to another, while still making it possible for people across many countries to access the service. This makes it much harder for the US and other actors to use the traditional tools of statecraft – their jurisdiction does not extend far enough to stop the actors who they would like to stop.

However, there is a set of tools that states _can_ use to greater effect. The Internet and other networks provide some private actors with a great deal of effective transnational power. Banks that operate across multiple jurisdictions can shape financial flows between these jurisdictions. Information companies may be able to reshape flows of information in ways that advantage or disadvantage particular actors. These private actors are often large, relatively immobile, and partially dependent on state approval for their actions. They thus provide a crucial resource for states. Even if states cannot _directly_ regulate small agile actors outside their jurisdiction, they can _indirectly_ regulate them by pressganging big private actors with cross-jurisdictional reach. A few years ago, the US found itself unable to regulate Internet gambling firms which were based in Antigua and selling their services to US customers. But the US _was_ able to tell its banks that they would suffer legal and political consequences if they allowed transactions between US customers and Antiguan gambling firms, helping to drive the latter out of existence.

This is the topic of my “least cited article evah”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/annreview.pdf (PDF), where I argue that:

bq. states are not limited to direct regulation; they can use indirect means, pressing Internet service providers (ISPs) or other actors to implement state policy. For example, states might require ISPs to block their users from having access to a particular site, or to take down sites with certain kinds of content. More generally … a small group of privileged private actors can become “points of control”–states can use them to exert control over a much broader group of other private actors. This is because the former private actors control chokepoints in the information infrastructure or in other key networks of resources. They can block or control flows of data or of other valuable resources among a wide variety of other private actors. Thus, it is not always necessary for a state to exercise direct control over all the relevant private actors in a given issue area in order to be a successful regulator.

And this is exactly what the US is doing in response to Wikileaks. I have no doubt that it was US political pressure which caused Amazon to stop hosting Wikileaks, EveryDNS to break Wikileaks.org’s domain name, eBay/Paypal to stop facilitating financial transactions, Swiss Post to freeze a Wikileaks bank account (in perhaps the first instance in recorded history of a Swiss bank taking residency requirements seriously), and Mastercard and Visa to cease relations with it. This is unlikely to affect the availability of the information that Wikileaks has already leaked. But it may plausibly affect the medium and long run viability of Wikileaks as an organization. This will be a very interesting battle to watch.

Crossposted (with very slightly different text) from “The Monkey Cage”:http://www.themonkeycage.org.

The shameful attacks on Wikileaks

by Chris Bertram on December 7, 2010

If you aren’t reading “Glenn Greenwald”:http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/06/wikileaks/index.html on this, you should be. The latest turn of the screw is that “Visa have said”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11938320 they are suspending payments. The good news is that, at least for Europe, this will take time to implement. The Wikileaks donations page is currently “here”:http://213.251.145.96/support.html

Tom Slee on Wikileaks

by Henry on December 6, 2010

This “post”:http://whimsley.typepad.com/whimsley/2010/12/wikileaks-shines-a-light-on-the-limits-of-techno-politics.html is uniformly excellent, but this is _especially_ good and pithy.

bq. The openness question is always contingent, and to phrase political questions in terms of data is sidestepping the big issue. Your answer to “what data should the government make public?” depends not so much on what you think about data, but what you think about the government. Everyone is in favour of other people’s openness.

Tu quoque revisited

by John Quiggin on January 12, 2017

Slightly lost amid the furore over the alleged Trump dossier was the news that Trump had held a meeting with leading antivaxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As is usual, particularly with the Trump Administration, accounts of the meeting differed, with RFK claiming Trump had asked him to lead an inquiry into vaccine safety and Trump apparatchiks denying any firm decision had been made.

This interested me because, on the strength of sharing his father’s name, RFK Jr was, for many years the poster child for those on the right who wanted to claim that Democrats were just as anti-science as Republicans. (I’ve appended a post from 2014, discussing this.) Now he’s eager to work for Trump.

I pointed out the likely emergence of vaccination as a partisan issue in another post. Lots of commenters were unhappy about it, and it’s true that it’s unfortunate in the same way as is the partisan divide on global warming, evolution and just about any scientific issue that has political or cultural implications. But, whether we like it or not, it’s happening and likely to accelerate. The sudden reversal in Republican views on Putin, Wikileaks and so on illustrates the force of loyalty to Trump. We can only hope that, for once, his team’s denials turn out to be correct.

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Michael Lind of _New America_ has a Theory about why politics is so screwed up. It’s worth quoting in extenso:

Science fiction traditionally has had the task of providing us with alternative visions of the future. For the most part, it has done a terrible job. The main reason for its failure is that it assumes global uniformity. …

In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. … The assumption of uniform conditions in the world of tomorrow saves science-fiction authors and screenwriters the trouble of explaining the Sino-Indian dispute of 2345 AD, allowing them to concentrate on the plot and the main characters. But it is completely unrealistic.

…even in an industrialized world of wage workers and cities, the gaps between rich and poor regions are likely to remain enormous. Even as some backward areas catch up, innovative regions will shoot ahead. …

Great-power rivalry, demographic collapse, mass migration — three of the major forces reshaping the world — have been all but completely absent, both from classic science fiction and newer novels and movies that have shaped public consciousness. … Unfortunately, literary and cinematic visions of the future influence the way the public and the policymaking elite think about the future. This is particularly a problem for the left … Meanwhile, from the early 20th century to the early 21st, many centrist liberals have put their hopes in international institutions — the League of Nations, the United Nations, or, more recently, projects of trans-national regionalism like the European Union.

Today’s national populists are told that they are on the wrong side of history, by elites whose members claim to speak on behalf of an emerging world community. But maybe the populists and nationalists are on the right side of history and the elites have been duped by bad science fiction.

Well, in fairness, it isn’t nearly as creepy as blaming it all on international bankers or the Rothschilds

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Shock and Aw, we knew it already

by John Holbo on October 8, 2016

So Trump said something truly horrible in 2005. And, it would seem, Hillary’s Wall Street speeches have leaked. Or bits. And internal emails concerning them. (I guess it could turn out that these have been doctored by the Russians, in collaboration with Wikileaks. But it looks like the real deal.) This is going to make that Town Hall debate hot. But, as bombshells go, it’s hard for me to imagine anything less surprising. Everyone already knew – how could it not be? – that Clinton said cosy-cosy stuff to Wall Street folks. And Trump? Is there a single person on the planet surprised that he talks this way? (And surely it isn’t just talk.) Dog bites man. Donald gropes woman. His defenders aren’t even feigning surprise. [click to continue…]

Cash and freedom

by Chris Bertram on February 16, 2016

Paul Mason has an article today [about the impending end of cash](http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/15/crime-terrorism-and-tax-evasion-why-banks-are-waging-war-on-cash). The subtitle asks “But what would a cashless society mean for freedom?” but sadly the article itself has little to say on the subject. It isn’t hard to see, though, that the end of cash would give governments almost unlimited power to deny resources to those they consider undesirable. We’ve already seen this with the way that the Obama administration successfully pressured the major credit card companies to block donations to WikiLeaks. And it is a key component of the UK’s rather horrible Immigration Bill 2015 which has as a central purpose to create a “hostile environment” for people who lack authorization to be on the territory of the state by, inter alia, “working with banks and building societies to restrict their access to bank accounts”. In practice this means that people whose right to remain is cancelled could almost immediately lose access to the resources they need to fight the administrative decision against them. History shows that technologies that are first piloted against one group of people can be extended to others. We face a future where people deemed by the executive to be problematic in some way could lose access to all means of payment. At least with cash you can subsist on the margins of society; without it, government control is potentially total. Perhaps this is coming sooner than we think?

Why TPP sucks

by Susan Sell on June 12, 2015

On June 10th the Washington Post’s editorial page chastised Congress for “making free trade difficult”. Champions of Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to label all skeptics as “opponents of free trade.” Many skeptics actually favor free trade, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership appears to be less about “free trade” and more about domestic regulatory harmonization. The post-WWII trade regime has been very successful in its aims of reducing tariffs and barriers to trade, expanding global market access, and integrating new players into the global trade regime. The spectacular economic rise of countries such as China, India, and Brazil is testament to the value of the trade route to lift millions out of poverty.

The House may vote on Trade Promotion (“Fast Track”) Authority (TPA) as early as Friday, June 12th. The Senate has already voted in favor of TPA and Obama has been working hard to get skeptical House Democrats on board to support it. If the House grants Obama TPA, it ties its hands to an “up or down” vote on TPP with no possibility for amendment. There is much at stake and citizens and representatives need to know who is drafting it, what it means for US democracy and sovereignty, and the effects it will have on public health. [click to continue…]

Through the looking glass

by John Quiggin on May 10, 2015

The New York Times has a piece about Obama’s push to gain “fast-track” authority for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would preclude any amendments by Congress after the deal (still secret, except for what Wikileaks has revealed) is announced. The key para, buried a fair way down

To the president, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would counter the economic weight of China and set rules on labor, the environment, intellectual property and investor protections for the growing economies of the Pacific Rim. For members of Congress, it’s about jobs.

shows how differently the debate is playing out in the US compared to other countries involved, such as Australia, and how much leading papers like the New York Times are missing the point

In the Australian debate, it’s generally understood (based on both economic modelling and past experience) that there won’t be much effect on jobs either way, at least not through the direct effects on trade. For the critics (just about everyone on the left), it’s precisely the “rules on labor, the environment, intellectual property and investor protections” that represent the big concerns. All of these rules benefit corporations at the expense of workers, the environment, the free flow of information and national sovereignty. It’s the general strengthening of corporate power, and not the flow of goods, that will harm jobs, wages and working conditions Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions, for example, have been used to challenge minimum wage laws.

Leading US critics like Elizabeth Warren and the AFL-CIO have raised some of these points, noting (for the benefit of Republicans in particular) that the ISDS provisions will enable unaccountable arbitrators to override US federal and state laws.

The use of trade deals as an instrument of geopolitics is also unwelcome for a country like Australia that needs to balance itself between the US and China. Despite its enthusiastic support for the US and the TPP deal, the conservative government here signed up to join China’s regional infrastructure bank, developed largely in response to China’s exclusion from the TPP.

But US news coverage can’t seem to get out of a frame set by the trade deals of last century, such as NAFTA.

More on US hypocrisy

by Henry on February 24, 2014

The piece that Marty Finnemore and I wrote on US hypocrisy and Snowden has led to a follow up debate at Foreign Affairs. Michael A. Cohen of the Century Foundation wrote a rebuttal to our piece; Marty and I wrote a response to the rebuttal. Foreign Affairs allows us to put up a version on the WWW for six months – so here it is, for comments, disagreement etc.
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Hypocrisy (Is The Greatest Luxury)

by Henry on October 22, 2013

Martha Finnemore and I have a piece in the new Foreign Affairs (http://fam.ag/1eGsdT1 should get you past the paywall for the next few weeks) on Snowden, Manning, and how it’s suddenly more difficult for the US to rely on hypocrisy. Update – full article below fold.

The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.

Few U.S. officials think of their ability to act hypocritically as a key strategic resource. Indeed, one of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices — and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.

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Not long ago, I read Daniel Ellsberg’s[1] autobiography, Secrets, and also watched the film, The Most Dangerous Man in America. A striking feature of the book was that Ellsberg’s biggest problem in leaking the Pentagon Papers was the logistical difficulty of making 20 or so copies of a 7000 page cache of documents. It took him and a couple of helpers several months, IIRC. 

Now of course, such a task is easy, as demonstrated by Ellsberg’s successor (allegedly Bradley Manning) who supplied vast quantities of classified documents to Wikileaks. On the other hand, if Ellsberg had been 20 or so years earlier, he wouldn’t even have been able to make a single copy. [2]

Our blackout yesterday as a protest against SOPA and PIPA reflects a simple fact about the Internet – it is, in essence a way of making and distributing vast numbers of copies of documents of all kinds.

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