Posts Tagged ‘ police state

More Encryption Is Not the Solution

I’m always pleased to see the recognition that, ultimately, politics is just people with lots of weapons doing what they want. In this instance, Poul-Henning Kamp, highlights the fact with respect to encryption as a “solution” to revelations about “government” spying.


Nation-states have police forces with guns. Cryptographers and the IETF Internet Engineering Task Force do not.

Several nation-states, most notably the United Kingdom, have enacted laws that allow the police to jail suspects until they reveal the cryptographic keys to unlock their computers. Such laws open a host of due process and civil rights issues that we do not need to dwell on here. For now it is enough to note that such laws can be enacted and enforced.
. . .
Any person can have the right to privacy removed through whatever passes for judicial oversight in their country of residence, so that authorities can confirm or deny a suspicion of illegal activities.
. . .
if a nation-state decides that somebody should not have privacy, then it will use whatever means available to prevent that privacy.

via More Encryption Is Not the Solution – ACM Queue.

The article is short and worth reading. The author is clearly not an economist, “In the past quarter century, international trade agreements have been the big thing: free movement of goods across borders and oceans, to the mutual benefit of all parties. I guess we all assumed that information and privacy rights would receive the same mutual respect as property rights did in these agreements, but we were wrong.”

He also has an unhealthy optimism that the guys with the guns can be persuaded to dismantle the spy agencies (who, I’m sure, have lots of dirt on the guys with the guns); all -in-all the conclusion section is the weakest part of the paper.

Overall, his point is important: as long as institutions exist that are overwhelmingly recognized to have the right to do whatever they please up to and including caging and killing anyone who doesn’t obey, encryption will, at best, protect small handfuls of people. For people generally, a general solution is necessary, which is a delegitimization of the use of force by “government.”

NSA, NDAA and the Relative Risk of “Terrorism”

You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than a terrorist attack. You are 12,570 times more likely to die from cancer, 1000 times more likely to die in a car crash, 87 times more likely to drown, 12 times more likely to accidentally suffocate in bed.

Each day, we fend off death in ways both large and small, we expend our time and energy gathering resources to prevent hunger, thirst, and to protect from the elements. We invest in things to make our houses and transportation safer and more reliable. We buy healthier food and exercise to reduce the likelihood of disease. We choose to spend the “health and safety” portion of our resources on those things likely to threaten our health and safety.

We needs 3/4 million concrete bunkers because . . . TERRORISTS!

There is a vanishingly small chance that you will die from a terrorist attack. More specifically, there is virtually no chance at all that you will die in an attack that would be prevented by military expeditions, national intelligence agencies, domestic surveillance, increased policing powers etc. Almost entirely none. Barely non-zero.

It’s not a new thought and is probably best presented by master of all things security Bruce Schneier, but I find it especially striking with something like this recent NSA “scandal” pops up how much money is going to defend against a complete non-threat.

Putting aside for the moment the epic loss of life and the hyper-Orwellian annihilation of privacy and human rights, the squandering of precious, finite resources is simply staggering.

The amount of wealth that is just being “pissed away,” as my dear old dad would put it, is beyond the mind’s capacity to fathom. Trillions of dollars spent doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Just piles of money set on fire in the name of preventing something that doesn’t happen anyway.

The worst part of this epic destruction of wealth is that it comes from people who actually have real things they need to spend money on! People who have actual health and safety concerns are prevented from using their labor to improve their chances at a long and healthy life. Their money is taken from them and spent on multi-billion dollar NSA data centers and Homeland Security headquarters, which will help the citizens of the country not at all.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the country of Albania built 750,000 concrete bunkers seemingly randomly around the countryside. They were lead by a lunatic, Enver Hoxha, who had everyone convinced that foreign invasion was just around the corner so this tiny piss-poor country build these useless structures instead of anything that would be of any benefit to anyone. That makes no less sense than the absurd, do-nothing, ongoing, “defensive” boondoggle, that is defended at every turn by both political parties and the media.

Seriously. Seriously. This shit is ridiculous. People have real problems to deal with and real dangers to avoid (police are 8 times more likely to kill you than terrorists). I understand that nothing’s going to change–anybody who decides to do something useful with their money instead of funding this worthless police state will be surrounded by well paid and heavily armed men and taken one of the ample prisons that are currently being filled up.

But can we please drop the pretense that it does anything? Can we at least be honest with each other about the value of the “service” we’re involuntarily subscribed to? Listening Harvard educated millionaire (from defense contracts) government functionaries tell me about how scary the “bad guys” are and how we need money to help the “good guys” protect us is beyond insulting.

Now that I’ve matured, I understand that people have deep-seeded emotional needs for safety and protection and that the bullshit illusion of the national security state fills that need. I understand that verbal abuse isn’t helpful and that a peaceful dialog that respects their human desires is what is required to have a win-win conversation.

But between us, this is one of those things where I just want to be like, “YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG AND SHIT IS FUCKED UP BECAUSE YOU’RE SOOOOO FUCKING WRONG!” Alright, alright. I know that’s over simplifying, the inability to see the fucking painfully obvious is only one aspect of a complex and multi-faceted problem . . . deeeep breaths . . . and dialog. Baby steps. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading.

A Typical Crime with an Atypical Victim

One of the leading indicators of the diseased nature of our political system is the dramatic militarization of and the increasingly brazen acts of inhumanity carried out by those calling themselves “law enforcement.” We’ve moved into another era of popular resistance to the existing power structures unseen since the late 1960s. Police are transitioning from the task of the last 40 years–satisfying the racist demands of the power structure by locking-up non-whites for non-crimes–back to the job of cracking down on political dissent and disobedience.

One thing authoritarian thugs will absolutely not countenance is being called out for their thuggery. It’s a rare, brave, and disciplined soul who would even dare to challenge a uniformed police officer–a state agent with the power to do literally anything to any “normal” without repercussions.

One such hero is Austin’s own Antonio Buehler, who attempted to intervene–not physically, apparently he wasn’t suicidal–while cops assaulted a 100 pound woman (pictured) at a gas station early on New Year’s day.

I leave it to you to review the facts of the case, should you be disinclined to accept my opinion. As far as I can tell, Antonio, who was probably the only sober person in Austin at that point in time, did nothing illegal and certainly nothing wrong (and yes, those are largely unrelated categories). His ongoing entanglement with the “justice” system since that night is entirely due to his failure to submit and obey. It’s also a highlight reel for modern american “police work.”

Antonio is facing 10 years in prison for “felony harassment of a public servant.” You see, one officer took a couple minutes off from abusing the young woman to shove Antonio around. When Antonio put his hands in the air and backed away, refusing to engage the officer physically, the cop dragged him to the ground and arrested him. He was accused him of 1. charging the “officer” and 2. spitting in this face.

Historically, Anthony Buehler would be at the whim of the “justice” system and would join the legion of other previously free people about whom some bullshit charge was ginned up for the purpose of putting them in cages for large parts of their lives.

Unfortunately for brazen, legalized thuggery, the 21st century has seen a proliferation of recording devices, and there was somebody across the street videoing the entire encounter. Also unfortunately for those who would lock up a stranger for 10 years just because they want to: Antonio is a pretty industrious fellow. Beside finding the person who recorded the event, he also found other witnesses who were willing to testify to his innocence.

Additionally, he’s actively pursued getting the dashboard camera footage released. As per usual, when they contain evidence of officer misconduct–which is most of the time--the footage is sequestered
while “under review” by some internal investigatory arm
with a 100% track record of clearing officers of their crimes. I’m surprised they even admit the cameras were on and functioning and that no one “lost” the recording media.

Despite all this (and 2000+ signatures on a petition to investigate his assailants , and 6000+ members of the related facebook page), the state is moving forward with its attempt to put Antonio in a cage. It’s reasonably likely, despite being clearly in the right at every point in the encounter, he’ll go to prison. It’s almost certainly the case that, despite committing a series of crimes–and being awful, cretinous human beings to boot–the police involved will continue to roam the streets, abusing people and putting them in cages.

It’s important to focus the mind on the reality that this style of injustice happens to dozens or hundreds of people every single day. Anyone who faces law enforcement without witnesses is entirely at their mercy. Anybody who has already been a victim of the “justice” system (i.e, with a record), or who can’t martial the tremendous amount of mental and material resources to defend oneself against the state is going to prison.

Antonio Buehler happens to be very capable, courageous and motivated, and he had witnesses with recording devices–even he might go to prison.

Along those lines, another important point: do not fuck with Antonio Buehler. Since being attacked, he has started an organization, The Peaceful Streets Project that is distributing video devices to activists in an attempt to provide evidentiary protection to other victims of the police. The group is collecting stories from victims of Austin police, is holding “know your rights” trainings, and is organizing a Police Accountability Summit on July 14.

I’m hoping that his case is high-profile enough that they can’t cage him. As I noted at the start of the post, the state’s “justice” system is transitioning from caging undeclared political prisoners to overt and active dissidents. If the process can be stopped or slowed, it will be through efforts like Peaceful Streets Project and people of honor like Antonio Buehler.

Nothing New in the National Defense Authorization Act

The National Defense Authorization Act (HR 1540) was signed on the last day of 2011. The bill, now law, has been in the non-mainstream news lately because of several clauses that “allow” the indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens without trial.

As always, discussion and skepticism about the claimed authority to cage human beings forever, without a stated reason, and without any recourse is extremely healthy and I applaud anyone who brings the topic up at all[1].

That said, the belief that this power hasn’t always existed under the Constitution is patently incorrect. The indefinite detention of the seditious without trial is as old as “the republic” itself. A typical American lifetime has seen multiple instances of indefinite political mass-detention cloaked in the claim of national defense; ours is unlikely to be any different.

The root of the problem isn’t that the current government is becoming tyrannical, it is already demonstrably so. The root is that the government has always been tyrannical. It has always used prisons and the military/police to kill or cage anyone[2], foreign or domestic, who challenges the existing power structure in a meaningful way. What we’re currently witnessing is simply the increase in numbers of domestic subjects who recognize, to some degree, the nature of the existing structures and who are compelled to challenge them.

The NDAA, then, is just a reminder that you too are subject to indefinite, trial-free detention; or indefinite military detention; or trial-free military detention. You will not, however, be held indefinitely in military detention without a trial, they promise.

Besides not being worth the paper it’s written on, the signing statement will not protect anyone from disappearing whom the government deems to be a threat to “business as usual.” Even the party hacks for the democrats concede that point. Their focus is on the fact that the NDAA claims not to expand current executive power . . . aaand that the executive can currently do whatever it wants to anyone in the world. History, both mainstream and revisionist, reminds us in no uncertain terms that government has always claimed and exercised this power.

Simplistic, though thoroughly sufficent, evidence is offered by the Injustice Everywhere’s worst police misconduct of the year poll[3].
Here you will see a sampling of the thousands of instances of government killing, detaining, and caging human beings without trial.

You could argue that the killers aren’t from the military–not even the federal government in most cases. I would like you to reexamine the trees and keep an eye out for the forest. Putting aside uniform colors and the jurisdictional questions of whose cages/bullets belong to whom, your rulers will not let you disobey in any meaningful way. Even movements as mainstream as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are threatening enough to provoke fear-mongering about domestic terrorists and reminders, like the NDAA, of the price of dissent.

To sum up: the NDAA is a reiteration of the relationship between the subjects and the rulers. The rulers can beat, cage and kill anyone they want at will. There is no systemic recourse to speak of. There are no legal nor practical limits to their power over you within the nation-state framework. Until this observable fact is . . . observed by a critical mass of the ruled, we will continue to exist and live our lives at the pleasure of the power structure.

Update: Glenn Greenwald and Mike Adams do wonkier and better written analyses of NDAA but come to similar conclusions.

  1. [1] I’m definitely not trying to use the “This has always been a problem, so shut up,” technique. Rather, I’m going for, “let’s talk about how f’d up it is that this has always been and continues to be the case.
  2. [2] It will also, without hesitation, kill or cage anyone in the vicinity or of the same race or religion.
  3. [3] I originally misattributed the poll to, another great, illuminating website. Thanks Ademo for the correction