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Archive for April 3rd, 2012

An onrush of condemnation and criticism kept the SOPA and PIPA acts from passing earlier this year, but US lawmakers have already authored another authoritarian bill that could give them free reign to creep the Web in the name of cybersecurity.

As congressmen in Washington consider how to handle the ongoing issue of cyberattacks, some legislators have lent their support to a new act that, if passed, would let the government pry into the personal correspondence of anyone of their choosing.

H.R. 3523, a piece of legislation dubbed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (or CISPA for short), has been created under the guise of being a necessary implement in America’s war against cyberattacks. But the vague verbiage contained within the pages of the paper could allow Congress to circumvent existing exemptions to online privacy laws and essentially monitor, censor and stop any online communication that it considers disruptive to the government or private parties. Critics have already come after CISPA for the capabilities that it will give to seemingly any federal entity that claims it is threatened by online interactions, but unlike the Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect IP Acts that were discarded on the Capitol Building floor after incredibly successful online campaigns to crush them, widespread recognition of what the latest would-be law will do has yet to surface to the same degree.

Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology tells RT that Congress is currently considering a number of cybersecurity bills that could eventually be voted into law, but for the group that largely advocates an open Internet, she warns that provisions within CISPA are reason to worry over what the realities could be if it ends up on the desk of President Barack Obama. So far CISPA has been introduced, referred and reported by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and expects to go before a vote in the first half of Congress within the coming weeks.

“We have a number of concerns with something like this bill that creates sort of a vast hole in the privacy law to allow government to receive these kinds of information,” explains Burman, who acknowledges that the bill, as written, allows the US government to involve itself into any online correspondence, current exemptions notwithstanding, if it believes there is reason to suspect cyber crime. As with other authoritarian attempts at censorship that have come through Congress in recent times, of course, the wording within the CISPA allows for the government to interpret the law in such a number of degrees that any online communication or interaction could be suspect and thus unknowingly monitored.

In a press release penned last month by the CDT, the group warned then that CISPA allows Internet Service Providers to “funnel private communications and related information back to the government without adequate privacy protections and controls.

The bill does not specify which agencies ISPs could disclose customer data to, but the structure and incentives in the bill raise a very real possibility that the National Security Agency or the DOD’s Cybercommand would be the primary recipient,” reads the warning.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, another online advocacy group, has also sharply condemned CISPA for what it means for the future of the Internet. “It effectively creates a ‘cybersecurity’’ exemption to all existing laws,” explains the EFF, who add in a statement of their own that “There are almost no restrictions on what can be collected and how it can be used, provided a company can claim it was motivated by ‘cybersecurity purposes.’”

What does that mean? Both the EFF and CDT say an awfully lot. Some of the biggest corporations in the country, including service providers such as Google, Facebook, Twitter or AT&T, could copy confidential information and send them off to the Pentagon if pressured, as long as the government believes they have reason to suspect wrongdoing. In a summation of their own, the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, explains that “efforts to degrade, disrupt or destroy” either “a system or network of a government or private entity” is reason enough for Washington to reach in and read any online communiqué of their choice.

The authors of CISPA say the bill has been made “To provide for the sharing of certain cyber threat intelligence and cyber threat information between the intelligence community and cybersecurity entities,” but not before noting that the legislation could be used “and for other purposes,” as well — which, of course, are not defined.

“Cyber security, when done right and done narrowly, could benefit everyone,” Burman tells RT. “But it needs to be done in an incremental way with an arrow approach, and the heavy hand that lawmakers are taking with these current bills . . . it brings real serious concerns.”

So far CISPA has garnered support from over 100 representatives in the House who are favoring this cybersecurity legislation without taking into considerations what it could do to the everyday user of the Internet. And while the backlash created by opponents of SOPA and PIPA has not materialized to the same degree yet, Burman warns Congress that it could be only a matter of time before concerned Americans step up to have their say.

“One of the lessons we learned in the reaction to SOPA and PIPA is that when Congress tries to legislate on things that are going to affect Internet users’ experience, the Internet users are going to pay attention,” says Burman. H.R. 3523, she cautions, “Definitely could affect in a very serious way the internet experience.” Luckily, adds Burman, “People are starting to notice.” Given the speed that the latest censorship bill could sneak through Congress, however, anyone concerned over the future of the Internet should be on the lookout for CISPA as it continues to be considered on Capitol Hill.

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The VSC recently organized a solidarity brigade to Venezuela so that British trade unionists could experience the Venezuelan process firsthand. Catriona Goss (CG), member of the Executive Committee for the British Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) and activist with the Student Friends of Venezuela, talks about the delegation’s success and the need to create international solidarity.

Can you talk a little bit about the delegation, how long you were here in Caracas for and what you did?

CG: The delegation was made up of high level trade unionists, so we had people from UNITE, the NUT, RMT and the UCU, and also some activists from the VSC. They were in Caracas 9 days and we got to see lots of stuff. On the Saturday we went to Plaza Bolivar to the rally with the new Socialist Workers’ Central and we marched up to Miraflores to hear Chavez speak. That was an exciting day to begin with. We also spent one day in Petare and went to the City Council. We heard from people in the area, from the PSUV youth and community councils. We also went to a factory that makes covers for mobile phones, which is all women and also a “food house”, which are political spaces that serve free food. On one day we also went to the headquarters of “El Sistema” music program, and that was really amazing.

What impressed you most out of everything you saw?

CG: I would say the housing mission. We went to Ciudad Belen in Guarenas, it was amazing. To see and speak to people who said “I never would have thought that I’d have a proper house and now I’ve got this wonderful apartment, and I’ve not only got that, but I’ve also got work,” because they are working as well to build the rest of the houses. It was just really inspiring, and I think everyone found that trip quite emotional, just because it was such an impact to see how they are building the whole city and the transportation to get there, along with a new road and expanding metro services.

They are still building lots of it, but they’ve got thousands of apartments already built and people just going about their daily lives. There are schools and playgrounds for the children, they had a PDVAL shop and a little factory with women making t-shirts. It’s amazing to see how much can be done when there is the will to do it; you can completely transform peoples’ lives and build new communities. One guy invited us into his apartment and he was so proud, and he also had out his kids Canaima laptops, and he was working there as well constructing the new apartments. People had such a sense of ownership because they were building their communities together.

You’ve been to Venezuela before. What changes did you notice this time round?

CG: The transformation of spaces, for instance the whole city of Caracas, there are just so many more spaces outside for people to enjoy, like Sabana Grande has been redone, there is so much culture out on the streets. The UNEARTE where you can go and see theater and dance for free any day of the week, people always seemed happy but now they seem more at ease. There are more people out on the streets and enjoying public spaces. Things just seemed to be getting really getting consolidated, the communities being even more organized. People were telling us how much they’d achieved, and the people are really determined to be successful at the elections so they can defend everything they’ve done so far. Everyone on the delegation was really impacted by how politically aware people were and how much people wanted to discuss and debate. Sometimes we’d have meetings and they could have gone on for hours and hours because people had so much to say. We had a wonderful day in Maracay where we had hundreds of trade unionists gathered to do an exchange with us, to compare what’s happening in Europe with Venezuela, with the drafting of the new labor law and the expansion of workers’ rights, whereas in Europe we are going backwards. I think that really impacted on people.

Did you notice a divergence between how the up and coming Venezuelan elections are being presented in the UK press and the actual reality of the situation?

CG: Yes, all we’re hearing in the UK is that Capriles (the opposition candidate) is center-left, you know the Lula of Venezuela, that’s what he’s being portrayed as. And obviously those of us who know more about Venezuela know that that isn’t the case. But that was what is so important about taking people to Petare and listening to the people who actually live there saying look he’s our governor and we don’t even hear from him, they haven’t done anything, they don’t even collect the rubbish on the streets and you can see all the rubbish piled up. And the communities basically saying that the reason we’ve been able to progress is because we are organized at a grassroots level, because we can’t rely on the opposition candidates that we have to do anything for our communities.

I think the main thing for us to do is to challenge what’s being portrayed in the media, that Capriles is the better candidate against Chavez who is supposed to be some dictator. We were lucky enough to see Chavez and to see him speak, and that was important for us because every few weeks here they put out a story saying he’s on his death bed. We have to be constantly challenging the lies to ensure a clean campaign and so at the end we can say, well the Venezuelans have made their choice. We know that they have a transparent and vibrant democracy.

Why do you think these international solidarity brigades are important?

CG: I think it’s so important because when you have an international campaign against what’s going on over there, we need to have a counter-campaign to say what is really happening and to say that Venezuelan sovereignty should be respected and Venezuelan democracy should be respected. Especially when it involves North America and Europe, our politicians who have historically interfered in other countries, it’s so important that the people, the electorate, actually know what’s going on in these other countries so that they can defend them and say “hang on, you shouldn’t be interfering, you should just let the people there decide what they want” and that’s why it’s so important for us to build these links and show solidarity.

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French dissident essayist Alain Soral  reviews the class struggle, opposing the producing-sedentaries and the nomadic -parasitic-predators.

 

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