Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Abandon Integrity, All Ye that Gain Power?

If we had any doubt of the reason we need to be extra vigilant in our work, this month has provided them in spades. But there is one thing that ties everything together, and that is the matter of integrity, and accountability. Through all the issues, those that take the lead are never held to account. Often, ironically, they do these acts while trying to hold others to account, in some sort of twisted egotistical irony powertrip.

I could have posted this Friday, but I didn’t. Saturday was an option too, but I wanted to wait. Above all I felt a need to slowly think about things, before acting, or saying. Many have let their emotions speak, but while they’re good for the short-term, we need a long term look.

The past week or two has been a turbulent one for many like me. The success of the one-year anniversary since SOPA/PIPA was overshadowed by the tragic (and preventable) suicide of Aaron Swartz, and the launch of Mega on the one-year anniversary of the raid (pretty much to the minute)

Then, through it all the irony of the Martin Luther King speech about freedom, being locked down. To cap it, the one man going to be imprisoned for the waterboarding, is the one who alerted the public, and not one who conducted it.

It’s a conflicting and emotional time in many ways, as many of the issues we pirates are passionate about are hitting landmark points all in a week. And overshadowing it all is Aaron, and his tragic final decision.

I was invited on a Huffington Post Live panel Friday night to discuss some of these issues. With me was Tim Lee (ArsTechnica), Trevor Timm (EFF), and Holmes Wilson (Fight for the Future). I don’t think I did that well, but judge for yourself.

It was actually quite an interesting spread too, you had the tech press, legal, activist, and me with the political aspects. I doubt they could have got a better spread if they’d wanted.

But from the talk there, and the pre-show banter, I took away one thing. We all care about this, and we all want the situation to improve. Sure we’re all young men, but we’ve looked at the situation out there, and see massive problems. We’re all intelligent and hardworking (well, those three are, I wouldn’t say that about myself, because I know it’s not true) and could easily making a shedload of money in any private concern of our choosing. Instead we choose to do this.

We’re also all worried. What happened to Aaron could have happened to any one of us. It could have happened to my kids. It was the actions of people who have become unaccountable , and who point to the system and say ‘just following it’ instead of using their brains, and integrity.

But then half a world away, you have the Dotcom saga. A year to the minute (just about) from the raid, he launched Mega. I gave the service a basic look a few days ago (luckily, before the launch, as demand has made it mostly unusable since) and while it’s not great, it’s not bad. But the launch underscored the legal battle that had gone on for a year.

It’s a very similar case to Swartz, in that there’s an excess of prosecutorial zeal, with those behind it trying to hide behind the letter of the law when under scrutiny, but openly milking things for as much publicity, to sell their side of the story otherwise. I never had the chance to know, or talk to Aaron, but I've a feeling we were on the same page a lot of the time, and a lot of people I know and think highly of, thought highly of him too. While this is not an adequate eulogy on his life, little will be except the kind of change he believed in. Words are just words, the real measure of someone's life is how they changed the world. Aaron, he changed it hugely in his works, and will still continue to do so. He was a larger-than-life person, with larger than life ideals, and ones we're going to be scrambling to aspire to.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Dotcom, and to be honest I can take him or leave him really. I have a number of German friends, and there was some distaste for him from them. His actions and attitudes in general had the same sort of nouveau-riche tasteless tackiness you’d expect from a Premiership footballer or a Real Housewives target.

To have taken a man that’s hard to be unsympathetic about, and give him the chance to completely turn around his public image takes a special lot of work, but the US Gov. managed it. From the overblown military assault, to the more recent revelations that the evidence the DoJ used to justify the raid was there because of… the DoJ.

Again a bunch of people working for special interests, and not for the public good, who are quick for boasting of how hard they’re working and that they’re responsible for these prosecutions when it goes well, only to retreat behind the minutiae of communications and the wording of the laws.

Then we come to SOPA/PIPA one year on. I can’t explain in words here adequately what the causes and solutions are (it’d take WAY too long). If you want that, then maybe listen to a panel on the topic I gave back in September (mp3, ogg).

One thing is certain and that is the contempt we were treated with. We had to pass these laws, we were told, or ‘else’. You know, piracy run rampage, and unchecked, companies go bankrupt because no-one buys anything, seas boil dry, the Rapture, another Rebecca Black video, and so on.

Well, the laws didn’t pass. And things didn’t go as claimed - it turned out none of the bad things happened. In fact, the movie studios had (yet another) record breaking year. Music sales were still good. Also it seemed we didn’t need those new laws to do the things in them either. It just made existing things a bit easier, with a little less accountability and a lower burden of proof.

After 15 years of passing every sordid little whim of industries that want power, but no responsibility, people finally said ‘enough’ and warned that accountability would start.

Want an example? How about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. It was made 50 years ago. He died 45 years ago. It’s still under copyright. No matter how much protection the speech gets, he’s not going to write any more. Yet it’s been taken down repeatedly over the past weekend.

Or the Bradley Manning trial. His military trial found this month that his pre-trial detention broke the rules. As such he’ll get 112 days off any sentence (which assumes he’ll be convicted) but those responsible will get nothing. Nada, Zip, Zilch; for actions which a criminal judge has found to be illegal, no punishment. Did they somehow forget their jobs and go too far on a whim, or is it part of an institutionalized attempt to punish those accused before being convicted?

Or we could mention the CIA and its waterboarding of detainees over the past ten years. Despite the practice being ruled illegal by US courts for centuries (and sometimes recently) it was Okayed. Despite it being against international law and treaty, and against the greater will of the people, and having no substantive value at all, it was approved and performed. And from all these lawbreakers who’s the only one to even be taken to court much less convicted? John Kiriakou, who didn’t perform the acts at all, but confirmed they were used. His crime was bringing some accountability to the government. His sentencing will take place on January 25.

Meanwhile, the man that authorised it (bush) and said it was ok, sits on a ranch in Crawford, Texas. Although his overseas trips and visibility have waned since a group vowed to have him charged with War Crimes, just before a trip to Switzerland in Feb 2011. He cancelled his trip and has had a low profile since.

Tellingly though, is the passing of the American Service-Members Protection Act, which actually prohibits the US, and any US servicemen from assisting the International Criminal Court, to the extent it permits armed action against it (without needing Congressional approval). Thus it gives rise to the informal name of The Hague Invasion Act.

And here we come again to the issue. It’s accountability every time.


Every time, people act in a selfish or self-serving way. These are people who have a public trust. Legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement, the civil services; they’re the cause of the problem we have today. Every time they’re caught out, they claim they’re ‘just doing their job’.

“Just doing your job” is no excuse to act like vile reprehensible vogons. When you take your job serving the public, you don’t discard your humanity. You’re not stripped of any sense of perspective. You most certainly are not given a right to pursue any action you want just because you can. There is no sign over the door saying “abandon all decency ye who enter here”. The more power and influence you have, the less accountable you are.

Accountability as a function of Power or influence
By K`Tetch  CC-0

And yet, that’s what we now have. All these cases have one thing in common. They put the good to society – the cost of the actions as a whole – and any sense of proportion to one side, because it may help further their careers or goals.

Berman, Smith and the other SOPA/PIPA sponsors were after more campaign funds from a media industry that could be shown ‘they were on your side’. Ortiz was looking for easy headlines, so that a run for the Governor’s office might be attainable, and headlines and a reputation regardless. The DOJ wanted to have a strong don’t mess with us’, and support the media industries (where many of the top cadre of lawyers had come from, and where they presumably will return) for the Dotcom raid.

Only now are we seeing any sort of accountability, and even then there’s resistance. Ortiz has said she has done nothing wrong (TWICE). The DOJ is hiding behind technicalities in the Megaupload case, and despite being comprehensively panned by the citizens, the same sorts of things are still suggested and hinted at.

Now we have the 6 strikes scheme, which again has no sort of accountability for false claims, but acts purely on accusation. Again, no recourse for false claims, but penalties if someone makes a claim against you.

It’s absurd.

And it is all because no-one is held to task for their actions and their motives.

It’s sickening, and it’s time we put a stop to it, once and for all.

Things are now starting to change, but slowly. We all need to get behind it and work hard to make the changes that happen; to push for what is right, not just for us, or for our employer, but for our society, and our future.

Start telling the truth. Tell people when they’re wrong, correct them and point them towards resources so they don’t make the same mistakes again. Hound your lawmakers, and let them know that governance without accountability is tyranny. Most importantly, ask questions and DEMAND answers, REAL answers, based on evidence, citing sources.

It’s only when we as people can start embracing truth, and accepting responsibility, can we move on once again as a civilization.

This piece was also published at Falkvinge on Infopolicy and is released under a CC0 license

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