Friday, 8 June 2012

Since When Was The US Constitution A Terrorist's Charter?

I'm friendly with an American organic farmer who practices that most Republican of values, self-sufficiency. She's excited about being able to go out and catch her own fish, which will go in the freezer along with the produce she has grown herself. She tells me she's been put under scrutiny as a possible terrorist because of that. Meanwhile, reports of government officials and their tech company friends across the pond calling protestors anti-democratic and cyberbullies abound in the tech blogs. Haven't they heard of the Constitution?

"Jane's" story

I don't want to embarrass her by indentifying her, but this fine lady is a former soldier who played her part in Gulf War 1. Here's a quote from the email she sent me:
SOPA and PIPA are strong words here as well.  There are many who are threatened, including our business, and now we have to worry about the government monitoring us and deciding whether we are terrorists because we live on a farm and homeschool our daughter.  This political climate is very crazy and not where we saw ourselves five years ago.  Is it too late to swim across and start a new life there?

Amendments I and IV apply here:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I can also make a good case for Amendment XIV: 1
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
"Jane" is a Mormon, she's Green at heart and likes to be at one with nature. At no point has she ever been a threat to anyone; she just lives on her farm growing her own food and making home remedies for mosquito repellent, etc. She's too conservative to get involved with Occupy or any of the militant environmental or animal rights movements. She's a dissenter, not a terrorist, and according to the Constitution, that's allowed.

Why are the Maine authorities picking on her? Is it because organic farming challenges the practices associated with intensive farming? It's a clear case of the my-way-or-the-highway thinking that pervades political thinking on the American Right. Let's take a look at it.

The rise of the Religious Right

Twenty five years ago, a group of hard right religious activists began the process of taking over the Republican Party. They have all but succeeded. Their call for the "restoration of family values" and increased patriotism appeals to the less religiously inclined while their pious bretheren are busy imposing a religious agenda on America, backed by the corporate bigwigs who want to ride a tsunami of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and self-imposed ignorance to a position of uncontested power. Since the Republicans currently own the conservative narrative and will not tolerate dissent, any Republicans I get into conversation with refuse to deviate from the party line. Whatever the prevailing political doctrine is, that's what they believe, and they won't even question it. They're ignoring the erosion of their Constitutional rights in the hope of being on the winning side when their party takes over.


While I'm not really affected by the religiosity, the power-mongering is a problem for me because it's driving their foreign policy. They will settle for nothing less than world domination via military superiority and multilateral and plutilateral treaties with ridiculous intellectual property provisions that are typically negotiated in secret that tighten their grips on our economies, and ultimately, us. By wedding themselves to the Theocrats they can harness their popularity and credibility to push an agenda that demonizes any who don't agree with them and slowly but surely convinces their followers that anyone who is not for them is against them. The result is a country that is largely controlled by the big multinational corporations and run to support their interests. It's causing massive social problems and they're exporting this to our countries so they can do the same where we live. Our governments cave in to their demands despite the threats to our health, democracy, and economies.

The effects on their society

Since the Religious Right encourages ignorance and devalues education, they have to contend with the resulting mass unemployment that is not about a lack of jobs, but a lack of qualified personnel. Since critical thinking is discouraged, stories of police brutality are increasing, along with the ham-fisted stupidity of certain government agencies, which seem to be more interested in looking as if they're getting things done than actually achieving anything. They do themselves no favours when they characterise developers who make privacy encryption software as terrorists. The government is also cracking down on whistleblowers. The problem with the way they go about it is that they give more away than the alleged leakers. Wouldn't downplaying allegations and laughing them off as tinfoil hattery have been more effective than calling for an investigation of "alleged cyber efforts"? If it's an allegation, it's not official.

The problem with cracking down on dissenters and whistleblowers is that it's unconstitutional. You're allowed to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Whistleblowing and dissension occur when those grievances are dismissed or ignored. There wouldn't be an Occupy movement if the government actually paid attention to its citizens and addressed their needs. As it is, if you don't agree with them, you're the bad guy. A terrorist. And when respect for the Constitution is eroded, it becomes little more than a terrorists' charter for wrong 'uns to hide behind, depending on which side of the terrifying nutbag divide you're on.

The effects on us

The increasing US reliance on intellectual property rights (IPR) for their economic security is causing problems for the rest of us as increasingly draconian laws are enacted to benefit these overseas autocrats. With practices like evergreening being added to further ratchet up their rights to their "property," it's going to end with an increasingly small band of multinational corporations owning pretty much everything and claiming license fees for using what we've paid for. In defiance of common sense, when you buy an item containing "intellectual property" you don't actually own it. You're renting it and have to pay license fees for it. This notion of property rights being applied to intangibles means that the people who invest in it as a revenue source are increasingly protective of it because they have put themselves in a vulnerable position. After all, a patent, trademark, or copyright is only as valuable as your determination to defend it.

What this means

What the Constitution says about unreasonable searches and seizures is being ignored by the US government, who increasingly sees the internet as a battleground and insist on controlling it. Meanwhile, their power-grab is being enabled and supported by the IPR-centric industries because they keep passing, or trying to pass, draconian legislation on their behalf. It's a cozy setup. When that doesn't work, they call in that old standby, child pornography, as an excuse to pass laws that permit the blocking of certain websites. This is almost always immediately abused and the usual target is the Pirate Bay. I don't approve of the Pirate Bay because, in my experience, it's a malware-ridden warez-house but I don't approve of blocking it on spurious grounds. That's censorship. And the people behind all these laws are not our own representatives, it's corporate lobbyists from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and it's almost always about IPR.

As I've pointed out to any number of people, not least my representatives in Parliament and the EU, IPR is not just about file-sharing and the internet. It's about everything we do, everything we eat, and our personal health and safety. IPR pervades our civilisations from top to toe and the only way to avoid it is to live in a cave up a mountain or something.

What we can do

I'm an admin at the Internet Freedom Movement and subscribe to the tech and digital rights blogs. I support the Pirate Party. Even the least political of us can do something, though. At the Internet Freedom Movement we post updates on digital rights issues and I've taken to posting the contact details of the people or departments responsible for dealing with the items we're reporting on so people can email them to point out why they're wrong and what the other options are for making money in the digital world without hampering our freedom.

Democracy works

Even though the situation in America is pretty bad, the democratic infrastructure on which that nation is built is still working. That's how we pulled SOPA down. What I'm afraid of is that apathy will erode the democratic process to the point where people are afraid to question the status quo in case they get into trouble for doing so. The strength of the opposition and liberal forces bodes well but they need to gain control of the nationalist narrative so it doesn't become a mainstream belief that you have to be Republican to be American.

The main reason we have to cope with this legislative onslaught in the first place is because we're not doing enough to keep our state officials accountable. By reversing this trend, we get to have more of a say in the way our countries are run, wherever we live.

Email campaigns

Email campaigns have proved highly effective and despire pressure from the corporate lobbyists we persuaded three EU Parliamentary Committees to change their minds about ACTA and reject it as an unreasonable approach to dealing with counterfeiting and online piracy. There's another one to go before the final vote in July. Rick Falkvinge is preparing an email list which I will publish on the Internet Freedom Movement's Google Plus page with a message urging our 11,500+ followers to contact the MEPs to urge them to reject ACTA.

I've already provided an email contact list for the TPP negotiators and the relevant government departments when that information wasn't available. The latest battleground is a hitherto unmentioned treaty between Canada and Europe that I became aware of today. I wrote about it on the IFM page and tagged Glyn Moody, a political and tech blogger and journalist, who then shared it, increasing our reach. Even sharing it helps because if you don't get around to emailing the appropriate people, other people will. So please get involved. It's fun, it's educational, and above all, it's effective.

Email campaigns in which respectful messages are sent to those people whose endeavours we oppose can and do win them over if only because they want to get us on side. If we can convince the powers that be that we can oppose those laws we deem unfair and STILL be loyal, law-abiding citizens, we'll win. What we need to persuade them of is the need to rethink their attitude to intellectual property rights in order to stimulate our economies. If we can convince them that a liberal attitude to innovation and a free internet is a better way to secure revenues, we'll win. And if we can encourage them to engage with us instead of treating us like potential criminals intent on denying them an income, we'll win.

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