Free speech vs. surveillance in the digital age

Greetings!  I’m Nico Trimoff, manager of transcription and accessibility services at
Are you often confused about the difference between free speech and surveillance in the digital world?  Is it becoming more and more of a concern to you?  Well, I have a really great article for you to read and I hope you find it of interest.
I wish you a great day.
Free speech vs. surveillance in the digital age

By  Amy Goodman, June 24, 2009
Tools of mass communication that were once the province of governments and
corporations now fit in your pocket. Cell phones can capture video and send
it wirelessly to the Internet. People can send eyewitness accounts, photos
and videos, with a few keystrokes, to thousands or even millions via social
networking sites. As these technologies have developed, so too has the
ability to monitor, filter, censor and block them.
A Wall Street Journal report this week claimed that the “Iranian regime has
developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one
of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring
the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online
communications on a massive scale.” The article named Nokia Siemens Networks
as the provider of equipment capable of “deep packet inspection.” DPI,
according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “enables Internet
Service Providers to intercept virtually all of their customers’ Internet
activity, including Web surfing data, e-mail and peer-to-peer downloads.”
Nokia Siemens has refuted the allegation, saying in a press release that the
company “has provided Lawful Intercept capability solely for the monitoring
of local voice calls in Iran.” It is this issue, of what is legal, that must
be addressed. “Lawful intercept” means that people can be monitored, located
and censored. Global standards need to be adopted that protect the freedom
to communicate, to dissent.
China has very sophisticated Internet monitoring and censoring capabilities,
referred to as “the Great Firewall of China,” which attracted increased
attention prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. A document leaked before a
U.S. Senate human rights hearing implicated Cisco, a California-based maker
of Internet routers, in marketing to the Chinese government to accommodate
monitoring and censorship goals. The Chinese government now requires any
computer sold there after July 1, 2009, to include software called “Green
Dam,” which critics say will further empower the government to monitor
Internet use.
Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, a media policy group, says
the actions of Iran and China should alert us to domestic surveillance
issues in the U.S. He told me: “This technology that monitors everything
that goes through the Internet is something that works, it’s readily
available, and there’s no legislation in the United States that prevents the
U.S. government from employing it. … It’s widely known that the major
carriers, particularly AT&T and Verizon, were being asked by the NSA
[National Security Agency], by the Bush administration … to deploy
off-the-shelf technology made by some of these companies like Cisco.” The
equipment formed the backbone of the “warrantless wiretapping” program.
Thomas Tamm was the Justice Department lawyer who blew the whistle on that
program. In 2004, he called The New York Times from a subway pay phone and
told reporter Eric Lichtblau about the existence of a secret domestic
surveillance program. In 2007, the FBI raided his home and seized three
computers and personal files. He still faces possible prosecution.
Tamm told me: “I think I put my country first … our government is still
violating the law. I’m convinced … that a lot more Americans have been
illegally wiretapped than we know.”
The warrantless wiretapping program was widely considered illegal. After
abruptly switching his position in midcampaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted
along with most in Congress to grant telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon
retroactive immunity from prosecution. The New York Times recently reported
that the NSA maintains a database called Pinwale, with millions of
intercepted e-mail, including some from former President Bill Clinton.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was recently asked by Sen. Russ Feingold
if he felt that the original warrantless wiretap program was illegal:
Feingold: “[I]s there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless
wiretapping program was illegal?”
Holder: “Well, I think that the warrantless wiretapping program, as it
existed at that point, was certainly unwise, in that it was put together
without the approval of Congress.”
Feingold: “But I asked you, Mr. Attorney General, not whether it was unwise,
but whether you consider it to have been illegal.”
Holder: “The policy was an unwise one.”
Dissenters in Iran and China persist despite repression that is enabled in
part by equipment from U.S. and European companies. In the U.S., the Obama
administration is following a dangerous path with Bush-era spy programs that
should be suspended and prosecuted, not extended and defended.
Amy Goodman is the co-founder, executive producer and host of Democracy
Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on
more than 450 public broadcast stations in North America.

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