The Internet Party: A progressive force?

Kim-Dotcom-and-Internet-Party-logo--Getty-Images

By Byron Clark, Fightback (Christchurch).

The Internet Party is going to fundamentally change this country’s political landscape, apparently. It’s unusual for a party that has not registered with the electoral commission, and who haven’t announced any concrete policy or candidates, to be viewed in such high regard by the media, yet we are seeing comments like “something fantastic is brewing for New Zealand and I for one am watching happily as it unfolds,” from Derek Handley in the National Business Review, the publication that for one reason or another has given the party the most coverage. “Kim Dotcom will unleash the force of innovation and the internet in the electoral and democratic process,” claims Handley, what exactly he means by that is unclear.

The vague policy points that Internet Party have so far around issues of surveillance and high speed internet are not exactly new and exciting. “The emergence of the Internet Party is somewhat frustrating for the Greens,” writes former Green MP and intelligence spokesperson Keith Locke on The Daily Blog, “given that pretty much all of the Internet Party’s policies (such as internet freedom, defending privacy and withdrawing from the Five Eyes) are already Green policy.”

Locke seems to agree the the new party will be significant though, stating that “the Internet Party and the Greens, together, will be able to push [these issues] more strongly in the election,” and that “the Internet Party helps legitimise Green policies,” implying the policies of parliament’s third largest party need to be legitimised by what could turn out to be nothing more than the latest plaything from the mind of an eccentric millionaire.

Maybe its not the policy that is exciting, but how that policy comes to be. For Vikram Kumar, the former CEO of Kim Dotcom’s Mega.co.nz service who resigned to become general secretary of the new party, “the process of making the Internet Party’s policies, in an inclusive and engaging manner, is as important as the policies themselves.” Presumably Kumar envisions an Internet based system for determining policy. Again this isn’t particularly new, democratic parties have always use some mechanism to create policy, there is nothing  fundamentally different if such a system uses the most up to date communication technology.

The German Pirate Party, with whom the Internet Party has been compared (though ‘Pirate’ is probably a word they are keen to avoid given Dotcom’s circumstances) who have several MPs use an online system called ‘Liquidfeedback’ to shape policy, but the system doesn’t yield anything  particularly profound. “The ridiculous truth about the Pirates,” German Green MP Volker Beck told an interviewer in 2012, “is that they take our proposals from parliament and put in in their Liquidfeedback to discuss… they are taking up our content and [proposing it] as their own”

Liquidfeedback does even less good when the Party is voting on issues of little concern to its membership, when members don’t bother using it. The magazine Der Spiegel  described it as “a grassroots democracy where no one is showing up to participate”.

“The Internet and technology are tools and ways of thinking,” writes Kumar. He is only half right. Somewhat confusingly he states that “Technologists know… that technical solutions to essentially political or business problems don’t work,” but also “it is up to us, whether by design or plodding along, to build a future for New Zealand we want. I believe the Internet Party can catalyse discussions about both the design itself as well as the need for a design in the first place. It’s not only what the State does but how.”

If by “design” he means reshaping the democratic process with a Liquidfeedback type system the future will likely be dead on arrival.

A left-wing option?

With policies most in common with The Green Party the Internet Party appears to be a left-wing option, the involvement of blogger Martin Bradbury, and former Scoop.co.nz editor Alistair Thompson lend credence to that idea. Kim Dotcom however is a capitalist by any definition. He is anti-establishment in that he represents a new media group of capitalists who are going up against states who have taken the side of the old media elite.

When manufacturing based industries began to decline in the USA and intellectual property based industry (such as film, music and software) became a substantial part of the American economy, laws were written to favour copyright holders and protect intellectual property. Among other changes, copyright terms were extended and copyright violation was turned into a criminal offence rather than a civil matter.

While New Zealand may seem a long way from the US, that didn’t stop Dotcom’s mansion being raided by armed police due to alleged copyright violation. Something that should seem ridiculous. In fact,  leaked US embassy cables from the trove released by Chelsea Manning show that a great deal of lobbying went into an effort for local intellectual property laws to reflect those of the USA.

The lobbying efforts for US-friendly copyright and intellectual property law continue through the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPA), with John Key’s trip to Hollywood, and intellectual property negotiators from the US Trade Representative’s Office visiting Wellington.

Dotcom can take a populist anti-TPPA position that is no way in conflict with his business interests, such as when he told Russia Today two days before the announcement of the Internet Party, “What Hollywood is trying to do is basically to turn the internet into a totally censored and controlled network to their liking, and that’s what I’m fighting against.”

He’s not alone of course, no doubt Amazon.com would like to see copyright reform that let them create thousands of new ebooks that could be sold cheap but profitably without paying royalties to the authors, and Google would love to stream every possible movie and TV show on Youtube (with their own advertising of course).

But while the founders of Google and the CEO of Amazon.com are among the 85 people who together own more wealth than half the planets population, Kim Dotcom is relatively small player, allowing him to keep his folk-hero status even at a time when the wealthy are increasingly disliked and distrusted.

Kumar wrote in his NBR piece that, “the things that New Zealanders typically care about when voting can all benefit significantly from the Internet and technology. This includes the economy, jobs, health, education, and inequalities.” He doesn’t elaborate on how ‘the internet’ or ‘technology’ will solve inequality, in fact he goes on to say that “technological innovation not only perpetuates but amplifies societal divides.”

If not left, then what?

Some have been quick to label the party as ‘libertarian’, a political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens. Certainly the announced policies of the Internet Party would not be out of place in a Libertarian manifesto. Pure libertarianism with its talk of dismantling the welfare state and abolishing the minimum wage has never been popular in New Zealand for obvious reasons (as we go to press the electoral commission has just deregistered the Libertarianz Party, most likely meaning they now have less than 500 members).

The Internet Party is unlikely to veer to that extreme, and more than likely it will want public money to fund the broadband internet infrastructure required for the high-tech future they appear to envision, as well as expecting the state to pick up the tap for the education required to create ‘internet-economy’ IT professionals, in line with how things are done in actually-existing capitalism.

The question must be asked though, with all the talk of innovation and entrepreneurship; quickly moving on from the brief mention of inequality Kumar praises “technologists” Rob Fyfe of Air New Zealand and Sir Ralph Norris of ASB Bank. Kumar then asks readers to “consider the simple yet immensely powerful call from the late Professor Sir Paul Callaghan for New Zealand to be a country where talent wants to live.” How would Internet Party MP’s vote on issues such as raising the business and high income tax rates to fund social programmes? Or bringing about protections for casualised workers?

But will they get anywhere?

Despite the hype, there has been no obvious groundswell of support for the Internet Party. While the press release for the first Roy Morgan poll conducted since the party was announced noted their existence, they failed to make a showing in the actual poll. Perhaps when the party registers with the electoral commission, announces some candidates and policy and begins a campaign funded out of Kim Dotcom’s deep pockets they will improve their polling, but its hard to say for certain.

Much of the media optimism about the Internet Party has spoke of their potential to bring members of generation Y who didn’t vote in 2011 to the polls. This view is somewhat condescending – members of this generation have concerns greater than their internet speed, things like student debt, insecure work and the falling prospect of home ownership, just to name a few examples. While digital populism may motivate some young voters, the Internet Party does not represent the alternative needed to address these concerns.

While progressives may share some common ground with the Internet Party, there is no sign that it represents a progressive force.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Chelsea Manning’s gender identity

article by Anne Russell, reprinted from Scoop.co.nz.

The Queer Avengers (Wellington) are holding a solidarity action with Chelsea Manning on 2pm Saturday the 7th of September, at the US Embassy [Facebook event]

For the most part, gender minorities operating in the public sphere are recognised by their gender first and the content of their work second. This is why Rolling Stone articles on“Women Who Rock” kettle together artists as musically and lyrically diverse as Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott and Sleater-Kinney, as though ‘woman’ is a subgenre of music. Even at comparatively progressive activist events, cisgender women and transgender people—particularly trans* women—rarely dominate the overall speaker line-up. Rather, they are given separate sessions to discuss sexism and/or transphobia, implying that these issues are only problems for the oppressed parties in question.

In contrast, issues like mass surveillance and military crimes are framed as issues that everyone should be concerned about, evidenced recently by the scale of controversy around the NSA leaks and the recently-passed GCSB Bill. This is not to say that they are not important or damaging problems, merely that they receive much more cultural attention than the routine struggles of oppressed gender minorities. While the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning was hitherto widely considered a hero in radical movements, figures like radical activist and trans* woman Sylvia Rivera are not widely known outside the trans* rights movement itself. It is arguable that the activist world, like everywhere else, is still somewhat divided into gendered categories, at least on a surface level: the cis men examine military documents while the cis women and trans* folk talk about unequal access to healthcare, cultural invisibility and sexual harassment.

Private Manning’s recent announcement that she is a transgender woman—to be known as Chelsea Manning from here on—thus represents a stunning collision of different activist factions. Manning released a statement last week announcing that she identifies as female, and wishes to undergo hormone therapy as soon as possible. This is not entirely new or unexpected information, as Manning’s chatlogs with informant Adrian Lamo in May 2010 read: “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as a boy.” Moreover, her lawyers attempted to use gender identity disorder as a defence in her trial. However, many of Manning’s supporters felt uncomfortable referring to her as female without the explicit go-ahead from her.

That time has come, and yet many commentators remain confused orhostile(trigger warning: transphobia) to the announcement. Manning’s requests have been fairly straightforward—“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun”—but many media outlets, particularly Fox News and CNN, continue to use her historical name and masculine pronouns. Since swathes of information about transgenderism are merely a Google search away, this misgendering demonstrates how heavily entrenched transphobia and the gender binary remain in public discourse. [Read more...]

Government expanding surveillance powers

Waihopai spy base

Waihopai spy base

By Byron Clark, Fightback Christchurch member.

Public protests against the GCSB bill will take place around the country on July 27th.

[Auckland event] [Hamilton event] [Wellington event]

 

[Nelson event] [Waihopi Spybase event]

 

[Christchurch event] [Dunedin event]

The spectacle of Kim Dotcom going face to face with John Key to make a submission on the Government Communications Security Bureau [GCSB] and Related Legislation Amendment Bill received huge media attention, but little has been said on the content of the bill. In part that is because the bill actually contains very little.

In the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, New Zealand passed a raft of laws with the supposed goal of combating terrorism. Legislation governing surveillance by the GCSB dates from that era. The present bill will amend the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003, removing the word ‘foreign’ from a number of places, and changing the definition of a foreign organization from “an unincorporated body of persons consisting exclusively of foreign organisations or foreign persons that carry on activities wholly outside New Zealand:” to “an unincorporated body of persons consisting principally of foreign organisations or foreign persons that carry on activities wholly outside New Zealand:”

The purpose of these changes appears to be giving the GCSB powers to spy on New Zealanders previously reserved for spying on foreigners. Typically domestic spying has been the role of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS)  or the police, though the GCSB has been involved in spying in 88 cases since 2003.

Other subtle changes are repealing the current definitions of the terms ‘computer system’ and ‘network’, replacing them with the catch-all term ‘information infrastructure’ defined as “electromagnetic emissions, communications systems and networks, information technology systems and networks, and any communications carried on, contained in, or relating to those emissions, systems, or networks”. This provides scope for data collection from the wider range of communications devices now available (smartphones for example).

One that that remains undefined is the phrase “national security”. What all this amounts to is a law that gives the GCSB scope to spy on anyone, inside or outside the country, in a wide range of communications so long as they are seen to pose a risk to the “national security” of New Zealand. Given that the law, even before the current amendment, explicitly introduces the idea of threats to “economic well being” it would be entirely possible to define planning industrial action, such as a strike, as justification for spying.

Its worth noting in this instance that state surveillance of unions is not a hypothetical. Back in 2008 it came to light that Unite was being spied on, not by the GCSB but by the police Special Investigation Group (SIG). In their submission on the amendment bill, the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have pointed out that reasons for surveillance such as ‘preventing activities aimed at undermining values that underpin New Zealand society’ provides a scope “wide enough to capture nearly any activity or discussion with a political motive.”

That the bill will erode the right to privacy is almost a given, of greater concern is that there is little recourse when remaining privacy rights are stepped on. When questioned by Radio New Zealand following the revelation of British and American surveillance programmes by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said the commission does not have specific jurisdiction to monitor the GCSB. At that time she also stated it was not clear how the American programme PRISM might affect New Zealanders. It has since come to light, via Snowdens leaked documents, that the GCSB shared information with the American National Security Agency (NSA). [Read more...]

Activist’s death puts internet freedom on the agenda

Image

Byron Clark

Internet commons activist Aaron Swartz has died by suicide several weeks out from a trial that could have seen him facing 35 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines. Despite being only 26 years old when he died, Tim Burners-Lee, inventor of the hypertext technology that makes the World Wide Web possible, commented that “we have lost a mentor, a wise elder”. Like Burners-Lee, Swartz had made important contributions to the sharing of information though modern technology, helping to develop the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) standard which allows users to subscribe to ‘feeds’ from websites, making the consumption of news and other information easier and facilitating ‘podcasts’ as a new form of distribution of audio content to subscribers.  [Read more...]

Who watches the watchmen? Kim Dotcom and the GCSB

Kim Dotcom

Joel Cosgrove

The Kim Dotcom affair is an intriguing one. As interesting as Dotcom might be as an individual (see Mega Conspiracy: Kim Dotcom, SOPA and Capitalism in the Feburary 2012 issue of The Spark or online) the issues swirling around him and the wider ramifications of the behaviour of the police are even more important.

The arrest of Dotcom on January the 20th of this year was as much media stunt as anything else. More than 70 police (including the Armed Offenders Squad) with helicopters swarmed Dotcoms mansion. Much was made of his fleeing into his electronically locked safe room with a loaded shotgun. It was only later on in the piece that it was revealed that unidentified plain clothes police scared him into retreating into his safe room and that there was a shotgun within a gun safe on hand (technically close to him though).

Dotcom stands accused by the US government of using the MegaUpload site to engage in the largest series of copyright infringements in history. He was denied bail soon after due to fears from the crown that he would flee to Germany (which currently has no extradition treaty with the US, as opposed to New Zealand, which does). [Read more...]

Why is the US government so afraid of Jacob Appelbaum?

Julian Assange was set to speak at the The Next Hope hacker conference, New York in 2010:

“Hello to all my friends and fans in domestic and international surveillance” he began “I am here today because I believe we can make a better world. Julian, unfortunately, can’t make it, because we don’t live in that better world right now, because we haven’t yet made it. I wanted to make a little declaration for the federal agents that are standing in the back of the room and the ones that are standing in the front of the room, and to be very clear about this: I have, on me, in my pocket, some money, the Bill of Rights and a driver’s license, and that’s it. I have no computer system, I have no telephone, I have no keys, no access to anything. There’s absolutely no reason that you should arrest me or bother me. And just in case you were wondering, I’m an American, born and raised, who’s unhappy. I’m unhappy with how things are going.”

This is how Jacob Appelbaum introduced himself to the world. Appelbaum’s life is now defined by his defence of anonymity and for privacy in a social environment that is rapidly becoming more interconnected and less private. [Read more...]

Urewera four – fight the imprisonments of Iti and Kemara

Byron Clark

The crown has decided not to retry the Urewera 4 on the charge of Participation in an Organised Criminal Group. The group were originally threatened with charges under new terrorism laws after being arrested in a series of raids on October 15, 2007. 13 others were arrested but charges against them have been dropped. The only charges the state could make stick were minor firearms offenses against Tame Iti, Rangi Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey.

“The whole case should never have gone ahead.” Commented Ana Cocker from the October 15th Solidarity Group, adding that the firearms charges should also be thrown out. “The charge of Participation was laid specifically in order that the crown could use the illegally obtained evidence. The crown needed to justify Operation 8 and their invasion and spying on Te Urewera, by bringing convictions at any cost” said Crooker “Nothing in this case has been about so-called justice, it is all about criminalising dissent and halting aspirations for Tuhoe autonomy.”

On May 24 Iti, Kemara, Signer and Bailey were sentenced on the firearms charges. Signer and Bailey were sentenced to 9 months home detention while Iti and Kemara were sentenced to more than 2 years in prison. Along with other people and organisations we support their immediate release.

Queer Avengers: Protesting and the Law Workshop (Wellington)

The Queer Avengers are holding a workshop that is open to all activists on protesting and the law. Kate Scarlet from the Wellington Community Law Centre will be giving a talk on exactly what the laws are surrounding protest, and your rights as a protester.

Topics include:

- Your right to protest, including freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful expression and association.
– Filming the police.
– Arrest – covering what you have to do, what is resisting arrest and use of force by you and the police.
– Search and seizure.
– Rights after arrest.
– Youth & the police.
– What can happen if you do commit an offence.
– Complaining about the police.

Everyone welcome, please pass through your networks! Free entry, but koha welcome. Venue has lift access if needed. If you have any questions, please email: thequeeravengers@gmail.com

6pm Wednesday April 18th, Wellington Peoples’ Centre, Lukes Lane

Social networking sites: Why are they censored?

Marika Pratley (Wellington branch of Workers Party)


Julie Tyler was threatened with serious misconduct by Burger King for posting the comment “Real jobs don’t underpay and overwork like BK does” on a friend’s Facebook page. This event highlighted the limitations of democracy on the internet and social networking sites. It also brings to question limitations on freedom of speech in general – for example – in the workplace.

This is not the first time that workers or activists have faced censorship on social networking sites. In 2010 individual profiles and groups were shutdown by Facebook for expressing support for organisations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In 2011 Egypt’s entire internet services were shut down by the government in an attempt to prevent communication between organisers and to stop democratic protests from taking place.
[Read more...]

The implications of the Terrorism Suppression Act

Jared Phillips, Co-ordinating editor, The Spark



Public meetings have been held in New Zealand’s major centres to build opposition to increasing state power being used against activists and oppressed groups. Early this year the Workers Party and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Solidarity Campaign hosted one such forum in Christchurch with a focus on the implications of the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA). Five speakers – Michael Knowles, Valerie Morse, Murray Horton, Paul Piesse, and Michael Walker – explored the local and international dimensions.

[Read more...]

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