Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No server is secure. The list of digital whistle-blowers is getting longer – By Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel

"Hammond and Anonymous have shown, albeit in his own way, that to produce change we must fight for ourselves. No one else will do it for us."
"It is said that knowledge is power, but it is power that decides what is knowledge. That is what the fight is about." Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel

The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published today (11 June 2013) "No server is secure. The list of digital whistle-blowers is getting longer" [Ingen server är säker. Listan av digitala whistleblowers blir allt längre], an article authored by Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel, PhD student in Media and Communication Sciences, Umeå University. Here below an (unofficial) translation by Professors blogg of the article based on the Aftonbladet published version.

Rodrigo article 

No server is secure

By Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel

The trial against Bradley Manning continues unabated; and Edward Snowden (the NSA-leak) revealed yesterday, worldwide, details on his whereabouts. The list of digital whistle-blowers is getting longer. Two weeks ago, the man who hacked the security firm Stratfor, and sent the information to Wikileaks, was brought to trial in a lawsuit that raised questions about who really monitors whom in the modern information war -- and in which the balance of power is far from obvious.

Criminal or political prisoner? terrorist or freedom fighter?

In a legal sense, Jeremy Hammond’s hacking is held a criminal activity regardless of the intentions he had. In political meaning, Hammonds and other activists like him are hacking in a world of economic and state secrets - and revealed them to the public.

On May 28, the trial in New York against cyber activist Jeremy Hammonds was one of the main discussions on Twitter. It was discussed whether the potential penalty of ten years was fair or disproportionate, and on the possible causes of the long sentence. It was discussed whether the American judicial system is trying to set an example against hacking, or it just an expression of fear. Suddenly disclosures of confidential political-economic information challenges the democracy’s image, which has been painted for long, and relatively, unhindered.

The 28-year-old Hammond was arrested in 2012 along with four other activist accused to hacking into the private U.S. security and intelligence firm Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting Inc.). In December 2011, they had leaked five million emails to Wikileaks, which in turn spread the information to the media worldwide. Hammond was nicknamed "Robin Hood" because he also must have stolen credit card information (not encrypted, according to himself) from Stratfor and donated nearly 700,000 dollars to various aid organizations. A sum that is now completely returned to the company.

After seizing part of the documents via Wikileaks, both the UK's The Guardian and U.S. Rolling Stone Magazine reported (27 and 28 February, 2012) about how Stratfor secretly collaborated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Department of Homeland Security). The goal was to develop strategies for civilian domestic surveillance.

The (WikiLeaks’) Stratfor-leak, and Edward Snowden's revelations about the U.S. government-led mass surveillance, allows us to peer into an ever darker shadow-world of both government and private companies spying on their own people. A process which is incompatible with democratic values, according to Abi Hassen, a lawyer and coordinator of the U.S. National Lawyers Guild. As Hassen declared to the site Sparrow Media: "Today's trial should be instead the springboard for an investigation of Stratfor, and not an occasion used to sentence a young man to ten years in prison for political activism."

It is in many ways ironic that Hammond can get ten years for hacking, while the young- rapists from Steubenville High School in the USA got one, respectively two, years in juvenile detention-institutions. The youngsters were arrested after Anonymous - the political movement that has been associated to Hammond and the hacker collective LulzSec - leaked video evidence.

On Twitter, the debate has also centred on the New York judge Loretta Preska could be accused of bias. This is because the revelations indicating that her husband's law-firm Cahill - one of Stratfor’s customers – was found in the material that was hacked. Yet others maintain that Hammond’s hacking should be regarded as idealistic political activity -- civil disobedience.
The debate in Twitter has also to do about enabling an alternative knowledge form, about an attempt to approach the truth by circumvolving the democratic facade  - and to publish it. We have never been in greater need of information and corporation-transparency.
From this perspective, the activities by Hammond and Anonymous are something more than a classical computer hacking.
No server can hide information in an absolutely safe way. And this has a symbolic value. No civilian group can ever match the institutional power-infrastructure in what war technology is concerned. However, in a cyber or information-war those terms change, at least theoretically. It is here where the hacker-culture as a political movement comes into play.
As globalization expands, also increases the risk of concentration of the political and economic power. Ensuing this logic, the neo-liberal version of democracy will not change.
Nor shall economic and political inequalities be balanced. None of the beneficiaries of the current power structure will take up the fight for the oppressed, which comprise the global population majority.
Hammond and Anonymous have shown, albeit in his own way, that to produce change we must fight for ourselves. No one else will do it for us. It is said that knowledge is power, but it is power that decides what is knowledge.
That is what the fight is about.

Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel
PhD student in Media and Communication Sciences, Umeå University, Sweden

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