Friday, October 2, 2015

Snowden Hints Towards the Hidden Actors in Bulk Spying

Regarding the NSA's bulk collection of telephone and online data, one of my HEROES Edward Snowden asks :

Why are programs being billed as public safety programs when they have no corresponding public safety benefit?  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Hacktivism Matters

Activism has long been an attribute inherent in societies governed by a colonizing power. Since the founding of the New World in the sixteenth century, countless groups of people have organized to resist the status quo imposed on them by the institutions and ideologies of the ruling establishment. Among the diverse activists found in American history are indigenous freedom fighters, escaped slaves, abolitionists, communists, immigrants, environmentalists and many more. However, a new, intangible kind of activist has emerged out of our globally networked society - the hacktivist.

Innovations in communication channels have greatly evolved over time, impacting the way activists and social systems, in general, communicate and organize with each other. Although communication by word-of-mouth is still an important factor in the diffusion of an innovation (Rogers, 2003), mediated technology and the Internet are increasingly playing a role in communication amongst activist networks (Jenkins, Ford and Green, 2013).
The Internet has dramatically changed the process of the diffusion of information. Traditionally, diffusion relied heavily on word-of-mouth between homophilious social units (Rogers, 2003), whereas now ideas can be spread rapidly over large geographical areas and networks. This is because networked technologies, such as the Internet, ‘‘support latent social network ties, used here to indicate ties that are technically possible but not yet activated socially’’ (Haythornthwaite, 2005: 137). The Arab Spring is an example of the power that the Internet holds in connecting individuals from different social circles to a social justice movement, where activists used Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to organize and spread content about their demonstrations.
Another example of activists taking advantage of the Internet to effectively mobilize people and spread their messages beyond their immediate social systems comes from the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Washington. Jha (2007) explains,
The WTO meetings between governments and trade organizations from across the world were shut down after human rights groups, students, environmental groups, religious leaders, labor rights activists, and other groups with diverse agendas thronged the streets of Seattle demanding fairer, less exploitative trade decision making. This mobilization of masses of people with non-violent as well as anarchist protest repertoires was one of the first examples of trans-border networking and activism facilitated by the Internet; activists used Web sites, e-mail, listserves, e-groups, and Indymedia to mobilize. (40)
Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement has been fueled in the USA largely through video footage of police brutality and demonstrations caught by public bystanders on their mobile phones and subsequently uploaded and shared over the Internet. The spreading of inflammatory content such as these has caused large-scale public outcry and mobilizations around the country, and has even resulted in charges pressed against police officers in North Charleston, South Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland this year; almost unheard of previously., 2015
Activism usually brings homophilous groups of people together who have a shared idea about how to change society. It can be defined as “violent or peaceful, noisy or quiet actions taken by groups of people, some small and some huge… to alter society according to the desires of those taking action” (Tim Jordan, 2002: 8). Hacktivists share technological competence at hacking computer operating systems and seek to disrupt the normal flow of information and transactions in cyberspace, usually of large institutions or people whom they have deem to be unjust. Cyberspace is an integral part of what Milone (2003) calls our national infrastructure, composed of “critical systems” such as “telecommunications, power, transportation, banking, water supply, and emergency services” (76), and it is a network of powerful, interconnected computers, which “presents the most efficient and resilient communications architecture” (Milone, 2003: 76) in our modern world.
Hacking constitutes a crime that involves the unauthorized access and disruption of computer systems, using cyberspace to access illegal Internet accounts, spread computer viruses, share classified information, pirate merchandise, or make transactions from the accounts of other users (Turgeman-Goldschmidt, 2005).
Turgeman-Goldschmidt (2005) found a range of motivations for hacking in a study where the author conducted intensive interviews with 54 Israeli hackers. These include:
(a) fun, thrill, and excitement; (b) curiosity for its own sake—a need to know; (c) computer virtuosity; (d) economic accounts—ideological opposition, lack of money, monetary rewards; (e) deterrent factor; (f) lack of malicious or harmful intentions; (g) intangible offenses; (h) nosy curiosity and voyeurism; (i) revenge; and, (j) ease of execution. (12) 
A 1989 investigation for the National Institute of Justice categorizes a computer hacker as ranging from “a compulsive programmer who explores, tests, and pushes computers and communications systems to their limits, often regardless of the consequences… [to] the destruction or sabotage of valuable data, involving massive cost” (Conly, 1989: 8).
The investigation was published following the hacking of more than six thousand computers with a virus on the then nascent federal network system, including the Pentagon's ARPAnet data exchange network, by Robert Morris in 1988. This created a government scare and led to the creation of anti-virus response centers, including at the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Science Foundation, Energy Department, NASA, and others (Ross, 1990).
In addition, the Computer Virus Eradication Act of 1988 was quickly introduced following the scandal, but died in Congress. It called for prison sentences of up to ten years for hacking and would have replaced 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is a standing federal law that criminalizes “those crimes that use or target computer networks…[such as] computer intrusions, denial of service attacks, viruses, and worms” (Department of Justice, n.d.).
Since the 1988 attack by Morris, however, hacking has proliferated. Hackers have been labeled a “social menace” and “terrorists” because of their ideological opposition to intellectual property rights (Ross, 1990). “Consequently, a deviant social class or group has been defined and categorized as ‘enemies of the state’ in order to help rationalize a general law-and-order clampdown on free and open information exchange” (Ross, 1990: 5).
Coining itself as a “transparency group”, WikiLeaks was launched in 2007 with the goal of bringing “important news and information to the public” by providing a “secure and anonymous ways for sources to leak information” (WikiLeaks, n.d.). The collective first gained notoriety in November 2007 when they published the standard operating procedures for US military personnel at the Camp Delta prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which outlined operations and procedures of their detainee program (Cammaerts, 2013).  Since then, it has archived thousands of documents related to,
-War, killings, torture and detention;
-Government, trade and corporate transparency;
-Suppression of free speech and a free press;
-Diplomacy, spying and (counter-)intelligence;
-Ecology, climate, nature and sciences;
-Corruption, finance, taxes, trading;
-Censorship technology and internet filtering;
-Cults and other religious organizations; and
-Abuse, violence, violation. (WikiLeaks, n.d.)
Specific documents published by the group which have received widespread press coverage include “Collateral Murder”, footage of a US Army Apache helicopter killing unarmed men in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists, the Afghan War Diaries, the Iraq War Logs, incriminating documents about the Swiss bank Julius Baer for tax evasion and money laundering, secret Scientology handbooks, private e-mails from Sarah Palin, and a list of membership of the fascist British National Party.
However, the US government has condemned the disclosure of classified documents by claiming it has harmed rather than helped the public (Kaulingfreks and Kaulingfreks, 2013), and has prosecuted and imprisoned whistleblowers who have leaked information, such as Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), who was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for releasing the Collateral Murder video, Afghan War Diaries, Iraq War Logs, and US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.  
“[WikiLeaks] is the product of decades of collaborative work by people engaged in applying computer hacking to political causes, in particular, to the principle that information-hoarding is evil —and, as Stewart Brand said in 1984, ‘Information wants to be free’” (Ludlow, 2010: 25).
The hacktivist group known as Anonymous operates to organize and orchestrate direct actions using the Internet as a catalyst. These actions have included distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to targeted websites, where central computers are incapacitated by being saturated with spam, as well as the release of classified and proprietary information. The group has evolved from conducting cyberattacks on individuals and groups for entertainment purposes to spearheading attacks on institutions for political and moral retaliation (Halupka and Star, 2011). They are known for wearing Guy Fawkes masks and for their motto: Knowledge is free. We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Anonymous has been behind the release of high profile, classified information to WikiLeaks. As Cammaerts (2013) points out, WikiLeaks has been able to mobilize hackers, whistleblowers and journalists through strong ties between its core members and journalists and weak and latent ties between volunteers, whistleblowers, and Anonymous. Cammaerts (2013) argues that “the case of WikiLeaks should be positioned within a broader legacy of information and communication activism and more specifically related to newly emerging repertoires of networked contentious action also at times denoted as hacktivism” (421).
Kaulingfreks and Kaulingfreks (2013) state, “We think that the way Anonymous operates is of great importance as an expression of democratic power” (423). They discuss the motivations behind some of Anonymous’ hacktivism, including Project ‘Chanology’ which targeted the Church of Scientology after they tried to censor their critics on YouTube. Additionally, the collective has provided support for the Iranian Green Movement, Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. “
Operation Payback (or Avenge Assange), was a DDoS attack against Amazon, Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard which had withdrawn services from WikiLeaks, as well as against organizations opposed to Internet piracy. In the independent film We are legion: The story of the hacktivists, Internet denizen Mercedes Haefer discusses Operation Payback.
Ten-thousand angry kids, whoever they are, they scared the shit of some people those days. They scared the shit out of the powers that be, and that’s why this is being investigated, that’s why I’m under indictment, that’s it. Because, between the days of December 6th and December 10th [2010], ten thousand angry people proved to the government that their regulations, their ideas, their view of PayPal, their view of WikiLeaks, their view of the Afghan War, of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, it didn’t fucking matter. Their opinion no longer mattered because someone was out on the Internet kicking ass.” (Knappenberger, 2013)
Halupka and Star (2011) portray Anonymous as a decentralized virtual community of hacktivists that utilize direct democracy and meritocracy in their decision making processes to assert their political power. They define direct democracy as the ability of a group to make decisions without the influence of elected officials, and describe the collective as “structureless” and “leaderless” with no restrictions or criterion for being a member.  
Resistance, dissent and voices for peace and justice from activists have been a constant undercurrent of this country since the founding of the New World in the sixteenth century. The World Wide Web now allows for information to be rapidly spread beyond the confines of geographical space, allowing people to spread their news and organize direct actions beyond their immediate social system.
            Hacktivism has emerged in cyberspace as a response to continuing violations of human rights and freedom of information by governments and institutions. Although not the only ones, WikiLeaks and Anonymous are the most widely known hacktivist collectives fighting to protect civil liberties and human rights through the axiom that knowledge is power. Hacktivists has been effective in challenging the monopolies of knowledge, which is the top-down control over information associated with institutional power (Jenkins, Ford and Green, 2013). As the means of communication continue to evolve, so will the activists, as people continue to defend human rights and strive for peace and justice in our increasingly networked world.

Thursday, September 17, 2015 is an Abomination

After watching the Republican presidential debates last night, I felt sick to my stomach. Center stage, shoulder to shoulder with Trump, was the looming issue about how in order to stop evil radical Islamic terrorists, we must end the nuclear deal with Iran. 

It was all set up and led by Trump and Cruz, who earlier held a "protest" [sic] outside of Capitol Hill against the deal. They have even published the website, which has been getting quite a lot of traffic. 

Amusing, however, how creative people can be with signing onto Tea Party petitions like that.. LOL!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mental Issues in Politics

The second the second Republican presidential debate should have second amendment issues on the agenda tonight. On August 26, 2015, a deranged gunman burst into a news studio in Roanoke, Virginia, killing the anchor, Alison Parker, and cameraman, Adam Ward, as well as injuring another victim, Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker live on the air when the attack occurred.

And earlier in June, alleged White Supremacist  killed nine church-goers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In fact, the Center for American Progress has just published the Right of Reagan report ahead of this debate. Not shockingly, it shows that deaths from domestic gun violence over the past 25 years (836, 290 deaths) has exceeded the total number of American combat deaths in wars from 1776 to 2015 (656,397 deaths).

For Republicans, the issue of gun control is a constitutional one, with officials always citing the Second Amendment as an inalienable right, while Democrats favor stricter gun control laws as a solution to curb gun violence in the US.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has said “[It] isn't a gun problem, this is a mental problem" while Democratic Hillary R. Clinton has said she believes Americans should, “figure out how to balance the legitimate second amendment rights with preventive measures and control measures,” earlier in Iowa.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman wrote an op-ed in 2012, citing, “The vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts… [but rather] the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force” (New York Times, December 17, 2012).

The Huffington Post has reported on Australia's curbing of gun killings by enacting stricter gun control laws like registerations and firearms buyback program. Not shockingly, Australia not experienced a mass shooting since 1996.

Although the history of gun control was born out of preventing African Americans from legitimately owning guns for their own protection, the status quo has changed, where now the right of owning and having access to a gun is tramping a more important right – the right to life, of every innocent person who’s life has been taken out of the heat of passion of another disgruntled human being, and this is why stricter gun control needs to happen in the US.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Parks of Tehran

When you think of Iran, what images do you conjure up? I visited Iran this summer and stayed in the capital which is home to an estimated 8.4 million people (but as a commuter city it may swell to a few million more during the day).

Tehran's cityscape showing Milad Tower in the background, the 6th largest building in the world.

Sometimes people need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. In Tehran, the parks are sometimes the only place outside where you can find clean air to breathe. Luckily, Persians have mastered the art of gardening. The concept of the garden has shown up for centuries in Persian literature as a symbol of order and beauty.

I was astonished to see the intricate systems of parks in Tehran; unlike anywhere else in the world. For this, I recorded the parks that I went to, but this is not a comprehensive record of Tehran's numerous parks as there must be well over 50 parks when taking into account the smaller ones.

I start with pictures below from one of my favorite parks, Ab-o-Atash (Water and Fire), which is linked to another park, Taleghani or Jangal (Jungle), via a bridge over a highway.

At night, the towers light up with fire on top & water sprays from the ground for children to play in.

Restaurants can be found on the bridge which is two stories. 

Another great park is Niavaran, which used to be the garden of one of the Shah's palaces before the 1979 Revolution. The palace of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi still sits against the park, but is now a museum. 

Maintenance worker

The next park we will visit is Daneshju (Student), which also houses a theater and a metro station, being in the center of the city and close to the main shopping area of Valiasr Square. 

The next park is Ghasr (Castle), which before the 1979 Revolution, housed a prison for political prisoners, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Now, it houses a museum, two coffee shops, a roller skating-futsal area and different festivals. 

Most parks have man-powered exercise machines installed.

Maintenance workers use brooms rather than leaf blowers which do not cause noise or air pollution.  

The next park is Qeitarieh, name after one of the revolution's martyrs. It is a lovely park with different layers in the north of Tehran. 

Unfortunately, most parks do not allow dogs (but some people bring them any ways).

Tehran is home to the hooded crow, which are very loud and aggressive crows, but can also be very entertaining. Below is a book sale housed outside of a building in the park.

The next set of photographs come from Shahr (City) park close to my grandmother's house in the center city.

The next park is Andisheh which is a popular park around the corner from Andisheh mall.

Some people feed stray cats in the park even though is it frown upon by many.

A public water fountain.

The next park, Niloofar (Lily) is relatively new and not well known, but takes advantage of the different levels of the landscape.


Although not an exhaustive record of all of the parks in Tehran, here I will leave you with a small neighborhood park, Sheikh Hadi, from my grandmother's neighborhood.