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“Who Threatens Our Privacy?”: The Onslaught On Our Privacy Rights — Surreally, In The Name Of Transparency

The whole Snowden affair has receded into the background by now. But recently Michael Cohen made an important point that seemed to get totally lost in the discussion about privacy.

This week, the group Wikileaks posted on its website the entire archive of data and information stolen from Sony Pictures last fall — and it seems every day there’s a new, earth-shattering scoop…

I needed only 20 minutes on the Wikileaks site to find a credit card number, medical information, private e-mail addresses, salary data, and plenty else that most people wouldn’t want available on a searchable database.

This kind of cyberattack is a greater threat to people’s privacy than anything revealed in the Snowden/NSA leaks, which became a cause celebre for some of the same people chortling over the Sony leaks…

Today, it is harder and harder to stay outside the omnipresent eye of social media, surveillance cameras, and smartphone videos. Wikileaks is only adding to the onslaught on our privacy rights — surreally, in the name of transparency.

I always found it interesting that many of those who were most closely involved with the Snowden leaks (including Wikileaks) have pretty deep ties to the hacker community – people whose raison d’etre is to invade privacy. From their reaction to this inquiry from Cohen, it appears that only certain people’s privacy is important to them.

It’s true that the concerns raised by the leaks about NSA are worrisome in regards to the possibility that the government might have access to private information. But the prospects of everyone else having access is equally (if not more) concerning.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Edward Snowden, Privacy, Wikileaks | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will We Walk The Satirical Walk?”: Now Is The Time To Stop And Think About What Satire Really Means

“Satire is what closes on Saturday,” satirist George S. Kaufman wrote, satirically. It is worth unpacking what this quote really means. Ostensibly, it means that when you choose the rapier of satire rather than the comforting swaddle of mass entertainment, you are limiting your audience in a self-sabotaging matter: While you’re busy finding yourself clever, the crowd has moved on to giggle along with cute kittens singing catchy songs. Satire is satisfying, but generally speaking, the only people listening are the person doing the satirizing and those who already care enough to agree with him. Most people ignore him, or, if they do anything at all, call him a jerk.

In the wake of today’s tragic terrorist attack in Paris, which killed 12 people including top cartoonists at satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the word “satire” has taken on its own power, its very existence a rejoinder to hatred, a founding pillar of Our Way Of Life. It is being cast as noble. But this is not how we usually see satire. Satire is usually a pain in the ass. Satire exists to discomfit the comfortable, to slaughter sacred cows, to puncture the illusion that we all live in a “polite” society. Satire is crude, and rowdy, and often self-aggrandizing: Satire is meant to call attention to itself in any way possible. Charlie Hebdo was particularly skilled at this: One cover, actually supporting the French law banning Muslim women from wearing burqas, featured a woman wearing a burqa … somewhere other than her head. Good satire is a little gross and cares not of taste. You want people to think … and you’re not against using a good dick joke to do it. Satire attempts, by its very nature, to shake people to alert.

But, mostly, people don’t like to be shaken to alert. They just want to go along with their day. They care a lot less about freedom of expression than they do freedom to go about their lives in peace. You’ve seen a lot of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo today, a strong defense of satire as a way of life. But it is worth noting that most publications aren’t showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. And it is also worth noting that Americans—the people supposedly so proud of their freedom of expression—haven’t always been on the side of the angels here. South Park’s attempts to show a cartoon of Muhammad were famously censored by Comedy Central—in an episode that explicitly stated that the lesson everybody learned was “the best way to get what you want is to threaten other people with violence”—and the Metropolitan Museum of Art quietly removed all images of Muhammad from its halls five years ago. Even when Charlie Hebdo was firebombed four years ago, Time Paris bureau chief Bruce Crumley wrote that it was “hard to have much sympathy” for the magazine and that “insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.”

Charlie Hebdo would respond, “of course it is.” If you’re not being obnoxious or offensive, what are you even doing? One image shared in the wake of the attack today was an old cartoon from The Onion that showed, ahem, “an image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist.” (It’s quite the image!) The joke here, of course, is that those religions don’t attack those who show their gods in cartoon form … but that is also what makes the joke, and the image, ultimately sort of toothless. (While certainly inventive.) After all: You didn’t, actually, see Muhammad in that Onion picture. Obviously not. Who wants that heat?

But: If no one is offended, then what is the point? It’s all self-congratulatory faux enlightenment with no conviction behind it. It’s a back pat for “getting it,” without actually risking anything. The offense is the point. The offense is the defense of the way of life. Charlie Hebdo fought for—and its cartoonists and writers and editors and police protectors ultimately died for—the right to piss people off without regard of taste or civilized society or what you or anyone else thought of them. We all stand with them today. But will we stand with them tomorrow? Did Sony Pictures and those theater chains stand with them two weeks ago? Does Comedy Central, and the Met, stand with them now? We live in an open society—free, among other things, to be timid. It is encouraging to see the world embracing Charlie Hebdo’s principles of satire and aggressive engagement with extremists today. But I can’t help but fear this show’s gonna close by Saturday.

 

By: Will Leitch, Bloomberg Politics, January 7, 2014

January 8, 2015 Posted by | Free Speech, Freedom of Expression | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Playing On Right Wing Stereotypes, It’s Hardly The First Time”: North Korea’s Racial Slur Of President Obama Is Business As Usual

The racial taunt by North Korean official’s of President Obama as a monkey was no real surprise. The regime has blasted Obama before with border line racial jabs. Obama is the most visible and inviting target for North Korea to single out for blame and vitriol after its bare bones Internet and mobile phone networks were disrupted for a few days. North Korean officials apparently saw this as retaliation for allegedly hacking Sony picture executive’s internal emails.

It’s hardly the first time that some official or official source in North Korea has gotten caught with its racial dirty linen waving. Last May, the Korean Central News Agency drew fire when it lambasted Obama with the admonition to “live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo.” North Korean officials deny that there is any explicit intent to racially demean Obama. They contend that the criticism is simply part of the ongoing war of words between two countries. The verbal war is the outcrop of the deep suspicion, distrust, antagonism, and confrontation that’s characterized relations between the U.S. and North Korea for decades.

It is true that North Korea has leveled choice verbal derogatory broadsides on foreign leaders it considers hostile overtly to the regime. A prime example is its attack last August on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It called him a “wolf donning the mask of sheep.” This jab at Kerry was in response to Kerry allegedly calling for peace at the same moment the U.S staged its annual military drills with South Korea. The wolf characterization was harsh but that’s an image that’s more in keeping with a not uncommon vilification of someone who’s seen as predatory. North Korean officials have also called South Korean President Park Geun-hye a prostitute. This too was insulting and demeaning. But that’s also a common usage epitaph often hurled at supposedly on the make politicians.

These types of insults, no matter how disreputable and loathsome, at least make some political sense. The continual reference to Obama as a monkey is something else. It shouldn’t surprise, though, that North Korea would latch onto that image. They are just following playing on the stereotype that the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, some college frat parties, and student websites has frequently used in assorted offbeat, crude, vile cartoons to ridicule Obama and First Lady Michelle and African-Americans. The racial tie to that depiction was tested in 2007.

Then Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.

The overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants — and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images — were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.

This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999, the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.

North Korea would be especially susceptible to trade in this type of crude race baiting, and name calling given its self-imposed isolation from global discourse and its near paranoid xenophobic view of itself as somehow an ethnically pure nation. This notion is deeply tinged by race and racial chauvinism. This, and the regime’s political insularity, inevitably instills in the regime an us versus them fortress wall to keep out anything that sullies its notion of its superiority. North Korean leaders have played hard on this for decades as a political serving mechanism to insure domestic control and compliance with its brutal policies.

There was some talk that former NBA player Dennis Rodman’s much criticized tour of North Korea earlier in 2014 with a team of mostly black former pro basketball players might dent the regime’s racial insularity. There is no evidence it did. It gave the regime a momentary PR boost, but it was passing. An apologetic Rodman got the message and vowed not to return to the country. It wouldn’t have mattered. Two months later it branded Obama as a monkey and now it has repeated the slur. For North Korea this is simply racial business as usual.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, December 28, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | North Korea, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Stand Up, The Show Must Go On”: Freedom Of Expression Is Worth Fighting For

It has been a deeply troubling week for defenders of freedom of expression. After a hacking attack that the FBI has now officially connected to the government of North Korea, and subsequent threats by the hackers, theater chains refused to show the comedy The Interview and Sony eventually pulled it from distribution.

The question here is not about the wisdom of making the movie, or whether perceived quality determines its merits of being defended. As actor George Clooney has recently said,

With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this.

The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to decide what they want to say, read, write, watch and listen to without interference from the government. Government officials do not always honor that principle and that is why organizations like ours that advocate for First Amendment values are a necessary bulwark to free expression in the arts as well as politics.

But censorship by government officials and agencies is not the only threat to freedom of expression. Back in 1998, the Manhattan Theatre Club initially cancelled its planned production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi when it received bomb threats. After an outcry by proponents of free expression, and with security precautions in place, the play eventually opened. People offended by the play’s content were, of course, free to protest, and they did. But so were free expression advocates, and we marched as well. In the end, the show went on.

For The Interview, it appears for the moment, the show will not go on. It’s hard to know exactly what motivated the theater chains that cancelled the show — fear of making themselves the next hacking target, legitimate worries about the potential for violence and/or legal liability in the case of violence. The end result is that we have now allowed the government of North Korea to dictate content.

That is, to state the obvious, not an acceptable state of affairs. Judd Apatow, one of the first to speak out, tweeted earlier this week, “I am not going to let a terrorist threat shut down freedom of speech. I am going to The Interview.” I think the vast majority of Americans, whatever their political persuasion, can applaud that spirit, and embrace Clooney’s insistence, “We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.”

This isn’t about pointing fingers at theater owners or Sony. This week’s events are an extreme example of the complicated questions free expression advocates around the world are facing as private corporations control more and more of the world’s access to information and communications — whether it’s corporate control of internet service providers, search engines and social media channels, or efforts by regulators in some countries to require search engines like Google to censor the content they make available. These aren’t traditional free expression questions, but they are ones that we must face.

It’s time for a renewed national commitment to and celebration of the fundamental value of free expression. It is time to dedicate the intellectual and financial resources necessary to safeguard our online infrastructure. And maybe more importantly, it is time to assert a shared national will to stand up to those who would limit our freedom expression, whether they are corporate executives, government censors or foreign dictators who will happily export their political repression to our shores if we allow them to do so.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 19, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Free Speech, North Korea | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Bound To Be A Next Time”: The Sony Leak Unearthed Juicy Gossip, But The Blackmailers Must Not Win

My heart sinks, to be honest, at the prospect of having to watch The Interview. Judging from the trailers, it’s the kind of crass, juvenile slapstick that’s barely worth a bucket of popcorn and a babysitter – although we can scratch the babysitter, since the only way ever to watch this comedy may  be at home now that the embattled Sony Pictures has cancelled its cinema release. If only someone had mounted a repressive cyber-attack over an unflattering portrayal of North Korean politics in something that’s actually funny, like 2004’s Team America World Police.

But just as everyone felt obliged to order Spycatcher from Australia after the Thatcher government banned its publication, we’ll all feel obliged to watch this film should it ever emerge from what’s left of Sony HQ. The hacking of the company apparently in retaliation for this fictional account of a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader is pure political censorship, a chilling of free speech that threatens far better films and books and journalism. It cannot be allowed to succeed.

The attack on Sony seemed rather harmlessly entertaining at first, when it was all about squirming senior executives being forced to explain leaks about Jennifer Lawrence earning less than her male co-stars, or to grovel over racially charged private jokes dumped in the public domain. Even the mooted involvement of the North Korean government didn’t feel threatening when the studio was being held to ransom by little more than bitchy gossip about Angelina Jolie. Perhaps we’re all too used to watching hackers open up secretive worlds (even if at times they have done so cavalierly, and – in the past – with potentially fatal consequences) to see this for what it really was, namely an attempt to shut debate down.

Or perhaps the reaction was a slow burner because, despite leading a regime described by Amnesty International as “in a category of its own” for torture and repression, Kim Jong-un is so often inexplicably treated in the west as a sort of semi-comical cartoon baddie, a bit like a Bond villain. The oddest thing about this whole saga is that had the British government slashed the BBC’s licence fee in retaliation for a show satirising George Osborne, the response would probably have been angrier and more immediate.

But we should have realised long before cinemas started to receive threats evoking the memory of 9/11 that this wasn’t funny. Even if the White House declined on Thursday to blame the North Korean government directly, the attack on Sony has more in common with the furore over Danish cartoons of the prophet than with mischievous data raids on tax-dodging corporates. Sony has been not just embarrassed but crippled by an attack on its IT infrastructure that exposes the surprising fragility of our digitised world: the ease with which the plug can be pulled.

And while making films isn’t exactly life and death stuff, no secretary should go unpaid at Christmas because someone shut down the computerised payroll in homage to a thin-skinned dictator. No legitimate business deserves to be crippled for offending a totalitarian regime, and no government can be allowed to exercise a veto over the way it is portrayed around the world, whether what we’re talking about is a hissy fit over a comedy or China blocking Google.

If the North Korean government really is behind this attack, in the short term it’s arguably scored its own goal. Sony says it has no current plans to release the film on DVD or streaming services, perhaps because of fears that any distributor could become a hacking target, but it’s hard to believe it won’t eventually emerge somehow.

If nothing else, social media is alive with jibes at Kim Jong-un’s expense, and more people will surely now watch the trailers than would have seen the film in cinemas – just as tabloid outrage over the BBC serialising Hilary Mantel’s book on murdering Margaret Thatcher (talking of fictional assassinations) will probably only remind more people to tune into A Book at Bedtime. All arts censorship really does, whether it’s prosecuting Penguin Books over Lady Chatterley’s Lover or plastering parental advisory stickers on rap CDs, is make the object more exciting.

But in the longer term, there’s cause for concern. What major Hollywood studio is raring to make a film about North Korea now? Will a TV network or publisher think twice about commissioning something on the regime? And how should any platform respond to something like this in the future?

Sony has been criticised for caving in rather than simply collaborating with those independent cinemas still willing to show the film (most of the big chains pulled out after warnings, apparently from the hackers, that the “world will be full of fear” if they screened it). There was, we’re told, no credible intelligence of a terrorist plot. But the studio has a responsibility to cinema staff and cinemagoers that makes this a little more complicated than the robust “publish and be damned” attitude you might get from a paper. Would you risk people dying, however tiny the risk, just to see a half-baked Seth Rogen vehicle?

And to criticise Sony is arguably to gloss over big questions for those media organisations that gleefully published the leaked emails, and thus became awkwardly complicit in a blackmail exercise seemingly conducted on behalf of a prolific abuser of human rights.

Whenever they’re confronted with a juicy leak, journalists need to ask themselves the cui bono question: to whose benefit? And the answer is often pretty unedifying – a spurned lover, a disgruntled MP passed over for promotion, someone wanting cash. That doesn’t mean you don’t publish private information if there is a public interest, as there arguably was in some of this material. If you don’t want to be publicly embarrassed about paying women less than men, maybe don’t pay them less, rather than begging for our sympathy when you’re caught at it.

But when all that’s being revealed is that George Clooney hates getting bad reviews – well, this is the territory of bears and woods and a lack of outdoor toilet facilities, and tougher questions ought to be asked before republishing it, even if the stuff is already everywhere online. We need to think this through before the next time, because there’s bound to be a next time, if only on the grounds that what happened to Sony has given every other repressive regime – or organisation, or culture – on the planet a glimpse of the possible. And that’s not funny.

 

By: Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Entertainment Industry, Kim Jong-Un, North Korea | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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