France’s emergency powers — the new normal

Letta Tayler writes: France’s latest renewal of its emergency law has made few headlines abroad—except perhaps in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fresh from passing his own sweeping state of emergency, may have relished watching the champion of liberté, égalité, and fraternité once again suspend rights in the name of security.

But European countries, rattled by a new spate of deadly attacks in France and Germany, may yet be tempted to turn to the new French law as a model. This would be a serious misstep on both legal and strategic grounds.

France’s parliament on July 22 did not simply extend the state of emergency that President Francois Hollande declared in the wake of the horrific Paris attacks last November. Propelled by the despicable Bastille Day attack a week earlier in Nice, lawmakers significantly expanded emergency powers of police search, seizure and detention. They also used the emergency powers act to slip more than a dozen new draconian counterterrorism provisions into French criminal law. In contrast to the emergency measures, which lapse in six months, these changes to France’s criminal codes are permanent.

There is no justification, ever, for attacks such as those in Nice and Paris, which together killed 214 people and wounded hundreds, or for tragic, smaller attacks that followed in Normandy and southern Germany. Whether the attackers are members of organizations like the Islamic State, lone wolves who heed such groups’ murderous calls, armed neo-fascists, or violent extremists of any other ilk, the authorities have a duty to protect people from such atrocities.

But governments must also take care not to overreact. Taken together, France’s rolling state of emergency and the amendments to criminal codes mark a perilous shift away from judicial safeguards against security force abuses. While every new attack increases the allure of tough responses, the new measures represent a serious step backward for human rights and the rule of law, playing directly to armed Islamist groups’ desires to divide the world along the stark lines of Western oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed. They also set a dangerous precedent for other governments, whether closer to home in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Turkey, or farther afield in Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

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UK anti-radicalisation chief says ministers’ plans risk creating ‘thought police’

The Guardian reports: The police chief leading the fight to stop people becoming terrorists has said government plans targeting alleged extremists are so flawed they risk creating a “thought police” in Britain.

Simon Cole, the police lead for the government’s own Prevent anti-radicalisation programme, said that the plans may not be enforceable and risk making police officers judges of “what people can and can not say”.

His comments in a Guardian interview expose opposition in part of Britain’s security establishment against the planned Conservative government bill which was unveiled last week in the Queen’s speech.

The bill widens Britain’s counter-terrorism fight to legislate against those defined as extremists but who do not advocate terrorism. Supporters of the measures say such people encourage those who want to commit atrocities and are ideological fellow travellers, who undermine common bedrock British values.

However, Cole said that other senior police officers have concerns about the plans and the Guardian has learned separately that several British police chiefs are opposed or have serious reservations. [Continue reading…]

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Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight

Catherine Rampell writes: On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

Or so dozens of unsuspecting passengers thought.

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her.

She decided to try out some small talk.

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions. He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note of her own. [Continue reading…]

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David Vincenzetti: How the Italian mogul built a hacking empire

David Kushner reports: The Blackwater of surveillance, the Hacking Team is among the world’s few dozen private contractors feeding a clandestine, multibillion-dollar industry that arms the world’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies with spyware. Comprised of around 40 engineers and salespeople who peddle its goods to more than 40 nations, the Hacking Team epitomizes what Reporters Without Borders, the international anti-censorship group, dubs the “era of digital mercenaries.”

The Italian company’s tools — “the hacking suite for governmental interception,” its website claims — are marketed for fighting criminals and terrorists. But there, on Marquis-Boire’s computer screen, was chilling proof that the Hacking Team’s software was also being used against dissidents. It was just the latest example of what Marquis-Boire saw as a worrying trend: corrupt regimes using surveillance companies’ wares for anti-democratic purposes.

When Citizen Lab published its findings in the October 2012 report “Backdoors are Forever: Hacking Team and the Targeting of Dissent?” the group also documented traces of the company’s spyware in a document sent to Ahmed Mansoor, a pro-democracy activist in the United Arab Emirates. Privacy advocates and human rights organizations were alarmed. “By fueling and legitimizing this global trade, we are creating a Pandora’s box,” Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Bloomberg.

The Hacking Team, however, showed no signs of standing down. “Frankly, the evidence that the Citizen Lab report presents in this case doesn’t suggest anything inappropriately done by us,” company spokesman Eric Rabe told the Globe and Mail.

As media and activists speculated about which countries the Italian firm served, the founder and CEO of the Hacking Team, David Vincenzetti — from his sleek, white office inside an unsuspecting residential building in Milan — took the bad press in stride. He joked with his colleagues in a private email that he was responsible for the “evilest technology” in the world.

A tall, lean 48-year-old Italian with a taste for expensive steak and designer suits, Vincenzetti has transformed himself over the past decade from an under-ground hacker working out of a windowless basement into a mogul worth millions. He is nothing if not militant about what he defines as justice: Julian Assange, the embattled founder of WikiLeaks, is “a criminal who by all means should be arrested, expatriated to the United States, and judged there”; whistleblower Chelsea Manning is “another lunatic”; Edward Snowden “should go to jail, absolutely.”

“Privacy is very important,” Vincenzetti says on a recent February morning in Milan, pausing to sip his espresso. “But national security is much more important.”

Vincenzetti’s position has come at a high cost. Disturbing incidents have been left in his wake: a spy’s suicide, dissidents’ arrests, and countless human rights abuses. “If I had known how crazy and dangerous he is,” Guido Landi, a former employee, says, “I would never have joined the Hacking Team.” [Continue reading…]

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In much of Europe, walking wherever you want is perfectly legal. Not in America

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Ken Ilgunas writes: A couple of years ago, I trespassed across America. I’d set out to hike the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline, which had been planned to stretch over a thousand miles over the Great Plains, from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. To walk the pipe’s route, roads wouldn’t do. I’d have to cross fields, hop barbed-wire fences and camp in cow pastures — much of it on private property.

I’d figured that walking across the heartland would probably be unlawful, unprecedented and a little bit crazy. We Americans, after all, are forbidden from entering most of our private lands. But in some European countries, walking almost wherever you want is not only ordinary but perfectly acceptable.

In Sweden, they call it “allemansrätt.” In Finland, it’s “jokamiehenoikeus.” In Scotland, it’s “the right to roam.” Germany allows walking through privately owned forests, unused meadows and fallow fields. In 2000, England and Wales passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which gave people access to “mountain, moor, heath or down.” [Continue reading…]

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Decriminalize all drugs, business and world leaders tell UN

The Guardian reports: A British billionaire, three former presidents and a renowned Aids researcher have called for all drugs to be decriminalized at a press conference that was sharply critical of the United Nations’ latest drug policy agreement, adopted this week.

Leaders of the Global Commission on Drug Policy said the UN’s first special session on drugs in 18 years had failed to improve international narcotics policy, instead choosing to tweak its prohibition-oriented approach to drug regulation.

“The process was fatally flawed from the beginning,” said Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin Group, adding that it may “already be too late” to save the international drug law system.

This week’s United Nations general assembly special session, UNgass, clearly displayed the deep divisions between member states over narcotics: while a growing number of countries, including several states in the US, have moved towards decriminalizing or legalizing drugs, others continue to execute people convicted of drug crimes. Three UN conventions prohibit drug use that is not medical or scientific.

The meeting, held Tuesday through Thursday in New York City, was billed as a forum to debate drug laws, called for by Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala in 2014. All three countries suffered disproportionate violence from cartels controlling drug supplies to the north. In Mexico alone, the government estimates 164,000 people were the victims of homicide related to cartel violence between 2007 and 2014. [Continue reading…]

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How French secularism became fundamentalist

Robert Zaretsky writes: For nearly a century, laïcité [which originally assured “the liberty of conscience” for all French citizens] worked well enough. It ensured public space for both those who believed — not just Catholics and Protestants, but Jews as well — and those who did not. But with the 1980s and 1990s came a growing number of immigrants, most of whom were Muslim, from North Africa. And so a different kind of conflict between the French state and established religion began to take shape.

Emblematic of this new tension was a series of battles over a simple strip of clothing. In 1989, a few Muslim girls were expelled from school when they refused to take off their hijabs, or headscarves, which the principal believed was an assault on the secular character of public schools. Shortly after, the French administrative court, the Conseil d’État, ordered them to be reinstated. But two years after 9/11, when similar incidents were repeated at other schools, the court reversed its original finding. While all “ostentatious” signs of religious faith — be they Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turbans — were declared verboten in public schools, everyone knew that the principal target of the law was the hijab.

In the subsequent sound and fury, the banner of laïcité was unfurled in ways that would surely have been unrecognizable to the 19th-century statesmen like Jules Ferry and Aristide Briand, who helped write the original law. The once-straightforward guarantees of “freedom of conscience” and “free exercise of religious faiths” — rooted in and restricted to the constitutions of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics — were transformed under the forces of political passion and mounting existential anguish into the defining French values, and any form of retreat from a fundamentalist interpretation was a failure to defend the republic.

Today, public intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut, Régis Debray, and Elisabeth Badinter, when discussing laïcité, invoke the very future of France. Badinter, a renowned feminist philosopher, as if in anticipation of the Charlie Hebdo editorial, declared in January that she was not afraid to be called an Islamophobe, arguing that accusations of racism are a weapon against secularism. In a recent essay on secularism, diversity, and national identity titled L’identité malheureuse (“Unhappy Identity”), Finkielkraut confounds myth with history when he declares his sympathy for those “who miss the good old days when native-born Frenchmen and women (Français de souche) mingled with their own kind and who are now shedding a tear over their sepia-colored France that has lost its homogeneity.”

The xenophobic and anti-immigration National Front, too, has weaponized laïcité, turning it into an ideological cudgel to be used against French Muslims. Last year, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the party’s rising star — and granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen — asserted that the National Front is “laïque,” or secular. Yet she then offered an interpretation of the state of religion in France that had very little to do with laïcité as most of the world understands it, exposing the cognitive dissonance shared by the extreme right and left: “If French Muslims wish to practice their faith, they need to accept the fact that they are doing so on soil that is culturally Christian. This means that they cannot have the same rank as the Christian religion.”

Then, last week, the minister for families, children, and women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, lambasted fashion designers for offering lines of Islamic wear-inspired clothing, including the so-called “burkini,” a full-body bathing suit sold by Marks and Spencer. These brands, Rossignol declared, had “irresponsibly” lent their prestige to clothing designed to oppress women. As for those Muslim women who freely choose to wear religious garb, Rossignol shrugged her shoulders: “There were also American negroes who favored slavery.”

In a single phrase, Rossignol not only let drop a racial slur, but also let slip the implications of how she — a member of government — sees the meaning of laïcité today: No normal French woman, Rossignol seems to believe, would choose to wear Islamic dress as a sign of her religious faith. Tellingly, Rossignol’s use of the word “négre” sparked more outrage in the media than her claim that burkini-wearing women have no place in a truly secular society. [Continue reading…]

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Is access to our phones a step toward the police wanting access to our minds?

By Nathan Emmerich, Queen’s University Belfast

We use our smartphones so much these days, it almost feels like they have become extensions of ourselves, boosting our capacity to calculate and remember. What might come of this closer union of human and technological device? If police can serve a warrant to search your phone, and we see these devices as extensions of ourselves, how long until investigators one day serve a warrant to search your mind?

This line of thinking was roused by the FBI’s legal efforts to force Apple to help them access an iPhone that belonged to a suspected terrorist – something Apple says would undermine the security of its products. This is one of several similar cases, and part of a larger effort by the FBI and intelligence agencies, to ensure they can access a variety of now common devices.

[Read more…]

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Living under business surveillance in America

One of the ironies of Libertarianism in America is its soft-spot for Capitalism — as though anything that brands itself free, like free-enterprise, actually promotes freedom. Libertarians never tire of warning about the threats posed by the NSA and other intrusive government agencies, while the coercive and covert power of commerce generates far less fury.

Yet anyone who is genuinely concerned about infringements on civil liberties through electronic systems of surveillance, probably needs to be more wary of business than they are of government.

Most of the data the government collects gets poured into digital black holes — the data being collected for business applications, however, is constantly being mined to extract all its value.

Government might be watching you, but business is telling you where to go.

The New York Times reports: Pass a billboard while driving in the next few months, and there is a good chance the company that owns it will know you were there and what you did afterward.

Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, which has tens of thousands of billboards across the United States, will announce on Monday that it has partnered with several companies, including AT&T, to track people’s travel patterns and behaviors through their mobile phones.

By aggregating the trove of data from these companies, Clear Channel Outdoor hopes to provide advertisers with detailed information about the people who pass its billboards to help them plan more effective, targeted campaigns. With the data and analytics, Clear Channel Outdoor could determine the average age and gender of the people who are seeing a particular billboard in, say, Boston at a certain time and whether they subsequently visit a store. [Continue reading…]

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Pursuing critics, China reaches across borders. And nobody is stopping it.

The Washington Post reports: China’s campaign against dissent is going global.

Amid extraordinary moves to rein in criticism at home, Chinese security personnel are reaching confidently across borders, targeting Chinese and foreign citizens who dare to challenge the Communist Party line, in what one Western diplomat has called the “worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square.”

A string of incidents, including abductions from Thailand and Hong Kong, forced repatriations and the televised “confessions” of two Swedish citizens, has crossed a new red line, according to diplomats in Beijing. Yet many foreign governments seem unwilling or unable to intervene, their public response limited to mild protests.

The European Union is divided and appears uncertain about what to do. Hong Kong is in an uproar, with free speech under attack, activists looking over their shoulders and many people saying they feel betrayed by a lack of support from Britain. [Continue reading…]

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The war on freedom of expression across the Middle East

Rami G Khouri writes: It is useful to spot meaningful patterns that help us make sense of our bewildering world, and to acknowledge positive developments to be continued alongside negative ones to be avoided.

Applying this principle to the last year in the Middle East reveals several troubling trends that have made life difficult for hundreds of millions of people. One in particular stands out, and strikes me as a root cause of many other negative trends that plague our region. This is the tendency of governments to use increasingly harsh measures to restrict the freedoms of their citizens to express themselves and meaningfully to participate politically and hold power accountable.

Several aspects of this behavior make it especially onerous. It is practiced by all states in the region—Arab, Israeli, Iranian, and Turkish—leaving few people in this part of the world who can live as fully free and dignified human beings. It is justified on the basis of existing constitutional powers, so governments can jail tens of thousands of their citizens, rescind their nationality, or torture and kill them in the worst cases, simply because of the views they express, without any recourse to legal or political challenge. It shows no signs of abating, and indeed may be worsening in lands like Egypt, Turkey, and others. And, it is most often practiced as part of a “war on terror” that seeks to quell criminal terror attacks, but in practice achieves the opposite; the curtailment of citizen rights and freedoms exacerbates the indignities and humiliations that citizens feel against their government, which usually amplifies, rather than reduces, the threat of political violence. [Continue reading…]

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A Russian sentiment familiar to Americans: ‘It doesn’t concern me’

Zhanna Nemtsova writes: A public opinion survey recently asked Russians: “What was the main political event of the year?”

Events in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria featured prominently, but the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father, Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition figure – didn’t even figure in the responses.

Another survey conducted by the independent Levada Centre in March, soon after he was shot dead on a bridge close to the Kremlin, found that one-third of the Russians polled had “no particular feelings” about his murder.

Taken together, these responses illustrate a broader problem with the current condition of Russian society, characterised by moral numbness and best illustrated by the popular Russian sentiment – “it doesn’t concern me”.

This climate has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia.

The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built relies on a lack of public thought, and on people’s reluctance to ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. [Continue reading…]

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