Australian Immigration Policy

This is an excerpt from a recent post on Subtopia about an Australian immigration detention center being built on Christmas Island. I was particularly attracted to the technology involved in detaining immigrants. This is not exactly pleasant reading…

Since 2005 Australiaâ??s Department of Immigration has been constructing an “Immigration Reception and Processing Centre.” 2,400 km from Perth, 360 km from Jakarta and nearly 2000 km from Darwin, this deteniton complex is at the far end of the island which, according to this dispatch, is a narrow strip 24 km long and 7 km wide.

Keep in mind, as Angela tells us, â??under Australian law it is possible to intern people extra-judicially (without trial or charge) and, since 2004, to do so indefinitely. Migration detention is, therefore, a wholly administrative matter.â??

So just what exactly are they building out there in them pristine jungles?

Well, it turns out itâ??s not just some rinky dink detention outfit with some barbed-wire fencing and ramshackle barracks cliff-side. No, this is a $396 million tropical prison paradise. Thatâ??s right. For what the government refers to as a â??deterrent to illegal immigrationâ??, it is a state of the art 800-bed prison complex, with electric fences, movement detectors, hundreds of surveillance cameras, hidden microphones in the trees, the works.

[Image: “Camp Howard” – Australia’s very own Guantanamo Bay on Christmas Island, Feb. 2007.]â??The camp on Christmas Island has CCTV linked to a RCR [Remote Control Room] so guards in Canberra can watch detainees around the clock.â?? And planners arenâ??t leaving any thing out for this rugged remote little island prison either. â??Detainees will wear electronic ID tags or cards, identifying them wherever they are.â?? While the place crawls with guards wandering in between a perimeter of checkpoint cubicles, there is a hospital, operating theatre and visiting rooms, solitary cells, and even family units and a nursery. â??Everything can be controlled remotely â?? doors, TV, radio.â??

{Image: Floor plan for the Detention Facility at Christmas Island.]In addition to developing this offshore island-chain barrier against migration, the Australian government has launched its border patrol ship, the Triton, dubbed the â??prison shipâ?? by critics. This â??98-metre trimaranâ?? is said to be capable of detaining â??30 people for up to a month” on board and is “armed with twin machine guns.â??

[Image: The ACV Triton Australian Border Patrol Ship.]While officially deployed to patrol and intercept illegal fisherman, others are more concerned what the Triton could mean for migrants stranded at sea already facing one of the most conservative immigration-tolerant nations in the world.

Update: The last line should probably read immigration-intolerant…

Sweden wants cluster bombs

Todayâ??s op-ed piece in the local newspaper Göteborgs Posten is written by Frida Blom the chairperson for Svenska Freds- och Skiljedomsföreningen which is Swedenâ??s largest organization for piece peace. The reason for her article is the Norwegian conference beginning today aimed at bringing about a reduction in the use of cluster bombs.

Apparently Sweden is going to back away from earlier promises to lead and call for reductions in the use of cluster bombs. In December 2006 the Swedish Minister of Defence replied to questions in parliament stating that the governments was going to play an active role in international work against cluster bombs including working for an international ban and actively participated in the coming Norwegian conference on banning cluster bombs. The minister also stated that he was going to do away with Swedenâ??s supply of a (all?) cluster bombs (bombkapsel 90), create a Swedish ban on cluster bombs, and stop the production of bombkapsel 90 for the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighter.

Now it seems that the Minister has discovered that Sweden needs cluster bombs to defend Sweden. So he unfortunately cannot keep his word.

The latter position is either ignorance or bullshit on a higher level. Cluster bombs are not useful defensive tools. They are small bombs which spread over a large area. Many do not detonate, which has the effect of making re-building society after a war a costly and painfully slow process.

Dr. Strangelove

So why would the minister change his mind? Cash is king. No point in trying to sell the fighter planes if you also cannot sell the messy stuff.

Aaa â?? Swedish neutrality. Hypocrisy on a higher level.

Technology and Human Rights

On Friday it’s time for me to give a lecture on Technology and Human Rights for the local masters course on human rights. The nice part about this lecture is that it gives me the opportunity to collect and explore different strands of my work and present them to a new audience. My interest in this area began some time ago and resulted in 2005 in the collected edition Human Rights in the Digital Age which I edited together with Andrew Murray.

Discussing technology and rights can at times feel a bit banal. Human rights activists struggle to free people from torture and death so isn’t technology a small waste of time? There is no way in which it would be fair to compare technology and rights to the work of activists against the death penalty. But there is a major problem if all issues must be resolved in the order of magnitude. Speech rights may be less important to someone facing the death penalty but this does not mean that we should ignore speech rights until we have managed to abolish the death penalty.

For the lecture on Friday I am planning to look at three different areas.

The first area is going to be the use of the Internet as a “place” for political participation. I want to discuss the Internet as an area of political discourse and in particular show its possibilities and its fundamental flaws and limitations. This area should include freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The second area is privacy. In particular I want to focus on the merging of online and offline data. Or to put it another way the combination of spatial information (where you are) with the information traces stored in databases (who you are) to show the advanced control mechanism being created.

The final area is the aggregate use of technology. In this section I want to show the audience that with each piece of technology we may implement for our comfort we also form and shape our lives. In particular we also shape the way in which our lives may be controlled by others. This incremental implementation of technology does not bring large protests since no large rights are threatened overall. However the net long term result is darker than anything Orwell would have dreamed about.

Eric Drooker

The overall goal is to make the audience a bit paranoid about technology – to make them question the choices we are all making in our rush towards a more convenient way of life. Not bad for a Friday…

Sweden to criminalise DoS attacks

It does not come as a surprise to read (in Swedish here) that Sweden is on it’s way to criminalise denial of service attacks. This is unsurprising since it is simply another step in the obvious direction of EU harmonisation following the framework decision on attacks against information systems. The latter framework decision is part of a general scheme to fight against terrorism and organised crime within the information society.

The problem is that criminalising DoS attacks in this way makes all DoS attacks illegal. Even if an attack is carried out in the form of political protest, in other words, not terrorism, not organised crime. For example, in a case settled in 2006 where the Frankfurt Appelate Court found the groups â??Libertadâ?? and â??Kein Mensch ist illegalâ?? (No Human is Illegal) had carried out a legitimate form of political protest when they organised 13000 people in an online blockade (With a script- client- based distributed denial of service attack) of the airline Lufthansa. The protest was against the companies part in the deportation of asylum seekers (for more see links below).

When states now criminalise the act of DoS they also make sure that this tool cannot be used as a form of political protest. Therefore the regulators go far beyond their intention and scope of preventing terrorism and organised crime.

A more paranoid person may suspect that the regulator is using the label of terrorism to create rules which limit our ability to use technology in political communications… Read more about the “unintended” negative consequences for democracy, which occur when regulators attempt to control technology in my thesis: Disruptive Technology.

Decision by the Frankfurt Appellate Court (in German only, 22.05.2006)

Statement by Libertad on the ruling (in German only, 1.06.2006)

In German (1.06.2006)
In English (2.06.2006)

Cultural Relativism and Resistance

Itâ??s difficult to identify and define resistance but one basic feature (which is overlooked) is the fact that resistance can very rarely be unconscious. Resistance is a conscious act carried out for the purpose of resistance. This is usually not a problem since it is reasonably easy to see that those who resist have made a conscious decision to do so. The issue with conscious choice is usually discussed in situations where the courts believe that the act is criminal rather than activism.

But there is another side of the coin. Should resistance studies also advocate a normative approach? In other words should those studying resistance also advocate resistance? This question of the normative approach is actually not so unique. It stems from the discussion of cultural relativity. This discussion (simplified) is engaged in the argument whether a culture has the right to condemn or condone acts it finds abhorrent when these occur within another culture?

These thoughts are sparked off by a trip to India. Mumbai is an energetic city filled with young educated people looking for good, well-paid jobs â?? preferably with a multinational corporation. This in itself is not a problem. But within this modern culture they also manage to incorporate traditional values. In a discussion on marriage and relationships the young and educated all felt comfortable with traditional family life. This included, naturally, the role of the women as subservient to the man, the wife subservient to the mother-in-law etc.

India is a complex fascinating society. But it also challenges many of my values. In particular the family values and gender roles â?? but it also places demands on me. Should the Indians resist their traditional family roles? Or is my approach to family and frustration at the lack of resistance among them simply a western approach on steroids?

Should the resistance scholar advocate resistance? Is this a question of academic detachment or method?

Book Prize

I am easy to please. I just found out that I have won a copy of â??I väntan pÃ¥ Lenins begravningâ?? by Amanda Lövkvist the book is about activists in St. Petersburg and the title is the somewhat cryptic “Waiting for Lenin’s funeral”. The book competition was organised by Johan Karlsson over at Mothugg – he is on the publishing team of the book publishers Silc.

Depiction of Resistance

Ever wondered who gets to be portrayed as a brave resistance fighter and why? The role of the media in bringing â??the storyâ?? to the attention of the public is crucial. Unfortunately the public (thatâ??s us) is too occupied to carry out real investigations so we generally tend to accept anything the media tells us. Naturally with varying degrees of skepticism.

The skepticism depends to a large degree on several factors: the trustworthiness of the source, the importance of what is being said, the personal impact on our lives, our beliefs and cultures. But mostly we (the public) tend to accept what is being presented before us. Sad, but true.

The first main barrier is the choice to tell the story or not. Certain stories get a great deal of press attention while others get little or none. The next barrier is the presentation of the story. Will those resisting be described as the white or the black hats? Will resistance be legitimized or criminalized? The third barrier is the reconstruction after the fact. What will the victor say of the vanquished? What will be the persistent historic truth once the conflict is over?

Julius Caesar vanquished all of Gaul. After the task he wrote his account of the wars. Generations of children have since then learned their basic Latin language by reading exciting excerpts from his book. Even if we no longer learn Latin Caesars version of the truth remains the dominant story. He was â??forcedâ?? to attack the Gaul in order to protect the Gallic friends of Rome. The fact that he achieved personal fame, an enormous fortune and eventually sole power of Rome was beside the point.

The ability to resist does not build upon the ability to control the dominant truth â?? but no resistance (from a local protest to outright war) can afford to ignore it.

An exciting example of this is the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers from wikipedia:

The film depicts an episode in the war of independence in the then French Algeria, in the capital city of Algiers. It is loosely based on the account of one of the military commanders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), Saadi Yacef, in his memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger. The book, written by Yacef while a prisoner of the French, was meant as propaganda to boost morale among FLN militants. After independence, Yacef was released and became a part of the new government. The Algerian government gave its backing to have a film of his memoirs made and he approached the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas with the project. The two dismissed Yacef’s initial treatment as biased toward the Algerian side. While sympathetic with the cause of Algerian nationalism, they insisted on dealing with the events from a distanced point-of-view.

Databases and international protest

At an informal meeting of European Union ministers of justice and ministers of the interior Wolfgang Schäuble proposed

…that the Prüm Treaty be transposed into the legal framework of the EU. The treaty, which was signed by Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Spain in the town of Prüm in Germany in March 2006 provides for enhanced cross-border cooperation of the police and judicial authorities, especially with regard to combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. The purpose of the treaty is not only to facilitate prosecution, but also to aid the crime prevention efforts of the authorities. (Heise Online – I added the bold)

So what? It sounds good, almost boring.

The whole point of this is to create a network of national databases and increase the exchange of information. Those who sign the treaty will give each other access to their DNA and fingerprint data.

Pointing to this “added value provided by the treaty” Mr. Schäuble spoke out in favor of adopting the system throughout Europe: “Our aim is to create a modern police information network for more effective crime control throughout Europe,” he said. Apart from allowing for cross-border police raids and patrols the treaty permits “the authorities to exchange information on traveling violent offenders, such as hooligans, in the context of major events (for example football matches, European Council meetings or other international summits) in order to prevent criminal acts.” (Heise Online – I added the bold)

So even though the database is originally for the prevention of “combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration” the database will also be used in preventing protesters in traveling to other countries. This is particularly interesting since the political level is now supra-national but the protesters will not be allowed to be.

Are torturers evil?

It is very difficult to break out of some of one’s gut instincts. Since I was raised in the west, spoon-fed Hollywoodisms from my youngest days and all in the shadow of the cold war east-west mentality it is difficult to really get past some of the “facts of life”.

One such fact is that only evil people torture. Evil torturers fall into different categories such as (1) medieval (e.g. Spanish inquisition), foreign despot (e.g. Idi Amin), (3) total raving nutter (e.g. Hitler). Now despite the fact that I know that these simplifications are not true. Works by people such as Hannah Arendt (Eichamnn in Jerusalem) and Stanley Milgram (Obedience to Authority Study) show that acts of evil are conducted without much passion and by ordinary people.

Reports of torture being carried out by ordinary people systematically appear – and I am shocked. In particular since the organisation carrying them out is bringing democracy and attempting to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Why am I shocked? If I know that people are capable of evil? The only explanation I can think of right now is the lame idea of them and us. Stated simply evil people are them, we are good even though sometimes in error. How depressing that in the face of all the evidence I still cannot get beyond this gut reaction that they are evil while we are good.

Oh and don’t try to explain the whole thing away by speaking of a few bad apples at the Abu Ghraib prison. That simplification does not work. See for example an editorial in the New York Times (Only the Jailers are Safe, 20 December 2006, via Battleangel)

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago, was a whistle-blower who prompted the raid by tipping off the F.B.I. to suspicious activity at the company where he worked, including possible weapons trafficking. He was arrested and held for 97 days â?? shackled and blindfolded, prevented from sleeping by blaring music and round-the-clock lights. In other words, he was subjected to the same mistreatment that thousands of non-Americans have been subjected to since the 2003 invasion.

The culture of cruelty (i.e. the acceptance or tolerance for evil deeds among organisations and in society) is spreading and the more we hear the more we accept. We become (as a society) de-sensitized and tolerant to suffering.

What is the point of fighting for democracy, rights and freedom if the methods used are cruel, inhuman and against democracy, rights and freedom? If we win this fight (against whom?) is it a victory worth having? Or will we like King Pyrrhus declare, after beating the Romans at Asculum (279 BCE) declare that a victory at such a cost is not worth having?

Video Campaigns and Responses

Starbucks and the government of Ethiopia have been discussing the trademark rights to some of the finest coffee in the world. The root of the conflict is that Starbucks has not recognised Ethiopia’s ownership of the Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe names. (BBC News 26 October & 30 November 2006).

Oxfam began a campaign against Starbucks in order to help the Ethiopian coffee farmers. The idea is that if Starbucks signs the agreement with the Ethiopian intellectual property office the Ethiopian farmers will have more control over their products and this will result in better prices.

The Oxfam campaign is a typical online/offline mix with physical demonstrations being augmented with an information website containing documentation, photographs etc, and an â??act nowâ?? part where individuals can get involved on their own. A textbook example of an information campaign.

Oxfam have also created a video shot from their â??The Starbucks Day of Actionâ?? on December 16. The most natural place to leave a video on the Internet today is on the site YouTube so naturally Oxfam posted their video on YouTube (Watch it here). The video features demonstrators explaining their views and the positive reactions of people they meet.

What is interesting is not that the Internet is being used in this way but rather the Starbucks response. Starbucks created their own video response on December 20th  featuring the Head of Starbucks Coffee team answering questions. They too posted their video on YouTube (watch the Starbucks response on YouTube).

What is unique about the whole story is the way in which Starbucks as a corporation reacted to the unconventional protest use of YouTube. By responding in kind they showed that they understand the way in which information is created and consumed on the Internet.

Digital video cameras – and in particular mobile phone video cameras – have made the documentation of resistance a necessity. Websites such as YouTube and Google video have created an infrastructure for sharing of the results. By removing the need for camera crews, production teams and broadcast capabilities the creation and distribution of film has fallen into the hands of the creative amateur. The implications of this is that both the protesters and their corporate targets need to quickly master and use this medium of communication.

Whatever the outcome of the Oxfam campaign â?? this is the future of resistance information warfare.