Friday, November 18, 2016

Irish Senator on election of Donald Trump; and Trump's new gift, the Investigatory Powers Bill

Former Irish junior minister with health, justice and culture briefs, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, reacted passionately to Donald Trump's election as US President, the seamless normalisation/acceptance of the international community of the new reality and the obsequious behaviour Irish government in particular.

No pulling of punches in this Senate tirade - ..

How are we, Mr Ó Ríordáin asks, supposed to deal with this monster who has just been elected President of America?

It would appear he doesn't believe in calling a spade an earth inverting horticultural implement.

A selection of other highlights...

"America has just selected a fascist and the best thing the good people of Ireland can do is to ring him up and ask him if it's ok to still bring the shamrock on St Patrick's Day. I'm embarrassed by the reaction of the Irish government to what's happened in America"

"Can the government not understand what's happening. We are at an ugly international crossroads. What's happening in Britain is appalling. What's happening across Europe is appalling. It has echoes form the 1930s and America, the most powerful country in the world, has just elected a fascist. And the best you can come out with from a government spokesperson is, well we have to talk about foreign direct investment. We have to be conscious of American investments in Ireland."

"There are 50 thousand Irish people illegal in America who I'm quite sure are fearful of their futures. When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy all the time and to realise what is happening?"

And that's the heart of it really. Power shifts to the scary. The elite, the corporate sector [nothing personal - it's just business], the privileged of every order shift our allegiance to the new masters because we'll be ok if we stay on the right side of those in charge won't we?

None of us pay heed to the warning of Martin Niemöller,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Ó Ríordáin continues...

"I am... I am fr-frightened. I am absolutely frightened for what's happening to this world and what's happening to our inability to stand up for it...

I want to ask you leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs into this House and to ask him how we are supposed to deal with this monster who has just been elected President of America; because I don't think any of us, in years to come, should look back on this period and not say that we did everything in our power to call it out for what it is."

Meanwhile UK parliament this week has quietly, without substantive opposition or media interest, passed the most pervasive and invasive mass surveillance legislation in history. The Investigatory Powers Bill is 304 pages of complex permissions for the UK intelligence and security services, police and other public bodies to engage in bulk
  • interception
  • acquisition 
  • retention
of communications data of the entire population and all other communications traversing the UK, access to bulk personal datasets held by other individuals, communities, groups, public services, civil society or economic actors and bulk equipment interference (aka hacking).

The depth and reach of the legislation is quite staggering. That it has been slipped through in the wake of Mr Trump's election really should not escape notice. 

GCHQ, the junior partners of the NSA, shortly itself to come under the control of a short tempered 70 year old toddler ascending to the White House, have now been provided with the legislative surveillance architecture of a police state. Given the close cooperation of the UK and US intelligence services under the Five Eyes arrangement post World War II, that will put this apparatus in the hands of a US President who promised, on the campaign trail, to re-ignite, expand and intensify US engagement in torture.

Slavery, racism, apartheid, the holocaust, rape (a British woman who reported being raped is facing jail in Dubai, right now, after being charged with the crime of engaging in extramarital sex) , homophobia, discrimination of all kinds were and still are legal in some places. Mass surveillance on an unimaginable scale is just about to become legal - pending the mere technicality of Royal Assent - in the UK. That which is legal is not necessarily acceptable in an enlightened and/or civilised society.

How can the UK, with any credibility for example, criticise Russia for blocking LinkedIn because the company refuses to host servers containing personal data of Russia citizens within that jurisdiction, when the Investigatory Powers Act reaches the statute books? They are just, they argue, attempting to protect the privacy of their own people.

Lifelong, genuinely committed intelligence and security services and other government officials, who have supported the expansion of Investigatory Powers Bill type laws on the other side of the Atlantic pond, for years, are nervous about serving in a Trump administration. Can any of the MPs, who were conspicuous by their continual absence from parliamentary debates about the Investigatory Powers Bill but, like well trained puppies, showed up when the division bell ping-ponged, to vote it through its multiple stages, in accordance with party instructions, seriously suggest they would be happy to have these powers in the hands of a dangerous or reckless US president? 

The chairman of the US Nazi party is pleasantly surprised at the president elect's pick for chief White House strategist. The Nazis. As for the opposition in the US congress, the probable minority leader for the Democrats in the US Senate will be Chuck Schumer, a man who reportedly supported the Iraq war, torture and the Patriot Act - the US's original legislative foray into mass surveillance.

Openly racist, homophobic, mysogynist, xenophobic, hate inciting bigots might not be as bad in government as they sounded on the election trail; but we should be very very very wary of smoothly handing them the controls of the infrastructure, the well oiled, indiscriminate, tools and unrestrained tentacles of a an all seeing, all hearing, ubiquitously observing police state. If the temptation to abuse these powers was irresistible when the good guys were in power, what's it going to be like if Trump uses them to follow through with even some of the hateful promises he made in the run up to the election?

Trump is inheriting extraordinary powers. Don't be surprised if he and/or the more extreme elements of his cortege decide to exercise them. As Daniel Miessler and many civil liberties advocates have said for generations, we need to be very careful about building all powerful mass surveillance tools because you never know who is going to get the keys. We gave up our rights under Bush, Blair and their successors because we were told to be scared of terrorism and the other horsemen of the infocalypse. We now bestow the powers decimating those rights to a Donald Trump administration, by proxy, through the US intelligence agencies close relationship with their counterparts in the UK.

Update: An edited version of this post has been published by New Scientist (Registration required for access). New Scientist YouTube video here.