Its one of those “WTF?!” moments when you realise that someone you know turns up in a newspaper for activities that you knew nothing about. Someone that you have shared experiences and communications is now the subject of a global gaze. You reflect on them in wonder, the picture faded through time, trying to piece together the person you know with the image presented for public and judicial consumption. When their public profile is associated through information and the right to information, who casts their gaze on whom, and what damage it does, it puts a whole different spin on things.
News of Lauri Love’s arrest came to me through social media, the initial “Is that really Lauri; the same Lauri; our Lauri? doubts were quickly dispelled reading through the article. Although I hadn’t seen him in over a year, he was the kind of person who made an impression; the kind who sticks in your memory. Lauri was arrested for hacking into Nasa, the Army, FBI and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, in a time when the issue of surveillance, spying and information access is a critical global topic. Love joins a long list of people who have subverted the surveillance, rising from below to cast critical gaze on those above: Gary McKinnon, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, have all undermined the techo-hegemony of one way surveillance.
What all these cases have in common is that they have gained access to information that the US government wishes to hide. Yet, as Edward Snowden demonstrated to us, the US government is engaging in large scale spying of civilians; as Chelsea Manning demonstrated they will torture and segregate those who leak information that they do not wish the world to see; as Julian Assange taught us, they confuse us with fake loyalties, encourage us to pick sides between a rapist and the US government; as McKinnon showed us, they will take extreme lengths to prosecute anyone who breaches their boundaries.
The US government’s spying is out of control. We know that they have collaborated with major organisations with the acquiescence of the UK government to create backdoors into our most intimate online spaces through the PRISM programme. We also know they do this secretly. What we don’t know what information they have on us. We know that they have been tapping phones, including the phones of politicians, including very senior politicians. The surveillance operations of the UK government are funded by the NSA and passes back over a third of the information it collects. Our own government is paid by a foreign power to collect information on us and pass it back to them. They do not protect us, they protect the global hegemony of the rich, white West.
Its very strange to personally know someone, someone ordinary, that has suddenly become the centre of a major news story. When the news first broke I went to Laurie’s facebook page to send him a message of support, but after a moment’s hesitation, decided not to. When I went back the following day, a little braver, I noticed that his privacy settings had changed, and that my facebook seemed to be acting unusually, with an odd more spacious typeface. I had seen this phenomenon before and put it down to my crappy laptop, but just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you and I left the message with a slight uneasiness, fully conscious that some beauro-drone in the NSA might well be monitoring his account.
Fear comes from being observed, the gaze which influences your actions. NASA, the US Miliary and the NSA are immune from that gaze; they chase down anyone who attempts to view. They can act as they wish with neither the fear that they are being watched, nor the influence of the watcher. Increasingly individual citizens live under that gaze, their actions imbibed with the fear of being seen, of being captured, of being distorted. You only need to look at the latest series of poverty porn to see that distortion beamed to millions of homes. On the other hand, our politicians can be caught red handed thieving millions in complex frauds asset stripping the country of key infrastructure.
the police are watching your every step, then preventing you from actually stepping anywhere by trapping you in a kettle until the only thing you care about is your throbbing bladder
They do this theiving in full view, backed by the loyal media agencies who will excuse away their sins, while distracting public attention towards the sinful. “Look! Bob Jones hasn’t had job in six months and he’s got a big telly!! Isn’t he evil!“, as the big tellies beam propaganda to all the other Bob Jones of the world in a effort to make them atone through workfare and trips to the foodback where they can express their gratitude to the benevolence of those who would hand them a tin of beans, while masses of personal information is being gathered through Universal Jobmatch, which breaches EU privacy regulations.
There has always been spying. John Le Carre and James Bond talked up the glamour, intrigue and excitement of the espionage world. The reality is far more mundane as Adam Curtis pointed out there is an assumption that spies know what they are doing. Enormous amounts of data are being gathered beyond our sight and beyond our ken. Much is being made that Lauri managed to obtain details about personnel. The broader and more interesting issues around the missile defense system and NASA are being downplayed, but what personal information would these organisations hold and why should a random accessing them be a threat – it is not a remote hacker that should be feared but the organisation that holds that information in the first place.
Much is made of the phrase “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” in the context of surveillance – that surveillance is only there to catch the “bad guys”; the “suicide bombers” and vaguely defined “terrorists”. Yet we know for a fact, that the US government is systematically killing people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and probably a good few other counties too using unmanned drones. We also know for a fact that there is an “epidemic of child pornography” at the Pentagon and among US officials, the other common excuse used to justify their activities. Decisions are being taken at the highest levels to kill people and to turn a blind eye to the torture of children. Yet to infiltrate their cyber defenses is considered more worthy of international prosecution than to tackle a culture which devalues human life.
Lauri’s a complex character. I never considered him as the master computer whizzkid that the press is portraying him as. But Lauri is definately multi-rounded. A character above all. But one driven by a desire to change the way that the world is (mis)mangaged and the injustices that we view everyday, which fade into our background vision, unable to imagine life differently.
Lauri – If you read this can you get in touch if I can offer you any solidarity?