The German Inquiry on Mass Surveillance

The German parliament unanimously decided to have an inquiry on mass surveillance in March 2014. The elections were in September 2013, two months after the first Snowden revelations. (At a later point the huge conservative/social democrat govt. majority in parliament probably wouldn’t have decided in favor or such an investigation, is my personal guess.)

What’s the point of the Inquiry? There is a formal document (pdf) that defines its task which can be found on the website of the inquiry. Main topics of the investigation are mass surveillance by the Five Eyes in Germany and/or in cooperation with Germany, on the population of Germany and on government and its institutions. Germany’s cooperation in the US drone war either through intelligence or the military base in Ramstein on German soil are a specific aspect of the Inquiry. The first major conflict was whether Edward Snowden should be called to testify in the inquiry. Until today the German government evades necessary decisions about the possibility for him to come to Germany.

Since September of last year I’m senior advisor for the Left party in Inquiry. My talk about the first year at the CCC Camp in August:

I also did a slightly different talk about the inquiry at the camp in German which was translated into English and dubbed. In this talk I went more into detail for some legal aspects and presumed some general knowledge of German parliamentary procedures:

After the since talks a group of people who attended set up an English language website to inform about the inquiry since there is very little reporting outside of Germany. You can find the website at germantransparency.org/, its Twitter account @GermanInq and via the hashtag #GermanInq . Let them know if you have news clips or other English language material that should be added.

Also if you have more questions about the Inquiry feel free to ask me here or via Twitter, my English language account is @Anne_Roth.

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Eben Moglen: Snowden and the Future

Ich neige nicht dazu, die Reden sogenannter wichtiger Männer überzubewerten. Das heißt aber nicht, dass es nicht welche gibt, die nicht gut wären – vorgestern gab es so eine.

Eben Moglen hat an der Columbia Law School über die Bedeutung der Snowden-Leaks geredet. Es gab einen Stream, den ich vorgestern gesehen habe und ich habe ziemlich gestaunt. Es war viel Pathos dabei und er war angemessen.

Einige Ausschnitte:

William Binney—with whom we shall spend some time along the way—said in a public speech „I left the NSA because the systems that I built were turned against you. We had a legitimate charter in foreign intelligence gathering, but then they went and turned those systems against you—I didn’t mean it, but they did it.“

People began to understand within the system that it was being sustained against democratic order, not with it. Because they knew that what had come unmoored had come unmoored in the dark, and was sailing without a flag. They were good people, and they began to break. And when they broke, the system broke them back. In the end, at least so far, until tomorrow, there was Mr. Snowden, who saw everything that happened and watched what happened to the others.

He understood, as Chelsea Manning also always understood, that when you wear the uniform you consent to the power. He knew his business very well. Young as was, as he said in Hong Kong, „I’ve been a spy all my life,“ and I believe him. And so he did what you have to have great courage to do, wherever you are, in the presence of what you believe to be radical injustice. He wasn’t first, he won’t be last, but he sacrificed his life to tell us things we needed to know.

Edward Snowden committed espionage on behalf of the human race. Knowing the price, knowing the reason, knowing that it wouldn’t be up to him whether sacrificing his life was worth it.

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I need not explain to you that it is possible to consider a man a terrorist who tried to do too soon what we took four years and 750,000 lives in order to achieve, namely to free the slaves.

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We must ask what it means—both in the private and in the public world of listening and spying and analyzing and concluding—this thing that we’re now calling „privacy,“ in relation to the thing that we used to call freedom.

But of course, in the end, all of this would not be worth talking about here, much less your coming to listen to me talk here, unless we were going to talk about what we are actually going to do. If the problem is that we slept too long, then plainly Mr. Snowden did not come but to wake us up.

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And if we have a responsibility at all, then part of our responsibility is to learn, now, before somebody concludes that learning should be prohibited.

Which never happens in a free society.

I wish we weren’t here. I don’t wish that I wasn’t here more than I wish you weren’t here. I wish us all out of this war.

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The procedures—mind you only the procedures—of totalitarianism are a leading American export these days. I wish we weren’t here. I wish that everything we thought we did in the twentieth century we had accomplished. I wish we had defeated totalitarianism. I wish we had eliminated smallpox. I wish that we were growing the Net that we deserve to have, in which every human brain could learn and every human being could grow, nourished by the knowledge and the support of all the others.

Hier auch vollständig zum Nachlesen oder als mp3 und in weiteren Formaten. Dies war der erste in einer Reihe von vier Vorträgen, die anderen werden, wieder mit Stream, am 30.10., 13.11. und 4.12. gehalten werden.

Die Fragen, um die es geht:

  • What has Edward Snowden done to change the course of human history?
  • How does the evolution of surveillance since World War II threaten democracy?
  • What does it mean that information can be both so powerful and so easily spread? In a network embracing all of humanity, how does democracy survive our desire for security?

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