When I was teaching at a Catholic women’s high school on Chicago’s South Side, I did not allow note passing in class. It was distracting to the learning environment. I quietly confiscated them, placed them on my desk and asked that they be picked up at the end of class. I did not destroy or read them. Their contents, their authors and their recipients were none of my business. These young women lived in a crowded urban world where their privacy was invaded by both adults and their own peers.
I wanted them to understand that while note passing was rude, that was no excuse for authorities to invade their privacy. It was my way of showing respect. I feel the same today about people’s personal phone calls, e-mail messages, text messages, casual conversations, instant messages and the like. Unless there is clear and compelling evidence of criminal wrongdoing, there is no reason to invade what little privacy people have these days. It’s rude behavior by authorities and should not be tolerated in a civilized society.
But it is. Big time. While the British government sheds crocodile tears over the Newscorp phone hacking scandal, MI5 is busy spying on private conversions of all sorts of people. The USA is no better. Our FBI is currently investigating Newscorp on this side of the pond. The FBI is notorious for its unrestrained invasion of American privacy.
Facebook czar Mark Zuckerberg tells us the Age of Privacy is over. Then Obama gives him an interview at the Facebook HQ to show that the President is just as cool as Mark Zuckerberg. Corporate privacy invasion now bears the the stamp of presidential cool.
Why do we live in a world of secrets?
The message is clear. Governments and large corporations want to know everything about us. But what do we know about them? This is especially critical because governments and large corporations are infamous for their serial criminal behavior. They commit crimes because they hold great power and because they can. Nations like the USA can flout international law with impunity, as in the Iraq invasion, because there is no international body to stop them, no, not even the UN.
Entire governments have become subsidiaries of financial and corporate interests. During the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout, it was the BP dog wagging the US government tail. As the planet careens toward a biospheric catastrophe of mass extinction and terrifying climate change, who has the power to call nations and corporations to account?
We do. We the people. That is why we need groups like WikiLeaks, Anonymous and information leakers everywhere. In a world of secrets and lies they supply us with truths we can use to mount a resistance.
But don’t leakers and hackers break the law? Don’t they expose secrets? Don’t they break into computer systems and steal information? How is that any different than the FBI randomly tapping someone’s phone? Or those sleazebags from Newscorp hacking the voice mail of British kidnap victim Millie Dowler among so many others?
Yes, they do break the law. It is often necessary to break the law to achieve justice. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe its time for you to brush up on your history. It’s never too late.
And despite what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have told you, a corporation is not a person. The same is true of a government. But like real people, corporations and governments have secrets. Secrets are one of their greatest obsessions. A small portion of their secrecy may be justifiable. But much it is devoted to only one purpose: hiding their most vile and shameful acts.
Governments as Criminal Enterprises
When WikiLeaks released a formerly secret video of US troops committing war crimes in Iraq, this was criminal evidence that the world’s people deserved to see. So why was it kept secret? It was certainly no secret to the Iraqis that the Americans committed war crimes. It was kept hidden to prevent the global anti-war movement from re-asserting itself and forcing a US withdrawal from Iraq.
And what is so wrong with that? The entire Iraq War was a crime. Our relationship to that nation contains an appalling history of criminal acts committed by the USA and the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a dictator the USA helped install and who was an ally for many years.
Iraq is just one country in a vast US global empire made up of the military, the intelligence services and the corporations they are allied with. Maintaining a global military empire allied with some of the most barbaric dictators on the planet requires the commission of vile and shameful acts. There is simply no other way to run that kind of empire.
Today the US government is in panic mode because some of these secrets have been released by WikiLeaks and the hacker group Anonymous. Well I have a proposal to the US government to solve your secrecy problem. Dismantle your expensive, now threadbare global empire and stop committing those vile and shameful acts required to maintain it. I can swear on a stack of Bibles that your problems with hacker groups will melt away. BTW, the fewer secrets you hold, the easier it is to keep those that remain.
When secrets fail, look for censorship and lies. During the Tunisian Revolution earlier this year, WikiLeaks provided Tunisian citizens with secret US government diplomatic cables which detailed the corruption and police torture of the Tunisian government. The regime tried both censorship and outright lies to counter the truths that were being circulated. Anonymous sprang into action attacking Tunisian government websites and posting truths to counter falsehoods. They also assisted Tunisian cyber-revolutionaries in keeping their electronic communication flowing.
Anonymous also provided those kind of technical services to other uprisings. Just last week when Syrian tanks were smashing into Hama and the massacres were beginning, Anonymous hacked into the Syrian Defense Ministry website and substituted a homepage of hope and truth. Reading it brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of BBC radio in World War II when it broadcast similar messages into the very heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. These things make a difference to people living under the most extreme oppression.
Corporate Crime: Business as Usual
Corporations both large and small also keep secrets. It’s a bizarro world of trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements, patent abuse, competitive advantage, insider trading, tax evasion, environmental and labor law evasion, conspiracies in restraint of trade, political bribery, influence peddling and even murder. Violations of the public trust are common. Outright lawbreaking is just part of doing business. Prosecution and punishment is rare. When global corporations have wealth greater than many countries and even employ their own private armies, this should surprise no one.
Massey Energy concealed dangerous mining conditions from federal inspectors. The result: 29 miners died in the worst US coal mining disaster in 40 years. BP covered up how they failed to complete required engineering reports for their BP Atlantis oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. This failure could have led to another Deepwater Horizon disaster. Glaxo Smith Kline sold the diabetes drug Avandia knowing that it could trigger heart attacks and strokes.
Corporations are subject to public pressure and to resistance movements that employ a variety of tactics. But when secrecy fails corporations, there are always lies. Corporations deploy communications experts to publicly and skillfully lie to sway public opinion.
After Nike Corporation promised to clean up the abuses of their sweatshop manufacturers they were caught lying about it in their commercial statements. Nike actually went to court and pleaded for their right to lie to the public. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers lied to Congress when they claimed they had no way of anticipating the financial crash of 2008. Yet internal company e-mails reveal that warnings had been issued repeatedly. Top management simply ignored them them. The 2008 crash nearly took the entire global economy down into a dangerously spiraling depression. Exxon Corporation has spent millions to spread lies about climate change, actually hiring some of the same people who lied for the tobacco industry.
If it takes leakers and hackers to liberate accurate information, than so be it. Oh and by the way corporate security experts, if your employers didn't commit so many vile and shameful acts, you could sleep a little easier at night. Anonymous won't be breaking down the back door of the company website to put their own message on the homepage.
Join the Resistance
Anonymous goes beyond just sharing the secrets of the corporate world. They launch DDoS attacks to bring down corporate websites for a few hours, often leaving public messages of why. When VISA , Mastercard & PayPal refused to process online donations for WikiLeaks, Anonymous crippled their sites in protest. Why would major financial institutions be against spreading truth in a world drowning in lies? Good question.
Police around the world have been arresting alleged Anonymous members for these actions, threatening them with long jail terms. This is despite the fact that the Anonymous attacks were non-violent protests similar to the human sit-ins and blockades used to shut down businesses that are behaving badly.
So why isn’t Interpol targeting the lawbreakers that Anonymous helps to expose and draw attention to? Their efforts in that direction seem strangely lethargic. Wall Street banks can bring down an entire global economy. The best that Anonymous can do is block a corporate website for a short time.
The leakers and the hackers are part of a non-violent resistance movement to the government and corporate madness that is engulfing our planet. Many of them seem to be young, bold, impulsive; sometimes even arrogant and self-important. But however they come across to us, we should celebrate their courage and thank them for their service to humanity and the planet.
Often at great risk to themselves, they bring us the truths that we don’t want to hear. Truth is terrifying to many of us because it is inconvenient and dangerous. It cries out to us to become engaged and involved, to break out of our self-protective bubbles and assert a humanity that perhaps we didn’t know we had. Truth forces us to face our own fears and invites us to transcend them and join the human resistance movement.
“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. —— Anne Frank
She might be right you know…
We are anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.