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Next VacationChristmas:December 21st, 201310 days to go.
While revelations of the unchecked authority of the NSA are blowing through international media, one group of tech-savvy cowboys are ducking their heads below the table and holding their breath. The DGSE, or Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure*, has been bracing itself for similarly unflattering revelations. While its scale is small compared to its monstrous American counterpart, it too lives in a world without oversight or legal mandate. And a growing number of citizens of France and elsewhere are calling for it to be reined in.
Apart from kicking ass in other countries and blowing up Greenpeace boats, the main purpose of the DGSE is acquiring intelligence on a grand scale, which it does through three primary sources: spy satellites, electromagnetic signals, and large underwater fiber optic cables. Collecting metadata from these sources, the DGSE is able to establish complex graphs of human interactions, both French and foreign, with which it hopes to better understand and prevent terrorism.
According to the agency’s technical director, Bernard Barbier, “France plays in the Premier League in terms of technological spying capabilities,” handling one of the largest data collection programs in the world, and the second largest in Europe. Barbier continued his chest-thumping by allowing that his system could intercept (and record) over one billion simultaneous communications.
Barbier went on to explain that, as terrorists don’t use military-level or specialized encryption or communication, the agency’s focus had turned toward public networks. We know that these include emails, text messages, telephone calls, any social network activity, and more. As France 24 wrote, the DGSE “systematically collects information about all electronic data sent by computers and telephones in France, as well as communications between France and abroad.”
France has strict laws governing privacy and personal information, and unlike the United States, even has government watchdog to monitor the collection of data on its residents. The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL, exists for the sole purpose of protecting the French from the misuse of information about them, though unfortunately this organization has no access to or contact with the DGSE’s massive database. The result is that it lacks the authority to go after the biggest abuser privacy: the government itself. Before the DGSE can legally spy on French residents, it also must request the authorization of the Commission nationale de contrôle des interceptions de sécurité, or CNCIS, which sends the request to the office of the Prime Minister for his approval, and then finally is approved by the Groupement interministériel de contrôle, which, bizarrely, is located underneath Les Invalides in Paris.
The CNCIS, however, has a staff of eight, which includes two secretaries and a chauffeur. The DGSE could claim that it limits itself to requests authorized by the CNCIS, or 6,396 in 2011, but this is just a single drop in the data-crunching, privacy-stomping well. The DGSE’s large servers are the only source of heat for it’s giant Paris campus. And its giant new 1000 m2 state of the art data center in Yvelines was built solely for communication collected abroad, beyond the CNCIS’s jurisdiction.
France’s Electronic Communications Secrets Act (1991) requires any intercepted data to be destroyed within 10 days. In 2012, Barbier proudly declared that “we store all this data for years, and when we’re interested in an IP address or telephone number, we look it up in our databases, and we can to reconstitute his whole network.”
Large legal loopholes allow for a great amount of leeway. French law extends as far as the French borders, and beyond that the DGSE can do what it wants, with absolutely no regulation. The DGSE has “listening stations” in former colonies and around the world – notably Djibouti, next to an underwater fiber optic cable so large it’s called one of the backbones of the internet. Fiber optic cables are even excluded from weak laws regulating electromagnetic (‘hertzienne’) spying, and with the amount of raw data, including French data, passing through them, they’re a favorite of DGSE.
Other intelligence agencies, such as the domestic spying Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur**, or DCRI, the Paris Police and even French Customs, are much more limited in their collection powers. But what is allowed is for the DGSE to share its (illegally acquired) information with these other agencies. It’s like there’s a group of kids, and they send the dumb one to Amsterdam to buy pot, and he brings it back and shares it with his friends. Perfectly legal!
And if all that doesn’t work, France is still one of seven countries with direct agreements for information sharing with the NSA. If the NSA picked up the info, it’s not our fault.
But all this is just what we know. As with the revelations about the NSA, most likely the airing of the DGSE’s dirtiest laundry is still to come.
When Le Monde reported in July that France was running the same types of programs as the NSA, hardly anyone blinked. Officials remain tight-lipped, no courts argued for greater transparency, and the public is still shuffling its feet.
Perhaps it will take a brave French whistleblower to say: “Hey, what the fuck?”
*Commonly translated as Directorate Of General Security, or DOGS.
** The DCRI is scheduled to be renamed the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieur in January 2014. Convention will hold that the DGSE will at that point be referred to the Outside DOGS while the DGSI will be the Indoor DOGS
Bug Brother – excellent blog from Le Monde about surveillance. (French)
Zone d’Intérêt – thorough blog about surveillance and defense. (French) These guys practically go through the DGSE’s trash…
Thank you for all your help and support for the first ever Beach Party. We saw it as a great success. As for the poster, many of you saw the image as obvious bad taste in a good way, which is how we meant it. But some people were actually offended by it, and we’d like to respond to those self-righteous few. We feel that accusations of sexism in our Beach Party poster are baseless and unfortunate – the result of a knee-jerk reaction to a complex image.
It is true that we see a woman, situated below a man, seemingly in complete adoration of him. To attack this motif is to throw rocks at a wide range of art throughout the history of the world. The clothing and position of the figures alone are not a reason to censor it.
We also think it’s unfair to accuse us of reinforcing gender-role stereotypes through the poster. Who are any of us to say which figure self-identifies as one gender or another, or if they identify with one at all? To assign such roles automatically is an example of hetero-normative prejudice, which many find offensive. You may be comfortable imposing your insensitive paradigm on the world, but we aren’t.
Another thing. An act of expression is neither a validation of its contents nor the declaration that the speaker believes its substance. To assume that every representation of an idea is an endorsement of that idea is incredibly naive, and disallows all kinds of art, criticism, debate, and humor. To deny the re-appropriation of symbols and memes is to disenfranchise whole communities – largely those oppressed by the dominant discourses. A picture of sexism is not the same thing as a sexist picture.
The photo, as you know, is of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man whose legacy revolves around his bad acting, his drug use, his mismanagement of the State of California, his sad and creepy family life, and his petty insistence that he is four inches taller than he actually is. If his fame and reputation connote for you the superiority of males over females, then we’d be fascinated to know how you see the world on a daily basis. You could even argue that the original photo, taken in 1975, was a smug commentary on the values of the time. Today, some 37 years later, it most unquestionably is.
If you don’t like it, that’s fine. Taste is personal, and we respect that. But remember that everything offends someone, and that if we decry and censor everything we’ll have nothing left.
PS. We still want you at the party. If you didn’t like the last poster, here’s a good PC one that you’ll likely approve of:
Statement by Edward Snowden to human rights groups at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport (from Wikileaks)
Statement by Edward Snowden to human rights groups at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport
Friday July 12, 15:00 UTC
Edward Joseph Snowden delivered a statement to human rights organizations and individuals at Sheremetyevo airport at 5pm Moscow time today, Friday 12th July. The meeting lasted 45 minutes. The human rights organizations included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and were given the opportunity afterwards to ask Mr Snowden questions. The Human Rights Watch representative used this opportunity to tell Mr Snowden that on her way to the airport she had received a call from the US Ambassador to Russia, who asked her to relay to Mr Snowden that the US Government does not categorise Mr Snowden as a whistleblower and that he has broken United States law. This further proves the United States Government’s persecution of Mr Snowden and therefore that his right to seek and accept asylum should be upheld. Seated to the left of Mr. Snowden was Sarah Harrison, a legal advisor in this matter from WikiLeaks and to Mr. Snowden’s right, a translator.
Transcript of Edward Joseph Snowden statement, given at 5pm Moscow time on Friday 12th July 2013. (Transcript corrected to delivery)
Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.
It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.
I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.
That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.
Since that time, the government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression. The United States Government has placed me on no-fly lists. It demanded Hong Kong return me outside of the framework of its laws, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement – the Law of Nations. It has threatened with sanctions countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system. It has even taken the unprecedented step of ordering military allies to ground a Latin American president’s plane in search for a political refugee. These dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.
Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.
I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.
This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.
If you have any questions, I will answer what I can.
For further information, see:
In the autumn of 2012, French Twitter erupted in a battle of racist jokes and insults. Our judicial system, in its response, has shown itself incompetent, irrelevant, and, moreover, racist. This is why you should be alarmed:
The Courts Are Racist
The surge in racist tweets arrived around October 14th, and was characterized by the spike in popularity of certain hashtags, which allow for easy searching and following of trending topics. The following were among the most prominent: #unbonjuif, #unbonmusulman, #simonfilsestgay, #simafillerameneunnoir, and #prenomdepute, attacking Jews, Muslims, Homosexuals, Blacks, and Women respectively, and they were accompanied by off-color jokes, images, or other offensive content. A number of groups reacted, among them the Union of French Jewish students (UEJF), the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), SOS Racisme, and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), and they brought a lawsuit to identify the authors of tweets using the #unbonjuif, #simonfilsestgay, and #simafillerameneunnoir hashtags.
On January 24th, 2013, Judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud rendered her decision: the UEJF’s demand for the identities of the authors of the #unbonjuif tweets was “legitimate,” but the MRAP’s demand concerning the other two hashtags was not, as the group “wasn’t in a position to act against homophobia” and that the anti-Black tweets weren’t “determined” enough. When our Courts decide to protect groups from hate speech, they do so unevenly and unfairly.
The Courts Have Forgotten Their Jurisdiction
Twitter erased the offending Tweets in January, though this didn’t satisfy the UEJF or the other groups. Sending their demand all the way to California, they insisted that French law requires Twitter to hand over the names of the account owners. Twitter, which runs its service entirely out of California, responded that, as an American company operating in America, they’ll wait for an American court order. The UEJF is now suing Twitter, as well as its CEO Dick Costolo, in a French court for 38.5 million euros, for its refusal to provide IP addresses.
Should a man in his own country who has done nothing but ignore the racist noise of a foreign tribunal be tried in a foreign Court? If a court in North Korea, Sudan, or America subpoenaed us in France, are we obligated to comply?
In April, 2011, The Mariner broke British law by revealing the name of a recipient of their Super-Injunction, all while never leaving France. Should France have sold us out to Britain’s self-purported “universal jurisdiction?” Of course not. Is it fun to break English law? Why, yes.
Hate Speech Cannot Be Defined
What’s funny for one is hurtful to another. So who decides what crosses the line and should be punished? Right now, it’s probably some frustrated pencil-pusher in a windowless office in some high-rise in a banlieu of Paris. Now does he have his own set of values and prejudices? Of course – we all do. Will his judgment vary from one day to another? Obviously. Is he morally superior to you or me? Probably not. So why does he get to choose what I can say, see, hear, and read? He’s all the more likely to defend his own ideology and the power structure he’s a part of, and all the less likely to welcome criticism of it. Sir, you suck!
It’s easy to say that some speech should be criminalized. The problem is that everyone wants to be the one who decides what is acceptable and what is not. Limiting speech only serves to put some people’s interests above others.
I found #unbonamericain on Twitter. It hurt a little, but I’m used to it by now. Rather than call on the state to imprison the author of the Tweet, I try to educate. As blogger Cyrus Farivar put it: “Undesirable speech should be countered with more speech, not censorship.” If I could sue every time I felt hurt or that my human dignity was affronted, I could retire with a single copy of La Dépêche.
France Already Has a Bad Reputation for Internet Surveillance
Just last year, Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a law that would make READING hate-speech a criminal offense. Essentially, if you visited the wrong site more than once, you would have broken the law, never mind if your intentions were scholarly or journalistic. Reporters Without Boarders (RWB) journalist Lucie Morillon reminds us that to technically accomplish this, the French government would have to monitor ALL INTERNET TRAFFIC. RWB, itself a French organization, has included France on it’s “Enemies of the Internet” list since 2011.
Remember also that with encrypted chat and email, Virtual Private Networks, the Tor Network, etc; anyone who truly wants to conceal their communications, (i.e. the real terrorists!) can do so easily.
Laws Against Hate Speech Increase Hate Speech
Following the news of their court victory, Sacha Reingewirtz, Vice-President of the UEJF, had this to say: “We’ve already tweeted the decision. And we see on Twitter that the decision has apparently triggered a new rise of anti-Semitic messages directed at our organization.” So after all that, censoring hurtful speech just incites more of it. All this just makes it worse.
So what now?
The harsh and blurry laws limiting free speech and their reckless and unfair enforcement should be moderated, repaired, or removed from the Penal Code. In an effort to preserve Fraternité, we throw Liberté and Egalité into the wind, and end up losing them all, a little like robbing Peter AND Paul to pay Mary, and then just robbing her too.
Our country should stop its expensive international witch-hunt and look toward actually protecting its citizens’ rights. Only if she treats us as free adults can we hope to treat each other as such.