Progressive News Network 9/9/12
Special News Guest: Prof. Mark Naison (pre-recorded)
African American Studies Director, Fordham University
Matthew Schwartz - [Florida Wildlands] 7:10:00 PM
Rebecca Marques - [Oceana] 7:26PM PM
Drew Martin - Palm Beach Water Board 7:45PM
Mark Pafford 8:15pm - 8:30pm
National call in day September 24
Call Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas at 312-353-5300 x 68027
Tell him to "End the investigation of anti-war and international solidarity activists."
SCPA Progressive Fest, Communities in Action
Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 from 11:00 to 5:00 pm
Eau Gallie Civic Center
1551 Highland Avenue, Melbourne
October 27th, 6:15 PM
"Politicians are actors who read from a script and what we, the Koch Brothers,
want to do is to write that script." (Jane Mayer, The New Yorker)
Join us for our screening and discussion of Robert Greenwald's superb documentary,
"Koch Brothers Exposed."
See how much influence you could have if you only had $50 billion - you could buy politicians willing to: suppress voting rights, destroy social security, deregulate environmental laws, deny climate change, re-segregate schools, corrupt education, fund extremist think-tanks, determine media "news" and be responsible for illnesses and deaths by the dumping of carcinogens in populated areas.
Our program will begin at 6:15 PM with fabulous music performed by PinkSlip singers and musicians Joan Friedenberg and Bill Bowen.
Please visit their website: http://www.pinkslipband.com/
Our film begins at 7:00 pm followed by an informative discussion led by Richard Spisak, author, blogger and news director of Progressive News Network: http://averyvoice.com/progressive_news_network.html
“REEL POLITIQUE” is a film series that addresses the need to understand our political world.
Our screening and discussion will be at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, 2601 St. Andrews Blvd.
Location: west of 95, north of Glades Rd., on the west side of the street (across from Pine Crest School). The film will be shown in the Sanctuary (enter front door).
To help UUFBR defray expenses, a $5 donation is suggested.
Martin Lipschultz and Susan Caruso
1. 'Unprecedented,' 'Amazing,' 'Goliath': Scientists Describe Arctic Sea Ice Melt
Arctic Sea ice levels continue to drop below record set on Aug. 26
- Common Dreams staff
The rate of Arctic Sea ice melt has caught scientists by surprise, leaving them to describe the current record low levels as "amazing," "a Goliath" and "unprecedented." While a record low was recorded on Aug. 26, the ice level continues to fall, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that there is still a week left in the melting season.
The speed of the Arctic ice melt is astounding, scientists say. "It is a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago," Dr. Kim Holmen, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute told the BBC. "And it has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us."
"This year's melting season is a Goliath," also notes geophysicist Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory at City University of New York, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The ice is being lost at a very strong pace."
These scientists' opinions are no anomalies. Weather Underground co-founder Dr. Jeff Masters writes that "Every major scientific institution that tracks Arctic sea ice agrees that new records for low ice area, extent, and volume have been set. These organizations include the University of Washington Polar Science Center (a new record for low ice volume), the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Norway, and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today."
The National Snow and Ice Data Center illustrates the melt since 1979 in the graph below, showing a decline in the ice extent at 10.2% per decade:
Published on Friday, September 7, 2012 by Common Dreams
2.BP Oil Spill, Tar Balls Churned up by Isaac
- Common Dreams staff
Oil that has washed up along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac has now been traced to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of 2010, according to scientists who examined the waste.
Scientists at Louisiana State University (LSU) ran tests on the large globs of oil waste, known as 'tar balls', that washed up on the shores of two Louisiana beaches last week. The tests revealed the waste matched the biological makeup of the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that originated from the BP spill.
Since hurricane Isaac landed last week, tar balls have been washing up on beaches in Alabama and Louisiana, and on Tuesday, "a large tar mat" was discovered on the beaches of Louisiana's Elmer's Island, according to the Guardian. State officials were forced close a 13-mile stretch of beach and restricted fishing in the area.
Ed Overton, the LSU chemist who did the state tests, told the Guardian that more oil was likely buried along the coast, but it is difficult to uncover and clean up. The team of scientists stated that since 2010, tropical storms have consistently washed up oil debris along the coast.
"We're in year three and this seems to be the new normal for the Gulf Coast," Researcher Joel Hayworth said. "For some unforeseeable time, this is going to be the new normal for the beach."
3.Radiation 258 times legal limit found in fish off Fukushima
August 22, 2012, The Asahi Shimbun
Fish containing 258 times the legal limit of radioactive cesium have been found in waters off the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said on Aug. 21. The reading for two rock trout, caught about 20 kilometers to the north of the plant, showed 25,800 becquerels per kilogram, the highest yet detected in surveys conducted after last year’s nuclear accident.
4. Alarming Level Of Radiation Detected In Fish Caught Off Fukushima
August 23, 2012
August 21, 2012, RTT News
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, says it has detected radiation 380 times more than that of the government safety limit in a fish caught off the Fukushima prefecture.
TEPCO is measuring radiation exposure in fish and shellfish caught within 20 kilometers of the disabled plant from March this year. It caught 20 kinds of fish and shellfish from five locations from mid-July to early August.
5. Plutonium Detected at 10 Locations in Fukushima
August 23, 2012
August 21, 2012 Jiji Press
Tokyo, Aug. 21 (Jiji Press)–Plutonium believed to originate from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has been detected at 10 locations in four municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, the science ministry said Tuesday.
The highest reading was 11 becquerels of plutonium-238 per square meter, detected in the town of Namie. The figure is about 1.4 times more plutonium than that originated from fallout from nuclear weapons tests abroad. However, the ministry said that there is no health hazard. The other municipalities are the town of Okuma, the village of Iitate and the city of Minamisoma.
6. 'Severe abnormalities' found in Fukushima butterflies
By Nick Crumpton BBC News
Exposure to radioactive material released into the environment has caused mutations in butterflies found in Japan, a study suggests.
Scientists found an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected following the 2011 Fukushima accident.
The link between the mutations and the radioactive material was shown by laboratory experiments, they report. The work has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Two months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in March 2011, a team of Japanese researchers collected 144 adult pale grass blue (Zizeeria maha) butterflies from 10 locations in Japan, including the Fukushima area.
When the accident occurred, the adult butterflies would have been overwintering as larvae.
Unexpected results By comparing mutations found on the butterflies collected from the different sites, the team found that areas with greater amounts of radiation in the environment were home to butterflies with much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes.
"It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation," said lead researcher Joji Otaki from the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa.
"In that sense, our results were unexpected," he told BBC News. Pale grass blue butterfly The Japanese researchers have been studying the species for more than a decade Prof Otaki's team then bred these butterflies within labs 1,750km (1,090 miles) away from the accident, where artificial radiation could hardly be detected.
It was by breeding these butterflies that they began noticing a suite of abnormalities that hadn't been seen in the previous generation - that collected from Fukushima - such as malformed antennae, which the insects use to explore their environment and seek out mates.
Six months later, they again collected adults from the 10 sites and found that butterflies from the Fukushima area showed a mutation rate more than double that of those found sooner after the accident.
The team concluded that this higher rate of mutation came from eating contaminated food, but also from mutations of the parents' genetic material that was passed on to the next generation, even though these mutations were not evident in the previous generations' adult butterflies.
The team of researchers have been studying that particular species butterfly for more than 10 years.
They were considering using the species as an "environmental indicator" before the Fukushima accident, as previous work had shown it is very sensitive to environmental changes.
"We had reported the real-time field evolution of colour patterns of this butterfly in response to global warming before, and [because] this butterfly is found in artificial environments - such as gardens and public parks - this butterfly can monitor human environments," Prof Otaki said.
The variations in colouration of the butterfly were previously reported by Prof Otaki and his colleagues in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, as he told BBC News.
"Colour-pattern changes of this butterfly in Aomori, Japan was [previously] observed only in the recent northern range margins during a limited period of time. Most importantly, the range-margin population did not show any 'abnormality' per se," he clarified.
The findings from their new research show that the radionuclides released from the accident had led to novel, severely abnormal development, and that the mutations to the butterflies' genetic material was still affecting the insects, even after the residual radiation in the environment had decayed away.
"This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima," explained University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau, who studies the impacts of radiation on animals and plants in Chernobyl and Fukushima, but was not involved in this research.
"These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants," Dr Mousseau told BBC News.
The findings from the Japanese team are consistent with previous studies that have indicated birds and butterflies are important tools to investigate the long-term impacts of radioactive contaminants in the environment.
7. Arctic ice melting at 'amazing' speed, scientists find
Scientists in the Arctic are warning that this summer's record-breaking melt is part of an accelerating trend with profound implications.
Norwegian researchers report that the sea ice is becoming significantly thinner and more vulnerable.
Last month, the annual thaw of the region's floating ice reached the lowest level since satellite monitoring began, more than 30 years ago. It is thought the scale of the decline may even affect Europe's weather. The melt is set to continue for at least another week - the peak is usually reached in mid-September - while temperatures here remain above freezing. 'Unprecedented'
The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) is at the forefront of Arctic research and its international director, Kim Holmen, told the BBC that the speed of the melting was faster than expected.
"It is a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago," Dr Holmen said.
BBC Map "And it has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us."
The institute has been deploying its icebreaker, Lance, to research conditions between Svalbard and Greenland - the main route through which ice flows out of the Arctic Ocean.
During a visit to the port, one of the scientists involved, Dr Edmond Hansen, told me he was "amazed" at the size and speed of this year's melt.
"As a scientist, I know that this is unprecedented in at least as much as 1,500 years. It is truly amazing - it is a huge dramatic change in the system," Dr Hansen said.
"This is not some short-lived phenomenon - this is an ongoing trend. You lose more and more ice and it is accelerating - you can just look at the graphs, the observations, and you can see what's happening." Thinner ice I interviewed Dr Hansen while the Lance was docked at Norway's Arctic research station at Ny-Alesund on Svalbard.
Key data on the ice comes from satellites but also from measurements made by a range of different techniques - a mix of old and new technology harnessed to help answer the key environmental questions of our age.
The Norwegians send teams out on to the floating ice to drill holes into it and extract cores to determine the ice's origin.And since the early 90s they have installed specialist buoys, tethered to the seabed, which use sonar to provide a near-constant stream of data about the ice above.
An electro-magnetic device known as an EM-Bird has also been flown, suspended beneath a helicopter, in long sweeps over the ice. The torpedo-shaped instrument gathers data about the difference between the level of the seawater beneath the ice and the surface of the ice itself.
By flying transects over the ice, a picture of its thickness emerges. The latest data is still being processed but one of the institute's sea ice specialists, Dr Sebastian Gerland, said that though conditions vary year by year a pattern is clear.
"In the region where we work we can see a general trend to thinner ice - in the Fram Strait and at some coastal stations."
Where the ice vanishes entirely, the surface loses its usual highly reflective whiteness - which sends most solar radiation back into space - and is replaced by darker waters instead which absorb more heat.
According to Dr Gerland, additional warming can take place even if ice remains in a far thinner state.
"It means there is more light penetrating through the ice - that depends to a high degree on the snow cover but once it has melted the light can get through," Dr Gerland said.
"If the ice is thinner there is more light penetrating and that light can heat the water."
The most cautious forecasts say that the Arctic might become ice-free in the summer by the 2080s or 2090s. But recently many estimates for that scenario have been brought forward.
Early research investigating the implications suggests that a massive reduction in sea ice is likely to have an impact on the path of the jet stream, the high-altitude wind that guides weather systems, including storms.
The course and speed of the jet stream is governed by the difference in temperature between the Tropics and the Arctic, so a change on the scale being observed now could be felt across Europe and beyond. Alan Thorpe of the European Weather Centre explains the link between melting ice in the Arctic and the UK's poor summer. Kim Holmen of the NPI explained how the connection might work.
"When the Arctic is ice free, it is not white any more and it will absorb more sunlight and that change will influence wind systems and where the precipitation comes.
"For northern Europe it could mean much more precipitation, while southern Europe will become drier so there are large scale shifts across the entire continent." That assessment is mirrored by work at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, based in the British town of Reading. The centre's director-general, Alan Thorpe, said the link between the Arctic melt and European weather was complicated but it is now the subject of research.
"Where Arctic sea ice is reducing in summer - and if we have warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the north-west Atlantic - these twin factors together lead to storms being steered over the UK in summer which is not the normal situation and leads to our poorer summers."
But the research is in its earliest stages. For science, the Arctic itself is hard to decipher. The effects of its rapid melt are even tougher.
8. Cesium-laden fish may point to ocean hot spots
By MIZUHO AOKI
A record-high 25,800 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium has been detected in fish caught within 20 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., indicating there may be hot spots under the sea that need further investigation.
Fishy business: Record-high levels of radioactive cesium were found in these two "ainame" greenlings caught Aug. 1 off the coast of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. KYODO/TEPCO
That level is 258 times the government limit for safe consumption. The cesium was found in two "ainame" (greenlings) caught Aug. 1 at a depth of 15 meters, Tepco said Tuesday. It was the most cesium found among seafood samples so far.
A person could get a dose of 0.08 millisieverts by eating 200 grams of the greenlings, Tepco said. A cumulative dose of 100 millisieverts increases the risk of dying from cancer by 0.5 percent.
Greenling are bottom fish that live around rock reefs in coastal waters.
Tepco said it will check further for contamination of greenling and sea creatures that bottom fish feed on, including crabs and prawns.
The utility will also examine soil from the nearby seabed to try to ascertain the reason behind the extremely high contamination level, spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said, adding, "One possible reason is that there is some kind of hot spot (on the sea floor and the contamination in the fish) got this high by eating crabs and prawns that live there."
Overall contamination levels in fish near the surface and at medium depths have been declining, the Fisheries Agency said.
However, relatively high levels of radioactive cesium continue to be detected in bottom fish, such as greenling and flounder, and in fresh water fish regardless of their usual depth, an agency official said.
The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations resumed sales in June of two types of octopus — "mizu-dako" and "yanagi-dako" — and a shellfish called "shiraitomaki-bai."
In general, cesium accumulates far less in octopus, squid and shellfish than in ocean fish and none has been found in samples the cooperative collected.
9. New Zealand Grants a River the Rights of Personhood
Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/new-zealand-grants-a-river-the-rights-of-personhood.html#ixzz25zhPFpfw
Written by Stephen Messenger
From the dawn of history, and in cultures throughout the world, humans have been prone to imbue Earth’s life-giving rivers with qualities of life itself — a fitting tribute, no doubt, to the wellsprings upon which our past (and present) civilizations so heavily rely. But while modern thought has come to regard these essential waterways more clinically over the centuries, that might all be changing once again.
Meet the Whanganui. You might call it a river, but in the eyes of the law, it has the standings of a person. In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently granted the Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, with legal personhood “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”. The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.
Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity, under an arrangement in which representatives from both the iwi and the national government will serve as legal custodians towards the Whanganui’s best interests.
“Today’s agreement which recognises the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and the inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui iwi and is important nationally,” says New Zealand’s Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson.
“Whanganui Iwi also recognise the value others place on the river and wanted to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring its wellbeing,” says Finlayson.
Although this is likely the first time a single river has been granted such a distinction under the law, chances are it’s not the last.
In 2008, Ecuador passed similar ruling giving its forests, lakes, and waterways rights on par with humans in order to ensure their protection from harmful practices.
And, while it may seem an odd extension of rights, in many ways it harkens back to a time when mankind’s fate was more readily acknowledged as being intertwined with that of the rivers, lakes, and streams that sustained us — a time in which our purer instincts towards preserving nature needn’t be dictated by legislation.
This post was originally published by TreeHugger.
Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/new-zealand-grants-a-river-the-rights-of-personhood.html#ixzz25zhU1TjE
10. The Bolivian government has proposed a ground-breaking new law that would grant all of nature equal rights to those of the human race.
Earlier this year, Bolivia passed its own la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, or “Law of Mother Earth,” as part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009.
The Law of Mother Earth is the world’s first piece of legislation to grant the planet absolute protection against those who would seek to exploit or destroy its resources or ecosystems.
The new law establishes 11 new rights for nature. They include:
the right to life and to exist;
the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air;
the right to balance;
the right not to be polluted;
and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
The Guardian reports that the law has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.
The Law of Mother Earth redefines Bolivia’s tin, silver, gold and other raw mineral deposits as “blessings” and seek to protect the planet from “mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”
“It is not clear at this stage how the somewhat abstract legislation would be implemented,” writes Olivia Solon for Wired. The state will need to be careful to balance the rights of nature with the regulation of industries (such as mining) that contribute a significant chunk of the country’s GDP.
Now, Bolivia is seeking to bring these principles worldwide with a United Nations treaty. The treaty, in draft at this time, would give Mother Earth the same rights as humans, including rights to life, water and clean air, the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities, and the right to be free from pollution (SlashGear).
Critics of the law and its potential to inspire a treaty for UN nations say that it’s nothing more than an attempt by Bolivia’s socialist President Morales to “eradicate capitalism” and to force wealthy industrialized countries to “pay their environmental debt.”
Personally, I think that if the mega-corporations get to hide behind the legal protections of “personhood” as they pillage and pollute the planet, it’s only fair that she should be able to stand and defend herself with the same inalienable rights.
There could be no better Earth Day gift.
Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/bolivian-law-grants-nature-equal-rights-with-humans.html#ixzz25zhmF0eD
11. How Your Movements Are Being Tracked, Probably Without Your Knowledge
License plate readers are getting set up at a brisk pace across the country.
August 31, 2012
|n May, Utah lawmakers were surprised to learn that the US Drug Enforcement Agency had worked out a plan with local sheriffs to pack the state's main interstate highway, I-15, with Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) that could track any vehicle passing through. At a hearing of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee, the ACLU of Utah and committee members aired their concerns, asking such questions as: Why store the travel histories of law-abiding Utah residents in a federal database in Virginia? What about residents who don't want anyone to know they drive to Nevada to gamble? Wouldn't drug traffickers catch on and just start taking a different highway? (That's the case, according to local reports.)
The plan ended up getting shelved, but that did not present a huge problem for the DEA because as it turns out, large stretches of highway in Texas and California already use the readers.
So do towns all over America. Last week Ars Technica reported that the tiny town of Tiburon in Northern California is using tag reader cameras to monitor the comings and goings of everyone that visits. Despite the Utah legislature's stand against the DEA, local law enforcement uses them all over the place anyway, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. Big cities, like Washington, DC and New York, are riddled with ALPRs.
According to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, ALPRs have become so pervasive in America that they constitute a "covert national surveillance grid."
The civil liberties group has mapped the spread of ALPRs, and contends on its Web site that, "Silently, but constantly, the government is now watching, recording your everyday travels and storing years of your activities in massive data warehouses that can be quickly 'mined' to find out when and where you have been, whom you’ve visited, meetings you’ve attended, and activities you’ve taken part in."
The group not only tracks the spread of the cameras but gives people the tools to contest their installation, or at least bring it up with their representatives. They're also pushing Congress to initiate hearings "to determine just how vast and intrusive the network has become." (The ACLU has also sent requests to local law enforcement throughout the country to determine just how many places use the technology and how.)
AlterNet spoke with Carl Messineo, legal director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, about the spread of ALPRs, why the technology is becoming increasingly centralized, and what you can do to have a say in their proliferation.
Tana Ganeva: What exactly are ALPRs and what do they look like?
Carl Messineo: Tag readers are cameras that can be stationary, mounted on poles or traffic signals. Also they can be put on cruisers and vehicles. They can also be hidden. Their function is to take images of passing vehicles, and they have an extraordinary capacity technologically to be able to do so, and to use optical character recognition to identify the license plate number.
The images may include optionally images of the occupants, the driver and passengers, as well. It takes that data, along with the GPS location of the vehicle, the date, the time, etc., and then stores it, matches up the data, and can send it to a centralized data warehousing center where they can log, historically, the movement of your own vehicle as it has passed through and silently triggered any one of the many thousands of tag readers that over the past few years have been put in place without very much public discussion or debate.
A lot of what we do is personal. We don’t want the government to know if we were outside the doctor’s office. Here in Washington, DC you drive into work, and based on where they have located these tag readers, unquestionably your movements are being not only monitored, but then transmitted to a massive database so they can look back years from now and find out what your travels have been.
TG: Where are they? Cities and towns and everywhere at this point?
CM: Yes. In fact, the federal government has, over the past number of years, embarked on a campaign to use federal funds to either subsidize or to give money for tag readers ostensibly for law enforcement purposes all across the country. In Utah, they were presented in much of the same way that the government and law enforcement presents these surveillance technologies; they roll them out as an innocuous way to take a snapshot of passing vehicles and compare them to a stolen vehicle list. Well, yeah, that’s part of what it does, but then in Utah they came to understand that that was only a fraction of the functionality of the tag readers that were being offered to them for free. And they expressed shock that the government was actually intending to take a historical record of all the cars that passed through on their interstate and send it off to a data warehouse, which is physically located in Northern Virginia, in Merrifield.
TG: Right. Because the data warehouse in Virginia would be really concerned about stolen cars in Utah, right?
CM: Well, exactly. And you know, one of the great concerns, or a number of important elements here -- there are virtually no real hard restrictions on the retention of this data, or on the use of the data.
And when you aggregate it, the real risk to privacy, the greatest risk to privacy comes through both the historic accumulation of data so that it’s not just a snapshot, but actually a history.
But also, when you aggregate it and cross-reference it with other information such as a person’s credit card transactions, what they purchased, when they purchased and why, you can really create a comprehensive profile of a person’s activities, their associations, even really a personality profile on them. Imagine, they know more about you than you probably know about yourself when they take into consideration your movements, your purchases as reflected in card databases, your credit card transactions, each of which record the time, location, nature of your transactions. And that and your cell phone data, well, what’s left?
TG: It’s interesting, I hadn’t realized that some of them have the capacity to even take snapshots of passengers. They could show sort of associations and, you know, who is in your car and when.
CM: Exactly, of course. And ultimately all of this technology will converge into any type of video recording device. I mean, you can use video and it doesn’t have to be a license plate reader and use scanning software and determine who a person is, and also the license plate scanning. But at this moment in time, they’re heavily reliant upon proprietary corporate purchased cameras.
TG: So I assume that there’s an element here, too, where there's a big corporate role in the deployment of these products. Probably a lot of companies pushing their wares on law enforcement, as well. Is that something you’ve noticed?
CM: In New York City, with the Domain Awareness Program, what they’re trying to do is replicate for all of New York what now exists in London, which is that you cannot move anywhere without being scanned, recorded, recognized. They have a massive technological ring. So New York City has partnered with Microsoft in this mass surveillance technology where they intend to jointly promote the use and the export of the technology being used in New York City across the country with a third of any profits going to Microsoft. It’s part of a private, public, corporate, industrial surveillance complex.
TG: Now, how would a program like Domain Awareness work with the ALPR networks? Are there conflicts, or are they converging? How does that work? Is this all shared information?
CM: Over the past 15 years, the great technological obstacle, which has now been overcome, has been the lack of uniformity in data storage. That is to say that different systems made by different vendors held data in different ways -- much in the same way that originally Macs and Windows systems were not really compatible, but now you can run Mac software on a Windows machine and vice versa. One of the big technological challenges and goals of the government over the past 15 years has been to overcome this lack of uniformity in data storage, and they have overcome it so that the data from different manufactures can now all be combined and shared, and the issue about sharing is very substantial. So when they put this data into a warehouse, a data warehouse, who has access to it?
Documents that were secured by EPIC, the privacy non-profit, recently revealed that actually there is an arrangement whereby the customs license plate reader data is now being given or shared with private corporations like the insurance industry.
So, wondering whether every law enforcement entity has access to this is sort of a moot point when actually they have no problem providing this information to private corporations.
TG: How did that happen? What would their justification be for giving insurance companies this stuff?
CM: There’s always a justification. That’s just it. Justifications are easy to come by. The justification here is that it has a benefit to the insurance companies who themselves are trying to weed out fraudulent insurance claims, where people claim their car was stolen, but voluntarily taking it across the border to sell it, for example. You know? So what. That’s not their information to have.
Nor is it the government’s. When you aggregate this information and know, for example, who has been parked near an abortion clinic, who has attended a political organizing meeting, and for an individual, what are the chain of activities that you have engaged in? That information does not belong to the government. That is just a clear violation, an intrusion of personal privacy.
You ask, “How does this happen?” Well, it happens because they have been able to silently, quietly fund the technology. And the key to technology is that it is not physically intrusive, right? So you, I, everyone has actually had our vehicles and our movements recorded hundreds, thousands of times, and never felt it.
So it can happen silently, and that’s what they’re counting on. They’re counting on making this surveillance system a fait accompli, and then they acknowledge it after the facts are on the ground, so to speak, when it’s going to be very difficult to undo, when it is entrenched.
That’s what they’re counting on. But they’re also deeply, deeply concerned about public backlash and political response. And, in fact, there is language in the privacy report on license plate reader technology that’s put out by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who acknowledge that the ability to roll out this technology is going to be limited by the public’s willingness to tolerate it. And so they are looking for ways to present it so that it does not create a political response.
TG: One issue that I think has come up in surveillance efforts, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the US too, is that when they have so much information, human beings can’t really analyze it efficiently. So they’re getting these mountains and mountains of data, it’s just increasing more and more. What use is it if it’s so much that it’s hard to analyze? Are they improving on that front, as well?
CM: I think that what is clear is that certain things have changed technologically. The storage space, hard drive space has become massively, massively cheaper so that the capacity to store data on a massive, extraordinary scale has become achievable, affordable, and feasible so that they are able to, in fact, now gather all of this movement data, and keep it. And the ability to search the data and mine it.
So they don’t actually need to process every piece of data. What they need to do is be able to store and access every piece of data, which they do have, so that when there is, for example, a targeted group, and that may be the Muslim community, that may be anti-globalization activists, it may be the Occupy Movement, it may be individuals, they have the ability then to on an as-needed basis go back and identify who was at this organizing meeting, who was at the mosque.
And then from there branch out and determine the associations and activities of each of those persons. It’s just sitting there and available. It’s what John Poindexter called “Total information awareness."
TG: Right. So this ALPR technology was originally used in war zones. How did it make it to America?
CM: Well, that is actually not an unfamiliar transition. It is not unusual for tools of political and social control. In this case, the license plate reader technology came out from the UK and Ireland. That’s where it was developed. And then there was a corporate interest, on part of the military industrial complex, to give it a life span, to give it a reason to continue to generate profit for the corporations which market and traffic in this technology. And so then they create, and sell, and present along with, you know, people who are aligned with them, within the government, they create reasons and explanations for why this should be deployed here domestically.
There is always a pretext, there is always an explanation. There is always some boogie man to turn to, a threat of violence. All of the counterintelligence program disruption activities of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970 period, early ‘70s were justified by the government as necessary to prevent acts of violence, and to further law enforcement. So that’s what they do here. They say, “Look, this can help prevent acts of violence. If we knew this, we could prevent a terrorist attack If we knew this, we could prevent lawlessness, we could track stolen vehicles.” There are a lot of pretexts for it.
But ultimately, when you look at the design of these systems, the systems are really massive intelligence networks. A lot of these uses do not require the massive retention and data warehousing that municipalities in the federal government are engaged in. If you look to identify whether a vehicle that just passed a tag reader, for example, is a stolen vehicle, they can send in an alert and have an officer pull it over. You don’t need to capture and record every single vehicle’s license plates and possibly the photos of the occupants, and then move that into a data warehouse for archiving purposes. That’s not necessary.
TG: Can you talk a little bit about your project?
CM: Our project, which is located at www.BigBrotherAmerica.org, is a project of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. It's about tag readers, but it's also about the nation being under surveillance. It is about the confluence of technologies to create an unprecedented threat to privacy. And what we want to do is ... this is a democratic project. It’s not a top-down project so much as one that engages the public to take control, because a lot of these technologies are being rolled out in a way that requires the cooperation of local municipalities, it requires the District of Columbia government to be willing to put up tag readers all around the district. It requires the sheriffs in Utah to be willing and to be cooperative to put up the tag readers along the interstates that they have jurisdiction over, and there has been success in some areas, limited areas, where people have politically stopped these massive surveillance technologies from being deployed.
New Hampshire, which, of course, has a strong history of independence and protection of civil liberties, has passed a statute prohibiting this type of mass surveillance technology deployment.
There are steps that people can take at BigBrotherAmerica.org. They can send letters to the Representatives in Congress and demand federal oversight hearings to force disclosure from the executive branch agencies, from the FBI, from the DEA, from ICE, of basic information, like just how big is this network? Have the officials come forward to testify under oath what data they are accumulating, how long they are storing it. What are the restrictions on use so that there is disclosure, and with disclosure of course comes logical restriction.
We can also use this same process locally to say, you should enact a law, or that it, in fact, is the law, as it very well may be that it’s unlawful to implement, to roll out mass surveillance technology without there being public notice debate disclosure so that people locally can make a decision about just how they want their county or their city to be. This is life-altering technology. And, of course, as part of our campaign, we provide people with resources and tools, posters, we have graphics and compelling images that people can use to create signs and posters.
And also with respect to the tag reader use, what we are doing is we’re asking people across the country to identify the locations of the tag readers in their jurisdiction, that they may know of either by personal observation or by local news disclosures, and to submit that information to what is a clearinghouse here at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, and we have a growing national map, an interactive map of tag reader locations across the country. And people already, since the launch of the campaign a couple weeks ago, have begun to send us additional information about even small localities that we were unaware were utilizing it.
TG: Do you have anything that you wanted to add that we didn’t discuss?
CM: I would say that on a meta level, what the government counts on is this perception of inevitability, that somehow advances in technology inevitably mean the loss of privacy, and that simply is not the reality. Advances in technology can be incredibly useful. We all benefit from advances and technology, and yes, advances in technologies are inevitable. That is what happens. But the application of technology does not necessarily need to be intrusive. We control technology, we as human beings create technology. There is nothing about technology that makes it an independent breathing being. It is simply a tool and society determines what are the appropriate uses and limitations on use.
So part of the public education campaign is for people to come to understand that not only do we control the technology, but we have the right to restrict it. That’s what happened with the eavesdropping technology, for example, and wire-tapping technology when it became evident that that technology had developed, then people took actions to restrict its uses. And here we’re at the cusp. We’re really at a turning point. We’re at a turning point because the technology has advanced so radically and rapidly in the past number of decades that if we don’t take action to make the baseline that that mass surveillance technology is something that is allowed to be used only with the consent of the public, if ever.
That’s the baseline. That’s what people should understand, that’s what legislators should understand, and they should put in policies, practices and procedures that reflect that, that say it is prohibited to implement any mass surveillance technology until we have oversight hearings, until there is a public discussion and debate, and an informed citizenry can weigh in and say, you know, that’s just not right. That changes the way our culture is and we reject it.