Legally Yours...

By Mute Editor, 20 September 2001


Including: The Metamap: a pull-out map charting surveillance and privacy projects, Armin Medosch on Echelon, Cornelia Sollfrank interviews John Gilmore, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Rena Tangens, Matthew Hyland on representations of 'race riots', Flint Michigan on Jacques Attali's UK tour, the great usability debate with Bo Mc Farland and Curt Cloninger, JJ King reports from HAL2001

In the digital arena, the fight for security is a pretty popular cause. Persistent cautionary tales of an assortment of Big Brothers have defined the internet’s development as distinctly as any other. Though better heeded in theory than practice, they have managed to keep the issue of privacy high on net users’ minds, and united e-entrepreneurs, legislators and free speech campaigners. So why raise the spectre of ‘dataveillance’ and Total Paranoia now?

The repeat encounter of security forces and anti-capitalist protestors – which in Genoa turned out to be fatal – played a large part. Seemingly on the other side of the political orbit, two international hacking conferences held in Europe and America did too (HAL and DEF CON). In more and less subtle ways, these events demonstrated the degree to which ‘mainstream’ media representation, global corporate interests and powerful nation states work together to create what management theorists like to call a ‘virtuous circle’. Beyond self-justification, the logic of this circle is to simplify, demonise and void the legitimacy of a range of forces seeking to destabilise its constituent parts.

Equally significant were the ‘race riots’ that erupted soon after Genoa in the North of England – and which Matthew Hyland discusses in this issue. These riots raised difficult questions about the Gordian knot binding history to the present and the global to the local. Yet they proved impossible to slot into the media’s lazy ‘pro-and-contra-globalisation’ debates to which the protests have unwittingly lent themselves. Still, as theatres of anti-authoritarian expression, they turned out to have a lot in common: like Genoa (and even the hacker meetings) the so-called riots were prime sites for gathering information on ‘high risk’ social groups.

Total Paranoia does not refer to the online right to privacy – although it is an important objective. The theme refers to the transnational integration of technical, legal and security apparatuses in the name of public order but under the aegis of non-public agencies. As Armin Medosch makes clear in his labyrinthine story on transnational security projects (‘A very private affair'), it is the gradual adjustment of legal frameworks that may best serve those seeking to lock down on high risk targets.

Echoing Medosch’s article, Cornelia Sollfrank’s ‘hacker’ interviews demonstrate the uncomfortable transition nation states are going through at the legislative level in their drive towards global integration. The creation of the European Union and Parliament, for example, has left some significant operational loopholes. How long these stay open and who will ultimately benefit from their legal regime is this issue’s prize question. You can find some answers on our enclosed Metamap – a collective snapshot of surveillance now.

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>