[M]obilise, organise, strategise, and above all hope. Take heart in the fact that you’re more than likely part of [an] optimistic, open-minded gang, that there is a potential there simmering beneath the surface…what you voted for was noble, and one day will be again.                                                                                                          Rhiannon Lucy Coslett

Britain is out. Or it will be. The EU, the UK, two unions in turmoil, are looking into separate, uncertain futures, many of their citizens, their voters in shock and disbelief, feeling that this decision has been made without their consent or even their say.

Finding words is difficult, finding words of comfort even more so, especially when, with regard to this referendum, it has been so difficult to speak anyway. Talking politics is difficult at the best of times and this really aren’t the best of times.


I am a European immigrant living in the UK. I have been here long enough that I could apply for legal right to remain if I needed to, I have held a steady job the entire time I have been here, I have never claimed benefits, I have paid all my taxes and I have – thankfully – never needed to strain the resources of the NHS in any substantial way. I’d like to think that I am a contributing member of British society.

And yet I had no vote in a political decision that will have consequences for myself, my friends, the country I have chosen to live in, the country I grew up in, and the rest of Europe.

In that – in having no vote – I am joined with the many young people between 16 and 17 who have as sound a political understanding (dare I say, in many, cases sounder?) as those who did get a vote.

These young people didn’t get a say, either, in a decision that will affect them disproportionately, which was made by people “who will not have to live with the consequences for as long as [them]”. How powerless, how frustrated and betrayed they must feel.

My future is completely changed; I will not have the benefits my parents and their generation have had, such as freedom of movement between all EU countries. Mostly I am outraged that this decision, which reflects on the British people, has been made without my consent. The future already looks less bright for us and it is a future I did not have a say in shaping.
Erin Minogue, 17

Having no say in this monumental decision has truly felt like having no power. Never mind that many would argue that the power of the people in a democracy is mostly an illusion anyway, having no vote makes powerlessness – whether real or illusionary – feel so much more acute.

Intellectually, I know this is not entirely true. I can still speak without fear of prosecution. I can write. I can read. I could have spoken out in favour of the EU, I could have read and written about it, listed its many benefits, constructed a sound and convincing argument and with more insistence voiced my belief that for Britain to leave the EU in a 21st century global world is a foolish, backward-looking, unreasonable thing to do.

I could have said how much I myself and so many others – Europeans living in the UK, Brits living in the EU and everyone living in Britain – are benefiting from the EU (human rights, freedom to move, live and retire anywhere within the EU, jobs, easier holiday travel, consumer rights, safety, better business anyone?). I could have used my voice, even though I had no say.


It took me until now to fully understand why I didn’t say much at all. The idea of the referendum, the increasingly awful campaign leading up to it, the fact that we as Europeans living in the UK were excluded from it have made me feel like someone who isn’t welcome and who has no right to be heard.

I have been afraid, without quite realising it, that if I spoke up to defend my being here, I would end up being branded as someone who, as so many Brexiters so passionately insist, has benefited at someone else’s expense from free movement and the right to live and work anywhere within the EU and come over here and… Can I just remind everyone that Nigel Farage’s wife is German?

It seems selfish now but the prospect of confronting someone who would rather that this country shuts itself off against everything that I passionately believe in and whose mind I had little chance of changing – that prospect felt so much more daunting from a position of an “under-citizen”, or not quite enough of a citizen to have my views respected.

The people who call the shots in this country that I and so many other Europeans who live here identify with don’t identify with us – let alone with those people who need their help so much more than we do – and that has made it very hard to speak and not to resign in the face of all the negativity and the vitriol and the often incredibly disgusting rhetoric that has dominated this omnishambles of a referendum.


Devastated, Frustrated, Angry

For me a vote for Europe was a vote for humanity and a vote for possibility and therefore this morning my first reaction was one of devastation.

Laura Peacock, 18

These are sad, sad times in which people all over Europe and the UK are incredulous and angry.

Anger and frustration come easily to us in situations like this, don’t they? Anger and frustration at “a generation given everything: free education, golden pensions, social mobility” that has “voted to strip [another] generation’s future”.

Anger at those 52% who voted all of us OUT, some of whom must have felt so dejected, so alone and so powerless themselves that they chose any change, as long as it was change at all.

Anger at those of the 52% who apparently voted for Brexit in protest, thinking it didn’t really matter because the UK would never leave the EU anyway. Jeez, if there ever was no time for a protest vote, surely it was this.

Yes, it’s pretty easy to get angry at a probably not unsubstantial number of people who may have based their decision on under-informed gut feelings and hunches as they took to the polls half-blinded by the fog of their inability to Google the facts.

And I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be just as easy to have a good rant (preferably using SHEDLOADS for expletives) and then to leave it at that and to say: “Not my vote. Not my fault.” And then perhaps to walk out and slam the door in a Brexit-like manner.

Disbelief, Anger, Arrogance

Except anger and dejection and arrogance and stubbornness are what got us into this mess in the first place.

The arrogance of a PM who believed it was a safe bet to call for a referendum he didn’t want in the first place just so he could keep a premiership which he has now lost.

The arrogance of political leaders so far removed from their electorate that they failed to see where this was going – just like they failed to see where the last general election was going – and that their campaign to keep the UK in the EU wasn’t working.

The disbelief – or rather unwillingness – of so many to concede that the UK isn’t divided into “sensible people” who would surely prevail and “bigots”, “racists” and “morons” who were taken in by the promises of the Farages and Johnsons but who, in the end, would not win out.

The anger of those wo feel that they have no say, no power and no voice to affect change, with a political establishment that has failed to listen, leaving its people alone to fall prey to those who effectively conned them into believing that this was the way of getting at least some of their power back.

A leap into the dark

Someone said to me on Friday that they would like to know how “the Europeans” are feeling in all of this. Well, I can’t speak for all of them. Some of them spoke to the Guardian though and it was pretty heart breaking. You can read their thoughts here.

“Just… FUCK,” was how one person I spoke to put it and they are not wrong. Neither are people in the arts who have expressed their “rage” and “shame” and “devastation” at this “horrific lack of wisdom, at the criminal abandonment of duty… [this] failure of leadership, by David Cameron” and others, this “abandonment and waste of our youth”, at the hasty rejection of something that people have “been building … since the second world war, and [which] has delivered peace and prosperity.”

Neither are the scientists wrong, who have called 23rd June a “dark day for UK science,” nor anyone who believes that this is

a leap into the dark – and for a while, it will only get darker. This out vote will increase the attacks on all we hold dear.

It is easy to despair, it is easy to see little but gloom and it is hard not to cry when your friends walk up to you with nothing but sadness in their faces and apologize for what their country has done and when they tell you that they are, for the first time, ashamed to be British.

I am sorry too

I had no vote but I could have spoken out more.

But as someone from a country that suffered from a cultural cringe throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, at least let me say this, in defiance, if you will (too little, too late, I know but still):

To all of you, my friends, my acquaintances, my colleagues, to everyone who campaigned, who cast the votes we as Europeans didn’t have, that young people didn’t have, to all of you who have pleaded passionately for the UK to remain, who have made their voices heard, to all of you who sadly now have to hang their heads and admit defeat, to the 48% who said YES, to the 75% of young people who are now worried about their future.

Please don’t forget that, as Rhiannon Lucy Coslett writes, while

[w]e have lost… at the same time [you] have made a powerful statement about the kind of country [you] want to live in…at least we know that we are part of a collective of people who want a better world.

Don’t let that feeling dissipate; mobilise, organise, strategise, and above all hope. Take heart in the fact that you’re more than likely part of this optimistic, open-minded gang, that there is a potential there simmering beneath the surface. By all means feel bitter, and miserable, and worried about what is going to happen next, but after that, please take heart: …what you voted for was noble, and one day will be again.

In a country and a Europe that have been shaken to its foundations, in the face of an uncertain future I, as a European in the UK, still feel very welcome because of you.

And for that I thank you!


Swings and roundabouts: EU parliament votes on Snowden and Net Neutrality

Close call: the Snowden vote

Last week, the European parliament voted 286-281 to pass a resolution calling on EU member states to

drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties.

As Tom McCarthy points out in the Guardian, the European parliament has limited legislative authority and its resolution, which isn’t binding for any of the EU member states, is a symbolic gesture more than anything.

It is unlikely to affect immediate change or to have any direct impact on Snowden’s situation who has been living exile in Russia since blowing the whistle on secret US government surveillance almost 2.5 years ago.

Edward Snowden himself hailed the vote as “extraordinary” and a “game-changer”. Given that so far none of the EU member states have shown particular enthusiasm for granting Snowden asylum and in light of a history of questionable conduct by US and other authorities that tried to apprehend him, the vote may certainly come as a surprise. It is a “strong signal” that should give new impetus to campaigns demanding that Snowden be granted asylum in countries like Germany and perhaps also strengthen the position of MPs who have demanded in same.

It is certainly important that those MEPs who voted in favour recognise Snowden’s

status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.

This might go some way to officially counteracting the rhetoric employed by Snowden’s critics, including that of the US government which once again hurried to stress that its “position has not changed… Mr Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the US as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.” Failing to mention once again of course that because Snowden has been charged under the Espionage Act, he would not be able to raise a public interest defence in court.

Given the very reluctance of states like Germany to risk US disapproval over Snowden, any change in his situation or offers of asylum will probably be much longer in coming. As James Temperton writes for WIRED:

All EU member states have existing extradition treaties with the United States and it remains to be seen if any nation would be willing to waive such an agreement.

What is more, Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept that

Meanwhile…heightened surveillance laws are being approved in various European countries, including France, the U.K. and the Netherlands. Just this week, the French Senate passed an international surveillance law that would allow French spy agencies to indiscriminately collect foreigners’ communications.

Which says a lot about how much value is being put on privacy and the very civil rights and Snowden sought to defend by blowing the whistle.

Riddled with loopholes: The Net-Neutrality vote

And in a different vote, the European parliament last week delivered what has been criticised as a blow to net neutrality. As the Guardian reports, MEPs “voted through new rules intended to enshrine that principle in law, but critics say they are fatally undermined by a number of loopholes which “open the door to an end to net neutrality”.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content equally without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose or allowing companies to pay for preferential treatment,

and it has been hotly contested for a while now.

The recent vote, according to critics, “opens the door to an end to net neutrality in Europe” which could be “potentially a disaster” for “most tech companies”. Among tech companies voicing their concern in an open letter in the run up to the vote were Etsy, Kickstater and Tumblr who are worried that the exceptions included in the legislation “jeopardise the future of the startup innovation and economic growth in the EU. They also create barriers for US startups and businesses seeking to enter the EU market”.

One example of how this threat could materialise is a loophole that allows internet service providers (ISPs) to

offer so-called “zero-rating” products — i.e. apps and services that don’t count toward monthly data allowances… Critics of the legislation say that [this] will allow big internet companies to favor certain services in commercial deals. (For example, an ISP could agree with Apple to make Apple Music “zero-rated,” leaving rival music streaming services at a disadvantage.) (my emphasis)

It isn’t that difficult to imagine how loopholes like that could negatively impact smaller services. This goes directly against the idea of net neutrality.

Thus, while

[f]or most member states this [legislation] means that, for the first time ever, net neutrality will receive some sort of protection in their country,

it is a step backward step for others. And the particular semantics of the legislation (which could be simplified as “all data is created equal, except when it isn’t” and recalls definitions of mass surveillance as something that “looks at” data rather than to simply mass collect it) potentially allow ISPs to discriminate against certain types of traffic by establishing “fast lanes” and to generally profit from the bill’s rather weak definitions that are open to a lot of interpretation. Net neutrality advocates are right to demand that these loopholes need to be closed. After all, it should tell us something that even Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, doesn’t have much praise for EU the bill.

And unlike the resolution on Snowden, the net neutrality bill is binding.

Markus Söder redet Stuss. Finger weg vom Grundgesetz!


Liegt’s an mir? Ich war eigentlich immer der Ansicht, dass Deutschland stolz darauf sein kann, dass Artikel 16 des Grundgesetzes auch nicht-Deutschen ein Grundrecht zusichert: das Recht auf Asyl.

Das sieht CSU-Mann Markus Söder offenbar anders. Der möchte gerne ran an das Grundrecht auf Asyl, es einschränken und Zäune an deutschen Grenzen erreichten. Gleich der Zäune in seinem Kopf womöglich. Es ist bezeichnend, dass sogar Horst „Best-Buddy-von-Orban“ Seehofer Söders Gefasel der vergangenen Tage unappetitlich findet. Man fragt sich, ob Herr Söder vielleicht ein bisschen zu tief ins Weißbierglas geschaut hat. Es gibt ja verschiedene Arten von Betrunkenen: die Einen werden ganz kuschlig und haben alle Welt lieb und die Anderen verlieren schlicht jegliche Scham ob ihrer unerträglichen Ansichten. Und posaunen diese dann in die Welt hinaus.

Wie etwa diese hier: “Vielleicht hätten wir die 86 Milliarden Euro für Griechenland besser in den massiven Schutz der Grenzbereiche investiert.“ Wenn man sowas liest, weiß man als nüchterner, halbwegs anständiger Mensch nicht, wohin mit sich. Und ganz gleich des peinlich berührten Freundes, der dem betrunkenen Pöbler in der Kneipe den Arm um die Schulter legt, entschuldigend in die schockierten Gesichter der Anwesenden blickt und sagt: “Na, du hast jetzt aber genug gehabt”, sah sich der CSU-Parteichef genötigt, klarzustellen, dass es „Schutzzäune… mit Bayern nicht geben [wird]” – und das, obwohl sein anderer peinlicher Kumpel Orban diese an der Grenze zu Ungarn bereits errichten ließ.

Wenn Herr Söder dann noch nachlegt, man müsse „über das Grundrecht auf Asyl reden“, möchte man wechselweise weinen, brechen oder wiederholt den Kopf vor die Wand hauen. Oder schlicht aufgeben.

Eine ähnliche Debatte gab’s schon mal. Daraus folgte dann der sogenannte Asylkompromiss, wegen dem sich Deutschland lange genug aus der Flüchtlingsproblematik raushalten konnte. Waren ja alles sichere Drittstaaten, in denen die Flüchtlinge da ankamen. Und jetzt, wo verzweifelte Menschen aus den Staaten, in denen sie per Boot ankommen, nach Deutschland weiterreisen und man merkt, dass man viel zu spät gehandelt hat, da denken Politiker wie Herr Söder eben drüber nach, ob man das Asylrecht nicht noch weiter einschränkt, es den „niedrigeren Standards in anderen europäischen Ländern“ anpasst. Weil’s offenbar völlig in Ordnung ist, sich in einer Krisensituation genauso unmöglich zu verhalten, wie die Anderen. Wenn alle anderen Mist bauen, wieso soll man dann bei sich selbst höhere Maßstäbe ansetzen? Naja, zum einen, weil sich das sonst schnell erledigt mit der Forderung nach einer „europäische[n] und auch eine[r] internationale[n] Antwort.“

Auch ist die Frage, an wessen Standards genau Herr Söder da eigentlich denkt? Die von Ungarn, vermutlich, weil die CSU und Orban ja jetzt Besties sind. Oder vielleicht die von Großbritannien, das ganze 20.000 Flüchtlinge aufnehmen will – verteilt auf die nächsten fünf Jahre und nur, nachdem Premierminister Cameron merkte, dass sein „aufnehmen bringt nix, Frieden in Fernost muss das Ziel sein“-Mantra nicht so gut ankam, wie er hoffte. Hinweis: von den britischen Tories sollte sich wirklich niemand irgendwas abschauen. Es sei daran erinnert, dass die Regierung Cameron vorhat, den Human Rights Act abzuschaffen, der die europäische Menschenrechtscharta in britischen Recht verankert und ihn durch eine Britisch Bill of Rights zu ersetzen. Die Änderung des Wortes “Human” in das Wort “British” sollte eigentlich schon Hinweis genug darauf sein, wohin das geht. Überhaupt will ja Camerons Regierung auch gleich raus aus der europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention. Das in einem Land ohne festgeschriebene Verfassung. Dem Herrn Söder würde die Idee vermutlich sogar gefallen. Vielleicht wäre es ihm auch Recht, das Grundgesetz gleich zum Fenster rauszuwerfen. Verfassung? Braucht keiner. Die Briten kommen ja auch ohne aus.

Ich will gar nicht bezweifeln, dass die Kommunen vor echten Problemen stehen. Und sicher brauchen wir, wie Vizekanzler Gabriel im SPIEGEL-Interview sagte, „[n]eben Zuversicht… auch Realismus“, aber dazu gehört eben auch, jetzt nicht den Kopf zu verlieren und einem CSU-Finanzchef zuzuhören, der offensichtlich ein bisschen von der Rolle ist. Man müsse sich vorsehen, so Herr Gabriel, Rechtsradikalen und Rechtspopulisten keinen Raum zu geben. Da hat er Recht. Dazu gehört auch, zu erkennen, dass jemand wie Söder da voll reingrätscht. Rechtspopulismus hat es so viel leichter, wenn Angehörige etablierter Parteien (und das ist die CSU ja leider immernoch) derartigen Bockmist salonfähig reden.

Und so muss man neben „den Flüchtlingen“, wie Herr Gabriel betont, auch einem Markus Söder klarmachen, dass es „bei uns Dinge gibt, die nicht zur Disposition stehen“, unter Anderem das Grundgesetz. Sonst kann man tatsächlich nicht „verlangen, dass Menschen aus dem Irak oder Syrien… Verfassungspatrioten werden“ – weder „mit dem Grenzübertritt“, noch wann anders. Söder lebt immerhin schon immer in Deutschland und mit dessen Verfassungspatriotismus ist es ja offensichtlich auch nicht so weit her. Wäre schon ein bisschen scheinheilig, bei „den Flüchtlingen“ höhere Standards anzusetzen, als bei sich selbst, wenn man gleichzeitig darüber nachdenkt, die eigenen Standards zu senken.

„Liberalität kann sehr anstrengend sein – gerade für Neuankömmlinge aus anderen Kulturen“, meint Herr Gabriel. Für Alteingesessene aus der eigenen Kultur offenbar auch. Vielleicht ist Herr Söder von der ganzen Liberalität in Deutschland schlicht ein bisschen übermüdet. Im Halbschlaf quasselt man ja schon mal Stuss, den man eigentlich nicht so meint. Leider drängt sich mir allerdings der Verdacht auf, das Stefan Kuzmany Recht hat, wenn er im SPIEGEL schreibt, dass einer wie Markus Söder schlicht nicht zu retten ist. Der Rest von uns aber hoffentlich schon. Und die in Deutschland ankommenden Hilfesuchenden gleich mit.

Karma, Black Holes and Infinite Monkeys: GCHQ tracks our online identities and behaviour

Here was a simple aim at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”

In a recent report for The Intercept, the journalist Ryan Gallagher details new revelations on the dealings of the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, the GCHQ. The report is supplemented by top secret GCHQ documents obtained by Edward Snowden. It is all quite scary.

Every visible user on the internet – let that sink on for a moment. Apart from hardened hackers or the Snowdens of this world, schooled in the art of obfuscation, that is pretty much every user on the internet. Quite probably you and me.

Scary? Yes. Surprising? Not really? I mean, more than 2 years post Snowden, do the lengths to which the spooks go in their scramble for hegemony over the World Wide Web really surprise us anymore? We already knew, didn’t we, that the GCHQ has a programme called

TEMPORA “which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE”?

So the spooks compile a vast database of communications data and then Google it for stuff that interests them. Just like you google stuff that interests you (your search getting stored in some database or other, just saying). I know, the small word “interesting” is the clincher, isn’t it? Most people seem to consider themselves so uninteresting to the spooks that it doesn’t really matter to them that their every move on the internet gets recorded and stored.

Okay, so you don’t care that privacy is dead (and there is really little doubt about that), but get this: perfectly ordinary people in the former GDR lived in fear because they were under constant surveillance. If the Stasi had had the GCHQ’s capabilities, well… let’s just say it would have been their dream come true. Or if the Nazis had had them. The kinds of capabilities that GCHQ seems to have, are every repressive regime’s wet dream.

And as if they knew that perhaps knowing this might upset us, we weren’t really asked if it was okay for us to have our privacy thus butchered. The most recent revelations being a perfect example. About seven years ago, “without any public debate or scrutiny” (i.e. without asking or even telling us), GCHQ launched a nifty little programme called KARMA POLICE. Yeah, probably a reference to the Radiohead-song of the same name which includes the line “this is what you get when you mess with us”.

Well, here is what you get when you mess with GCHQ – or rather, what you get without messing with anyone at all because it’s enough these days to simply be a “visible user” of the internet or, as I suppose you could also call them “a user of the internet”.

KARMA POLICE, according to the GCHQ’s own slides, was “designed to provide the agency with “either (a) a web browsing profile for every visible user on the Internet, or (b) a user profile for every visible website on the Internet.”

The operative word here being “every” of course. It’s that scale that is the true shocker. And KARMA POLICE of course is but one of many programmes,

“just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by” GCHQ. An apparatus which builds “profiles showing people’s web browsing histories… analyzes instant messenger communications, emails, Skype calls, text messages, cell phone locations, and social media interactions… keep[s] tabs on “suspicious” Google searches and usage of Google Maps”, and more.

As of 2012, GCHQ was storing about 50 billion metadata records about online communications and Web browsing activity every day, with plans in place to boost capacity to 100 billion daily by the end of that year.

Imperialism 2.0

2012 was three years ago. Kind of makes you wonder how much they are storing by now. The aim was to create “the biggest government surveillance system anywhere in the world,” “to perform…“population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries” (my emphasis). Basically, Mastering the Internet (the GCHQ’s words, not mine). Given that the British Empire once were “masters” of one fourth of the world’s territories and one fifth of its population that seems but an update of the same ambition for the digital age. Imperialism 2.0.

The name of the repository where much of that data is stored is telling: it is called Black Hole and anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of space science knows what black holes do: they suck up matter, incessantly and greedily and without discrimination.

The name fits the bill:

Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day.

Now, someone’s probably going to say that Black Hole “only” stores metadata. A reminder: metadata is, for example, who you call, when you call them and how long you speak to them, rather than the content of your call. Still massively revelatory when put into context. And not as well protected by the already rather weak judicial surveillance oversight in the UK. Good for the spies, not so good for us.

Now, obviously all this gathering and analysing is done in the name of security, to discover, for example people trying to “spread radical Islamic ideas.”

The problem – or one of the many problems in any case – is that counter-terrorism isn’t the only thing these programmes are used for. They were also used in hacks of the Belgian Telecommunications Company Belgacom and the Dutch simcard Provider Gemalto.

Come to the Dark Side – we have cookies!

Okay, but say you don’t care about economic espionage or compromised Simcards or things like that. What is going on is still crazy. Here is what the spooks can do with those vast amounts of data they store in their Black Hole if they let their various programmes loose on it.

Ryan Gallagher writes:

To find out the identity of a person or persons behind an IP address [a unique identifier in the form of a series of numbers, assigned to every device that uses the internet, not normally associated with a person’s real name], GCHQ analysts can enter the series of numbers into a… system named MUTANT BROTH, which is used to sift through data contained in the Black Hole repository about vast amounts of tiny intercepted files known as cookies.

Now, we’ve all come across cookies. In fact, we do it countless times each day. You may have become aware of the disclaimer that pops up if you visit a new website, telling you that the site uses cookies and giving you the option to learn more about the site’s cookie policy. Cookie is a term rather misleading in its friendliness. After all, who isn’t a fan of cookies, or as the Brits would probably call them: biscuits? They’re sweet, they’re yummy, very often there’s chocolate in them. Well, internet cookies aren’t quite so nice and full of happy hormones. Instead, they’re full of information about you. They get stored on your computer and they “can be thought of as an internet user’s identification card, which tell a web site when the user has returned.”

They can contain “your username or email address, your IP address, and even details about your login password and the kind of Internet browser you are using.”

Which obviously makes them extremely valuable and extremely revealing for the kinds of people who have the capabilities to store (Black Hole) and match (KARMA POLICE, MUTANT BROTH et al) the data provided by cookies with other data. Suddenly your IP address, otherwise not tied to your name or anything about you, can be searched by aid of a programme like MUTANT BROTH and matched with cookie data contained in a database like Black Hole, revealing information about your email addresses or username(s) which then, in turn, can pretty easily lead on to your real name, address, payment data, payment history, the works.

What emerges is

a “pattern of life” analysis showing the times of day and locations at which the person is most active online.”

So when and where you go on the internet most frequently, what you look at when you do so, for how long and so on. I am not kidding. The Intercept, along with its report, has published a slideshow designed by the GCHQ, which shows – a couple of slides in – that analysts (i.e. spooks) can see the date someone went online, the time of day, the place (in this case Instanbul) and the person’s email address

Here is what some of the programmes, according to one of the slides published by The Intercept allow the spooks to learn about you:

  • MUTANT BROTH: That you are online, where and when.
  • KARMA POLICE: Which websites you visit.
  • INFITINE MONKEYS: Which bulletin boards, web fora etc. you visit.
  • MARBLED GEKKO: How you use Google Maps and Google Earth.

The Register explains more of them here. Some more on stupid codenames for programmes here.

What emerges is, obviously, a pretty comprehensive picture of who you are, when you do stuff, and where you do it. Also, potentially, where you’re going to be, as you might look up a location you are going to visit on Google Maps or Google Earth (hint: use Open Street Map, it doesn’t track you).

A clear and present danger

The danger inherent in this kind of all-encompassing approach to spying on everyone everywhere becomes instantly obvious when you – just for the sake of argument – replace the word “terrorism” with “dissent” or ask the question what exactly is considered “criminal activity”. Now, I am not making light of terrorism, I am not equating it with political dissent and I am not saying that there isn’t a lot of criminal activity on the internet that is clearly identifiable as such and that should be prosecuted. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that what the spooks are doing is collecting data on billions of people unsuspected of any wrongdoing without a warrant or proper oversight or that, if the perception of the powers that be of what constitutes an act of terrorism or criminal activity ever changes, we may end up in dire straights. A random example: what if someone outlawed homosexuality or if your nationality or location were suddenly what the spooks consider “sensitive”?

You may argue that we kind of knew or suspected all this already. However, we do well to remind ourselves of just how intrusive GCHQ surveillance is at a time when the recently elected British government is once again pushing for extended surveillance powers (remember the Snoopers Charter?) and suggesting that encryption be banned. The latter is especially telling when you consider that

the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications…

Unless the recently introduced Snowden Treaty catches on, it probably won’t be the law or policy that protect our privacy as users, but encryption technology. So if that technology gets banned, just how protected will we be? The short answer is: we won’t.

„Flüchtlingseuphorie“? Nein. Hilfsbereitschaft und Freundlichkeit sind keine „Idealisierung des Fremden“.


Die Deutschen”, schreibt Jan Fleischauer im Spiegel, idealisieren „die Flüchtlinge“ oder auch, wie es in der Überschrift seiner Kolumne heißt „das Fremde“.

Die Flüchtlingseuphorie nimmt bedenkliche Formen an“, heißt es da und auch: „Die Deutschen scheinen fest entschlossen, sich in der Flüchtlingskrise von ihrer besten Seite zu zeigen.“

Schlimm, diese Deutschen. Haben sich da offensichtlich etwas schlecht durchdacht in den Kopf gesetzt, wankelmütig wie sie sind:

Es ist gerade mal ein halbes Jahr her, da haben die Deutschen noch hinter jedem Zauselbart einen Dschihadisten vermutet und unter jedem Kopftuch die dazugehörige Braut.“

Ich habe dazu ein paar Fragen:

Erstens, wer sind „die Deutschen“? Zweitens, wer sind „die Flüchtlinge“?

„Herzchirurgen“ werden unter Letzteren sein, meint Herr Fleischauer, aber vielleicht auch Sozialschmarotzer, Mörder und IS-Kämpfer. Mal abgesehen von der in der letzten Zeit so beliebt gewordenen Gefahrenrhetorik (Hilfe, der IS! Ah, die Terroristen! Oh mein Gott, die nationale Sicherheit ist in Gefahr!), die sich ja auch in der im voraufgehenden Absatz angedeuteten Islamisierung Deutschlands durchschlägt, hat Herr Fleischauer in einem Punkt Recht (aber nicht so, wie er denkt): man kann Menschen nicht über einen Kamm scheren. „Die Deutschen“ ebenso wenig wie „die Flüchtlinge“. Mitnichten steht eine homogene Masse „Deutsche“ (zu denen Herr Fleischauer als mutiger Aussprecher einer unbeliebten Meinung aber offenbar nicht gehört), die sich in einer „Willkommenskultur“ verrennen, gegenüber einer Masse „Flüchtlinge“, die – in den Augen „der Deutschen“ – „edle Wilde“ (autsch!) sind, “perfekt ausgebildet”, die Besten ihrer Unis, unter denen sich aber (so die Warnung der Umsichtigen) Mörder und IS-Leute befinden könnten.

Verstehe ich hier etwas grundlegend falsch oder bezichtigt Herr Fleischauer „die Deutschen“ (wer auch immer damit gemeint ist) einer Form des Orientialismus, des Rassismus durch Idealisierung (anstatt Demonisierung) des „Fremden“?

Ein bisschen von oben herab gesteht er ein, es sei

anrührend zu sehen, wie viele Menschen in Deutschland tatkräftig mithelfen, um den Flüchtlingen, die um Aufnahme bitten, einen freundlichen Empfang zu bereiten.“

Ja, es ist wirklich schön und erleichternd zu sehen, dass die Mehrheit der in Deutschland lebenden Menschen keine Fremdenfeinde sind. Aber, so scheint Herr Fleischauer anzudeuten, vielleicht schlummert das doch in uns, irgendwo. Wenn uns erstmal die Realität einholt, warnt er, dann ist Zapfenstreich mit der “Ressource Gutmütigkeit”. Dann kommt die „Ernüchterung“, dann verändert sich die Stimmung. Dann merken wir, dass nicht alle Flüchtlinge traumatisierte „Opfer“ sind. Bedauerlich finde ich diese Annahme, dass wir „Deutschen“ momentan schlicht über die Stränge schlagen mit unserer Gutmütigkeit, dass wir unsere Meinung genauso schnell ändern können, wie angeblich Klaus Klebers Busfahrer, der offenbar früher die AfD gut fand. Wenn wir nämlich merken, dass unsere Regierung zu sentimental wird.

Gleichzeitig sind wir aber selbst offenbar zu sentimental um zu erkennen, dass nicht jeder Flüchtling Herzchirurg sein kann. Oder dass man auch kritische, unbeliebte Stimmen zulassen sollte. Letzteres mag stimmen, aber leider ist Herr Fleischauer offenbar selbst wenig gewillt, diejenigen Stimmen (und es sind nicht wenige) ernst zu nehmen, die ihm nicht zustimmen würden (denn diese sind durch Sentimentalität, Rührung und Idealisierung offenbar im Augenblick nicht ganz zurechnungsfähig). Das schert nicht nur eine ganze Menge Menschen über einen Kamm, sondern bescheinigt ihnen auch, sie hätten nicht richtig nachgedacht und würden in ihrer idealisierenden Willkommenskultur ihren Realitätssinn verlieren.

Es ist bedenklich, wenn man von oben herab auf Menschen blickt, die sich in Deutschland für Flüchtlinge einsetzen und stark machen. Denn das ist Wasser auf die Mühlen derjenigen „Dumpfen und Schlichten“, die Randale machen und Flüchtlingsheime in Brand stecken. Solange das geschieht braucht es hörbare Stimmen – wie die der Initiative „Blogger für Flüchtlinge“ – die klarmachen, dass es Menschen gibt, die das nicht zulassen oder gutheißen wollen und dass – am Ende des Tages – in Deutschland doch die Menschlichkeit überwiegt. Das hat nichts mit Realitätsverlust oder Idealisierung des Fremden zu tun.

Positive Reaktionen in der Flüchtlingskrise helfen übrigens nicht nur in Deutschland. In Großbritannien beispielsweise wird Deutschland dieser Tage häufig als Beispiel dafür angebracht, dass es auch anders geht, als die – gelinde ausgedrückt – unangenehme Regierung David Camerons es behauptet. So kann eine „unsentimentale“ Regierung nämlich auch aussehen: Grenzen dicht machen und irgendwelche fadenscheinigen Langzeitziele vorschieben, damit man sich um das konkrete, direkt Problem nicht kümmern muss. Und dann aus der EU-Austreten. Zum Glück lassen selbst die sonst eher desinteressierten Briten doch nicht alles mit sich machen. Der Hashtag #refugeeswelcome trended während ich das hier schreibe auf Twitter an erster Stelle und im Politik-Liveblog des Guardian dreht sich alles um die Reaktionen auf Camerons Äußerungen einerseits und die schrecklichen Bilder eines toten Fünfjährigen, der an einem Strand nahe Bodrum angespült wurde, andererseits.

Ich gebe zu, es fällt mir schwer nachzuvollziehen, wieso Freundlichkeit und Großzügigkeit gegenüber anderen Menschen deren Idealisierung bedeutet oder wo genau es eine „Flüchtlingseuphorie“ gibt, die „bedenkliche Formen“ annimmt. Sicher gibt es Menschen in Deutschland, die nicht richtig nachdenken, aber das kann kein Grund sein, Hilfsbemühungen zu trivialisieren oder das „Fremde“ implizit zu dämonisieren. Dadurch trägt man nicht dazu bei, „das Flüchtlinge in der Mitte unserer Gesellschaft akzeptiert werden“. Und das ist deshalb ein Problem, weil Menschen Deutschland erreichen, die unbedingt auf Hilfe und Schutz angewiesen sind – und diese dann schlimmstenfalls eben nicht akzeptiert werden.

Ja, Realitätssinn ist wichtig in der Bewältigung dieser Krise (auch dahingehend, dass vermutlich der Anteil an Mördern, IS-Leuten und Sozialschmarotzern unter Flüchtlingen eher gering ist) und es stimmt, dass es möglich sein muss, eine differenzierte Diskussion zum Thema zu führen. „Die Medien“ sollten ihre Arbeit kritisch machen. Aber es wäre schön, wenn man eine Diskussion ohne implizite oder explizite Panikmache, das Schreckgespenst der Islamisierung oder ausgelutschte geisteswissenschaftliche Tropen führen könnte.

Und es ist wichtig, der in den vergangenen Monaten aufgekommenen Intoleranz und Feindseligkeit, Toleranz und Offenheit entgegen zu setzen. Das hat nichts mit Sentimentalität oder der Idealisierung des Fremden zu tun, sondern schlicht mit einer positiven Reaktion auf eine akute Krisensituation.


Mehr zur Aktion “Blogger für Flüchtlinge” und wie man sich beteiligen kann, findet man hier.

The free press is not so free: German federal prosecutor opens treason investigation against journalists

Crazy things are afoot in Germany. And I don’t mean how the country’s international reputation is suffering because of the madness surrounding the German government’s handling of the situation with Greece. Or how an increasing number of bigoted morons keep setting fire to homes for asylum seekers. No, as if these developments weren’t worrying enough, the German federal prosecutor now seems to have decided to add another crazy plan to the recent plethora of bad decisions made by German federal agencies and the government.

The federal prosecutor, Harald Range – we have met him before; he’s is the guy who recently packed in his investigation into NSA spying on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone because he was unable to gather evidence that would stand up in court – is now investigating two German journalist for – wait for it – treason (“Landesverrat”, in German). The people standing accused of endangering Germany’s safety and security by publishing classified information (sound familiar?) are journalists Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister who run the blog Netzpolitik.org – a website concerned with all things political on the web, more specifically internet politics, data protection, freedom of information and digital rights issues. Netzpolitik.org, well-known and award-winning in Germany, is also very concerned with the NSA scandal and Germany’s lack of a proper investigation, as well as the clandestine dealings of the world’s spy agencies.

The accuser in this treason investigation against two of its journalists is, you may be unsurprised to discover, the chief of just such a spy agency: Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Bundesverfassungsschutz (BfV) – the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, aka Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. The move, as the Guardian reports, follows the publication by Netzpolitik.org of “articles about the BfV that appeared on the website on 25 February and 15 April,” which, the BfV chief complained, “had been based on leaked documents.”

According to the Guardian (quoting German public broadcaster ARD), one of the articles in question was about “how the BfV was seeking extra funding to increase its online surveillance, and another about plans to set up a special unit to monitor social media, both based on leaked confidential documents.”

Let us be clear here: Germany has been trying, less than vigorously and definitely with limited success, to investigate NSA (and more recently BND) spying ever since the publications based on the documents Edward Snowden leaked from the NSA started. I have commented a number of times on the NSA Investigatory Committee in the German Bundestag (parliament) and on how much of its “investigation” is so toothless that it borders on the farcical. Granted, there are MPs on the committee – most notably those representing the parliamentary opposition – who are trying their best. Yet, the obstruction by the German government that the committee’s efforts have met with is also in evidence.

And now we have a spy chief accusing the editors of a website of treason that is evidently working to shed some real light on the secret – and probably not always benevolent – practices of the spy agencies. Okay, so the documents in question were secret documents from the BfV, not the BND (Germany’s foreign intelligence agency) which has come under fire for potentially helping the NSA work against Germany’s best interests. However, the BfV seems embarassingly powerless to protect Germany from the kind of spying that has been revealed over the past two years. Discussion of mass surveillance and the questionable dealings of Germany’s intelligence agencies with agencies in other countries, most notably the NSA, although not as widespread as some might like, has never died down in Germany. And now, for the first time in over 50 years, journalists are being investigated for treason or perhaps for raising uncomfortable questions. Wondering what exactly is going on here and questioning the motives behind the move against Netzpolitik.org seems more than justified.

DIE ZEIT suggests that the BfV chief is growing a little desperate in the face of investigations into NSA/BND spying and other inquiries into the methods and effectiveness of German intelligence agencies. Whether a fear of further embarrassing revelations or a wish to hit out against those who work to expose wrongdoing and thereby make life uncomfortable for the agencies is the reason for the move against Netzpolitik.org or not, the federal prosecutor, rather than to play along, certainly would do better to investigate the intelligence agencies themselves – in Germany and outside of Germany – subject as they are to ineffective oversight while conducting mass surveillance of millions of innocent people, unsuspected of any wrongdoing. As to the BfV: perhaps the agency would be better served (and serve Germany better) investigating the, as SPIEGEL columnist Sascha Lobo calls them, “terrorists” that are currently setting fire to homes for asylum-seekers in Germany, rather than to go after people who are trying to inform the German public.

After all, the German constitution does feature a paragraph that protects the free press and free speech. Unsurprisingly, the investigation against Netzpolitik.org and its sources has variously been called an attack on the free press and an attempt at intimidating a people who have, among other things, been live-blogging comprehensively and successfully from NSA Investigatory Committee meetings – so successfully, in fact, that rumour has it that even BND chief Gerhard Schindler reads the blog to keep up to date on witness statements made during committee sessions.

If journalism, as the famous quote has it, “is printing what someone else does not want printed” and “everything else is public relations,” then this move by the BfV chief and the federal prosecutor not only amounts to an (albeit twisted) accolade for Netzpolitik.org as an organisation conducting the kind of vital journalism that challenges the status quo, informs the public of what they need to know and might just strike fear in the hearts of those officials trying to keep wrongdoing a secret. It also once again testifies to the lengths German federal agencies are willing to go to obstruct this kind of reporting – and to keep the German public in the dark.

As of today, it may seem that Range himself is catching on. The federal prosecutor has just announced that his investigation rests, pending an expert opinion he has commissioned on whether what the journalists in question are doing actually amounts to treason. However, considering that the intention of commissioning said opinion was part of the proceedings from the start, this seems to be little more than semantics to appease an outraged public. After all, Range will be very aware of one specific historical precedent: in 1962, accusations of treason led to charges against German weekly DER SPIEGEL and its editors and journalists (DER SPIEGEL is much involved in the NSA-Snowden-reporting these days). That, too, caused a public outcry, and eventually led to the resignation of the then Intelligence Minister Franz Josef Strauss. At the time, Friedrich Siegburg wrote in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ):

“Eine Freiheitsregung hat sich in unserem Leben bemerkbar gemacht. Sie ist bisher fast immer ausgeblieben, wenn man glaubte, auf sie hoffen zu dürfen. Aber nun ist sie zu spüren.”

Roughly translated: “A freedom movement is making itself heard in this country. Until now, whenever we believed we could hope for something like that, it remained absent. But we sense it now.”

In 21st century Germany, more than 52 years after DER SPIEGEL was exonerated and Strauss had to stand down, it seems that the free press is under attack once more, whether Range’s investigation “rests” for the time being or not. If the free press and German democracy will win out this time around remains to be seen. The initial reaction in Germany – one of indignation – gives grounds for hope. If more Germans finally start worrying about the state of democracy, civil rights and liberties in their country, then perhaps another “freedom movement”, which has so far remained absent in the wake of the Snowden and other mass surveillance revelations, will make itself known.


P.S.: If you understand German, you can take a look at the letter sent to Netzpolitik.org editors by the German federal prosecutor here.

Thanks but no thanks: Julian Assange has offered the German government to testify before its NSA-Inquiry

I thought I’d quickly update English-speaking readers on the subject of my most recent blog post.

DER SPIEGEL reports that Julian Assange has offered the German parliament’s NSA Inquiry Committee unredacted versions of the lists Wikileaks published a couple weeks ago which seem to prove that the NSA spied on key figures in various German governments (i.e. Merkel’s and several others before that) for years. Apparently, some of the phone numbers on the lists are still active targets and they reach as far as Chancellor Merkel’s inner circle.

Assange has also offered to meet with representatives of the committee in London (where he has been unable to leave the Ecuadorian embassy for three years now) so he can testify on what he knows. Now, you would think that both the Inquiry Committee and the chancellery would be delighted by the offer, given that the government has tasked the committee with shedding some light on the true extent of NSA spying in Germany. Well, think again. Considering how obstructive the German government has been in its dealings with the NSA Committee since its inception last year, just how probable is it that Merkel et. al. will happily allow committee members to meet with Assange – one of the US government’s least favourite people – let alone have access to unredacted lists obtained from Wikileaks?

There was much talk a couple of weeks ago about lists of selectors that the NSA gave to Germany’s BND so that the BND could search its databases for those selectors (I commented on this here). Problem: the selectors didn’t exclusively target suspected terrorists. Looks like there was, amongst other things, some industrial espionage going on as well. In any case, it seems that some of those selectors ran counter to German interests. Obviously, the German NSA Committee is very interested in those lists. Unfortunately, the German government refuses to hand them over. They wanted to obtain the US government’s consent first. Which, obviously, the US government didn’t provide. Recently, the BND itself has come up with a rather ludicrous explanation for why it cannot release the lists or provide any information contained in them. German journalist Richard Gutjahr requested information from the BND on whether his name appeared on any of the lists. The BND refused, arguing that the lists belonged to the NSA and that therefore the BND wasn’t permitted to dispose of them as it pleased. It’s that kind of absurdity, which has been around pretty much since day one, which makes it very doubtful that the German government will kindly allow the NSA Committee to accept Julian Assange’s offer.

What makes this case all the more precarious is that the lists obtained by Wikileaks might contain proof that the NSA really did spy on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. It was only a few weeks ago that the German Attorney General closed his investigation into the tapping of Merkel’s phone, claiming that he had been unable to unearth any proof that would stand up in court. Therefore, if the chancellery, the government or the attorney general’s office were interested in getting to the bottom of the extent of NSA spying not only on the German government but also the German people, they would probably be very interested in what Wikileaks and Julian Assange have to offer. However, given that the hesitant unassertiveness of the German government in the face of past revelations of NSA mass spying even surprises the USA (true story), I guess we can safely guess just where this is going to go. I, for one, expect that Assange’s offer will be met with a (for once very assertive): “Thanks but no thanks.”

UPDATE: I was made aware on Twitter that it’s probably not clear enough from this post that the decision whether or not to act upon Assange’s invitation lies with the committee, not the government. Whether the committee will go against the government’s explicit wishes – should it make them known which it probably will – remains to be seen. Past evidence suggests that attempts to view the unredacted lists or speak to Assange may meet with some resistance.