Rohan Jayasekera

Journalist, editor and online free expression advocate, tracking human rights, digital media, cultures of change and the conflict zeitgeist. Views are my own.

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    The meaning of (working) life, Ver.1.5

    How am I doing? Great, but not so well.

    The big idea was to have half of Vivarta running networked human rights projects using new tech tools, and the other half developing and testing the tools in the field.

    The problem was the partners. The project funders needed to work with institutions not individuals, the techs needed monetisation options to keep their interest. But I’m not an institution. I’m also a non-profit. 

    So despite all the goodwill and professional recognition, the big idea turned out to have no outlet. Sometimes people say, these are cool ideas, come work for me and manage my people in London or wherever, but I have to do whatever I do from Bexhill-on-Sea. 

    I get work, but not enough to cover the overheads of a one-man R&D team, which is what I am now.

    I don’t mind so much. I said I’ve give it two years, so up to spring 2015, leaving time for a bit of luck. I’m still enjoying myself, I’m reacquainting myself with coding while I still understand the tech, and I’m also finishing a masters degree in politics & war & stuff, which also ends end of next spring. 

    Then I’ll also have my end of year figures, so I’ll know what my indulgence has cost us and over the summer and I can sit down with the family and decide what to do next.

    Adumbration: Impotent spooks & nationalist kooks with big missiles

    Russia’s intelligence community is simply pandering to killer thugs in Eastern Ukraine in the dumb hope that engagement will pass for real influence. (Ref: Pakistani ISS spooks and the Taliban) Meanwhile Putin persists with the dumb hope that daily FSB reports on violent neighbourhood chaos that keeps other powers at bay will pass as a geopolitical strategy. (Ref: Pakistan and Afghanistan). Moscow thinks that managing the fallout from a long war is a desirable alternative to a long march to a lasting peace settlement (Ref: Israel). But unlike Israel, Russia is simply finding ways to manage its own impotence.

    No matter how careful you are from that point on, no matter how sophisticated your source, journalists have to be sure that they make no mistakes at all in the very beginning to the very end of a source relationship or they’re placing people actively at risk… It’s a constantly increasing list and one that we’re not even aware of today. I would say lawyers, doctors, investigators, possibly even accountants. Anyone who has an obligation to protect the privacy interests of their clients is facing a new and challenging world and we need new professional training and new professional standards to make sure that we have mechanisms to ensure that the average member of our society can have a reasonable measure of faith in the skills of all the members of these professions.

    Edward Snowden, from the transcript of his interview with Alan Rusbridger and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian.

    New UK Foreign Secretary must bring coherence to UK policy on Bahraini human rights abuses

    It’s time for a new approach from a new UK Foreign Secretary on Bahrain. A group of 29 NGOs have sent a letter to Phillip Hammond, newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, urging a shift in UK policy on rights abuses in the strategic Gulf state.

    The letter highlights the FCO’s decision not to take the advice of UK parliamentarians on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that the UK should “designate Bahrain as a country of concern” in its 2014 human rights report if the situation had not improved by the start of this year.

    UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez considers the human rights situation in Bahrain to be of “grave concern”. He reports that the recommendations of a much-vaunted 2011 domestic report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry on restoring human rights to the country are in a “state of non-implementation”.

    The letter from the NGOs noted the inconsistencies in UK policy towards Bahrain in recent years.

    Despite parliament’s recommendation and the widely acknowledged lack of improvement in human rights there, the FCO declined to add Bahrain to its list of countries of concern. Instead it took an opposite position, citing it as a “case study,” cherry picking specific areas of reform and glossing over documented abuses.

    Yet FCO officials representing the UK at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva took yet another line, co-sponsoring a joint statement on Bahrain citing concern over “the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders and journalists”.

    The UK’s credibility on human rights has been challenged because of its stance on the serious ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, says Sayed Alwadaei, head of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

    “Putting Bahrain on the list of countries of concern is the first step in ensuring that UK foreign policy towards Bahrain accurately reflects the reality of the situation on the ground,” he says.

    The Washington Post via Sameer Padania

    Twisting the legislative tap to order and turning a DRIP into a torrent of bulk surveillance

    Tired of having its surveillance powers pulled up short by the courts and independent watchdogs, the UK government is racing to pre-empt their rulings by slotting in make-shift legislation that will preserve sweeping new surveillance powers to target more people around the world.

    Parliamentarians are rushing through the fast-track Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill this week to embed UK bulk data surveillance systems, by confirming powers to penalise overseas internet and phone companies anywhere in the world if they refuse to comply with an interception warrant from London.

    The same week civil liberties groups from the UK and abroad, including Pakistani digital rights group Bytes for All and the American Civil Liberties Union, have called on the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), UK arbiter on surveillance issues, to determine whether bulk interception, analysis and related intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US, is unlawful under human rights law.

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    GCHQ, the UK’s centre for online & telecoms surveillance 

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    Sameer Padania: Somewhat belatedly posting this PDF from digital rights group Access, summarising the main outcomes of the netMundial meeting in Brazil earlier this year.

    Restore public information & media rights to post-2015 agenda

    Commitments to greater media freedom and public access to information have been cut from a draft pact on post-2015 global development, barely days after campaigners had been told they had successfully won a place for them in the text.

    As the pact’s drafters reconvene this week and next, they face calls to restore the cut commitments – especially on open access to and effective use of data, which the UN’s own review of the preceding 15 years of development work says is essential to meeting future development goals.

    “The monitoring experience of the MDGs has shown that data will play a central role in advancing the new development agenda,” said the Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 report, released on July 7. “We need sustainable data to support sustainable development.”

    A post-2015 list of 17 draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will succeed the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and will apply to all countries, not just the global South as before.

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    More summer lovin’ from Marlys!

    (via sinker)

    Restoring independence to the process of defending rights and the rule of law in Ukraine

    The government of Ukraine needs to do more to bring local human rights defenders into the process of bringing peace and justice to their troubled, divided country, even if the International Criminal Court (ICC) is allowed to take on an extended role of its own there.

    This appeal by a diverse group of 14 local human rights organisations gathered by the Centre for Civic Liberties, and Human Rights Houses in Kyiv and Chernigov has won wide support from more than 60 like-minded NGOs from across the region, including human rights defenders in Russia and Western Europe, and other post-Soviet states such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus.

    They have jointly written to President Petro Poroshenko asking him to extend the ICC’s current mission to investigate rights violations during the fall of the previous regime, so that it takes into account recent incidents in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as well.

    Ukraine still needs to ratify its signature to the 1998 Rome Statutes establishing the ICC. Until then the Court must be formally asked to add the incidents in the East and the Crimea to its work load or Ukraine can adopt a draft law (#4081a) of its own to the same effect.

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    Group Photos Pro-Russian fighters pose for a photo after taking the oath of allegiance to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, on Lenin square in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka), via gunrunnerhell

    In light of the absence of guidelines and oversight, together with its clandestine nature, this technology is uniquely vulnerable to misuse, By analyzing the tools and their proliferation at the hands of companies like Hacking Team and Gamma Group, we hope to support efforts to ensure that these tools are used in an accountable way, and not to violate basic principles of human rights and rule of law.

    Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto group that monitors government surveillance in the digital age, on the tools and techniques developed by “Hacking Team,” a highly secretive outfit based in Italy that charges governments top dollar for extremely stealthy spyware.

    Index on Censorship and the price of principle: Loneliness

    The Daily Mail ran riot last week with a three page feature claiming that powerful trustees from the philanthropic charity Esmée Fairbairn had denied funding to Index on Censorship because of its opposition to a post-Leveson system of UK press regulation.

    Not so. In fact the trust nixed the funding - overruling its own officers’ recommendation in the process - because Index’s firm line on issues like the creative right to offend did not appeal to the Esmée Fairbairn board’s taste for socially inclusive arts. Its line on Leveson had nothing to do with it.

    Why is this a matter of concern? “Daily Mail gets story wrong,” is hardly news. Neither is “Daily Mail tale nails today’s target of vitriol”. (In this case Esmée Fairbairn trustee David Bell, founder of the Media Standards Trust, the Mail’s sworn foe in its war against post-Leveson regulation, and itself a beneficiary of Esmée Fairbairn funds.)

    Because it still leaves some unanswered questions about the price of principle at Index on Censorship. The Esmée trustees argued that in their sector, not expressing the controversial is sometimes the right thing to do. As they understood the organisation, Index on Censorship could never imagine such a scenario, let alone endorse it. So they declined to fund them. But I’m simplifying the story.

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    By ignoring humans locked in their own cells, states can pretend that dissent is only punished elsewhere. They can both toast hell-raisers abroad, and clamp down on hell-raisers at home… Any regime, no matter how repressive, will gladly fête its enemy’s critics—while homegrown versions of those critics occupy concrete cells. Cooing over foreign dissidents allows establishment hacks to pose like sexy rebels—while simultaneously affirming that their own system is the best.

    Molly Crabapple, commenting in Vanity Fair on the ‘Dissident Fetish’

    Still a long way from Zimbabwe, but a lot closer to Hacked Off

    Strange to see Steve Coogan signed up as a patron of Index on Censorship. The actor has taken a very different line to the organisation on the follow-up to the Leveson report.

    Coogan has backed UK press regulation under a Royal Charter, whereas the organisation (up to now) has opposed it on the grounds that it threatens the principle of a free press and sends a poor message to dictatorial states.

    “To characterise the argument as one between a free press at one end of the scale and Zimbabwe at the other is simplistic, or irresponsible, or (most often) self-serving,” Hugh Grant, Coogan’s ally on the pro-regulation campaign group Hacked Off told the original Leveson Inquiry.

    “There are, of course, many gradations in between those two poles.”

    That’s it exactly. Applying the Royal Charter moves the UK a few ‘gradations’ closer to Zimbabwe. It’s still a long, long way away from Harare Practices, but that’s hardly the point.

    The point is that we should not be moving that way at all. That’s the principle that Index on Censorship stood by.

    Personally I think the Royal Charter juggernaut is unstoppable. The majority of the great and good, and a few of the plain good, have decided that the next time a press baron drowns a kitten and the 2006 Animal Welfare Act just doesn’t deliver enough punishment to satisfy public outrage, there should be some kind of official means available to drown him too.

    We’re just an out-voted minority here.

    A Royal Charter mandated regulatory system aims to impose accountability on an industry with immense power to do good or ill. That objective in itself is not unreasonable, and may even be beneficial, who knows. But it has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

    The dream of a UK first amendment style principle, that government ‘shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press’ is just stone dead here and we should get on with our ‘lightly regulated’ lives like good Danish or Finnish journalists.

    But allow us to at least mourn what we will lose in the process.

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