The implications of social media surveillance for free political expression.

This was an essay for uni…so it is a little limited in what it covers but you can find out more about internet surveillance through your own research :).

Social media sites such as Facebook have become ubiquitous in the lives of young people, raising concerns about online privacy and security. Revelations about internet surveillance by governments and corporations have recently been unearthed, igniting the need for an investigation into the use of surreptitious and explicit surveillance techniques including data mining and surveillance of personal communication and examples of how it could threaten the civil and political rights of young people growing up in a digitised world. 

Since its inception in 2004, over 955 million people have flocked to Facebook (Lee, 2013, p. 217), with 95 per cent of adolescent social media users in America in possession of a Facebook profile, a trend that is probably similar in Australia (PEW, 2011) Facebook users share images, thoughts, geolocation data and even addresses and phone numbers on Facebook (Lee, 2013, p.154). This data is recorded and analysed by Facebook’s algorithms and shared with third parties (Hill, 2012, p. 118). It is possible Facebook users are not always aware of how this data is being used and whom it is being shared with.

 In 2009 Facebook was charged by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for misrepresenting its “data use policy” and thereby violating privacy and putting data at risk (Lee, 2013, pp. 16-17). Facebook was also implicated in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass internet surveillance program, Prism. An internal document leaked by an NSA Whistleblower claims the NSA has direct “backdoor” access to Facebook servers. The unscrupulousness that Facebook has demonstrated in sharing the data of its users with third parties without obtaining properly informed consent could be a threat to the privacy of young people and their freedom of personal and political expression. 

The lines between political dissent and terrorism have blurred considerably since September 11 (9/11) in the eyes of American law enforcement (Chang, 2002, pp. 44-46), while Western democracies have used 9/11 as a justification to invest heavily in the surveillance apparatus (Richards, 2013, p. 1938). When discussing surveillance in Web 2.0, explanations of basic theoretical foundations in surveillance studies are helpful. Foucault’s panopticon is the ideal architectural structure for centralised power applied figuratively to surveillance (Fuchs et al., 2012, p. 6-7). A single surveillant can view everyone else within the structure without showing himself, thereby prompting those in the panopticon to internalise censorship out of fear that they are being watched (Allmer, 2012, p. 126). The idea of the panopticon is a very useful surveillance theory that assists in the study of surveillance but it does not encompass all forms of surveillance. 

In 1984, George Orwell takes the notion of the panopticon further by making it interactive. Although the partnership between surveillance and propaganda is omnipresent in 1984, it is epitomised by the telescreen, which watches the protagonist whilst “bruising his ears” with hegemonic disinformation (Yeo, 2010, pp. 56-57). The telescreen signals an end to privacy and an attempt by authorities to own the hearts and minds of citizens, a pathology that could be compared to the use of algorithmic feedback loops (Otterlo, 2012, p. 2) employed by advertising firms to first collect data then manipulate consumer behaviour through targeted advertising. This interactive surveillance creates a “hegemonic teleculture” (Hill, 2012, p. 109) in which the consumer choices of Internet users can be subtly engineered by advertisers. These interactions are trickling out of a market context and into the social and political lives and decisions of young people living in the digital age.

Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You

Albrechtslund offers more positive viewpoint than Orwell and Foucault, suggesting that online sharing of information including geographical data is an empowering form of social or ‘participatory surveillance’ that strengthens the social fabric and that power dynamics between the watcher and the watched are not unidirectional (2012, pp.190-192). The complexities of modern surveillance systems and methods have outstripped experts’ efforts to neatly define the nature of surveillance. The contemporary ‘surveillant assemblage’ embodies elements of all the surveillance theories that have been discussed and includes many organisations, methods, motivations, technologies and individuals (Fuchs, Boersma, Albrechslund & Sandoval, 2012, p. 7). The proliferation of myriad new surveillance methods and means that accumulate to form the “surveillant assemblage” is creating a situation in which inquiry into the ethics and consequences of surveillance is failing to keep pace with advances in surveillance capabilities.

The Surveillant Assemblage is a dynamic surveillance systems theory without fixed boundaries in terms of place, type of technology, motivation or the form that the watcher takes (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000, p. 609). The dynamics of the surveillant assemblage are so fluid that political and legal action to curb the growth is often fruitless and academic literature fails to keep up. The surveillant assemblage is not confined to any one technology or form of technology. Haggerty and Ericson assert that, because the assemblage exists across innumerable technologies, organisations and motivations, conventional means of fighting the surveillance apparatus are tantamount to trying to “keep the ocean’s tide back with a broom – a frantic focus on a particular unpalatable technology or practice while the general tide of surveillance washes over us all” (2000, p. 609). One of the features of the general tide of surveillance is Big Data. Where data used to be collected surreptitiously by “surveillants”, users of social media sites like Facebook now assemble their own ‘file’ willingly, which is then collected, analysed and stored through algorithms and other means by corporations and governments (Otterlo, 2012, pp. 1-2). Not only is the surveillance apparatus advancing fast, but the interactions between the “watchers” and the “watched” are changing with the aid of social media platforms. 

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claims that Facebook is the most abhorrent surveillance apparatus in history, providing easy access by governments to a comprehensive database of names, addresses, associations and other personally identifiable information (Lee, 2013, p. 202). The extent to which U.S. government, which recently announced more than $200 million in funding for big data research (Lee, 2013, p. 202), has been spying on its own citizens through Web 2.0 sites like Facebook and Google was unspecified until recently, when a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower leaked documents to The Guardian regarding one of the biggest surveillance operations in history (Greenwald & MacAskill, 2013). The NSA’s Prism program claims to have direct access to Google, Facebook and other sites (Landau, 2013, p. 70) and has used these sites to conduct extensive surveillance on the personal communications of users (Greenwald & MacAskill, 2013). While all this is supposedly done in the name of safety and security, such extensive surveillance without the consent of the governed could have a negative impact on the civil and political wellbeing of young social media users.

Such pervasive Internet surveillance could have monumental and unimaginable consequences for “digital natives” who are too young to have experienced any reality with which to compare their digital lives (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 2). Kerr et al. suggest that a more appropriate description of ‘consent’ regarding data use agreement is “mandatory volunteerism” because not consenting can lead to social exclusion (2006, section 1).  When young people are aware of surveillance, they may modify normal behaviour, feel scrutinised and move into unsafe online spaces to avoid violation of their right to privacy (Mcahill & Finn, 2010, p. 287). “Social Software” and the information that is broadcast upon it does have the potential to enhance young peoples’ access and participation in local and global grassroots activism and nurture a more participatory democracy, however, whether information liberates or subdues people depends on the latitude that citizens are granted to challenge or reject the status quo without fear of reprisal (Neumayer & Raffl, 2008, pp. 10-11). Young people have access to vast amounts of information regarding their civil and political rights and unprecedented opportunity to ignite global social media initiated grassroots movements but they may face consequences for doing so. 

One of the most recent examples of a Web 2.0. mediated social movement is Occupy Wall Street in New York, which enabled participants to participate in political life but also fell prey to “strategic incapacitation” techniques by law enforcement. The New York Police Department used information collected through social media (Police Executive Research Forum, 2011, p.38), Closed Circuit TV and other forms of surveillance to predict and pre-emptively police the actions of protestors and create “spatial containment” zones where civil liberties, including freedom of the press and freedom of speech were suspended and activists were arrested for exercising their “inalienable” rights (Gillham, Edward & Noakes, 2013, pp. 13-18). While Facebook and other platforms mobilised participants, spread awareness and facilitated involvement in the Occupy movement, protestors faced a loss of privacy and a risk of negative interactions with police in online and offline spaces due to extensive surveillance by law enforcement designed to suppress the civil and political rights of Occupy members. 

Due to the ever-increasing sophistication of the online “surveillant assemblage” (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000), which features data mining, geolocation, direct accessing of personal communications by law enforcement, data “feedback loops” and other techniques, young people are experiencing an unprecedented loss of privacy that they never consented to in a meaningful way in a world dominated by social media. Social media has led to a previously unimaginable volume of political information that young people can access, however, law enforcement has recognised the utility of social media in policing dissent, possibly deterring young people from voicing their political grievances. The consumer choices of young people are perhaps not truly their own either now that data mining corporations have access to their thoughts and desires through social media and feed it back to them through the “hegemonic teleculture” (Hill, 2012) to influence their choices and thereby shape the dominant culture that young adults will subscribe to. The use of social media to conduct surveillance poses a definite threat to the civil and political rights of young people and inquiry into and regulation of extensive social media surveillance is essential to democracy. 

References

Albrechtslund, A. (2012). Socializing in the city: Location sharing and online social networking. In C. Fuchs, K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund & M. Sandoval (Eds.), Internet and surveillance: The challenges of Web 2.0 and social media. (pp. 187-197) New York, NY: Routledge

Allmer, T. (2012). Critical internet surveillance studies and economic surveillance. In C. Fuchs, K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund & M. Sandoval (Eds.), Internet and surveillance: The challenges of Web 2.0 and social media. (pp. 124-143) New York, NY: Routledge

Chang, N. (2002). Silencing political dissent. Canada: Seven Stories Press.

Fuchs, C., Boersma, K., Albrechtslund, A., & Sandoval, M. (2012). (Eds.), Internet and surveillance: The challenges of Web 2.0 and social media. New York, NY: Routledge

Gillham, P. F., Edwards, B., & Noakes, J. A. (2013). Strategic incapacitation and the policing of Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, 2011. Policing & Society 23(1), 81-102. doi: 10.1080/10439463.2012.727607

Greenwald, G., & MacAskill, E., (2013). NSA Prism program taps into user data of Apple, Google and others. Retrieved 9 December 2013 from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data/print

Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605-622. doi: 10.1080/00071310 020015280

Hill, D. W. (2012). Jean-François Lyotard and the inhumanity of internet surveillance. In C. Fuchs, K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund & M. Sandoval (Eds.), Internet and surveillance: The challenges of Web 2.0 and social media. (pp. 106-123) New York, NY: Routledge

Kerr, I. R., Barrigar, J., Burkell, J., & Black, K. (2006) Soft surveillance, hard consent. Personally yours, 6, 1-14. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abs tract=915407

Lee, N. (2013). Facebook nation: Total information awareness. New York, NY: Springer.

Landau, S. (2013). Making sense of Snowden: What’s significant in the NSA surveillance revelations. Security & Privacy, IEEE, 11(4), 54-63. doi: 10.1109/MSP.2013.90

Mcahill, M., & Finn, R. (2010). The social impact of surveillance in the UK: ‘Angels’, ‘devils,’ and ‘teen mums.’ Surveillance and Society, 7(3/4), 273-289.

Neumayer, C., & Raffl, C. (2008) Facebook for global protest: The potential and limits of social software for grassroots activism. Paper presented at the Prato CIRN 2008 Community Informatics Conference: ICTs for Social Inclusion: What is the Reality? Retrieved from http://pep-forums.990086.n3.nabble.com/file/n2539001/2008-Neumayer-Raffl-Facebook_protest_FARC.pdf

Otterlo, M. V. (2012). Counting sheep: Automated profiling, predictions and control. Paper presented at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference (Holland) Amsterdam. 

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.

PEW Internet and American Life Project. (2011). Teens and online behaviour: Data sets. Retrieved 8 December 2011 from http://pewinternet.org/ Shared-Content/Data-Sets/2011/July-2011-Teens-and-Online-Behavior.aspx

Police Executive Research Forum (2011) Critical issues in policing series: Managing major events: best practices from the field.  Retrieved January 11, 2014 from http://www.policeforum.org/dotAsset/1491 727.pdf

Richards, N., M. (2013) The dangers of surveillance. Harvard Law Review (2013) 1934-1965 Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/pape rs.cfm?abstract _id=2239412

Yeo, M. (2010). Propaganda and surveillance in George Orwell’s nineteen-eighty-four: Two sides of the same coin. Global Media Journal—Canadian Edition 3(2), 49-66. Retrieved from http://www.gmj.uottawa.ca/ 1002/v3i2_yeo.pdf‎

New Zealand Food Bill Threatens Agricultural Sovereignty and Personal Autonomy.

Scott, Occupy Sydney’s Kiwi occupier, is very concerned about the effect that this food bill will have on the people, land, and ethical food industries in his home country….

If you’re concerned about the safety of your food supply & governmental control of it in this day & age, you should be. Governments around the world are increasing control over the origins & make up of your food while bowing down to the demands of bio-terrorists Monsanto.

In New Zealand the Food Bill 160-2 has been introduced into Parliament by the National Party government. Prime Minister John Key & Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson have put forward the bill under the guise of improving food safety & cleaning up the old Food Bill of 1981. The new Food Bill is strikingly similar to the controversial Food safety Modernization Act which was passed in the United States last year. This is particularly distressing as New Zealand has always done it’s own thing in relation to not following America when it comes to damaging things; kicking out US nuclear battleships in the 1980’s.

Some of the main concerns surrounding the Food Bill 160-2 are;

1. People would be prohibited from growing their own food & trading it with their neighbours.
2. Registration would be required to provide homemade food for charitable & community events.
3.Food safety officers will be empowered to conduct armed raids without warrants & with full immunity from persecution should they overstep the boundaries.

According to the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, a division of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries ( MAF), the new bill is designed to provide an efficient, effective & risk based food regulatory regime that manages food safety & sustainability issues, improves business certainty & minimises compliance costs for business. The main thing to be worried about in their statement is the issue of sustainability. Monsanto is well known for GM seeds, herbicides & pesticides. All these things are designed for maximum yield in minimum time. This sounds good in principle however in sustainability terms it’s a death sentence. The GM seeds spread to neighbouring properties & pollute heritage seeds. The toxic chemicals used in the herbicides & pesticides will eventually render the soil infertile & hence unusable.

Minister Kate Wilkinson has stated that the level of control exercised in regards to food would depend on the category of risk posed to the public. Companies dealing in high risk foodstuffs such as dairy products & meat would have a higher registration fee & be subject to more checks. Medium risk such as jams, pickles etc, a lesser fee & less stringent checks & low risk food & people that barter food less fees & checks again. She has also assured people that farmers markets, School Fairs/Fetes & the like will not need to register or be subject to checks by Food safety Officers as long as they continue to sell good quality, safe food. Despite these assurances can the public really be convinced that these controls won’t be imposed on farmers markets, community gardens, co-ops & those with fruit trees & a vege patch out the back? Personally I can’t see it happening as if there’s a buck to be made the New Zealand Government will be all over it. Even worse is the disturbing fact that if a government in cahoots with big business controls the entire food supply of a nation, in effect they have entire control over the populace! Don’t think for a second that this won’t happen in Australia too. Unfortunately Australian politicians seem to follow the United States lead in most things so be ready to fight for your food.

Info available at www.foodsafety.govt.nz/policy-law/reform-nz-food…/food-bill/

Occupy Sydney Festival Of Dissent and SIX MONTH ANNIVERSARY

The festival of dissent will begin at 9:30am on Friday the 13th when we OCCUPY THE COURTS (The Downing Centre on Liverpool Street) to show solidarity for occupiers in court that day. Feel free to come in your best Friday 13th fancy dress. Many people are fighting camping charges on that day so tent monsters and sleeping bag dwellers are very welcome at the court solidarity action.

At 6pm, Occupy Friday will kick off with workshops including Yoga, Circus and (yet to be confirmed) the Anti-Coal Seam Gas struggle. If you would like to run a workshop, please either write it on the wall of this event or just spontaneously hold it on the night. Occupy Fridays also includes Alain’s Friday Night Sustainable Cinema, Tiny Tents Taskforce, placard & political art making and respectful, constructive political discourse! Please come armed with ideas, musical instruments, a plate of food and sleeping gear if you wish to sleep over!

On Saturday morning, a contingent of occupiers will be heading to Parramatta to support Occupy Parramatta, more info @ http://www.facebook.com/groups/OccupyParramatta/

At 1:30pm on Saturday, Occupy Sydney Free School kicks off. More information coming soon about the workshops being held. Free School will be followed by our SIX MONTH anniversary General Assembly.

After the General Assembly, The Festival of Dissent will culminate with more workshops, political discussions, a forum (twitter: #osforums) about Occupy Sydney in the future, music, dancing, art, and JUBILATION when at midnight, we reach six months, which is no mean feat given the various forces that have been against us over the past six months.

If you have ever been involved or wanted to be involved in Occupy Sydney, please come down to celebrate six months of Occupy Sydney and OCCUPY FOR A BETTER WORLD. If there are any workshops, skills or ideas that you would like to contribute or announce, please do so on this event page!

Occupy Sydney has already made history, now let’s make the future!

More info coming soon….

Event page here...Invite your friends!

What a Difference 90 Minutes Makes…

Vicki, one of our very dedicated Occupiers, was arrested when she turned up late to the copshop to report. She was treated in a deliberately dehumanising manner in order to punish her for something that she hasn’t been found guilty of yet. This is her account. Read more of Vicki’s blog posts at Peacock Dreams

So I am pretty sure we can all think of something we have been late for. That dinner, that party, that appointment that may have been totally forgotten due to lost diary / IPhone / insert own way of managing calendar here.

It however becomes a totally different situation when that 90 minutes costs you a night of your freedom and exposes you to a whole new level of degradation.

This post is long. Its just my personal account of my Friday night because I think its important for people to know how our police force, thos who many people choose to put blind faith in, act.

To explain the back story: I am currently subject to draconian bail conditions based on an Occupy Sydney action related to Greece. We protested, art was mistaken for something dangerous, NSW Police overreacted in glorious Technicolor. Part of said bail conditions are me reporting to the police twice a week.

On Friday, after spending pretty much the whole day between bed and sofa, with one outing to purchase a DVD to entertain my addled brain (True Blood is good for that) I was about to pass out for the 1000th time at 11pm when I suddenly had a realisation of ‘oh crap’. my reporting time ends at 10pm, I had missed it. After chucking on a pair of jeans, my glasses and literally speeding down King Street to Newtown police station I arrived around 11.30pm. Out of breath I tried my best to explain the situation of why I was late to a highly unsympathetic officer who I could pretty much tell didn’t care right from the get go. After 15 minutes or so of ominous waiting, I was placed under arrest for breaching my bail.

So at midnight I am taken downstairs into the docks, where processing begins. It’s clearly a slow night, as my only company is an older man who doesn’t seem to mind the fact he’s been arrested. he is being let out as I am being brought in and it becomes clear that maybe someone needed to bump up their arrest quota. so after an hour or so sitting on a freezing cold metal bench I am packed off to a holding cell for the night. Oh and the light doesn’t turn off. Joy. Did I mention I had been in bed sick all day? Just checking…..

So after about an hour of drifting in and out of consciousness I am awoken by the screams of someone being brought into the docks. I couldn’t see him at this stage but I could certainly hear him. His abuse of the arresting police was artistic but under my current conditions I wasn’t in a state to fully appreciate it and I spent the next half an hour hoping he shuts the hell up because buddy, some of us are trying to sleep here. This is where it starts to get interesting by the way, so thanks for staying with me so far.

Angry Drunk Guy (or ADG as I will refer to him from now on) is now brought back to the holding cell next to mine. Yup. he’s hammered, screaming at the tops of his lungs, kicking the door, the walls, the cops are screaming, and something inside me snaps. Its now that I turn into a total girl and start crying. Yes I know, not particularly hardcore but by now (guessing 2am) I was exhausted, sick, tired etc. the crying gives way to mild hyperventilation which after about five minutes turns into full blown panic attack. I have luckily avoided these since I was a kid but right now, it’s all coming back to me at alarming speed. everything goes white, and I have to sit on the floor with my head between my knees to even attempt to breath.

Its worth noting that this feels like it goes on for about 14 days. At one stage I hear pone of the cops telling ADG to please be quiet because its upsetting the girl in the next cell. thanks for the concern boys but maybe checking on me could have been an option here. Now correct me if I am wrong but I am pretty sure that the cells have cameras in them. I have to ask why they allowed me to continue like this unchecked for at least 10 minutes. But this is just the first utter fuck up by the NSW Police that I will be talking about. Brace yourself, it gets worse.

So just as I manage to get myself breathing, and try to go back to sleep (AGD has passed out by this point thankfully) Newtown’s finest decide that now is the time to move me to Surry Hills. so half asleep and pretty wiped out I am taken back into the fluorescent box of the dock to wait for transport. Its freezing so I ask for a blanket to be told no because I am going in five minutes., Forty minutes later I am taken to a van and driven to Surry Hills. Its around 4am.

Arriving to Surry Hills I am taken inside to be processed where I encounter the hero of this story. The one cop who is actually pleasant and sympathetic. Upon being asked what I did to get arrested, I tell him I reported an hour and half late. He replies with a ‘you’re joking’ so heavily tainted with annoyance that I am quick to understand that finally, someone with some humanity. He proceeds to get me into my cell as quickly as possible so I can get some sleep (its 4.30am by now approx) he also tells me that I could have been asked to produce a medical certificate rather than being arrested. Apparently its discretion of the officer. Interesting.

Finally, I think, I manage to pass out in a freezing cold, over air-conditioned, noisy box hiding under a pile of utterly rubbish ‘blankets’ which are covered in holes, using my jumper as a pillow.

I am rudely awoken after probably an hour by fluorescent lights going on (what is it with cops and their obsession with flouro? Did they not get the memo about mood lighting!?) and I again silently thank the cop from the night before for grabbing me a shit load of fruit (as a vegan I am unable to eat anything I am offered in the way of ‘food’ and I use inverted commas seriously. I am pretty sure that dogs would turn their noses up at this crap let alone those of us who choose an ethical diet which harms no living being. The wait begins for my legal aid call to discuss my bail hearing later this morning. I think its about 7am by this point.

Now male readers apologies for the next bit, because a) you won’t be able to identity with the truest nature of the wrongness and b) its eugh. To make matters worse it’s that special time of the month where as well as wanting to kill people you require certain items to enable yourself to be comfortable. I had made sure that I was able to bring a box of tampons from my stuff (they kept my bag at Newtown) but now this morning, the charming (female I may add) officer tells me they are unable to open property. Now this causes a problem. The items they are able to give me are no use for varying reasons too personal to go into here which basically leaves me utterly fucked. I am told by the female officer they aren’t a hotel (really? there was me thinking I had checked into the Hilton in my sleep, I HATE it when I do that) I am told that I can’t have a shower because as a male prison they don’t have the facility for women (here’s a suggestion for that one: don’t hold women there. problem solved, next) so it’s safe to say that by the time I am called to speak to Legal Aid I am feeling decidedly subpar.

Legal Aid and actually appearing via videolink to Parramatta bail court takes all of an hour from start to finish, and is probably the bit of the day I feel normal the most as I am out of solitary confinement and able to walk about a bit. Speaking to the other 7 people (all male) who are up for bail breaches I am heartbroken to hear the story of the guy in after me. His failing? calling his son to wish him happy birthday. Ladies and gentlemen, our police force. clap clap etc.

I am refused a phone call. I overhear two officers talking about how the Australian prison system would be better if, and I quote. ‘they didn’t have to adhere to the UN and shit’. I am again put back in my box and held for a further four hours or so (after my bail has been continued, no changes, this took the magistrate all of 45 seconds to approve FYI)

at around 1pm I am roused (having passed out finally for an hour or so) and let go. papers are signed, personal property is returned and with one last dig about me not being late again I all out. I nearly cry again when I see the four people waiting outside for me, Occupy Sydney does arrest solidarity so well we should bottle it and seel it to other Occupy sites. I can’t begin to express how amazing it is to come out after 14 hours or whatever and see friendly faces, read your twitter and FB feed and just read pure love from those who have been there themselves, those who understand, those who also see the system for what it is: a time wasting, bullying, prisoner grooming hamster wheel which once you fall into won’t let you out without a damn hard fight.

So, next time you are running late for something and it feels like the end of the world, ask yourself what will the consequence be? the cold shoulder from a loved one, the anger of a friend, or the wrath of a police officer which through their poor judgment ends up robbing you of your liberty for just over half a day. Ask yourself why we give these people this kind of power over anyone, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? Because right now Australia , we live in what’s fast becoming a police state. And this my friends is why we #occupy.

Teenage Years

This is written by Kirra, our youngest Occupier. She raises a very important question. Do teenagers act out against society because they’re rebels without causes or do they act out because something deep within them rejects a petulant society? When people reach adulthood and tend to accept things as they are is it maturity or is it an admission of defeat, a broken spirit submitting to the status quo?

Our teenage years are the times we question reality, societal norms, and the state of the world. In our childhood, through societal structures, which are influenced by the state, we are brought up to believe everything the state wants us to. Whether we learn this from our parents or close family/friends, who have been through the whole process themselves & teach you what they believe to be true. It is also taught to us through schools, whether run by the state or not, any school is liable to be coerced into compliance by the state, and by that token are an instrument of social control.

 

If not by school, by advertising, which is forced on a child’s still growing and malleable mind all their waking lives. When you are child, you take everything in and believe its true – you do not learn to question things until you are older, making this the ideal state of mind to shape. When you reach your teenage years, you reach a stage where you begin to question everything – but you are still attending school, still victims to advertising and still (whether you believe it or not) learning stuff from people close to you. But nevertheless, most teenagers you talk to will express views that the world is screwed up, in some way or another. This state of mind is dangerous for the state, so they make rules like ‘you cannot choose where you live till you are 16/17’ & you must attend school until you are 17’ and guess what, it works – because most teenagers reach a stage, where they give up on being able to shape or change the world they live in, and just reach a conclusion to make the best of what they have.  The state has achieved its goal, another generation to exploit, another generation that doesn’t question anything, and believes that the state is fundamentally good. Then they have children, and the whole process starts again. If this cycle is allowed to go on, it will continue forever. But is this really the world you want to be living, don’t you want to be able to question? I am 15 and I am actually scared of reaching a stage where I don’t question, where I accept everything and after hating school, getting a job I hate even more, just so I can help a corporation in some tiny way and ‘do my part in the economy & society’. So, how do we convince a large enough percentage of a generation to keep questioning? Because I believe if a large enough percentage of them did, they would realize how evil the system really is, and eventually there would be change.

Occupy Sydney acts to throw Serco Overboard

Smashing up people’s lives: your tax dollars at work.

 Serco is famously known (to those who have heard of it) as “the biggest company you’ve never heard of” best described as a company that provides a collection of services, Serco holds the contracts for most of the traffic light systems in England, all the traffic light systems in Ireland, as well as holding a lot of government contracts for technical & IT support in Australia. As well as these services, Serco provides far more sinister services.  Serco runs Australia’s immigration detention centres at a profit. Human rights of refugees are abused while Australian taxpayers foot a one billion dollar bill.  By passing the buck onto Serco’s “care and protection” of asylum seekers, the Australian government is able to essentially turn a blind eye to practices that are designed  to trigger mental health issues in people who are already survivors of torture and trauma and leave it up to inadequate internal disciplinary action, unless of course the media applies intense pressure to the government.

Media pressure has been applied in the case of hunger strikes (Serco did not hold the contracts at that time, another for-profit company did), and the suicides of certain asylum seekers, the latest victim being an Iranian refugee just a few weeks ago.  He was fleeing from persecution in Iran, the same persecution that had killed his brother in Iran. He got to Australia only to find that any hope of freedom from persecution was dashed. Persecution of refugees is rife in Australia. He died of despair. It’s appalling that people are denied asylum when the very places they seek asylum in often had a part in destabilising their home countries (e.g. America, Britain, Australia)

Of course, the media often sides with the government and does Serco’s bidding, Demonising “boat people”. The Murdoch press loves to editorialise about asylum seekers, labeling them as heartless, irresponsible people who actually have an alternative to getting on a leaky boat to Australia with their children in a last bid for survival, and a burden on the taxpayer. The problem with media coverage like this is that it draws attention away from the realities. Realities like the fact that the humanitarian stream is the smallest immigration stream among any of the department of immigration’s streams, the highest being the skilled migrant stream. Another reality that the sensationalisers of refugee issues don’t want you to know is that the largest proportion of visa overstayers hail from Great Britain. The other fact that they don’t want you to think about is that all but two percent of us are boat people. All of us but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders came from overseas, the government-corporation partnership depends on people falling for their divide and conquer tactics.

Can you see why Serco would want you to hate refugees when they’re making one billion dollars a year from locking up refugees? So make sure you do your own research, these people’s quality of life depend on public awareness and the public’s willingness to act out against policies that harm fellow 99%ers.

Serco is also reaping the benefits of what I like to call the prison cell-off. Serco is gaining contracts for prisons built and previously run by state governments. Serco did not have to foot the bill to build these prisons, taxpayers did, but Serco gets to ride on the taxpayer gravy train by running them. Internationally, the rate of convictions and recidivism tends to go up when prisons are run privately for profit. Really, it’s a no-brainer. If a company is profiting from locking up prisoners it will lobby the government and attempt to sway public discourse to wards passing more punitive criminal laws. Internally, it’s likely to make only tokenistic attempts to rehabilitate inmates, because re-offending leads to profit. The criminal (in)justice system then becomes a trade in human lives. Prisoners and asylum seekers stop becoming inmates and start becoming assets; commodities. In England, Serco famously won a contract with the government on the proviso that it would build extra beds into the facility. What the government didn’t think of when it was running the prison was just to put beds in the existing toilets rather than spending on building. That’s what Serco did to maximize profits.

 Despite the fact that Serco has a history of violating the UN Convention on the Rights Of the Child*, Serco has scored a contract for WA’s new juvenile detention facility. This is in the wake of a damning ruling by the High Court in England after the death of 14 year old Adam Rickwood who hung himself while on remand at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, where it was found that he had fallen victim to a system failure and an “unlawful regime”.  An inquest found that he was not the only young person suffering, and it’s important to note that he was being held on remand, so his case hadn’t yet gone to trial. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? The judicial enquiry found that young people had been restrained by employees yanking back the child’s thumb, or a blow to the child’s nose or ribs, which at the time amounted to unlawful restraint. Mr Justice Foskett, The judge who presided over the case, said:

 “The children and young persons sent to [secure training centres] were sent there because they had acted unlawfully and to learn to obey the law, yet many of them were subject to unlawful actions during their detention. I need, I think, say no more.”

 Now Serco is set to take over the operation of Sydney Ferries from the NSW Government. The Manly Jetcat service was taken over by a private company several years ago (now known as the Manly Fast Ferry) fares went through the roof with no actual benefit to the consumer to justify these price hikes. Given Serco’s track record, I daresay we’ll be seeing more of those fatal ferry accidents, lower quality service and higher costs for commuters, even though taxpayer money was used to build Sydney ferries.

Serco in a nutshell: you can usually get away with ORGANISED CRIME as long as it’s a private-sector public-sector partnership.

Photo: Liam Kesteven

On the 9th of March 2012 for International Stop Serco day, Occupy Sydney participants took part in protests outside Villawood Detention Centre, Chris Bowen’s (Federal Minister for locking up refugees) office, and Occupy Sydney staged an action against the Sydney Ferries takeover (video below) an autonomous occupy group also occupied a Sydney Ferry, dropping banners saying “Smash Serco Scum”, “Throw Serco Overboard” and “Fire Serco”. Actions were also held in Western Australia and the UK, among other places.

In my opinion, companies like Serco and the governments who hand Serco contracts willy-nilly are the real terrorists!

One can’t help but wonder if there is some grand plan to mismanage Sydney ferries so much that they become leaky boats, send them over to Indonesia with people smugglers to pick up some of those much maligned boat people to drop straight to detention centres so that Serco can make a killing. Did I mention that NSW Police will be patrolling ferries as the new revenue protection thugs? Maybe they can pick up a few custodial inmates for Serco along the way….

*In terms of detention of juvenile offenders, the UNCROC states that they must be treated with leniency, rehabilitation must be the main focus and imprisonment must only be used as a last resort.

@antloewenstein’s blog is an excellent source of information regarding Serco

Guantanamo style media censorship in Australian immigration detention centres: Sydney Morning Herald

Photos of Occupy Sydney ferry action: Liam Kesteven

Photos of Occupy Sydney ferry action: Yarek Gasiorek

Sydney Action against Serco: Article by unknown.

Leaked Serco Manual Details How to “strike” Asylum Seekers: SMH

Occupy Sydney backs a global call for a General Strike!

On February the 18th The General Assembly of Occupy Sydney endorsed a call for a Worldwide General Strike on May 1st.

This Strike is being organised in unison with other Occupies around the World, including Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Los Angeles & Occupy Oakland.

This will not just be a Call to No Work on May 1st but also No School, No Housework, No Shopping & No Banking.

Recently on February 28th Eleven Major Trade Unions in India organised a One-Day Strike Involving Millions of Workers in defence of public ownership and for stronger labour rights. GreenLeft Article

Occupy Sydney will be organising for May 1st with Unions and other Groups.

Reasons to strike in Australia

As Recent Job Cuts in the Financial Sector of Australia have shown the 1% continue to enjoy increasing profits and bonuses while sacking and outsourcing Australian Jobs and also not passing on Interest Rate Cuts to Hard Working Australians.

The minimum wage had to be fought for. Now what about a living wage? The National Institute of Labour Studies found that about 30% of Australians earning just above or just below the minimum wage were married and had dependent children. A further 8% earning just above or just below the minimum wage were sole parents. These parents work hard to give their children a good start in life, but when decent living standards, including nutrition and healthcare are beyond the reach of minimum wage recipients, how do these children get a “fair go?”

A UNSW Social Policy Research Centre study found that real income rises between low-paid workers and high paid workers have become increasingly disparate:

From 1975 to 2006, real full time non-managerial earnings increased by:

7% for tenth percentile (top of the bottom 10%) of full-time wage earners; 22% for the 50th percentile (median) full-time wage earner; 38% for the 90th percentile (bottom of the top 10%).

The distribution of wages is becoming more and more unequal. Unless we stand up against this, the income inequality will continue to grow unchecked. If capital provides access (to education & training, healthcare, the legal system, recreational activities etc.) Then how much access can the average, hardworking joe afford compared to the (shrinking) middle class and those who control the flow of capital? Does this not debunk the myth that if you work hard you can make it to the top? Isn’t that like the belief that you might have to take the suffering in this life, but when you’ll die you’ll go to heaven? Making it to the top relies on a mix of cold-hearted ruthlessness, luck & chance, privilege and assets.

A study by Masterman-Smith et al using focus groups of low wage earners sheds more light on the lived experience of low paid workers. This study indicates that families reliant on low pay must budget very carefully to avoid financial hardship, foregoing things most Australians take for granted such as dental care, annual holidays, a car, eating out with friends, and buying a home.

Between 1991 and 2011, house prices increased by 263%, while after‐tax income grew by only 95%.

In 2007–08, there was a shortage of 493,000 private rental dwellings in Australia that were both affordable and available for those in the bottom 40% of the income distribution — with 311,000 being needed in capital cities.

The second most common specific reason for seeking assistance from homelessness services was financial stress in 2010-11.

30% of employees are employed on a part-time basis and a similar figure on a casual basis. If you’re in casual employment, IS YOUR JOB SAFE?

With an increasing casualisation of the workforce, rising cost of living, skyrocketing house & rental prices and wages stagnating in real terms while executives enjoy oversized and growing pay packets, SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

Why work to make the corporations richer? The only power we have is the withdrawal of our labour. Strike for control over our own lives.

The strike is in solidarity with the global May Day General Strike. There is general agreement among the people of this world that the 1% has partied on our tab for long enough. They have caused untold suffering for the Earth and it’s beings. It’s time for us to stop showing our consent by withdrawing our participation from this sick, sad system.

Occupy Sydney Podcast No.1: Sydney General Strike

^^^^Jacob and Tim from the Sydney General Strike working group and Hugo from Occupy Sydney Media (@occupysydmedia)  have created the first Occupy Sydney podcast! They all have great voices for the radio (nice faces too though) and extensive knowledge of worker’s struggles, past and present.