Social Networking Sites Used in G20 Protests Under Attack from FBI
Amy Goodman's most recent column, "Watch What You Tweet" tells the story of Elliot Madison, a New York social worker who is now facing multiple charges of "hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime," all for posting to a Twitter feed "publicly available information about police activities around the G-20 protests, including information about where police had been ordered to disperse protesters."
Madison, his wife and housemates were raided by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who took all the computers in the house, kept them handcuffed for 16 hours, and even took Madison's Curious George stuffed animal.
Was it only last June when Barack Obama said in a statement, “The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights" as Iranians protested against the results of their national election? Obama's statement was released in English, Farsi and Arabic, and posted on the White House’s Twitter feed: “We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.”
Well, now it appears the FBI is monitoring social networks in the same manner as the Iranians, which really shouldn't be a surprise, but is not the best news. Because if the Iranian government was able to disrupt and take command of their networks, surely the US government will be able to as well when the time comes. As you read this a new bill is moving its way through the Senate that would give the President the ability to seize control of private computer networks in the event of a "cybersecurity emergency."
If things get as bad in this country as many are predicting they will, and we begin to see regular spontaneous outbursts or even coordinated uprisings--which will of course mean clashes with security forces--it could very much start to resemble the outbreak of urban riots that took place between 1965 and 1969. The difference these days is that communications technology, like text messaging and Twitter, has allowed resistance movements all over the world to coordinate in a fashion heretofore unthinkable, so that instead of just expressions of blind rage and destruction, there is the potential to actually accomplish something politically meaningful in a coordinated direct action.
Back in '03 I was one of the organizers of the first two Chicago flash mobs ever, which took place a week after the ones in New York. I was drawn into this social and technological phenomenon because, as an activist, I immediately saw the tactical potential of this kind of technology. A crowd is easy to contain when you know they're coming, but a spontaneous mob can put the fear of God into anyone.
As I predicted, in subsequent years, I've seen the flash mob concept naturally evolve into the political arena. Nowhere was that more visible that with the Twitter campaign in Iran. Text messaging was a key tactical instrument for the 2004 protests at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Whenever the police would move in to stop an action, we'd change route and be gone before they got there.
But the Feds aren't entirely stupid. By the time we were organizing Counter-Inaugural protests in DC in Jan of '05 the FBI and local police forces had gotten wise to the use of email listservs in the planning (and endless arguing) process and infiltrated most of our organizations.
The result was less than 10,000 totally disorganized souls showed up (compared to 400,000 Republicans who had come to party like firemen), despite the fact that the Feds were expecting bedlam. FEMA had only weeks before issued a memo that they were expecting the protests to be as volatile as those when Nixon was re-elected. I was so dismayed by the turnout, and the infiltration, that I resolved not to get involved in any resistance movement again until the tactical paradigm changed, which I explain in some detail here. But as we saw in Pittsburgh, they're still doin the same shit, and now it appears the Feds are on top of the trends as well.
Without this technology, it's nearly impossible to counter what security forces have at their disposal. This recent FBI raid portends a very bleak demise for this kind of organizing technology. It's clear a message is being sent. The question is, what do we do about it?Tweet