The surveillance state is fighting for its life

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

The surveillance state is terrified of this man

The surveillance state is terrified of this man

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden for “misuse” of government data.

Excuse me?

What about the galactic-scale misuse of private data by the US National Security Agency (NSA) where Snowden recently worked?

South Africans should realise by now that all of their emails and potentially other electronic communications reside on a giant server somewhere in the US for possible scrutiny at a later stage. Try as you might to live an honourable life, that angry and ill-conceived email you wrote five years ago to a former boss or ex-wife could be dredged up some time in the future to paint you in a particularly unflattering light. South Africans should also realise that our own intelligence agencies standardly break the law by snooping without warrants, as the Mail and Guardian reported.

Some congressmen in the US are calling for Snowden’s arrest for treason, while Mr Apprentice himself, Donald Trump, thinks he should be assassinated. Even more shocking is the response from US media outlets, more concerned with investigating Snowden’s personal life than the staggering revelations of government abuse he has disclosed to the world (and, by all accounts, will continue to do).

Recently,  Spain, Portugal and France prevented over-flight of a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales on the grounds that it was believed to be also carrying Snowden, which it was not. These same countries were quite happy to allow suspected “terrorists” to be renditioned (for torture) over their air space by the CIA, but not the president of a peaceful nation.

The surveillance state is terrified. It will not go down without a fight. A principle of investigative journalism: he who protests the loudest has most to hide. Bear that in mind next time you hear shrill defence of the surveillance state. Where is the evidence that any of this mass snooping has made us any safer, other than pompous assurances from self-serving intelligence apparatchiks? Civil libertarians have long arued that the state amplifies fears over terror and crime to arrogate unto itself greater and more draconian powers. Hence, the “war on terror,” “war on drugs,” “war on poverty.” Unwinnable wars, all of them, but unarguably noble and saleable to the gullible. To win these wars, the state needs access to our emails and phone calls. It needs to know where we live and where we bank, hence the ridiculous RICA and FICA laws.

But surely if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear? That’s the standard argument of politicians and bureaucrats who sup at the trough of trashed civil liberties. The answer to that is: what about the presumption of innocence, embodied in common law for centuries? There is indeed a war going on here, but not the one we’re told. That war is between liberty and tyranny, between ruler and ruled.  It manifests itself in many ways, such as surveillance cameras, FICA, RICA, ID documents. We accept these encroachments as if they are normal, believing they somehow serve our interests.

What about the crime-fighting surveillance cameras in Johannesburg and Cape Town, or those placed in residential developments? That’s a matter for residents to decide, and on the face of it does not constitute an invasion of privacy. Grabbing your emails without permission certainly does. That’s private property, protected by the Constitution.

It’s time to turn the surveillance apparatus on those in power. These, after all, are public servants we employ and they have forfeited their right to privacy by acceptance of office. We have not.

Section 14 of the Bill of Rights entrenches the right to privacy:

Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have :
a) their person or home searched;
b) their property searched;
c) their possessions seized; or
d) the privacy of their communications infringed.

Remember this any time you hear a politician or political lackey defend the right to snoop on your emails and phone calls, or to prevent disclosure of their misbehaviour. I’m all in favour of the press being accountable, of the Press Ombud, defamation laws and other remedies for those who have been wronged. The problem is the law is used aggressively by those in power to silence exposure of their wrong-doing.

Continues at source.

Rape and retribution in West Africa

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

 

Tarkwa road & sheep.JPG by roaminghomemaker

Tarkwa area, Ghana
Photo: roaminghomemaker, Flickr.com

While working in West Africa earlier this year I met a rapist.

Actually, I employed him in the company I was running in the rain forest area of Western Ghana. Let’s call him Jacob. He arrived to work one day with his face swollen, and deep cuts around his eyes and cheeks.

His demeanour was unusually sullen. Never the liveliest of workers, this day he was particularly inactive and this began to irritate me. I noticed the lacerations around his face, but feigned disinterest and moved away from him. I walked a distance down the road to Moosa’s farm house, and sat myself under a cocoa tree. Ten minutes later Jacob crept up behind me and sat on a rock some five metres away.

“Nana (a Ghanaian honorific meaning “chief” or “elder”), I am sick,” whispered Jacob.

“What happened to your face Jacob?”

“I got into a fight.”

“With who?”

“With some boys in the village.”

I plied him with more questions, but the answers were vague and indistinct. The most I could get out of him was that it had something to do with a woman. I knew that Jacob was a drinker, despite his theatrical averments to follow the path of righteousness while working for me.

I decided to get to the bottom of this and called Steven, a devout Muslim and de facto chief of the village known as Ten and a Half where the beating had been ministered with evident relish. My natural revulsion for violence cried out for justice.

Steven arrived some minutes later looking solemn and slightly disgusted.

Nothing happened in Ten and a Half without Steven’s knowledge. He was often called on to mediate disputes and adjudicate matters of village justice. He was well liked and had a reputation as a fair man. He would surely tender the truth.

“Steven, Jacob says he was beaten up by some boys in the village.”

“Is not telling you all,” snapped back Steven in anger.

In his broken English, he then started to fill in the details. Jacob had snuck into a woman’s room and raped her. What made it worse was that she was both deaf and mute, a disability that prevented her from crying out for help. Jacob was caught by some youngsters and was given a choice: either we call the police and you spend the next 15 years in prison, or you submit to village justice. Which will it be?

Jacob opted for village justice and was beaten within an inch of his life there and then.

I then understood why he had been absent from work for the previous two days. On seeing Jacob limping around the next day, the youngsters decided their beating had not been severe enough, so they repeated it.

As the story unfolded, I turned to Jacob, his eyes now focusing his shame on his feet.

“Is this true Jacob?”

Jacob replied that it was not rape, and that he had been flirting with the woman, who evidently reciprocated the interest.

Not true, snapped back Steven.

“Jacob, I think you need to go home and rest, and I need to think about this.”

The next day I asked Jacob not to return to work. He complied.

Months later I would see him in the village, stumbling from one bar to the next, smiling at me with no obvious embarrassment. On one occasion he summoned the courage to approach me for money, and I blasted him for his drunkenness.

“You told me you would stop drinking.”

“I forget,” he replied.

“You didn’t forget, you just lie.” His eyes turned once again to his feet.

Ten and a Half is the last of a line of villages straddling the main road from Tarkwa to the Iduapriem gold mine operated by Anglogold Ashanti in Western Ghana. The villages are spaced roughly a mile apart, hence the names: Mile Five (or Mafive in local pidgin), Mile Six, Mile Seven, and so on.

Of all the villages on this road, Ten and a Half is the only one without electricity. Its inhabitants are mostly farmers and artisanal gold miners, known locally as galamsey – a corruption of the English “gather and sell.” The better-off have generators to power light bulbs, music systems and TVs. The others get by with candles.

In the absence of technological distractions, alcohol and fecklessness abound. Hence, Ten and a Half has a reputation for attracting low-lifes. The galamsey place their faith in black magic, rather than prospecting, to sweeten nature’s endowment of gold.

A few months later I again met Jacob in the bush near the Bonsa River. “Crazy sample,” he said, beaming at me. He was now working as a galamsey and had found rich alluvial gold-bearing gravels near the river. Rich gravels in local terms is called “crazy sample.”

A week later I saw him again drunk in the village. He obviously cashed in his gold and spent it on liquor for himself and his new friends.

Such is the life of Jacob, the rapist. He is free to roam the village where he raped a woman and still participate in its meagre pleasures. He accepted his beatings and managed to avoid prison. The village, by all accounts, accepts him as one of their own. He begged for forgiveness, and it was given.

I doubt he will rape again. Perhaps village justice works. It is swift, brutal and effective – and, unlike prison, short-lived.

As for his drinking, I fear there is no hope.

Headlines that grab

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR, Uncategorized

The job of the headline writer is to capture the essence of the story in a few words.

The headline sells the story.

Some people are brilliant at it. Years ago I wrote a story for a newspaper about how car rental company Hertz was planning to grab market share from its rival Avis.

The headline writer came up with this:

Hitting Avis where it Hertz

Irreverent, yes, but also funny. I doubt Avis were pleased, but our job was not to pander to the sensibilities of companies in the public eye.

Surrender ultimatum to Queen Elizabeth

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

Sergio Rueda - Bono U2 by srueda43

Photo: flickr.com
Sergio Rueda – Bono U2 by srueda43

We, the people of Ireland (including her sons and daughters in the Diaspora), hereby demand the immediate surrender of Her Majesty’s Government and the hand-over of the keys of Parliament to Michael O’Leary, our designated representative in London. He can usually be reached at the Lambeth Tavern, off King’s Cross Road (mind the missing manhole cover outside the entrance). You will also be required to vacate Buckingham Palace.

You have 48 hours to respond to this ultimatum. Failure to comply with these demands will be met with all the force of Irish retribution of which you know we are capable, commencing with a one week non-stop song fest hosted by Bono and Riverdance and beamed relentlessly into your homes and places of worship.

You have been charged and convicted in abstentia of the following crimes:

The lost art of written communication: Part 1

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR, Uncategorized

Here are some thoughts I penned some time back about the waning art of written communication (more later)….

Paperback Writer by Marxchivist

Photo: flickr.com
Paperback Writer by Marxchivist

How often have you met someone who seemed intelligent and articulate in conversation, but who in writing couldn’t string a coherent sentence together?

The truth is that we judge people by the quality of their written communication. Email has made it possible to access a vast number of people in no time at all. Bash out a message and you can send it off to thousands of readers. If it is badly written, poorly constructed and littered with grammatical and spelling errors, your credibility is damaged, even if slightly. It shows lack of care or poor schooling.

On the other hand, send out a message that is brief, simple, elegantly crafted and devoid of errors – and you will be taken seriously. Your star will shine.

Those who aspire to senior office in any organisation had better know how to write – and to write well.