Comment: The CIA Torture Report

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program just got published in a redacted version.

It can be downloaded here.

I read the introductory words by the Committee’s chairman Dianne Feinstein and the twenty findings and conclusions.

The study documents the ugly, ineffective, unprofessional, undemocratic, violent, inhumane and simply disgusting practises of the CIA’s detention program from September 2001 until 2009.

I am hardly surprised. Things that have been rumored for years more than a decade have been confirmed to be true. (Oh wait … not the first time in recent history.)

In the introduction, you can find the following quote:

This and future Administrations should use this Study to guide future programs, correct past mistakes, increase oversight of CIA representations to policymakers, and ensure coercive interrogation practices are not used by our government again.

I cannot help but being cynical about this. I guess nothing will change. If necessary, the layers of outsourcing, indirection and blurring of the things the inhumanes in the intelligence community want to do will increase. But they will not be stopped by governmental or parlamentary oversight.

The intelligence agencies of the (western) world have demonstrated clearly that they are not going to give up their power. I accuse every director of an intelligence agency to have been lying to the public at least once.

The problem is: lying is essentially part of their job. Intelligence agencies are inherently intransparent and are always at least at the edge of legality. They are meant to do the dirty work. They are the institutionalized shady guys of the government.

I believe that most humans are bad at giving power away once they hold it. And compiling the list of crimes documented in the report makes the people in the agencies adhere to their positions of power even stronger.

The result is an organization whose job it is to keep its mouth shut, that does not want the public to know about its work, whose employees are a homogenous group that carries on unreflectedly – day after day.

Leakers like Manning and Snowden are a rare exception.

Returning to the quote: of course, you won’t start a revolution in a congressional report. But better oversight, or using the study as a purpose to review the CIA detention policy just does not go far enough.

It comes down to the question of wheter a democratic society wants to accept a blackbox that is by definition and legislation beyond the control of the public. This is the discussion I hope to see. And I fear I will be disappointed.

Comment: Why Germans Are Afraid of Google

There has been an interesting article in the NYT: Why Germans Are Afraid of Google. All in all, it mentions important points but the argumentation could be a bit more elaborate. [All quotes are taken from the article linked above].

And truth be told, Germany is not a great place to be a big tech company these days.

Yep, I agree. But it’s not because of regulations etc. but rather because of the lack of infrastracture: Want to get fiber somewhere? Good luck.

Google is often spoken of in dark terms around cafes and biergartens.

Maybe in Berlin-Kreuzberg but that’s an overstatement. And if you need the symbol of biergartens to evoke mental associations with Germany: bad choice.

Even a figure as dominant in the global economy as Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of Springer, Germany’s largest publishing house, said he was “afraid of Google.”

Yes he is. Because together with some other publication houses, Springer initiiated the Leistungsschutzrecht, a reactionary law passed by a lulled Bundestag that aims to compensate the company’s incompetency in adapting a new business model on the Internet.

On the other hand, the force of anarchy makes Germans (and many other Europeans) shudder, and rightfully so. It’s a challenge to our deeply ingrained faith in the state. […]
The German voter-consumer will always trust the state more than he will any private company, no matter how ardently it insists on being a good guy.

Faith in the state? Please don’t generalize.

I think there’s a slight majority of particularly elder people blindly trusting the state because it seemingly protected them from Communism back in the days. They use the Internet mostly for work or private life-management (online banking, taxes, etc). Many don’t understand the enormous disruption driven by the Internet.

Then there are the so called digital natives. These are the ones that are lobbying for net-neutrality, privacy and decentralization right now. They are only a tiny percentage of their age group but they have a strong influence in politics, e.g. the Chaos Computer Club, Digitale Gesellschaft e.V. et al.

Finally, there are the adolescents of today: people from twelve to early twenty. The older ones of this age group might have grown up with an Internet that was open and just beginning to lock down. The younger ones never experienced something else: American services dominate the usage-time and make money personal data and the lock-in effect of their cloud platforms. Most people of this generation blindly trust these companies and many of them are apolitical.

When problems appear, we look to “Vater Staat” — the Father State — to protect us.

See above.

Indeed, the reason politicians like Mr. Gabriel — who has said “we must tame Silicon Valley capitalism”— go after Amazon and Uber is that it is a surefire way to get votes. Even politicians who are normally pro-deregulation, like Mr. Oettinger, know it’s smart to come down hard on tech companies.

If it wants to succeed here, Silicon Valley needs to comply with the particularities of the German and European market. We love technology, but we want it delivered on our terms. In Germany, cowboys should remain in the movies.