How to use Twitter (pt.1)

I realised recently that Twitter can be under-used, with some aspects or tools overlooked. For example, upon reading an article (How to: Use Twitter lists) recently I realised that I do not use lists as often as I should.

Twitter lists allow you to group people or organisations into modifiable lists, letting you group people/organisations by categories or names. As the article states:

In other words, you can create a list that groups together people for whatever reason (the members of your family, for example), and then you can get a snapshot of the things those users are saying by viewing that list’s page, which includes a complete tweet stream for everyone on the list. Lists allow you to organize the people you’re following into groups, and they even allow you to include people you’re not following.

 Lists can be both private or public, allowing you to recommend lists or hide them completely. Once you have created a list (e.g. “NGOs” or “Journalists”), you can then view the list’s feed, showing you a Twitter feed of related, relevant tweets pertaining to your category, for instance. You can even list people that you aren’t following, to save you clogging up your regular feed.
You can find lists to follow in numerous ways. Mashable lists two here:

Listorious – Listorious is a third-party site that maintains a categorized directory of Twitter lists. You can search or browse through lists by category, and find the most popular lists.

TweetMeme Lists – Readers of Mashable will be familiar with TweetMeme, which exposes the most tweeted links on Twitter and powers the “retweet” buttons on all of our articles. Just like it does for links, TweetMeme also finds the most tweeted about Twitter Lists.

Advertisements

The Metropolitan Police: Ushering in a covert UK police state?

Earlier this year I reported on the Metropolitan Police’s purchase of the digital tracking software Geotime. The security program, used by the US military, collates digital data and then can generate a three-dimensional graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

The purchase led to an outcry from civil rights campaigners. At the time, there were reports of the undercover police who infiltrated green activist groups, sometimes sleeping with activists to gain their trust. There was also the report of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years, despite never having been convicted or accused of illegal activity. Rightly so, people were worried about the implications of the Met Police having such advanced surveillance technology. Could they be trusted to use it conservatively? Legally?

Now the Met has purchased more covert surveillance technology, this time in the form of technology that allows them to directly control and intercept mobile phones within a 10 sq km radius. The technology masquerades “as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.”

Strictly classified as “Listed X” under government protocol, “it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time,” the Guardian reports.

So far, The Met has refused to confirm whether the system is used in public order situations, such as during large protests or demonstrations. The Met would not comment on its use of the technology or give details of where or when it had been used.

The use of the technology by The Met raises serious concerns. Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned the technology could give police the ability to conduct “blanket and indiscriminate” monitoring: “It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered,” he said.

“Such invasive surveillance must be tightly regulated, authorised at the highest level and only used in the most serious of investigations. It should be absolutely clear that only data directly relating to targets of investigations is monitored or stored,” he said.

Such technology, coupled with the Geotime software, could allow The Met to gather highly sensitive data about innocent people without their knowledge, for example with large numbers of protestors at a peaceful demonstration. The technology could not only track their movements, but also record and intercept any SMS messages sent or phone calls made. It could also transmit a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, leading to a scenario such as in Egypt when mobile phone networks were shut down at the behest of the government during a time of civil unrest.

This is also coming after the UK riots, when Cameron is stated to have wanted to shut down the internet. There were fears that the riots were largely organised through the use of mobile phones and social networking sites. As a result, the government was considering options that included shutting down internet access, and closing or monitoring the Blackberry network. Although Cameron was persuaded against such measures, it is still worrying that such measures were considered. As technology improves, it will become easier to enact such control measures with ease. Future rioting, and further pressure from the media and the British public, could lead to such proposals becoming a reality.

Although the government did not enact these proposals, The Met has the technology to enact such policies, with the ability to shut down mobile phone networks within a large radius [10 sq km]. The transmitters can be about the size of a suitcase, and can be placed in a vehicle or at another static location and operated remotely by officers wirelessly. This could possibly lead to several such transmitters, covering a radius over several kilometres. Even if The Met does not shut down mobile phones, they have the ability to monitor and collate information covertly from thousands of users in a targeted area.

Index on Censorship, a British free speech organization, warned that the right to freedom of expression in the country was at risk after the UK riots saw the government announcing potential plans to censor and restrict internet access. Their letter to William Hague is still relevant:

“The government’s record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain’s desire to promote these ideals internationally are being hampered by domestic policy,” the group said.

“The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP’s ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people’s personal information online.”

The group concluded: “We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organize or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.”

Walking into a Police State?

The procurement of such technology in the hands of the UK’s biggest police force is potentially worrying. There is nothing to ensure that innocent people, in their hundreds or even thousands, are not covertly spied upon. The technology now allows vast amounts of data to effortlessly be collected on thousands of people simultaneously. Such data would include movements through time and space, SMS messages sent, recorded phone calls, IP logs, social networking info, and much more. Such technology also allows for the police to wirelessly shut down mobile phones within a very large radius, leading to a mobile phone blackout in a specific, controlled area.

Next time a riot occurs in London, I would find it difficult to imagine The Met not utilising such technology.

During the last riots, the media and the British public were frenetic, calling for draconian measures to stop the looting. Such reactions have led to harsh prison sentences designed to “send a message” rather than enact proper justice, calls for the internet to be shut down, measures to ensure that the police have access to water cannons for the first time, and more. There were even calls from some members of the public to enact martial law.

If another riot broke out in the future, which is not implausible, I would find it difficult to believe that The Met would not utilise their Datong mobile surveillance technology, in conjunction with Geotime. Such technology would allow them to track and monitor, covertly, the movements and communications of thousands of people simultaneously.

Initially, thousands would be monitored covertly but, after calls from the public and the government, The Met would (undoubtedly) shut down mobile phone communications across specific areas.

But this is not all.

Now it has been revealed that The Met has a fleet of spy planes, each costing around £3m each.

The planes have been in use since 1997, though their existence has never been publicly disclosed. The planes cost around £3m each, and many hundreds of thousands more to operate. Despite the vast cuts (around 20% of their budget) the police face, the spy planes are still in use, flying regular sorties.

As The Independant reports: “The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.”

So now we have secret spy planes, military-grade digital tracking software and technology that fits in a suitcase, intercepting and controlling thousands of mobile phone technology. Yes, it reads like a dystopian, science fiction text, along the lines of Ghost In The Shell, Blade Runner or even 1984.

My question is, are we walking into a covert police state? Is it, perhaps, becoming an electronic police state? Wikipedia defines such a state as:

Electronic police states are characterized by government surveillance of telephone traffic, cellular telephone traffic, emails, Internet surfing, video surveillance and other forms of electronic (including fiber optic) tracking. A crucial characteristic of this process is that the data is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions in legal proceedings.

The inhabitants of an electronic police state may be almost fully unaware that their communications and activities are being recorded by the state, or that these records are usable as evidence against them in courts of law.

It also goes on to say:

The United Kingdom is often seen as an advanced electronic police state, with mass surveillance and detention without trial having been introduced by the government, followed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s MTI program, which aims to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain, and to track telephone calls made over the internet as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

Do we trust The Met to hold such technology, and to use it appropriately and legally? Is technology developing too quickly, outpacing civil liberties we once took for granted?

Latest images from Greece protests (Part 3)

Riot police scuffle with a demonstrator during a protest outside the parliament in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

People run away from tear gases during a protest at Syntagama square in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

Teargas swirls in the air during a protest at Syntagma Square in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

A wounded protester is being led away from clashes with riot police as protesters tried to prevent deputies from reaching the Greek parliament in central Athens on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. (Thanassis Stavrakis)

Demonstrators embrace after being overcome by tear gases during a protest in front of the parliament in Athens June 29, 2011 (Reuters)

Strikers chant slogans during a protest in central Athens, on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Public services shut down across Greece Tuesday as workers walked off the job in a new nationwide general strike that disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air. (Alkis Konstantinidis)

Latest images from Greece protests

Moltov cocktail explodes near riot police guarding the Greek parliament in Athens, June 15, 2011. Tens of thousands of grassroot activists and unionists converged on Athens' central Syntagma (Constitution) Square Wednesday as Prime Minister George Papandreou prepared to push through a new five-year campaign of tax hikes, spending cuts and selloffs of state property to continue receiving aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund and avoid default. (Reuters)

A Greek riot police officer kicks a protester that was trying to calm other protesters down during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

Greek riot police officers throw tear gas as they chase protesters during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The banner reads in Greek: 'Continuous strikes, until victory'. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Greek riot police officer chases protesters during riots in central Athens Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas Wednesday to disperse groups of masked anarchists hurling firebombs and rocks on the sidelines of a major rally outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks required to avoid a debt default. (Petros Giannakouris)

A Greek protester throws plastic bottles into a fire that was lit by protesters to combat the effects of tear gas, thrown by riot police, not seen, during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A protester tries to cover her face from the effects of tear gas shot by police during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A demonstrator argues with a police officer outside the Greek Parliament during a rally against plans for new austerity measures, in central Athens, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. A 24-hour anti-austerity strike by Greece's largest labor unions crippled public services Wednesday, as the Socialist government was to begin a legislative battle to push through last-ditch cost-cutting reforms that will extend beyond its own term in office. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A protester throws stones towards a riot policeman taking cover behind a shutter at the ministry of Finance during riots in central Athens Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas Wednesday to disperse groups of masked anarchists hurling firebombs and rocks on the sidelines of a major rally outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks required to avoid a debt default. (Petros Giannakouris)

Police arrest a demonstrator trying to block the road to the Parliament during a rally against plans for new austerity measures, in central Athens, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. A 24-hour anti-austerity strike by Greece's largest labor unions crippled public services Wednesday, as the Socialist government was to begin a legislative battle to push through last-ditch cost-cutting reforms that will extend beyond its own term in office. (AP Photo)

A Greek protester runs with a baton to hit a riot police officer during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Secret cables reveal US concerns for post-quake militant occupation of Haiti

Debris in the streets of the Port-au-Prince ne...

Image via Wikipedia

Washington began deploying 22,000 troops to Haiti after the January 12, 2010 earthquake despite there being no serious security problem, according to secret US cables released by Wikileaks and provided to Haiti Liberte.

After the 7.0 earthquake struck, decimating the Haitian capital and surrounding areas, the capital Port-au-Prince “resembled a wazone”, Haiti Liberte reports. “Bodies lay strewn, collapsed buildings spilled into dust-filled streets, while Haitians frantically rushed to dig out survivors crying out from under hills of rubble.

“But the one element missing from this apocalyptic scene was an actual war or widespread violence. Instead, families sat down on the street, huddled around flickering candles with their belongings.”

Washington responded by sending thousands of armed troops in what would be the third US military intervention in Haiti in the last 20 years. The decision drew criticism from aid workers and government officials from around the world. The militarised response to a humanitarian crisis was not looked upon kindly by many in the international community, who seemed to view such a response as being inappropriate and counterproductive.

French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet stated that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez similarly denounced the decision to send “Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is no shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that is what the United States should send. They are occupying Haiti in an undercover manner.” Continue reading

Secret cables reveal US opposed paltry minimum wage rise in Haiti despite hunger and rising cost of living

    Recently released Wikileaks cables show that the United States worked to aggressively oppose a ‘paltry’ minimum wage rise for Haitian assembly zone workers.

The US embassy worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to block a wage rise, according to secret US State Department cables obtained by Haiti Liberte and The Nation magazine.

The factory owners refused to pay $0.62 an hour, or $5 per 8-hour day, as decreed by a measure unanimously passed by Haiti’s parliament in 2009. The cables show that, in the background, the factory workers were backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US embassy in Haiti.

The minimum daily wage before the rise was a mere $1.75 a day. Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and also one of the most unequal. The CIA ‘world factbook’ recognises that “Poverty, corruption, and poor access to education for much of the population are among Haiti’s most serious disadvantages,” though it also states that Haiti “enjoys the advantages of low labor costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports.”

The factory owners opposed to the minimum wage increase told parliament they were willing to accede to a paltry 9 cent per hour pay rise for workers (totalling a mere $0.31 per hour) as they toiled in factories making T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing companies.

The US State Department stepped in, urging the then-Haitian president Rene Preval to intervene.

In a June 10, 2009 cable to Washington, US ambassador Janet Sanderson said: “A more visible and active engagement by Preval may be critical to resolving the issue of the minimum wage and its protest ‘spin-off’ — or risk the political environment spiraling out of control.”

A mere two months later, President Preval negotiated with Parliament to secure a deal to introduce a two-tiered wage rise: one for the textile industry at $3.13 a day and another for all other industrial/commercial sectors at $5 a day.

Despite the two-tiered proposal, the US embassy was still not satisfied. Deputy chief of mission David Lindwall said the $5 a day minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account”, but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to the “unemployed and underpaid masses”. Haitian supporters of the minimum wage rise stated that, actually, the rise was necessary to keep pace with inflation and rising costs of living.

As stated, Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and many struggle with hunger and poverty. The CIA ‘world factbook’ website states that Haiti is already: “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty” – so why did the US intervene so aggressively, opposing the minimum wage increase? Their own intelligence agency plainly states on their website that they recognise that Haiti struggles with such levels of poverty.

According to a 2008 Worker Rights Consortium study, a working class family of one working member and two dependants requires a daily wage of at least $13.75 to meet normal living expenses – and this was in 2008. 3 years later, Haitians are describing the difficulties in meeting the rising cost of living.

In response to a request for a statement regarding these cables and alleged US intervention, the US embassy’s Information Officer Jon Piechowski told Haiti Liberte: “As a matter of policy, the Department of State does not comment on documents that purport to contain classified information and strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of such information. In Haiti, approximately 80% of the population is unemployed and 78% earns less than $1/day – the U.S. government is working with the Government of Haiti and international partners to help create jobs, support economic growth, promote foreign direct investment that meets ILO labor standards in the apparel industry, and invest in agriculture and beyond.”

The Haiti cables also reveal how the US embassy closely monitored pro-wage increase demonstrations and how there were worried about the political impact of minimum wage increases. UN troops were called in to quell student protests, sparking demands for the end of the UN military occupation of Haiti. Does this suggest that the UN was working on behalf of US interests, ignoring the interests of the poverty-stricken Haitians?

Due to the fierce protests of workers and students, sweatshop owners and Washington won only a partial victory in the minimum wage battle, delaying the $5 a day minimum for one year and keeping the assembly sector’s minimum wage a notch below all other sectors. In October 2010, assembly workers’ minimum wage rose to $5 a day, while in all other sectors it rose to $6.25.

The Haitian Platform for Development Alternatives said in June 2009: “Every time the minimum wage has been discussed, [the assembly industry bourgeoisie in] ADIH has cried wolf to scare the government against its passage: that raising the minimum wage would mean the certain and immediate closure of industry in Haiti and the cause of a sudden loss of jobs. In every case, it was a lie.”

24 hour strikes in Greece over austerity measures.

Protesters gather rally for a fifth day - May 29, 2011 (Kostas Tsironis)

Greece has been hit with a 24-hour anti-austerity strike as the government prepares to push forward latest austerity reforms. The strike has left hospitals struggling with emergency staff and has disrupted public transport, and radio and television programmes have been forced off the air. As seen by the image above, demonstrations have been ongoing for many weeks now.

Scores of demonstrators who have camped in Syntagma Square since 25 May have been joined by dozens of other demonstrators, chanting slogans outside parliament. Such demonstrations have often turned violent in the past, with clashes with the police.

A protestor lays on the ground after clashes erupted during a general strike that halted services and disrupted flights May 11, 2011 in Athens, Greece. Getty

The Socialist government is pushing forward a €28bn (£24bn) austerity programme this month, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European countries who could cut current funding from a rescue loan package worth €110bn (£96bn). The Socialist party have abandoned a pledge not to impose new taxes and have drawn up a four-year privatisation programme worth €50bn in order to meet the austerity its commitments – moves that have only fuelled demonstrations against the cuts by public utility employees, labour unions and other affected groups.

Greece’s programme to sell off €50bn of state-owned assets include plans to sell stakes in some of its most valuable assets, including its two largest ports, a state-owned bank, the country’s gambling monopoly and a water utility. Economists welcomed the announcement, saying that Greece needed to drastically step up its privatisation drive. The party has been delaying such measures, fearing internal opposition and backlash from labour unions.

The protestors in Syntagma Square have stated their aims to block access to the legislative assembly before MPs begin to debate the next level of cuts on Wednesday afternoon. Not all MPs have accepted the austerity measures; one MP defected on Tuesday whilst another said he would vote against the bill.

The austerity measures have, naturally, impacted on the party’s popularity in recent weeks; a recent opinion poll suggested that the opposition conservatives have a four-point lead over the Socialists in terms of public popularity, the first time the party has been in the lead (in surveys) since 2009.

Riot police clash with protesters outside the headquarters of the Bank of Greece during a 24-hour strike in Athens, Wednesday, May 11.. (Thanassis Stavrakis)

A riot policeman blocks a municipal worker as he tries to enter the parliament building during a march against austerity in Athens, May 18. Greeks have staged repeated demonstrations to protest the EU/IMF prescribed belt-tightening. ReutersPolice detain a protester during a 24-hour strike in Athens, Wednesday, May 11. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse youths throwing stones and petrol bombs during a march attended by 20,000 people. (Thanassis Stavrakis)