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Since news broke over the weekend the internet has been awash with talk of “Trapwire”, a computer system recently developed to track individuals and activities using surveillance cameras. Though Trapwire’s been known about for years now, it wasn’t until the last batch of Stratfor (global “private intelligence” gurus) emails hit Wikileaks that people really began to panic. As Fred Burton tells it, this system is already in place across numerous American, Canadian and British cities, guarding all manner of “highly valued” potential terrorist targets.

The reaction has been mixed. Many, such as Anonymous, are terrified and incensed, vowing to take down this technological leviathan. Others, such as the mainstream press, have been doing all they can to downplay the dangers. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but I’m inclined toward the former. This may not quite be “Skynet”, yet, but there’s more than enough reasons to panic. For starters, Wikileaks has been bombarded with a heavy DDOS attack all weekend (10GB/second, allegedly), which has prevented many from seeing the actual emails in question. Second, at least one of the emails admits that the system is directed at “activists” as well as terrorists.

What does Trapwire actually do? The main purpose seems to be identifying “terrorists” near specific sites by scanning internet-connected cameras for signs that someone may be “casing” the target (surveying and studying). As someone who’s spent much of the last week wandering around taking pictures of famous sites (like any tourist), this scares me a little. Other claims, such as whether Trapwire is connected into facial recognition software or social media databases seem less clear. It certainly seems that it isn’t quite as bad as Anonymous’ communiqe is suggesting, but at the same time, it’s unquestionably a step in that direction.

This isn’t just about Trapwire. It’s one system built by one company in use for one purpose, however Orwellian. The problem is, these kinds of technological abilities are growing at a frghtening speed. A decade ago, facial recognition software was a pipe dream, mostly because they’d never be able to amass enough photos to scan for more than a few individuals. It would literally have taken a mass-effort on behalf from millions of people uploading photos, selecting faces an typing names. Then came Facebook. Surveillance cameras, too, have multiplied faster than tribbles, fallen dramatically in price and improved dramatically in quality. Then there’s all the other systems – Echelon and the like, used for data-mining, wiretapping and other tasks which have also been installed. Surveillance is evolving very rapidly, and the technological and financial barriers are falling faster every day.

Years ago I visited the old headquarters of the Stasi, the former East German secret police renowned for being possibly the most terrifying domestic spying agency in history. It’s now a museum, filled with what now seem like quaint relics of a 1950s spy film (you can watch a guided tour while eating lunch, featuring Roger Moore!). Were cameras hidden in birdfeeders really so evil? Or their enormous collection of rags in jars which carefully preserved individuals’ scents? Of course not – but in the context of an agency who saw no problem keeping “files” on millions of citizens, almost half the population, they were utterly terrifying. We might never know how many people died in prison as a result of those birdfeeder-cameras, and there’s a horrifying lesson to be learned about how many eyes we want to grant violent and paranoid governments. Today, we’re fast approaching a digital profiling system which scans everybody, all the time, for the slightest eye movements or keywords in private conversations which might indicate “terrorist” intent, without any human oversight until it comes time for arrests.

Does that make you feel safe?

A new communique has been issued by the hacker group Anonymous, joining those planning for an occupation of Wall Street in New York this September. Their calls echo others in recent months, planning for a Tahrir-Square-style occupation of the world’s most important financial district.

Information, so far, is slim, and it’s hard to tell whether the popular support for such an action is really – many of Anonymous’ real-life rallies so far have been lightly attended. Still, many have been wondering if the mass-movements of Europe, Africa and the Middle East might spread to America – this may be the test. The “Day of Rage”, September 17th, is planned to coincide with similar nonviolent occupations across America and abroad. San Francisco (#OCCUPYFDSF), Madrid (#TOMALABOLSA) and even Toronto (#OCCUPYBAYSTREET) are on the list, as are many others. Can this, too make the jump from Twitter, Facebook and other online venues to a real-life protest? In less than a month, we’ll know.

occupywallst.org
Occupy Wall Street @Adbusters
What is the NYC Assembly to #occupywallstreet on #sept17, and who is behind it?@ Takethesquare.net

Anonymous
Anonymous, the global hacktivist collective, has declared war on the city of Orlando Florida, for arresting members of Food Not Bombs. They are pledging to continue until the arrests stop.

For quite some time now, there’s been an ongoing dispute between Food Not Bombs and the City of Orlando. FnB, as usual, has been distributing free food to homeless people in a park, and city officials keep having them arrested. It’s not all that unusual a situation – since the beginning of the anti-war soup kitchen movement in the 1980s, it’s possibly racked up more arrests than any other group of anarchists you can name. The dispute in Orlando has been particularly heated in the last year, to the point where FnB co-founder Keith McHenry joined the hordes of arrestees.

Anonymous recaptured world headlines after taking on former members of Lulzsec, which ended its fifty-day rampage around the internet by dissolving the group last weekend. Since then Anonymous has released even more hacked data from the Arizona police, as putting a scare into Australian banks. The two organizations have been involved in a wide range of attacks on corporate and government networks worldwide in the last year, most recently known as Operation Antisec, and despite a number of high-profile arrests, they seem to be getting bolder.

The group acknowledged that their actions might put Arizona officers at risk, but did not seem to care. “We are making sure they experience just a taste of the same kind of violence and terror they dish out on an every day basis,” Anonymous said. “Our advice to you is to quit while you still can and turn on your commanding officers before you end up in our cross hairs next, because we’re not stopping until every prisoner is freed and every prison is burned to the ground.”
– PC Magazine

The American Government is now seeking to arrest key players of Anonymous, the global hacktivist collective which has recently targetted the RIAA, Egyptian Government and credit card companies which cut donation access to Wikileaks. A recent report by private security analyst Aaron Barr, who claims to have infiltrated the group online, lays out the hierarchy and plans to shut it down by arresting the “ringleaders”. This is an absolutely typical strategy when it comes to police repression, and it tells us worlds about their mindset and intentions. It completely fails, though, as a means of understanding resistance movements, as well as in attempts to stop them. In my experience, the intricate conspiracy theories which authorities concoct about protesters are no less elaborate or fanciful than those of Alex Jones or Michael Rupert.

Don’t get me wrong – both Alex Jones and Michael Rupert are right about a great many things. But just as often, they miss the point entirely. And exactly the same thing generally happens with these investigations. Problems with the investigators biases and prejudices cloud their views and judgment, as do their own ambitions and deadlines. Resistance movements do not work like governments, militaries or police departments. There is no ‘central command’, no well-defined power structures or clearly laid organizational lines. Vanguardist political parties have played at best a minor role here and abroad for decades (since at least the end of the Cold War) – here and abroad, very few networks, from peace activists to “terrorist insurgents” use those models today.

Decentralized models of organization work. They allow large numbers of people to take part in their own way, without having to fit into precise molds laid out by centralized authorities. Since those leading the charge are often the first to go, decentralized models allow us to continue on without them.

Resistance movements take these structures because they have to. When many sides with conflicting ideas are thrown together with the common task of opposing a government or occupation they must find ways to work together in ways that don’t compromise each other’s autonomy. This is true of major groups (like religious sects in Egypt, or rival gangs in a prison uprising), and it is true of individuals. People do not join campaigns like those waged by Anonymous because of allegiance to founders or leaders – they join because they too have beef with the establishment, and see Anonymous as the best option for actually bringing change. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a coalition or group where the people involved weren’t fairly critical of it – however, we can’t all have our own coalition. Only when large amounts of the populace support these kinds of actions can they gain the kind of traction they need to be ‘successful’. And to do that, they must respect the people who choose to join.

From Egypt and Tunisia to the rubble-strewn streets of Europe, and right to the new online battlegrounds, authorities and pundits are struggling to understand how so many people could coordinate themselves without some powerful institution or individuals behind them. Some have concocted elaborate fantasies – such as Mubarak’s claims that the protests are the work of the Muslim Brotherhood. Others see only chaos, assuming that any resistance which lacks a coherent “leadership” must be made up of only mindless “thugs” and “sheep”.

When targeting leaders fails, many in power simply target civilians. It’s a classic terrorist response. By “making an example” of a few “ringleaders” – police and courts can ensure that others are scared off. The fact that these people aren’t actually “ringleaders” is usually common knowledge – but that, too, serves the purpose. If anyone can be targeted as a “ringleader”, then everyone who could in any way be associated has to live in fear.

Activists in Ontario are all too familiar with these tactics after last summer’s clusterfuck at the G20 protests in Toronto. At points, anybody wearing black was arrested, even those who clearly weren’t even protesters. At others, “key figures” were simply locked away, some before protest began, on elaborate charges of “conspiracy” (complete with a court-imposed press ban). For all their “vast knowledge” of anarchist organizers, though, compiled through years of undercover research and billion dollars in funding, they still stood idly by as the black bloc trashed Queen St West. Protection of Starbucks windows was never the point – terrorizing political opponents was. And they did.

Arrest of whichever active members of Anonymous they can find will not stop the movement. It may create martyrs, and it may ruin a few lives (these tactics often do). Such aggression, though, will only enrage those who are already very angry. The collective wrath of Anonymous has been marshaled for so many popular causes, from file sharing to Egyptian freedom, that it’s almost impossible to believe that a few heavy-handed prosecutions could stop it now. “Making an example” of a few people will send a message for sure – but what message will be received is a very different question.

Leaderless resistance is fast becoming a global reality in the brutal world of 21st century politics. People are now far too well-connected and informed to bow down before a few prophets or visionaries. And while the Egyptian experience proves that online resources can be invaluable for those seeking change –it also shows that these networks can still thrive almost entirely offline.

What those in power fear is not that popular revolt will thrust “bad people” like the ,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood”>Muslim Brotherhood into power (cue the racist assumptions). What they fear is that leaderless resistance will lead to a greater decentralization of society. If people are exposed to working models of networked organizations which can hold them together through times of siege, occupation and revolt, they may begin to question whether we need centralized power structures at all. Revolutions don’t stop at single institutions and they no longer appear to stop at borders, either.

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