Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Terrorism invoked in ISP snooping proposal

Why is this not surprising?

For me, personally speaking, the government is just making my life harder because I was pondering over whether I should do my Master's thesis on dissent, or worse, suicide terrorism in Islam and how it is changing the nature of interstate relations.

So much for that idea!

It just gives credence to my theory that we no longer vote only by choosing representatives and then electing them; we vote even more powerfully with our money. Our spending habits, the products we patronize, the companies we promote are what we should be more careful about. In this day and age, we speak volumes by what we spend money on.

Having said that, to tie it in with this debate on online privacy, my question then becomes, why dont we hold these corporations accountable like we would elected officials? We purchase their products, so we have a say in how they should better serve us. They spend millions of dollars on doing just that, only now, they need to hear it firsthand, loud and clear.

Some interesting bits and pieces from the full CNET article linked above:

In a radical departure from earlier statements, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said that requiring Internet service providers to save records of their customers' online activities is necessary in the fight against terrorism, CNET has learned.

Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller privately met with representatives of AOL, Comcast, Google, Microsoft and Verizon last week and said that Internet providers--and perhaps search engines--must retain data for two years to aid in anti-terrorism prosecutions, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.

Especially after recent reports that AT&T has opened its databases to the National Security Agency, Internet and telecommunications executives have become skittish about appearing to be cooperating too closely with the federal government's surveillance efforts.

In addition, the positive publicity that Google received during its legal dispute with the Justice Department over search terms has demonstrated to Internet companies the benefits of objecting to government requests on privacy grounds.

"A monumental data trove is a crazy thing from a privacy perspective," said one person familiar with Friday's discussions. "It's crazy that the U.S. government is going to retain more data than the Chinese government does."

Details of the Justice Department's proposal remain murky. One possibility is requiring Internet providers to record the Internet addresses that their customers are temporarily assigned. A more extensive mandate would require them to keep track of the identities of Americans' e-mail and instant messaging correspondents and save the logs of Internet phone calls.

A Justice Department representative said Tuesday that the proposal would not require Internet providers to retain records of the actual contents of conversations and other Internet traffic.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Iranian Ambassador gives talk at CUNY Graduate Center

This was the first time I ever heard a representative of the Iranian Mission to the UN, let alone the Ambassador, speak on such an important topic. While the “official” topic he was speaking on was “Assessing the work of the Disarmament Commission and the IAEA”, the audience present really wanted to hear about Iran’s stance on its nuclear quagmire and what lay in the future. I’m pretty sure this theory of mine is correct, as I saw NBC’s UN correspondent Linda Fasulo in the audience taking notes hectically. This was a story she was not about to miss!

Zarif’s comments were highly thought-provoking and informative. There was nothing about his style or demeanor that would make you think he was the representative of a politician like Ahmedinejad. Zarif was logical, rational and absolutely and totally reasonable. I also liked the fact that his comments were comprehensive and wide-ranging. Not only did he touch on the obvious strained relationship between Iran and the US, but also relations with Israel, South Asia (specifically Pakistan and India), and with other regions and countries around the world.

For the first time, I consciously thought about the effects of a highly nuclear world. Since these issues are not something I regularly focus on, they still concern me greatly, and as a global citizen, I must, at the least, be aware of their effects and consequences. Technical terms (like the FMCT and NSA) aside, Zarif’s most eye-opening comments were about Iran-US relations and how over the past quarter century, the country has essentially lived under sanctions imposed by this hegemon, the United States. These sanctions were a result of the state of human rights in Iran, alleged support of terrorism and/or militants, the hostage crisis, and rhetoric regarding Israel, etc. But no one has otherwise noticed that Iran has not invaded a country in the last 250 years! It has also not used chemical weapons against Iraqis.

Zarif also went on to say that while nuclear terrorism was an important development to be kept an eye on, more vigilance must be placed on chemical and biological weapons. With Iran’s economic growth, its energy and power needs are obviously growing as well. But the energy isn’t there to sustain this economic growth. Hydro-electric power is not enough, and nuclear energy is a viable option. Moreover, Iran’s competitors are much further ahead in this process and Iran, therefore, does not present as great a threat as the international media has made it out to be.

Lastly, I couldn’t have agreed more with Zarif when he closed his talk with a reiteration of Khatami’s call for a dialogue of/between civilizations. How crucial it is that we understand our diverse perspectives and use diplomacy and exhaust multilateral instruments and then resort to other means. The doctrine of “preventive war” that the US has put forward is antithetical to what the UN stands for and what international law dictates. The root cause of problems must be addressed, and not just the clear manifestation of them.