Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Who's allowed to be a mother?

I recently reread "Grass" by Sheri S. Tepper. It's set in the future, and the Earth is severely over populated - so much so that on Earth, nobody is allowed to have more than two children. If they have more than that, they have to emigrate to a colony planet. And any third child still on Earth is not allowed to reproduce. Marjorie, the protagonist, visits "Breedertown", where the supernumerary women and children live while waiting for transport to a colony. She helps a teenager, who is a third and therefore illegal child, get an illegal abortion. Marjorie explains that if the teenager had had her child, it would have been taken from her and sold to a colony world, and the teenager would have been picked up by the population police. Certainly she would not have been allowed to be a mother, either way.

Then I started thinking about international adoption. On the whole, I'm glad we gave that idea up. It's one thing to want to have a child, and to choose a child that already exists and needs a home, rather than to have treatments to try to bear one that my body isn't capable of on its own... but what about the mothers of those children? The ones who have to hide their pregnancy, the ones who have no way of supporting themselves and their child, the ones who already have too many children to feed but who will continue longing for and wondering about the one they gave up... and the ones who are dead, the ones who were raped and had no way of getting an abortion, the ones who have no choice at all, neither reproductive or otherwise... Is their life improved by our taking their children? If they did have a choice, would they choose to have their children sent away to the other side of the world? Then there are those who never wanted to give up their children, those who had their children stolen and sold to adoptive parents. There is trafficking in children just as there is in women, except in the case of children it's legalised and called international adoption.

This is not to say that international adoption is always wrong or bad. But merely looking at what areas the adoptive parents come from compared to the areas the children come from should tell us a lot about the economic and power structure of our world, as well as about how women and children are valued.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More on the "monitoring for freedom" guy

As I wrote on Sunday, I had a bit of a discussion with Makan Afshinnejad, press secretary for the Liberal frontrunner Marit Paulsen's, on election day. First a bit of background for those of you who aren't very well versed in Swedish politics:

During the past couple of years there have been two new laws which threaten our rights and privacy as citizens.

One of the laws is IPRED. That's the one that gives the film and record companies the right to request identifying information from ISPs without having to prove that the person has broken a law. That's information that our police can only get when they are investigating a crime that carries a prison sentence of 2 years - but the record companies can get it whenever they like.

The other is known as the FRA law. It says that the defense radio analysis agency is allowed to search through any Internet traffic going to or from a foreign country. And, given how the Internet works, that means that they can also search through a lot of the traffic between Swedish citizens within Sweden. In other words, the agency that is supposed to spy on other countries is now also going to spy on us. Both these laws have been widely discussed and criticized, not least in the Swedish blogosphere.

Both of these laws are highly problematic from a privacy and integrity standpoint. As for IPRED, I find it ludicrous that record companies should have greater investigative powers than the police. If I have broken a law, it's the job of the police to investigate and charge me. Those powers should not be given to another interested party!

And as for FRA, it's even worse. It's simply not possible for them to restrict their surveillance to packets to and from foreigners. If I use Google mail, and my mother uses Hotmail, then according to FRA we are using foreign sites and thus they are allowed to monitor our emails! And even supposing that we both use mail servers physically placed in Sweden, and owned by Swedish companies/people, the traffic may still be routed via the international routers. That is simply the way Internet works. Even if the law says they are not allowed to look at that traffic, there is no way to reliably exclude it from their filters.

That was what I tried to explaine to Makan Afshinnejad. His response was that I must be wrong, because all the instances that were invited to express opinions on the FRA law said it wouldn't be a problem, including the Data Inspection Board. And, he said, they wouldn't have approved of the proposal if there were an integrity problem.

At that point I wasn't certain of what the DI had said in their opinion, so I didn't respond directly. Now, however, I have had time to check things up. I went to their website and looked at their opinions. Interestingly enough, what I found was that they had not approved of the law. In fact, they had brought up the very same points that I did.

So I sent an email off to Mr Afshinnejad:


I'm the one who was giving out Piratpartiet ballots on Sunday. I was thinking over the conversation we had afterwards. I remember you saying that all opinions, including the one from the Data Inspection Board, approved of the law. As I at that point wasn't sure of what the DI had said I didn't argue; I don't like making a claim unless I have all the facts, so I just talked about what I know about how the Internet works and why it doesn't work to restrict the surveillance to one "carrier".

Now I have looked at the opinion from Datainspektionen. To my amazement, they have exactly the same arguments as I do! On page 5 it says "It is the opinion of the Data Inspection Board reasonable to suppose that the signal surveillance agency will still to a large extent have technical access to traffic that is not covered by the judicial access", and "The proposition may thus mean that signals between senders and recpients in Sweden will be routinely gathered despite the standard prohibition."

The DI had several more reservations, and I really recommend that you read their opinion. I myself will gladly take back any less than positive statements I made about them."

(In Swedish: Hej! Det var jag som stod och delade ut valsedlar för Piratpartiet i söndags. Jag funderade en del efteråt på samtalet vi hade. Jag minns att du sade att alla remissinstanser, inklusive Datainspektionen, hade godkänt FRA-lagen. Eftersom jag själv då var osäker på vad just DI hade sagt ville jag inte säga emot; jag tycker inte om att uttala mig i frågor där jag inte är säker på fakta, så jag nöjde mig med att förklara vad jag själv vet om hur Internet fungerar och varför det inte fungerar att begränsa spaningen till en "signalbärare".

Nu har jag tittat på Datainspektionens remissvar. Hör och häpna, de har exakt samma invändningar som jag har! Det står på sidan 5 "Det är enligt Datainspektionens mening rimligt att anta att signalspaningsmyndigheten fortfarande i rätt stor utsträckning kan komma att ha teknisk tillgång till trafik som inte omfattas av den rättsliga åtkomsten", och "Den föreslagna bestämmelsen kan alltså komma att innebära att signaler mellan sändare och mottagare i Sverige regelmässigt hämtas in trots det principiella förbudet."

DI hade en hel del ytterligare invändningar, och jag kan verkligen rekommendera dig att läsa igenom deras remissvar. Själv tar jag gladeligen tillbaka mina mindre positiva uttalanden om dem.)

It will be interesting to see if I ever get a response. I don't really think I will...

And I can't help finding it very interesting that the press secretary of their major candidate for the EU would argue without knowing the facts. I certainly got the feeling that he was convinced of the truth of his own words, so I don't think he was deliberately lying to me. But the truth is so very easy to find in this case that I still find it a bit strange that he would take the debate without having a basic grasp of the facts. And he did give it as a well-established fact - according to him, the DI had approved of the law. Which they didn't.

I don't really think I'll get an answer from him.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

War is peace. Monitoring is freedom.

Today is the Swedish election for the EU parliament. I spent part of the day handing out ballots outside my local election place, for the Pirate Party. That's the party that thinks it's a bad thing that our governments wants the defense intelligence agencies to monitor all traffic to and from Sweden (and, given how networks work, thus pretty much all the traffic to and from different parts of Sweden). It's also a bad idea that record companies have more powers than the police to get information about persons. Also we'd like some changes in copyright laws - not eliminating it, but changing it.

There were two other people handing out ballots, a Social Democrat and a Liberal. When I was about to pack up and leave, the Social Democrat started asking me about the stuff that PP has no policy on. Pretty soon I was discussing more with the Liberal. And the stuff that came out of his mouth had me flabbergasted. Such as "But in some cases we need to monitor you to ensure your freedom."

I was so stunned that at first I couldn't answer. It had never crossed my imagination that someone could actually say that and mean it. I believe I stammered something about Orwell and 1984, and asked how the government's monitoring my emails to my mother made me safer or freer. Because the whole monitoring thing is all about safety - what if there's a bomb in Stockholm and surveillance of all internet traffic could have stopped it? And think about drugs, drug trafficking is done over the Internet and that must be stopped.

I suggested that, since the Postal office is one of the major distributions channels for drugs, they should have drug sniffer dogs in all post offices. Of course they would only react on letters that had drugs in them, and on letters that had been close enough to have the same smell, but why worry? If you don't deal drugs or stupidly use the same outgoing mailbox as a drug dealer you have nothing to worry about.

At this point he changed the subject a little. I think we got back to how, if I thought it was OK for the defense intelligence agency to monitor stuff going on in foreign countries, I thought it was wrong to monitor everything. Besides, all this monitoring would keep me safer! Didn't I want to be safe?

I suggested that one good way to make sure people don't get robbed or raped is to lock everyone indoors after dark. That way we'd all be safe from strangers, and if we're locked in separate rooms that takes care of domestic violence, too. This, he said, was my taking things to extremes. Well, yes, it is. If you want to monitor me to make sure nothing bad happens to me - where does it end? How much of an infringement on my privacy is acceptable? I don't mind being monitored if there's an actual reason to suspect me of criminal activity. I do mind having everything I do online pass through a big filter that may or may not trigger on something I write!

The girlfriend grew up in the Soviet Union. There were things one simply did not speak of, places one simply did not go to. There was little need for the police or the laws to specifically ban those places or issues - people knew it was unsafe for them to speak of or go to them, and they limited themselves to avoid being noticed by the government. I told the Liberal guy that's not a society I want to live in. He said that he didn't think that was something I need worry about. And that is why I'm not voting for his party.

Oh, and the guy in question? Not just any guy spending a few hours working for his party. He's Makan Afshinnejad - press secretary for Marit Paulsen, the leading name for the Liberals in this election.