iSecuritization? China says the iPhone is a threat to national security

In what I am shamelessly calling iSecuritization, Chinese Central Televison (CCTV) have said that the iPhone is a threat to national security. This is due to the ‘frequent locations’ feature, which Apple states is used in order to ‘to learn places that are significant to you’.

If you’ve got an iPhone it’s worth checking out. Frequent locations is turned on by default and it’s currently tracking your movements. Have a look at your frequent locations and realise how creepy your iPhone is by following these instructions.

CCTV state that frequent locations amounts to a threat to national security as, according to one researcher quoted in the Independent, ‘if this information was accessed on a large scale it could reveal a country’s economic situation and “even state secrets”.’

Unfortunately my frequent locations don’t reveal anything half as interesting.

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But regardless of how uninteresting my activities may be, frequent locations and the fact it’s turned on by default does draw out some interesting issues in regards to surveillance and security (which Zygmut Bauman and David Lyon cover in detail).

Apple say that they have ‘never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers, and we never will’. And I guess that’s good news. Apple is tracking your every move by default and might not be sharing it with governments, but what can they do with it themselves? Frequent locations may not be a threat to national security, but is it a threat to yours?

Friday reading

Some interesting things from the last few weeks:

On international relations and security:

  • Man-up Mr Snowden! Masculinities and national security’ – interesting piece by Klaus Dodds on how gender has been used in the Snowden dispute
  • How Google moves international borders discusses conflict zones which leave Google ‘in-the-middle’ of border disputes. As a result of legal pressure, Google maps actually show different borders depending on the domain name you use to search (so Google.com.hk (China) gives different results to Google.co.in (India), for example). To give an example from the article: ‘If you look at Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s 29 states, from the Indian version of the website you will see the border that its government believes to be correct. View the same region from within China and it appears as “South Tibet” under Chinese control. From within the UK you see both borders marked with a dotted line to indicate that there is a local dispute’. The article has great graphics where you can drag a marker to view disputed maps side by side.
  •  An older piece, but fitting with the previous: why Google maps gets Africa wrong. Spoiler-alert: it’s about the Mercator map…

 

On academia:

Some interesting links

Some interesting things we’ve come across this week:

  • America’s hip-hop foreign policy: an interesting read from the Atlantic discussing the role of rap in the war on terror. Apparently America is dealing with ‘jihadi rap’ by sponsoring ‘good muslim hip-hop’. The discussion of how rap has been used both to radicalise and in turn as a tool of diplomacy is particularly interesting.
  • Yugoslavia as science fiction: discusses art from the former Yugoslavia and the way in which it’s being viewed today, with a fascinating discussion of what this implies about the post-Yugoslav space today.

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Acknowledgements: the first two pieces were kindly forwarded from @laurence_cooley and the last one was spotted via the always excellent @caiwilkinson!

 

China ‘declares war’ on pollution: what does it mean?

On 5th March, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang opened the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. These speeches tend to be full of the usual, ‘expected’ and generally repetitive bureaucratic language. However, this time Li’s speech was a little out of the ordinary: it explicitly declared a ‘war on pollution’ – an unexpected choice of words which suggests the issue is increasingly considered one of security. This blog has already talked about China’s ‘Airpocalypse’, and whether or not deteriorating air quality should be considered a security issue. The government has been considering and implementing a range of measures to deal with urban pollution, and with up to 500,000 people dying early each year from air pollution related illnesses action is desperately needed. Li’s speech, in declaring war on pollution, took the debate to another level. Xinhua reported Li as stating that ‘Smog is affecting larger parts of China and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development’. Miao Xuegang, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, called Li’s declaration “a letter of commitment from the government”.

Premier Li Keqiang on March 5, from TIME

The statement is ‘the highest-level acknowledgement yet of the enormous challenges China faces’, directly recognising the seriousness of the issue. The language is reminiscent of securitization theory’s suggestion that when issues are declared issues of security and supreme priority, they can be dealt with differently – allocating extra funds and enabling emergency measures. It suggests the government is taking pollution seriously, and it will be interesting to see how far the it will take this – the Airpocalypse will likely remain a popular topic in Chinese media, and with rising numbers of environmental protests it will be difficult for the government to shirk responsibilities. The biggest obstacle, however, remains economic development. It is widely seen as the cause of China’s pollution problems, but Li’s speech also reiterated a commitment to keeping economic growth at 7.5% and it is difficult to see how this will enable a serious improvement in pollution levels. Ai Nanshan, from Sichuan University noted that “you can not get a beautiful GDP figure at the cost of environment”. This is clearly a puzzle the government has yet to solve.

Despite the Rumble of Russian Tanks the Main Weapon in Ukraine is Information

This is an article by our friend Dr Victoria Hudson, research associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University and was originally published at The Conversation.

“In the information age, success is not merely the result of whose army wins, but also of whose story wins.” The words of Harvard scholar Joseph Nye have been borne out in Ukraine.

At the moment, the Moscow narrative appears to have the upper hand both in Crimea and in Russia – where the Putin government has moved recently to stifle dissent.

Footage and photographs of thousands of jubilant Crimeans celebrating through the night after an overwhelming vote to secede from Ukraine carry an emphatic message. As one headline in Russia, quoted by the BBC, trumpeted: “Crimea is now returning to Russia.”

Each development in the rapidly unfolding crisis has been chronicled by media professionals and citizen journalists on social media. Each of the key parties to the debate spins a contrary narrative, grounded in different world views. Which account proves more convincing will help to determine which political outcomes are ultimately accepted as legitimate; not only in Ukraine and the West, but in the international community more broadly.

When the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine, its members refused to recognise the interim national government which they perceive as having seized power following a fascist coup-d’état. The pro-Western opposition claims Yanukovych’s alleged order to shoot on protesters rendered the former president unfit to rule.

In the run-up to the Crimean referendum – and in its immediate aftermath – the competing narratives were just as starkly opposed. The pro-Russian side argues, with a degree of justification, that the overwhelming vote has been a reaffirmation of Russian sovereignty in Crimea, since the region was transferred within the Soviet Union in 1954 by Khrushchev, who did not foresee Ukraine becoming an independent state. In the West, the vote has been dismissed as illegal under Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

But this struggle is not only about “the facts” but increasingly about the power over their interpretation and the capacity to disseminate that view effectively.

Information war

In the information war of the past weeks, Russia has scored several bullseyes. Kremlin-backed English-language channel Russia Today first released an intercepted call between assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which the interlocutors discussed their views about the future of Ukraine. While the Western media has focused on the profanities used to express frustration with the EU, the greater scandal is actually the empowered tone with which they discussed their preferences among the opposition leaders, who are condescendingly abbreviated to “Yats” and “Klitsch”.

In a second diplomatic exchange leaked by Russia Today, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet was heard to tell the EU’s high representative Catherine Ashton: “There is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition”. Both parties to this conversation have since sought to reframe it as a discussion of a conspiracy theory, rather than an “assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence”.

While question marks hover over Russia Today’s objectivity, not to mention the provenance of the intercepted dialogue, the recording has provoked a storm of debate on social media. Despite the fact that such disagreements about the origins of the crisis have filtered through into the mainstream Western press, there is a prevailing sense that such core questions have been displaced on the agenda by escalating current events.

Meanwhile, both sides have delved into the shadows of Nazism in rhetorical support of their position. The Russian side points to the radical right-wing elements in the interim government to discredit the opposition movement as “Banderivtsi” in reference to Stepan Bandera, who is reviled by Russia as the leader of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis.

For its part, the opposition, along with Hilary Clinton, has sought to equate the probable presence of Russian forces in Crimea with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. While the moniker “Putler” and gaudy visual memes of the Russian president with a superimposed toothbrush moustache are social media-friendly, the more powerful move in evoking the trope of appeasement, as before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, lies in its emotive appeal to European powers to take punitive action against Moscow.

Such is the volume and velocity of recent events, keeping abreast of political developments is not conducive to balanced, evidence-based judgements. And the emotional content of much of the coverage from both sides has done little to foster critical reflection on events. While the USA and Russia trade accusations of disinformation, EU hesitancy to act against Russia might be seen not simply as an indicator of weakness or fear of the rebounding consequences of economic sanctions, but as a sign of backstage misgivings about the information emerging from Kiev.

To build a steady foundation for peace acceptable to all Ukrainians, including those in Crimea, and in order for the fledgling Ukrainian government to legitimise its rule, justice must be done and be seen to be done. The EU should press for the urgent, independent investigation of all criminal acts, against both protesters and state representatives.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Kitten’s Law, Internet Research and The DARPA Pet Photo Contest

Godwin’s law is an internet adage that asserts that the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely  some kind of comparison with Hitler or the Nazi’s will be mentioned. It’s pretty much a bonafide, objective truth – just read the comments section on your average political article on any major news site.

Recently I’ve been thinking that there’s another internet law, and rather than Nazi’s this one involves kittens, dogs and other animals. I propose that “as internet research grows longer, the probability of coming across animal pictures approaches 1″ —​ that is, if your research  takes into account the internet (regardless of topic or scope), sooner or later you’ll come across a picture of cute animals.

I think we should call it ‘kitten’s law’ (‘Crilley’s law’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). What got me thinking about this was a recent conference on the topic of ‘social influence in the information age’ hosted by the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Science Technology Laboratory. As such, you’d expect it to be a very serious affair with no room for lolcats. But no, within the first 3 minutes of the keynote speech, an image of a kitten popped up. Throughout the day I saw a further 4 cats in various presentations. And today…

Well today I came across the DARPA Pet Photo Contest. Quite possibly one of the weirdest things to have ever happened on this planet. Ever.

DARPA is the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and  is responsible for developing military things like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, stealth boats and the terminator, *ahem* I mean ‘robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones’. Or the post-apocalyptic world after Skynet launches all the nukes.

Anyway, the photo contest involves DARPA employees submitting ‘pictures of their pets in costume, with patriotic and science themes strongly encouraged’. Meet the winner, Freddy.

Here’s the runners up:

And my personal favourite, Henry.

So there, even when you’re researching something niche and ‘serious’ like how various political actors use contemporary digital technologies to claim legitimacy for violence you’ll come across animal photos. In fact maybe part of the answer to my research question is that they use lolcats and dog’s dressed up as robotic IED detectors, but as much as I’d love to write a chapter (read: whole thesis) on this I’m not sure it would actually fly. Maybe I should just stick a photo of a kitten in there and call it a day?!

Part five: What is to be done?

Reblogged from Saving humans:

The blog posts this week have raised a series of questions about energy security. Conventional political thinking on energy security has a narrow focus which emphasises the need to secure state energy supplies. Sustainability is largely ignored, as short-term economic benefit is continually prioritised. The political and military survival of states is prioritised over environmental or climate stability, and human security. So what is to be done?

Discussions of energy security are slowly beginning to notice the need to factor in climate impacts in economic and human net-benefit calculations, with the IEA releasing a special report in 2013 to map out what can be done. Improving energy efficiency is central, as is continued and increased investment in renewable energy. Some present nuclear energy or clean coal technologies as part of the solution, but a recent study by Mark Jacobson examined solutions to global warming, air pollution and energy security and took the three as linked, and he found that clean coal technologies and nuclear investments provided ‘less benefit with greater negative impacts’.  The conclusion of the study stated that ‘because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g. , wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, gravitational energy) exists to power all energy for the world…the diversion of attention to the less efficient or non-efficient options represents an opportunity cost that delays solutions to climate and air pollution health problems’.

Organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have also produced extensive reports outlining alternative policy solutions to enable the world to move away from fossil fuels towards a sustainable future. Whichever solution is suggested, it is likely to require a serious change in thinking on behalf of political leaders. Economist Tim Jackson suggests that rethinking notions of prosperity and growth are central to solving the issue. To minimise permanent or long-term climate and ecosystem damage, it is clear that sustainability needs to be prioritised over short-term economic gain. The truth is that we simply do not know the extent of the damage we have already caused the planet, and to save the future of humanity, any further damage needs to be avoided.

Image from Krankys Cartoons

Part four: Energy security as human security

Reblogged from Saving humans:

Not only are current patterns of energy exploitation a key contributor to climate instability, they also affect human security directly. First, we have the ‘indirect’ side-effects of fossil fuel burning: the impact of climate change on human health. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘global warming that has occurred since the 1970s caused over 140 000 excess deaths annually by the year 2004’. This includes not only deaths from pollution related illnesses, but also deaths from extreme heat, increase in the rate and range of weather-related natural disasters, increasing risk of floods and droughts from variable rainfall patterns (both of which increase risk of diseases, particularly in developing countries – including diarrhea, dengue fever and malaria). Changing weather patterns will also affect food security, which in turn increases the risk of malnutrition and undernutuition, particularly in the developing world (see WHO climate change and health factsheet).

Secondly, the energy extraction process has a more direct impact on human security. There are no accurate figures on how many die in coal mining accidents globally, though some estimate mining accidents alone kill around 12,000 annually. Coal miners also suffer a high risk of developing black lung disease from inhaling coal dust, as well as lung cancer and other lung diseases. Climate change is also likely to increase the ‘occupational health hazards’ associated with coal mining. Oil drilling and extraction carries it’s own hazards. The impact on local communities can be devastating. When accidents occur, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it causes a huge amount of damage to ecosystems, marine and wildlife habitats, as well as local fishing and tourism. Both residents and those involved in the clean-up also suffered long-term health consequences.

BP oil spill

Many people volunteered to help with the clean up operation after the BP oil spill, to minimise wildlife damage. Little did they know that they risked serious long-term health consequences in the process

Fracking, which is used to extract both shale gas and oil and which has so far been most popular in the United States, has been lauded for its climate benefits as shale gas is seen to be more environmentally friendly than coal. However, fracking releases methane into the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Other pollutants released by the drilling are known to cause ‘short-term illness, cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects or even death’. Groundwater pollution has been another big side-effect in areas near big shale-plays, and there is an as-yet unclear link between fracking and an increase in earthquakes.

Clearly, extracting fossil fuels has a serious impact on human survival, health and well-being, and these are all issues largely overlooked in political discussions on energy security.

Part three: Energy security vs climate security

Reblogged from Saving humans:

It is clear that energy security opens up some difficult questions about what or whose security should be prioritised. At the centre of this is the growing conflict between the focus of much energy security policy and discussion on fossil fuels, and the human need for a stable climate and environment. Energy security as currently understood by most policymakers is incompatible with a stable climate. We see perhaps the biggest conflict between energy and climate security today in China.

As recognised by the International Energy Agency, burning fossil fuels for energy is by far the central source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If climate change and air pollution are also considered, fossil fuels ultimately no longer provide security. China’s rapid economic development has led to a huge growth in its demand for energy. It still relies largely on domestic resources, which makes it ‘secure’ if you equate energy independence with energy security. However, nearly 70 percent of China’s energy comes from coal – which is both cheap and domestically available. Coal is by far the dirtiest source of energy, and contributes more to global warming than any other fossil fuel.

China’s air pollution problems became world news last winter, when the air quality hit new lows. The US embassy in Beijing has been measuring air quality since 2008, and publishing the data on a twitter account using a pollution measurement scale from the US Environmental Protection Agency. The air quality index suggests measurements between 101 and 150 are unhealthy for ‘sensitive groups’, meaning children, the elderly and those suffering from asthma. For pollution levels between 301 and 500, labelled ‘hazardous’, they recommend everyone to refrain from doing any physical activity outdoors. Last winter, readings reached 755 – on a scale that stops at 500. The ongoing ‘trend’ has been labelled an ‘airpocalypse’, with high levels of pollution linked to increased levels of some types of cancer, as well as respiratory illnesses. Air pollution is also a cause of acid rain, which contaminates food supplies and damages ecosystems. Air and water pollution has been linked to a new phenomenon of ‘cancer villages’ in parts of China, where inhabitants suffer unusually high rates of cancer.

A photo of the same view in Beijing, on a clear day and during bad pollution during winter 2013

Unsurprisingly, people are increasingly unhappy about the social and environmental costs of development, and the number of environmental protests in China is rising. The government is attempting to tackle the issue, but growing energy demand means that a reduction in coal use is unlikely to happen even in the next decade. The growing conflict between increasing energy demand to support economic development and environmental stability is going to be one of the biggest challenges for China in the next decade. The government has repeatedly stated that economic development does not have to be unsustainable, but it is yet to back this up with serious action.

While the situation in China is at the centre of this debate, the rest of the world has also failed to come up with a clear solution. Existing approaches to energy security still largely overlook the impact policy choices have on the climate or the environment. Some argue that the environment or the climate are not ‘security’ issues, and while I personally disagree, whichever position you take it is clear that these are issues increasingly affecting the lives and livelihoods of human beings. The question we seem to be left with is: do we have to choose between energy security and a stable climate? Is it possible to ‘have it all’?

Part two: Saving humans or saving states?

Reblogged from Saving Humans.

For some states, growing concern over energy security is turning them inwards as they attempt to maximise their own energy supplies. Much of the US energy security debate is centred around the desire for energy ‘independence’, an enticing dream of a United States which does not need to depend on anyone else. A key part of the solution presented by policy makers is to maximise domestic fossil fuel production. Both George W. Bush and Obama have emphasised the need to increase domestic production of oil and gas, resulting in an energy boom with much attention on the current ‘shale revolution’. A recent article in the Economist titled ‘Saudi America’ reflects the current mood well.

Frackin the Bakken shale play, from the Economist, Saudi America

While the internal debate puts the focus on producing more oil and gas domestically, energy independence is unlikely to be the saviour and solution that is hoped for. Shale gas has been hyped as a ‘bridging fuel’ which will replace dirty coal stations, thus moving the US towards a cleaner energy future. However, not only are the ‘green’ credentials of shale gas dubious at best; cheap and easily available shale gas is also replacing renewable energy sources. US coal use may be in decline, but rather than keeping it in the ground for environmental reasons, it is being exported to pollute elsewhere, making any net-climate benefit shale could have produced virtually inexistent.

In practice, climate change is largely off the agenda in energy security discussions, and leaders rarely talk about ‘coal’, preferring to use the term ‘clean coal’ – despite the fact that the effectiveness and reliability of clean coal technology is still unproven. Federal subsidies have tended to focus on fuels which emit high levels of greenhouse gases over renewable energy sources. George W. Bush noted that US ‘dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American Dream’ (2005). Obama has argued that ‘homegrown’ sources of energy ‘make us more secure’ (2012) – whether renewable or not.

US-energy-independence-isnt-a-pipe-dream-9N1DKIJL-x

Photo from USA today: Energy Independence is no longer a pipe dream

Of course, the United States is not alone in its desire to reduce dependence on others. However, securing the American state by maximising domestic supply in this way does not provide security in any meaningful sense. While it gives a much-needed boost to the economy today, failing to invest more in renewable energy sources which will still be here in the future is a dangerous and short-sighted strategy. The US is the second biggest CO2 emitter globally and its continuing high emissions affect human beings within and outside of the state itself, with a huge increase in pollution-related illnesses. Likewise, it contributes to climate change, endangering the future of the planet and climate that human beings depend on to survive.

Thus securing the US state by maximising domestic fossil fuel supply does not produce security in the longer term. The obsession with energy independence works to reinforce national borders and the state-system, making the need to secure ‘us’ with ‘homegrown’ sources of energy appear common sense. However, in an increasingly globalised world even an energy independent US cannot be isolated from the world. Climate change crosses borders and cannot be dealt with in these terms. The human impacts also cross borders – the West coast of the United States, for example, suffers from air pollution drifting across from China.

Traditional political thinking on energy security emphasises the need to secure state supplies of energy, focusing on fossil fuel supplies. Part of this is of course about providing citizens with energy. States also require energy to keep their economies stable, and any government which fails to ensure enough energy to keep its economy going faces the threat of uprisings, protest or even losing power. Energy shortages have a huge impact on human lives, too. However, continuing focus on fossil fuel exploitation is hugely problematic, and energy security understood in these terms is fundamentally incompatible with human security or a stable climate.

Energy security brings together a wide range of security issues and leaves us with serious and difficult questions about whose security should be prioritised. When it comes to energy security, should we save humans, or save states? Conversely, to save humans, do we need to save states? What about the current economic system? In a world with an ever-greater list of issues regarded as threats, how do we prioritise or decide which threats or security issues are more important?