>World InfoCon - an annotated report
>by Dr. Steven Kurtz, Professor Carnegie Mellon University
>In a series of cogent lectures by a roster of distinguished speakers
>Phillipe Quau, Saskia Sassen, Philip Hammond, Duncan Campbell, Steve
>Wright, Shahidul
>Alam, Simon Davies, Cees Hamelink, and a variety of other contributors,
>significant themes emerged-in fact, too many to be reported in this brief
>document. However, in the interest of promoting further discussion among a
>wider audience interested in imagining alternatives to global capital and
>developing forms of tactical resistance, World-Information.Org offers the
>following abbreviated list of threads.
>Many of the topics presented and discussed during the conference were
>extracted from very fuzzy to dark areas in the socio-political landscape.
>way of example, Duncan Campbell presented information on Echelon (a highly
>classified world-wide surveillance network primarily initiated by the US
>the UK), and Philip Hammond presented material on NATO's propaganda
>during the war in Kosovo. As to be expected, these topics are fraught with
>danger when approached from the standpoint of intellectual rigour. This is
>not to say that these analyses were not carefully constructed, it is only
>say that when examining topics like Black-Ops (military and/or security
>operations of which there is no public record) or misinformation campaigns
>that the data is incomplete, unreliable, and often requires speculative
>conjectures to fill in the information gaps (speakers were all very
>forthcoming about when they were in speculation mode). All the same, this
>type of analysis conjured many questions about what constitutes plausible
>evidence, and reliable witnesses. Further, this discussion raised issues on
>how scholars and investigators can protect themselves from charges of being
>cranks, conspiracy fanatics, or other such labels used to delegitimize
>explorations into fuzzy regimes, and reduce the production of multiple
>perspectives and ideological diversity.
>In addition, when considering such fractured information there was a good
>deal of debate over what type of information has greater validity. For
>example, in Philip Hammond's analysis of NATO's construction of the war in
>Kosovo, a schism emerged that proceeded along the lines of those who
>that direct experience had greater validity than research grounded in
>secondary documentation and those who thought the reverse. Those in the
>former camp stated that when using secondary data one cannot separate
>corrupted documents from useful ones while the latter argued that
>experience is too idiosyncratic and often nonrepresentative of a general
>situation. This area was of profound concern when considering that most
>activism is virtual. Campaigns and movements develop support from
>individuals who have no experience of localized problems (such as the war
>Kosovo), and who have no choice but to follow and react to the course of
>events through mediated resources.
>Terms and classifications were also dramatically problematized. Terms such
>as public/public access/private/privatised were subject to considerable
>drift from context to context, and there was tremendous diversity
>the way such concepts should be modelled. Of considerable difficulty were
>even vaguer concepts such as the "the common good." In this case, the fear
>was that the future hopes and visions of participants were so vague that
>only an anachronistic political term could be used as a descriptive device.
>Other common terms that needed more definition were "digital," "citizen,"
>"privacy," "Internet" and "democracy."
>Institutional Intervention using State Mechanisms and Grassroots
>Organization Direct Action
>While participants expressed preferences and tendencies for one model of
>resistance or the other, on a practical level, most expressed sympathy for
>hybrid models. On the one hand, it was suggested that it is preferable to
>launch cellular and small group units, which could in turn form the
>foundation for temporary single issue coalitions geared for both street and
>electronic actions. Others insisted that alliance building in conjunction
>with legal initiatives had to be used regardless of the danger of the
>potential of forming future bureaucracies or other types of long-term
>authority structures. The need for legal action at both national and
>international levels was really driven home by Saskia Sassen with her point
>that the deregulation of mobile capital was a major contributor to the
>collapse of the financial infrastructure in South Korea, as well as Simon
>Davies' point that Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill (a bill launched
>by the British government to link all electronic communications to MI5
>access to all electronic communications without the need of a warrant) was
>stopped only by an alliance of academics, trade unions, and human rights
>organizations that intervened in parliamentary process. The use of
>anti-trust laws were also cited as the only successful means used thus far
>to break up monopolies. Both Sassen and Quau noted that such techniques
>were at times necessary to avert catastrophe.
>The Digital Divide
>A healthy portion of time was given to the subject of the Digital Divide
>(the massive gap between developed and developing nations regarding
>technological infrastructure). After giving a brief introduction to
>fundamental principles of postcolonial theory, Shahidul Alam argued that
>grand majority of people in developing nations had been intentionally
>access to information and communications technology (ICT), and that this
>majority had been all but removed from policy making process regarding ICT
>(even in their own countries). Alam continued by stating that technological
>progress dependent on unilateral donor-driven initiatives can only be
>as a continuation of colonial domination configured to maintain the
>information political economy. This description was echoed by Cees Hamelink
>after which he further explained how this divide could be narrowed, if not
>eliminated, with rather minimal investment (the equivalent of the money
>spent on pet food annually) by developed nations, thus concluding that the
>divide is purely a political one.
>Linked to this subject, was the theme of expanding the definition of low
>intensity warfare. Certainly withholding ICT in order to maintain western
>capital's hegemony is an example. As is Sasken's point of view that
>invasions by mobile capital and the dismantling of the welfare state (in
>US and UK) constitute a form of violence so savage that it can only be
>considered warfare.
>Privacy and Surveillance
>After the presentations of Davies, Wright, and Campbell, one could not help
>but believe that the technology necessary for total surveillance in
>cyberspace and pervasive real space surveillance is not only possible, but
>is regularly employed in the US and the UK, and is rapidly expanding in
>other western nations. This tendency was presented as being out of control,
>and can only be slowed rather than reversed. The question soon became what
>should the reaction to this situation be? While the speakers all agreed
>that cryptography was the best means for an individual to resist electronic
>surveillance, some audience participants argued for a policy of total
>transparency at all levels in order to stop the proliferation of intranets
>and the division of the Internet into a series of fortifications all
>resisting infiltration from the other. While this option of complete
>transparency appears to be impractical at the moment, it may become more
>prominent as infoculture continues to change.
>It was also noted that a paradigm shift is underway in the apparatus of
>repression due to new vision technologies. The older strategies of temporal
>immediacy and presence are giving way to temporal delay and absence. Any
>who has received a traffic ticket through the mail is familiar with this
>shift. The police field of perception is being extended with vision
>technology so that entire landscapes of "criminal" data can be recorded and
>thereby witnessed in a manner that flesh police never could in real time.
>Although delays in arrest are a weakness with this model (a gap that is
>getting increasingly smaller), it makes up for this shortcoming by
>functioning as an excellent means for intelligence gathering for future,
>often pre-emptive, police strikes. It also functions well in mass actions
>considered a danger to social order (from traffic infractions to riots) in
>that police are able to eventually identify and arrest every participant.
>Cameras have the additional feature of acting as a material, environmental
>reminder that self-discipline must be maintained at all times. The
>surveillance system used in London's "iron circle" (a surveillance network
>that can identify and track any vehicle entering the district) was
>as the state of the art for this particular paradigm of repression.
>Criminality was a theme that continually entered presentations at the
>conference-not so much in its material sense, but in the meanings it
>generates as a semiotic network inscribed on groups and individuals with
>resistant tendencies or other minoritarian ( in the Deleuzian sense of the
>term) activities and behaviours. The western cultural landscape has been
>falsely constructed as seething with terrorists, drug dealers, and
>paedophiles from whom the public must be protected. Those who challenge the
>capitalist order tend to be publicly labelled as criminals generally
>into the terrorist category. For example, in spite of the tendency that
>activists using models of electronic resistance are applying neither
>sabotage nor terrorism (data and networks cannot be terrorized), they are
>still represented as perpetrating high crimes against public safety. Recent
>laws passed in the UK linking hacking to terrorism are an indication that
>this labelling trend will increasingly manifest as law. As Simon Davies
>demonstrated, crime itself has fallen in the UK and US, and yet there are
>still regular calls and attempts to increase the surveillance capabilities
>of security agencies through legitimate channels by use of the rhetoric of
>At the material level the culture of control is best indicated by the
>dramatic expansion of the repression industry (security agencies, prisons,
>courts, social workers, and hardware/software). This development was
>illustrated by Steve Wright who presented a catalogue of recent
>in near or less-than-lethal weaponry. This included weapons like water
>canons, foam guns, car taser security systems, and stun batons that ranged
>in deployment contexts from home use, to prison use, to general crowd
>control. These weapons (of which there are a far greater variety than which
>is listed here) are designed to debilitate, disable, disorient, disperse,
>and/or detain those who are on the wrong end of them.
>Cees Hamelink, in a manner reminiscent of the Situationists, began his
>lecture by expressing his concern that the cultural landscape was
>transforming itself into a big billboard. No person, or place could escape
>being a medium of spectacle. Sassen was also thinking along these lines in
>regard to electronic space in particular. Using software development and
>sales as key indicators, she argued that the topography of electronic space
>will be increasingly configured as a space of commerce. The Internet (a
>she found suspect) as a pure research space or as a liberated zone is
>rapidly moving into obscurity as commerce overwhelms the space. The only
>research that will soon be on the Internet will be that of corporate
>surveillance to gather data useful for identifying consumer groups,
>consumer behaviour, and constructing pinpoint consumer profiles.
>Although this topic was at the margins of conversation, it was noted that
>biotechnology would play a role parallel to ICT in various pancapitalist
>initiatives. Flesh informatics are but another form of digital modelling
>which rests on the cosmological principle of information society in
>general--that order comes from order (which stands in contrast to the
>analogic model that order arises from chaos). Whether we are speaking of
>digital TV or a clone, capital's obsession with these technologies is with
>the fidelity of replication. The usefulness of biotechnology to support
>capitalist hegemonies is undeniable. Already we are seeing colonial
>expansion by way of raiding third world cultures' biological resources by
>eco-pirates and bio-privateers; eugenic consciousness is being reconfigured
>for a consumer market eager for the totalisation of reproductive process
>extreme medical intervention; and the development of surveillance
>designed to invade biological privacy at a molecular level.
>Final Note
>While this conference had a deeply pessimistic aura surrounding it in
>to subject matter and critical analysis, there was still a general feeling
>that effective action could be taken, and that apocalypse was not a
>predetermined outcome. Autonomous zones still exist in a variety of forms.
>These can be maintained and potentially expanded even in the most
>of situations. The strength of the society of speed is also its weakness.
>amount of management can eliminate all the fuzzy, confused, and dark areas
>that accompany high velocity reconfigurations and emergent complexities.
>Even totalising institutions like jails have under-economies, illicit
>activities, secret organizations, and conspiracies. While the intensity of
>control may fluctuate, it will never reach perfection.

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