THE notion of roving cameras snapping pictures of license plates conjures up television shows like Fox’s counterterrorism series, “24.”
It’s not just fantasy, though. Americans are already watched by a variety of security agencies using electronic surveillance technology, and in this post-9/11 world, there seems to be no turning back.
Privacy advocates, though, are not altogether comfortable with license plate numbers being electronically recorded by commercial operations.
While their views on the gathering this data may vary, privacy groups uniformly agree that the real issue is what happens to the photos after they are taken: how long they are stored and by whom; how secure the data is and whether it might be shared with third parties. Are the photographed license plate numbers matched against other lists, like credit scores or addresses?
“It’s a huge Pandora’s box,” Jack Gillis, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, said. “There are possibilities for tremendous violations if it is used to find out where people are at a given time. Until the access to this technology can be controlled, it has scary potential.”
MVTRAC, whose database of delinquent borrowers is offered on a subscription basis to auto repossession outfits, said that it stores plate numbers recorded by users for years — and uses a high level of encryption to protect the data.
Still, with automatic license plate recognition technology now in private hands, its potential uses are magnified. As with other data streams, like records of cellphone calls or toll transponder payments, the accumulated data can be subpoenaed as evidence in court. MVTRAC and others say that repo men see personal information only when they find a wanted car, the same as they would in the faxes and e-mails they receive from auto lenders.
But invariably, technology finds other applications, said Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties advocacy group. You can imagine a scenario, he said, where someone spots a car with an attractive driver, types the license plate number into a computer program and finds the owner’s name. Many companies say their data is encrypted, he said, but “you have to ask, ‘who has the key?’ ”
Has the NY Times response to the complaints about Ethan Bronner led it to be even more forceful in pushing its pro-Israel agenda including getting the US to attack Iran? Apparently so. In today’s op-eds, they’ve imported the thoughts of a British Jewish professor, Efraim Karsh, (another Bernard Lewis, and a Nakba denier) who uses his abbreviated paternalistic version of Islamic history to conclude that the Arabs countries will not object to the US attacking Iran. And, in passing, he welcomes Washington’s less “imperious” attempts at bringing Israel to the bargaining table:
So, if the Muslim bloc is just as fractious as any other group of seemingly aligned nations, what does it mean for United States policy in the Islamic world?
For one, it should give us more impetus to take a harder line with Iran. Just as the Muslim governments couldn’t muster the minimum sense of commonality for holding an all-Islamic sports tournament, so they would be unlikely to rush to Iran’s aid in the event of sanctions, or even a military strike.
Beyond the customary lip service about Western imperialism and “Crusaderism,” most other Muslim countries would be quietly relieved to see the extremist regime checked. It’s worth noting that the two dominant Arab states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been at the forefront of recent international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the idea that bringing peace between the two parties will bring about a flowering of cooperation in the region and take away one of Al Qaeda’s primary gripes against the West totally misreads history and present-day politics. Muslim states threaten Israel’s existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam.
In these circumstances, one can only welcome the latest changes in the Obama administration’s Middle Eastern policy, which combine a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear subterfuge with a less imperious approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Johnny Rivas is a vocal member of the Unified Movement of Aguan Farmers (MUCA), an organization that claims over 3,500 families demanding the redistribution of land in the North Coast of Honduras. For over five years Rivas has fought for land rights in Aguan, known as the ‘capital of agrarian reform.’ MUCA formed in 2001 in order to reclaim lands that Rivas says “were transferred to corrupt businessmen under fraudulent terms.” Rivas has recently been a target of constant death threats for his participation in the movement.
Palm Oil Cooperatives and Big Business
The Aguan Zone (named after its river), is located in the department of Colon and claims some of the most fertile lands in the country. It is known for its African Palm Oil plantations, which occupy over 90,000 hectares according to a Jan 2008 report by the US Embassy. Palm oil is a common ingredient in many food products and can be used as biodiesel.
In 1962 the Law of Agrarian Reform reallocated land from the hands of transnational companies back to Honduran farmers. Cooperatives formed that managed the palm oil plantations. In 1992, 1994 and 1995 many cooperatives sold their land back to wealthy business owners. In a document presented on April 30, 2009 MUCA asked for the annulment of the sale from 1994, on the grounds that the sale was illegal under the Agrarian Reform Laws. The terms of the sale stipulated that the land would remain state owned, but the farmers could continue to cultivate it. The contract expired in February 2005 and has never been renewed.
As a strategy to apply pressure on authorities to negotiate with the farmers, in May 2009 MUCA occupied a palm oil factory that belonged to Miguel Facusse, one of the largest landowners in Honduras. A new agreement was signed on June 12, 2009 with President Zelaya that guaranteed state resources to resolve the conflict. On June 23, after a follow up meeting on the same factory, a member of MUCA, Fabio Ochoa was shot 7 times.
Coup d’etat Halts Negotiations
Although President Zelaya had shown the political will to deal with the country’s agrarian problems, his term was cut short with a coup d’etat last June. Most of the farmer organizations prioritized their efforts to protesting for his constitutional return, temporarily putting their land struggle on hold. Realizing that after several months of nonviolent resistance on behalf of the nations teachers unions, workers, indigenous groups, and farmers, they were unable to reverse the coup, MUCA resumed the land recuperations in December 2009.
According to Rivas, direct land recuperation is “the only strategy farmers have to be heard.” Living in rigged plastic tents among the palm oil plantations that occupy their land, the farmers participating sometimes eat only once a day, under constant threat from the authorities.
The farmers occupied four cooperatives; La Confianza, La Aurora, San Isidro, and San Esteban Cooperative. The National Agrarian Institute
which deals with the appropriation of land has measured 9,000 hectares that are under dispute thus far.
Since December there have been dozens of confrontations between the farmers and security forces in the area. Under the de facto government
of Roberto Micheletti, military forces were used several times to illegally evict the farmers. There have been dozens of detained farmers and there are over 80 orders of arrest for people involved.
On the evening Feb. 11 witnesses reported that two unidentified helicopters flew over communities participating in the land recuperations. The next morning crossfire left at least four guards from the private security company dead.
Security forces also entered the community of La Concepcion, a commuinty neighboring a land recuperation. When a pastor of the local Mennonite Church saw aggressive driving almost running over children in the community, he intervened and had a firearm pointed at him.
“They came here intimidating the community, pointing out houses. If one of the farmers is killed we will know who to hold accountable,” he said.
In a formal meeting on Feb. 16 with President ‘Pepe’ Lobo, known to MUCA as ‘the son of the coup,’ Lobo promised to disarm the farmers. MUCA maintains that they are not an armed struggle, but will defend themselves against aggression from security forces. Rudy Hernandez, also a member of MUCA, maintained that “we are not a group of delinquents, we are farmers who are here to claim our land because hunger forces us to be here.”
This week Lobo presented two options to resolve the conflict: either purchase a portion of the cultivated land or farmers will be relocated to neighboring areas. Both options look for an immediate resolution to the problem but do not deal with the underlying issue of the concentration of land ownership or the illegal acquisition in the first place.
As the second poorest country in Central America, Honduras relies heavily on international financing.
“One of the most important things for those of us in Honduras, is the image that we give to the investor” said Facusse.
Facusse admitted to a Honduran newspaper that the World Bank, the Interamerican Development Bank (BID) and an unnamed German Bank have authorized loans which are currently ‘paralyzed’ due to the situation.
“We paid for the farm and paid well for it, those of the agrarian reform had the money but did not invest and misspent the money, for that I believe that agrarian reform is not the solution,” he added.
Marco Ramiro Lobo, a legal advisor to the National Agrarian Institute (INA), previously the legal advisor to MUCA who presented the demand against Facusse in 1994, stated that Facusse’s business interests were never for the social good of the community.
“There are grand restrictions on the workers, miserable salaries, before they were associates and now they are workers. Now they have a salary less then the minimum wage. Most of the farmers live in extreme poverty, which is what is causing this situation,” said Ramiro Lobo. “I don’t think anyone is arguing that Facusse brings investment to the area, but what we are arguing is the form in which the lands were acquired. In reality there is no sustainable development, this is a business model that looks for lucrative pay, not social investment.”
MUCA has the support of dozens of other farmer organizations in the country, including international organizations such as FIAN and Via Campesina. They are also supported by the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP), an organization which grew out of the resistance movement opposed to the coup d’etat against President Manuel Zelaya.
Tamar Sharabi is an environmental engineer and freelance journalist living in Central America. She is working on media empowerment with human rights organizations and on a documentary about the Honduran coup detat. To support her work visit Give Forward .
It’s all kind of ironic when you think about it
If you’re planning to censor free speech on the internet, what better approach to take than to, er, censor debate about how you’re planning to censor free speech on the internet? Brilliant.
That, according to one sharp-eyed Register reader, is the game being played by Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, whose ministerial website is currently set up so as not to show searches on embarrassing terms such as “ISP filtering”.
An increasingly common feature of interactive websites is the “search cloud”: this is a listing out of search terms on a site, often with the added feature that the most frequently appearing terms are picked out by size or weight of type.
The Minister’s official site is no exception, and visitors wishing to know what other visitors are searching on just have to take a look at the search cloud at bottom right of the landing page. Well that’s all they need to do unless they wish to find out about “ISP Filtering”, an issue that has been the cause of some controversy in Australia over the past couple of years.
Nip below the page surface and you will find a clever bit of code that sets a counter to record the frequency of any given term, ranks the most frequently occurring terms – and then sets the size of that term within the cloud according to its rank (highest ranked is largest, lower ranked are smaller).
So far so good, unless the search term happens to be “ISP Filtering”. Because the other clever thing that the code does is to exclude that particular term from the search cloud. Sorted. Or not.
In recent weeks, protests against the minister’s censor-tastic activities have reached new heights, with a DDoS attack directed both at the Australian Parliamentary website and at the site of the Communications Ministry. This action was characterised by Conroy as irresponsible – presumably on the basis that in a democracy, government attitudes should be changed by debate and there is no need for direct action.
By contrast, evidence that the debate is being skewed in this way will undoubtedly add weight to those who claim that the government is not interested in discussing issues – and the only way to make them sit up and listen is through direct action.
Meanwhile, appearing before the Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee earlier this month, representatives of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), revealed that they would not be pursuing an investigation of how Wikileaks got its hands on ACMA’s list of banned URLs.
While they intend to tighten up processes, in the hope that such a thing will not happen again, they also acknowledged that the Federal Police “considered the prospects of success under their guidelines not sufficiently strong enough to push on with the prosecution”.
In addition, there were other more pressing “operational priorities”. ®
The Obama administration plans to spend nearly $50 million on Pakistani media this year to reverse anti-American sentiments and raise awareness of projects aimed at improving quality of life, confirms a Washington insider.
After the Kerry-Lugar Bill debacle, the Obama administration had struggled with the idea of ‘branding’ aid and many within the State department and the USAID had argued that identifying projects may backfire.
“By announcing that a school was built and is being maintained – partly because of the aid received from America – you can alienate people,” said someone who had proposed not ‘branding’ the aid.
The US Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke believes that a substantial amount of monies spent on media- especially private TV channels will reduce tension and may even bring Pakistan-US relations back on the right path.
Senator John Kerry, the main architect of Kerry-Lugar bill also supports the idea of claiming credit for all “the good work being done to improve infrastructure, energy and education,” said a source in Senator’s office.
Reuters today reported that the Obama administration has sent lawmakers a plan for funding water, energy and other projects. Report said the US intends to spend $1.45 billion of [funds] earmarked for the Kerry-Lugar bill in fiscal 2010.
The trust deficit had surged after a well intended aid package focused to uplift Pakistan’s civilian society was trashed by a section of Pakistani media. Interviews with diplomatic sources in Washington, D.C. and media coverage of the KLB debacle had demonstrated growing frustration of the Obama administration.
Although American officials publicly praise military operations in South Waziristan, in private they sing a different tune; their assessment of ”alignment” is rather pessimistic. Stories leaked to media consistently allege that al-Qaeda leadership is still enjoying safe haven in Pakistan.
Pakistan-U.S. relations have not been this tenuous before, and the Obama administration is frustrated with the outcome of the Kerry-Lugar bill. “No one had anticipated such negativity,” said an American official who did not want to be identified. “We thought Pakistanis [would] celebrate the passage of this bill. This is what we were told by representatives of the Pakistani government.”
Pakistani government representatives from President Zardari to Foreign Minister Qureshi and Ambassador Hussain Haqqani further down the chain had assured the Americans that Pakistanis would be jubilant; KLB was supposed to heal all wounds, rectify all wrongs and erase memories of the past from the consciousness of the masses.
The Obama administration has shared their plan to sponsor high impact projects and communicate the value of these projects using local media.
Voice of America, a radio and TV platform that speaks for the government of the US already has a tie-up with Geo TV and now they have aligned with Express TV as well.
The Obama administration plans to help Pakistan’s democratic government meet budget shortfalls and deliver services to a population increasingly angry about economic and security troubles. As the funding builds the capacity of the government to provide basic services, the US sponsored Pakistani media will raise awareness and build a brand for America, our sources have confirmed.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) on Sunday stormed the courtyards of the Aqsa Mosque and cordoned off its premises where dozens of Palestinian worshipers are still maintaining a vigil and refusing to leave for fear of attacks by Israeli extremists.
Eyewitnesses said that more than 200 Israeli policemen have encircled the Aqsa Mosque since the early morning hours and demanded the worshipers come out, while the Palestinians inside the mosque used the amplifiers of the Mosque to urge fellow citizens to head to the Old City of occupied Jerusalem to defend it against Israeli violations.
Many unruly Israeli settlers were allowed by policemen to walk around in the Mosque courtyards.
12 Palestinian citizens including an elderly woman outside reportedly suffered tear gas suffocation as they were trying to reach the Aqsa Mosque.
Meanwhile, the neighborhoods of the Old City of Jerusalem saw clashes between young Palestinian men and Israeli troops. Numbers of protesters were reportedly rounded up.
Other Palestinian citizens living in the neighborhoods near the gates of the Aqsa Mosque complained that the IOF troops stormed and ransacked their homes, and used the roofs to observe the movement of people.
For his part, Hamas spokesman Yousuf Farahat on Sunday appealed to all Muslim scholars and leaders to urgently move to defend Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque against Israeli crimes.
In a press release, Farahat noted that the feeble official Arab stand is the umbrella under which the Israeli occupation is working and setting schemes to Judaize the whole city of Jerusalem.
In a related context, the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) announced the launch of a 30-month project to fully change the Arab landmarks and sites in the holy city.
Al-Jazeera website said that Israel claims that this project is intended for developing the infrastructure of the city, but in fact it is aimed to obliterate its Arab identity and turn it into a Jewish religious area.
For its part, the Israeli Maariv newspaper warned that the winds of war are blowing from the north and castigated the Israeli premier for his failure to control the angry protests against his decision to seize the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil city.
It opined that if there had been negotiations with Syria, the Iranian president would not have visited Damascus and the danger of war would have subsided.
IRAN HAS BEEN CAPABLE OF HAVING A ‘NUCLEAR WEAPON WITHIN SIX MONTHS’ FOR YEARS NOW – BUT, LIKE ‘TOMORROW’, IT NEVER COMES.
Other periods of time have been mentioned over the three decades since the Iranian people kicked out the Shah as to how long it would take the Iranians to build a nuclear weapon, but six months seems to a very popular nominal figure. Never mind, of course, that there has not been a skerrick of evidence to even suggest that the Iranians are doing anything more than building nuclear reactors for generating electricity or creating medical isotopes for medical purposes. But that hasn’t stopped the propagandists who seem to insist that Iran is still only six months away from having a nuclear weapon.
If I started the list of claims that Iran would have a weapon within six months from back in 1980 when the Shah went, you’d still be reading it in, well… six months time! So, I’ll cut short the list and start it off with some of the earlier claims of this century.
Back in August 2003, the LA Times reported that Iran could have a ‘nuclear weapon in six months’. More than two years later in September 2005, Israel claimed Iran would have ‘nuclear weapon in six months’. Then, nearly three years later in June 2008 we were told again that Iran would have a ‘nuclear weapon in six months’. A year later, in July 2009, Ha’aretz reported that ‘Germany believes Iran could have a nuclear bomb in six months’.
Now, in the very latest statement dated 23 February 2010, made by so-called ‘Iran weapons expert’, David Albright, Iran, in his expert opinion, is now only… wait for it; six months away from having a nuclear weapon. This is the very same David Albright that was telling us more than a year ago in February 2009; “In as quickly as a few months, Iran would be able to have enough weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons”. It’s also the very same David Albright who told the CBS ’60 Minutes’ show way, way back in January 1999 that Saddam Hussein was “within a few months to a year of having a nuclear weapon”.
Albright? Not very! He’s the original boy that cried ‘Wolf!’ Unfortunately, the media will continue to echo his and similar cries and there will be those that believe them. Eventually the West, led by Israel and the US, will attack Iran based on these lies, but the worst of it is; hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of dead later, the rest of world will go along with it without a murmur.