Brazilian App Records Police Homicides and Brutality

A Bigger Brother – Rebel Geeks

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

This documentary if about Coletivo Papo Reto, a Brazilian copwatch group that developed an Open Source phone app to make videos of police killings and brutality of sufficient quality to be used in court. Courts in many countries disallow smartphone video evidence because it’s hard to document exactly when and where it’s been recorded and that it hasn’t been altered.

The new app has been programmed to embed specific metadata into the pixels of the video. Most smartphones already capture specific metadata as such as GPS, local time and proximity to specific cellphone towers and WiFi networks.

Thanks to support from the Guardian Project, the new app has also been adopted by copwatch programs in Brooklyn and Ferguson.

According to Amnesty International, Brazilian police kill more than 400 unarmed civilians a year.


*The Guardian Project is a global collective of software developers, designers, advocates, activists and trainers who develop open-source mobile security software and operating system enhancements.

 

Ending Monopoly Control of the Electronics Industry

Rebel Geeks: Meet Your Maker

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the Maker Movement, Massino Banzi and the Arduino. Banzi created the Arduino in 2003. The latter is an Open Source one chip computer control device that allows ordinary people to create their own electronic devices without training in electronics or engineering. People have used them to create their own Open Source 3D printers, drones, smartphones, robots and other electronic devices.

The Arduino has played a pivotal role in the Maker Movement, a campaign to end monopoly control over the electronics industry. If you allow corporations to control all the electronic devices and services you use, you allow them to control your choices.

Safecast, the international Citizen Science movement that installed tiny Geiger counters across Japan in 2011 used Arduinos to build them.

See The Citizen Science Movement

 

Open Science and the Citizen Science Movement

Solutions: Open Science

Directed by James Corbett (2019)

Film Review

This documentary evaluates potential solutions to the problems with shoddy and fraudulent research Corbett identified in his prior documentary The Crisis of Science (see Why Most Published Research Findings Are False).

Among the reforms Corbett notes are growing pressure by scientific journals for researchers to publish raw data and negative results and the formation of an entity known as Redaction Watch. The latter closely monitors studies that are retracted for fraudulent data or questionable methodology.

However the most important solutions, in Corbett’s view, are the Open Science and Citizen Science movement. The former campaigns for free public access to scientific research, which until a decade ago was locked away behind costly paywalls.*

The most well known Open Science activist was Aaron Swartz, who published the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008. The FBI arrested Swartz in 2011 for using an MIT server to upload thousands of academic papers to a free Internet site. His legal problems allegedly prompted Swartz to kill himself two weeks before he went to trial. However numerous factors suggest he may have been “suicided” (see The Mystery of Aaron Swartz’s Alleged Suicide).

Like Swartz, Corbett argues that allowing freer public access to scientific research allows the public to monitor what scientists are up to. The Open Science movement has led to a substantial increase in research available for free on the Open Source PLOS (Public Library of Science).

Citizen Science refers to the growing participation of amateur scientists in the collection, storage and, in some case, analysis, of scientific data. Examples include projects in which scientists use citizens to collect migration data on butterflies and songbirds.

In another model, ordinary citizens set up their own projects to solve specific problems. The best example is Safecast, created by anti-nuclear  activists when it became clear the Japanese government was lying about radiation levels resulting from the Fukushima meltdowns. In this project, a network of activists created an automated Geiger counter to collect radiation counts every five seconds and upload them to an online database. They then recruited thousands of Japanese volunteers to attach them to their cars and bikes (see The Citizen Science Movement).


*Revenues resulting from scientific journal subscriptions accrue mainly to for profit publishers (like Elsevier) rather than researchers who write scientific papers.

 

 

Freeganism: A Portuguese Experiment

Wasted Waste

Directed by Pedro Sera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary is mainly about Freeganism, a Portuguese movement in which members opt out of the money system by spending their time growing or “recycling” food and other basic necessities, “occupying” homes instead of renting, and foregoing most consumer goods to avoid engaging in paid work.

The movement is a reaction against rampant consumerism, which Freegans reject. They view consumerism as an addition that’s destroying the planet.

The film’s main focus is western society’s incredible wasteful food system, in which one-third of the food produced is wasted. If this discarded food could be distributed somehow to needy families, global hunger could be eliminated.

In Europe 198 hectares of land (an area the size of Mexico) goes to produce food that’s never consumed. Up to 50% of food never leaves the farm because it fails to meet arbitrary supermarket appearance standards. The rest is discarded due to overcautious “sell by” dates ( enabling Freegans to scavenge it from supermarket dumpsters).

“Food travel,” whereby corporate food networks transport food halfway around the world, is also incredibly wasteful. It’s estimated to produce 750 times the carbon emissions as locally produced food.

In addition to examining various Freegan projects that prepare “recycled” food to distribute free on the streets, the documentary looks at other Portuguese cooperatives, social enterprises and charities that reduce food waste in other ways.

One coop collects “ugly” food directly from farmers to sell to its members. As Food and Good After are social enterprises that purchase (at a discount) expired supermarket food and sells them at cost in their own facilities. There’s also a bulk foods store which eliminates plastic packaging by requiring patrons to bring their own containers.

They also interview a Zero Waste advocate who has produced zero trash in four years; the coordinator of Portugal’s Time Bank Network (where members trade services instead of purchasing them); and a Portuguese legislator with a bill (similar to existing laws in France and Italy) requiring all outlets larger than 400m2 to provide for the allocation of food wastes to charities and social enterprises for distribution to the needy.

 

 

 

Gurrumul

Gurrumul

Directed by Paul Damen Williams (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is a tribute to the late Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a blind singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice. It’s hard to find words to describe his music, which portrays a purity and longing that literally makes your chest ache.

Gurrumul was from the Yoinju tribe on Eicho Island, one of the most remote islands in Australia.

Despite achieving international prominence and considerable wealth, he remained close to his family and tribe his entire life. At one point, he blew off a US tour because of tribal business.

For religious reasons the Yoinju, like other Torres Strait islanders, prohibit the preservation or display of images of the dead. In Gurrumul’s case, they have made a rare exception.

He died on July 25, 2017 at age 45.

The documentary can be viewed for the next week at the Maori TV website: Gurrumul

 

If It’s Free, You’re the Product

Digital Dissidents Part 2

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

“If It’s Free You’re the Product”

In Part 2, Digital Dissidents reminds us that Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple daily collect and “monetize” (ie sell) millions of data points about us (including records of financial transactions).

The documentary also features rare commentary by Julian Assange on Sweden’s attempts* to charge him with sexual assault. These charges mysteriously surfaced exactly two weeks after Anonymous hacker Jeremy Hammonds released hacked emails between intelligence contractor Stratfor and the US government about potential charges against Assange under the 2017 Espionage Act. Was this mere coincidence? It seems unlikely.

NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney also talk candidly about the devastating effects of whistleblowing on their personal lives. His career in software systems management ruined, Drake presently clerks in an Apple retail outlet.

Binney, who refers to the NSA as “the Stasi** on super steroids, calls for the total dissolution of NSA. He maintains it has too much power to be reformed.


*Sweden dropped the sexual assault charges against Assange in Sept 2017. As Assange points out in the film, neither woman filed a police complaint and one accuses the police of inventing the crimes she supposedly accused him of.

**As the intelligence/security service for the former East German Republic, the Stasi was one of the most viciously repressive secret police agencies ever.

The video, which can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Digital Dissidents

The Whistleblowers Who Exposed the Surveillance State

Digital Dissidents Part 1

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

Digital Dissidents is about six whistleblowers who risked their careers, financial ruin and imprisonment to expose secret government crimes. In Part 1 of this two-part series, the whistleblowers introduce themselves and speak briefly about the circumstances that led them to leak illicit secret government information – at great risk to themselves.

  • Daniel Ellsberg, who worked in the US Embassy in Saigon, leaked 7,000 pages of documents to the New York Times in 1971 revealing the US government had systematically lied to Congress for decades about US military involvement in Vietnam. He was charged with theft and illegal possession of secret documents. The case against him collapsed when it came out that Nixon was illegally wiretapping him and had ordered “plumbers” to break into his psychiatrist’s office.
  • Thomas Drake, who worked for the CIA prior to being transferred to the NSA on 9/11/01. When he learned the NSA was illegally spying on journalists, he spent months “going through channels” to raise the alarm with his superiors. After he went to a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007 with evidence of his concerns, the US government charged him with 10 felonies under the 1917 Espionage Act. After a lengthy trial that virtually bankrupted him, Drake pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of misusing a government computer. He was sentenced to one year probation and 240 hours of community service.
  • William Binney, who also worked for the NSA (for 30 years) developing a wiretap program capable of filtering large numbers of domestic and foreign communication. He left the NSA in October 2001 and became a whistleblower in 2002. Although the FBI raided his home at gunpoint, he was eventually cleared of criminal charges.
  • Edward Snowden, who worked for both the CIA and the NSA, leaked thousands of files substantiating Drake’s and Binney’s allegations to a number of journalists worldwide. The US canceled his passport while he was at the Moscow airport (en route from Hong Kong to South America), and he was forced to seek asylum in Russia.
  • Julian Assange, an Australian national and former hacker, who founded Wikileaks in 2006. The purpose of this website is to allow whistle blowers from all over the world to safely and anonymously leak documents implicating their governments in criminal activities.
  • David Shayler and his former partner Anne Machon, former MI5 operatives who passed secret documents to The Mail on Sunday about British intelligence involvement in illegal activities. In 2002, Shayler received a six month prison sentence for violating the Official Secrets Act.

 

Although the video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, it can be seen for free at the Al Jazeera website: Digital Dissidents