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Fighting the Secrecy/Surveillance State

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The U.S. government's "war on terror" and its companion "surveillance state" have become troubling issues not only for the civil liberties of Americans but even more so for the rest of the world where popular movements are arising to challenge the electronic penetration of people's information and violation of their privacy.

Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir of the Pirate Party was in Berkeley, California, recently to speak at a forum with Daniel Ellsberg on "Disappearing Civil Liberties in The United States." Jonsdottir is also Director of the International Modern Media Institute and co-producer of WikiLeaks' "Collateral Murder" video, which revealed the slaughter of Iraqis in 2007 by a U.S. aerial weapons team.

Jonsdottir, who has worked closely with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, discussed the status of this emerging international struggle against government secrecy and surveillance in an interview with Dennis J Bernstein.

DB: How did you get involved in "Collateral Murder"?

BJ: I was working with spokespersons for WikiLeaks in 2009. They came to Iceland and spoke at a Freedom Society event where I was speaking as well. They were talking about an idea that originated in this area of the world, from John Perry Barlow, who a year earlier, in the wake of our financial collapse, said that Iceland could become a safe haven for freedom of information, expression and speech. Julian [Assange] and Daniel [Ellsberg] talked about the same concept, and it was ripe.   

I was elected to Parliament, the only geek in Parliament at the time. I approached them after the conference and we began to work on this project, which is to look at the best functioning laws in the Twenty-first Century that protect freedom of information, expression and speech. The reason I chose to work with WikiLeaks was they had hands-on experience in keeping things up no matter what. They had released some documents from the Church of Scientology, and anybody who knows anything about the Church of Scientology knows that it's very difficult to keep things up because they have very good lawyers. They managed to keep their bible up and you can still access their bible through the Internet because they have archive versions of the WikiLeaks website before the big leak, which came a few months later.

As I was working with them and some other people, we came up with what politicians and people who want to increase civil liberties can do, and that is to get experts from all over the world to cherry pick the best laws that have proven to function. We wrote it on an "ether pad" in English, then translated it into Icelandic. For some mysterious reason that I can't comprehend, maybe because there is such a need for it not only in Iceland, but everywhere, I got unanimous acceptance for it in Parliament. That is equivalent to both the Senate and [House of Representatives] voting yes on something.