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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/26/19

The Latest Victim in the Crucifixion of Julian Assange

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From Truthdig

Ola Bini will go to international courts, for the political and media persecution undertaken against him.
Ola Bini will go to international courts, for the political and media persecution undertaken against him.
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The case of Ola Bini, a Swedish data privacy activist and associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has been shrouded in mystery since his arrest in Quito, Ecuador, on April 11. He was detained on the same day Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom, inevitably raising questions about whether Bini was being held because of his connection with Assange and whether the United States was involved in the case in some form.

Bini, who initially wasn't charged with a crime, was accused of being involved in a leak of documents that revealed that Ecuador's right-wing president, Lenin Moreno, had several offshore bank accounts. Bini was released after two months in an Ecuadorian prison under terrible conditions but is still fighting to maintain his freedom. He was eventually charged by Ecuadorian authorities with "alleged participation in the crime of assault on the integrity of computer systems and attempts to destabilize the country," though the evidence to support the accusations is dubious at best.

Speaking with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer, Danny O'Brien discusses why Bini's case is so important to follow, despite a general lack of media interest in his arrest. O'Brien, director of strategy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, went to Ecuador to visit Bini on behalf of the EFF in order to learn more about the case and advocate for the Swedish activist's rights.

"Journalists, lawyers, human rights lawyers, human rights defenders, sort of viewed broadly, are often the canaries in the coal mines in authoritarian or veering-authoritarian regimes," O'Brien tells Scheer in the latest installment of "Scheer Intelligence." "I think many governments recognize that if you can either ... silence, or just intimidate and chill, the key journalists or the prominent public defenders, then you have a huge sort of multiplier leverage effect on opposition groups, or groups fighting for justice in those countries.

"In the last few years," O'Brien continues, "I think that governments around the world have recognized that technologists also fall into this category, or particular kinds of technologists."

Scheer, whose most recent book "They Know Everything About You" is about mass data collection, highlights the threat activists like Bini pose to the powers that be at a time when big data translates to a mechanism for widespread control.

"You call him a world leader in trying to build safe places where people can communicate without being subject to government surveillance," Scheer tells O'Brien. "And even though some people have a kinder view of the U.S. government, after all, we're talking about a wide world that has to survive in even more overtly controlling environments, and explicitly totalitarian and authoritarian societies."

Through his work at the EFF, an organization that has members from all parts of the political spectrum and advocates for free speech and privacy in the digital age, O'Brien has come to a harrowing conclusion that lies at the core of Bini's case: Governments around the world are "the most clear and present threat to people's privacy and security online."

Listen to the Scheer and O'Brien's full discussion as they discuss the details of Bini's case and the origins and importance of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of "Scheer Intelligence" here.

Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, and where I have to point out, in due modesty, the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this case it's Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If you haven't heard of EFF, you've missed out on the most important organization concerned with the freedom of the individual, privacy, and related issues in the world of the internet. Danny, welcome. And how long has EFF been in business, and how long have you been one of the leaders there? Your title has changed, I noticed.

Danny O'Brien: Yeah, so the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been around since 1990. So pre the web, but perhaps not pre the internet. And I've been there since 2005, and I'm director of strategy now, but I used to concentrate on the global side of the internet. A lot of what EFF does, and continues to do, is domestic in the United States. We sue the NSA for its mass surveillance of Americans, and we also sort of deal with the big tech companies in Silicon Valley, too. But of course the internet's got international since 1990, and increasingly a lot of the edge cases, and maybe the indications of where things are going to go, don't come from the cutting edge of American technology, they come from around the world.

RS: OK, but before we get lost in the weeds here of the technology, let me just explain my respect for EFF and the reason I wanted to interview you in this particular case involving Ola Bini -- I hope I'm pronouncing it correctly -- a renowned Swedish programmer who's facing horrendous computer crime charges in Ecuador, the country that under a different regime supported or allowed Julian Assange to stay in their embassy in London, and then the government changed, and Julian Assange is now in jail. And what I want to really get at is the connection between the two cases. And just so there's a little background, I haven't seen much publicity to your trip or to this case. And one of the things I love about the Electronic Frontier Foundation is I don't know whether you guys individually are conservative or liberal, you know, or libertarian or what have you, but I can count on you, speaking as a journalist, to really call it as honestly as you can in any of these situations. So why don't you tell me the significance of this case, and really, why isn't it getting more of a response?

DO: That's a really good question. I can talk a little bit about the significance of the case, both kind of EFF as an organization and also for its wider implications. So EFF started -- and I think this is why we always seem to be a bit hard to place on the political channel -- as a combination of people from all over the political spectrum who all knew one thing, which was that the rise of digital technology, what we used to call the digital revolution, was going to transform people's rights, whether for good or for ill. So our founders had John Perry Barlow, who was one of the lyricists of the Grateful Dead. We have Mitch Kapor, who was, still is, a businessman; he started Lotus 1-2-3, [which] the ancients among us will remember as the first real popular spreadsheet. [And John] Gilmore, who had a strong place both in programming and kind of the libertarian space. So our politics are all over.

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)

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