Fast-forward to ten years later and I am now living in England, trying to get my Irish passport renewed. As it turns out, the Irish embassy has provided a handy guide to how to do this, which is all relatively straightforward until you come to the part where you have to get your photographs "endorsed" by someone.
Unfortunately, of the people on this list produced in Ireland, many seem confused as to the social responsibility they signed up for when they pursued their career initially. I myself would relish the opportunity to flex my community muscles, as it were, if I were one of those on the list. If I were a police officer, it would make my day for a young person to come into my station and I could help him with his forms, stamp and sign and feel like an authoritative member of society, which is why I would have become a police officer or bank manager or, lawyer in the first place. Maybe that's just me.
I thought I would get my MP to do it, but due entirely to my own foolishness I left it too late, and parliament dissolved, rendering my MP powerless to help me as he is now just some guy I met last time he was campaigning. Wanting to get it done sooner rather than later, I first tried the police station. On the weekend I cycled all the way from Withington to Didsbury only to find out that Didsbury Police Station is a Police station in name only, no actual police inside. So after work, I cycled to Lonsight police station which was manned by two female PCSOs who initially seemed not to know for certain what to do, discussing various reasons why they wouldn't endorse it. One reason they mentioned (with a straight face) was that they wouldn't endorse it in case I was actually a wanted criminal in Ireland. They followed this up by theorising that if the newspapers found out that a Manchester police officer had endorsed my application it would cause a scandal. They touched on the fact that they believed that I have to have known the individual for at least 2 years, as it is with an INITIAL UK passport application; this is not the case. I explained the facts of the case and they seemed to think it over before confidently claiming that they had seen them get rejected in the past, when UK officers filled it as it has to be a member of Garda Síochána and that I should "Google it". Well I did "Google it", I even tweeted my Embassy and they have reassured me that they would not reject the application if a UK police officer had endorsed it, and that unfortunately they can't force people to live up to their end of the social contract they agreed to when they applied for their career path.
Shortly after my less than helpful encounter with the police, I decided that maybe my local Reverend would be helpful and full of Christian charity. I may have been wrong about this, she turned me away without listening to me very well, insisting that she had to have known me for 2 years, the same story I was to hear again and again, despite it not being the case at all. She did have someone with her and I can understand her desire to get back to that person quickly if they were known for their petty theft when left unattended for periods longer that 3 minutes.
The following day I didn't start work until 12:30 so I cycled into Manchester City centre to visit as many High street Banks as I could, to get my application endorsed by a "bank official". I arrived at my own personal bank, believing that I had the best chance with the Co-operative; they have it in the name! Unfortunately the branch manager was unavailable so I had to try Halifax, who point blank refused, without going into any actual detail as to why. They will only Endorse or stamp internal documents. Full-stop. Okay, on to Barclay's, who were bend over backwards helpful, but unfortunately their branch manager was at the same meeting that every other bank manager was at that day. Santander and NatWest point blank refused, Lloyds had nobody to speak to. I had zero faith that I would genuinely get any help from a Bank, but still didn't think that they would quite be so obstructively unhelpful. I headed into work and on my lunch break went to the nearest doctor's surgery.
I walked in and confidently approached the counter asking if the Dr had any free time to take 5 minutes to endorse my form. The receptionist gave me 3 mutually exclusive excuses as to why this would not happen today; 1 this Doctor would not endorse my application because I am registered with a different Doctor, and he has to have known me for two years... 2 The Doctor doesn't get a spare 5 minutes as he has to do lots of admin work between patients, so I should book an appointment if I want my Doc to sign and endorse my form, 3 There is a £20 administration fee to pay. On the list of authorised professions, is accountant, lawyer and notary public, all of whom I expect without even asking would charge me to do this, but I really did not expect the Doctor to charge. I didn't even want to get the Dr to do it as he has sick people to deal with, who are his priority. For all I know my appointment will be cancelled to deal with a real patient, or emergency.
So the story is not over, I am still looking for someone to do it for me!
If you are an Irish Passport holder and have been through this; then please leave a comment with tips for me and others on how to get around this bureaucratic headache.
With as little expense as possible!
Anonymous Operation Payback Targets Opponents Of Wikileaks
Okay, so due to really badly timed server issues, I have not been able to blog during the latest developments of what is now being called the first global cyber-revolution (thanks to Roger Davies for helping me out!). As my last blog entry: Twittocracy, Interactivism, Hacktivism & Cyber Anarchy: Cause covered Operation Payback, it was a vendetta campaign against those attempting to censor online content based on copyright infringement. Those perpetrating the attacks were Anonymous, the mysterious hacktivist group behind the latest cyber protests against opponents of Wikileaks.
At the end of last year, Wikileaks released the torrent of leaked American diplomatic cables they called Cablegate. To say that this prompted a lot of international reaction would be the understatement of this century. Most world leaders had something to say on the matter and the majority of it was not sounding too good for Wikileaks or its founder Julian Assange. The web server that Wikileaks was hosted on came under DDoS attacks, similar in style to those carried out by Anonymous during Operation Payback Is a Bitch: Save The Pirate Bay. Wikileaks then had its money supply cut off by Paypal, Visa, Mastercard and Amazon dropped hosting. Anonymous; as a hive collective, decided to leap into action. The public home pages of Visa, Paypal and Mastercard were targetted for DDoS by Operation Payback: Save Wikileaks, and hundreds of alternate mirrors of the site's Cablegate Datatbase were spawned.
Anonymous Changes Tactics: Operation Leakspin
The cyber protests in the form of DDoS caught the ever gazing eye of the worlds media and Anonymous got a lot of press attention, using this attention Anonymous launched into a new direction with a new campaign; Operation Leakspin. Operation Payback had successfully brought attention to the shameful acts of private corporations under the intimidation of the United Sates of America. More importantly it had won the support of the people of the internet for Wikileaks, and freedom of the press. With this heightened level of awareness, Operation Leakspin was to spread the contents of the leaked diplomatic cables virally; via social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Other spin off Anonymous Operations were Operation Blackout/Face-Off which encouraged people to replace their internet avatars with a plain black square, and Operation Paperstorm which encouraged people to print out and distribute paper flyers about Wikileaks and Operation Leakspin. A new hub site emerged as a centralised meeting -place for organisation of such Anonymous Operations with resources such as web chat, IRC and forums.
Wikileaks, Anonymous & The Coming Arabic Cyber Revolution
In the last two weeks, the internet; in particular, Twitter, Wikileaks and Anonymous , have played a vital role in the on-going cyber revolution across the Arab world. Firstly in Tunisia, where internet censorship has been used to silence dissenting voices for a while, one incident sparked a wave of protests across the country. A single individual immolated himself publicly leading to days of protests, until the leader of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia. More recently since January 25th, Egypt has been awash with protests against their tyrannical dictator Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak. Over the last few days these protests have descended into violent chaos, as Mubarak attempts to cling onto power by inciting violence among his minority of supporters. At one point Mubarak was desperate enough to shut down the entire country's internet access, to try and end this burgeoning revolution. According to the latest news sources, Mubarak was no longer intending to run for re-election in September yet refused to step down as President. [UPDATE] Mubarak has now handed over power to his senior military leadership; who were instrumental in advising him to step aside at the behest of his people. The people of Egypt seem to have accepting this situation as an interim to a new democratic government, but have planned to hold a public demonstration for this Friday (18/02/2011), to garner public opinion on the progression of this process . [/UPDATE]
As if inspired by the courage displayed by the brave Tunisian and Egyptian people; similar protests have taken place across the Arab world. Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Jordan, Oman, Sudan, Morocco, Mauritania and even Saudi Arabia have all had incidents ranging from small protests to all out revolution. This democratic movement is largely driven through social media and the internet, which is why net neutrality is so important globally. The open internet model is necessary to maintain the freedoms of expression of those who are oppressed. In those countries where oppression is most rampant, the internet is used as a means to silence dissent. The voices of freedom cry out to the internet and are silenced, but Anonymous, and other internet freedom groups have taken up the mantle of freedom of speech. These internet vigilantes or hacktivists, have provided services to such affected regions such as Google's Speak to Tweet or information on proxies like Tor.
[UPDATE] (17/02/2011) Anonymous & Wikileaks Versus The FBI & HBGary [/UPDATE]
In the recent weeks the FBI in the USA and British Police have arrested several "Members of Anonymous". The FBI hired a company called HBGary to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the group Anonymous. Their efforts did not go unnoticed by the more skilled hacktivists of the group, who proceeded to hack into HBGary's server. They replaced the home page with the above image, and leaked thousands of emails to and from the company.
It seems like the message from Anonymous is pretty clear; the world governments and organisations who seek to control the internet have three options now:
A) Release all of your secret information in an organised fashion
B) People inside your organisation feel compelled to leak the information and do so
C) The extremist arm of the internet comes and takes all your secrets and leaks them into the public domain
Whatever the future holds, the internet is key not only to observing and predicting social change, but generating it.
What Is Going On With All Of This Internet Dramatica?
The internet is revolting. It is full of people, with radical ideas and it's hard to navigate the web without being directly exposed to other people's creative juices. Right now you are reading the thoughts and opinions of an individual adult European male called Michael Wharton, who has strong "opinions" and "theories" about the world around him. The internet is the only real forum for every literate, intelligent individual or organisations of like minded individuals to openly voice their views to the entire world (except China obviously).
The internet has been successfully, and unsuccessfully, used as tool for political campaigning. A great example of this was the recent British election in which several successful Twitter "#hashtag" campaigns went viral and may have contributed to the resultant hung parliament (well there is always a theory!). This shift towards a Twittocracy will have to retain its neutrality, especially with the huge budgets some parties have for online campaigns. Luckily, the people at Twitter have declared that, at least for now, they aren't promoting paid political trends and tweets
Cool Story Bro! What Happen? Whose Responsible This?
Well, yeah, the internet used to be fun and frolics. It used to be Lolcats, Rick Astley, Badgers, Porn and Pies, but now the internet is serious business. Internet activism (or as I like to call it interactivism!) has been observable for a while now, but in the recent months it has been going through a renaissance and surge in popularity. Sites dedicated to particular humanitarian causes have attracted support through their own means for years. Now with the advent of social media and social networking sites, these causes can be spread much faster and wider by their own supporters, eliminating a lot of expense.
With this torrent of the masses flowing to these social networking services, like Twitter and Facebook, the spread of ideology and philosophy is incredibly easy. The ability for people to instantly share opinions and feelings with friends and strangers is a boon to most, but there are those who fear information overload. It's all down to personal choice, free will is essential on the internet.
Interactivism, Twittocracy Fine; But WTF Is Hacktivism?
Hacktivism is the last measure of interactivism; when petitions and protests and hashtags don't work. There are many forms of hacktivism being carried out all the time; whether it's journalists using illegal techniques to garner information then posting to Wikileaks, or members of elite hacker groups organising online raids or exploits (sploits) of particular targets. Although the former is the most publicised recently due to Wikileaks getting better at what they do, and various personal attacks upon its founder, the latter is the fastest growing.
Anonymous Hacktivism: Operation Payback Is A Bitch!
Anonymous (so named due to their frequent use of message/image boards such as 4chan where most users post using the default username "Anonymous") are now the self proclaimed last line of defence of the internet and self appointed guardians of net neutrality. They hide their personal identities to strengthen their group integrity, as an idea is impossible to destroy. Anonymous have also been successful in many past instances of hacktivism aimed at various nefarious parties; from Operation Chanology against the church of Scientology, to Operation Titstorm/Freeweb against the DMCA and ACTA laws in Australia and USA. Their most recent campaign; Operation Payback Is A Bitch! the main targets have been law firms (such as ACS:Law) based in Europe and the UK, law firms who have been encroaching on the personal freedoms of many innocent citizens. The legitimacy of these targets is debatable, but it is undeniable that in order to catch a copyright infringer, they have and will infringe all of our human rights. Anonymous have also aimed the Low Orbit Ion Canon at the Ministry of Sound website along with the RIAA, the MPAA and Gene Simmons as part of Operation Payback. Future plans for DDoS targets are discussed in a fluid manner on IRC channels and voted on democratically on affiliated Operation Payback sites. There is actually a precedent for this type of cyber-protest, back in 2004 the internet group Lycos launched; Make Love Not Spam a campaign against internet spammers using a similar DDoS method. News of these Operation Payback attacks does keep coming from certain affiliated sources such as Torrent Freak, but mainstream TV news sources (especially in the UK) have, at best been practically ignoring it, at worst misreporting it completely. There is always a theory that this is intentional, to prevent more people joining the cause and quell the fire storm coming from the internet. This will not work. When dealing with an internet phenomenon, there is no real way to keep it quiet if it is a popular enough idea. The latest news from the front is promising, as a result of ACS-Law's inability to keep data private, BT have recently deleted user data, much to the annoyance of the Ministry Of Sound.
Anonymous ACTA Video From The Operation Payback Site
How Does Interactivism Lead To Twittocracy / Cyber Anarchy?
Quite simply put, we are coming to a very crucial point in the development of humanity. We have several paths ahead of us, and we must exercise our free will and choose the right one (in my opinion Anarchy is hard to avoid). Down one could lead to a dystopian future with information being tightly controlled like George Orwell's 1984. Down another path we might find peace and unity through the free sharing of ideas and free expression of creativity. Maybe I'm being idealistic, but I'd rather live in a world where all my information is in the public domain than one where we are being lied to constantly and refused information.
The choices are being made now, by our politicians, but there are other forces at work other than plain old politics. Money is a major factor in the information war, the others are power and control. Artists and those who create digital media are not the primary benefactors of their work. The big production companies and corporate bosses make so much more than the actual creators that it sickens most people. We find it harder and harder to justify why these people deserve to live in luxury while we live in fear of repossession. This hacktivism will not be the last shot fired as long as the freedom and neutrality of the internet is threatened still. The anonymous legion will keep firing their lasers until they achieve great justice, maybe we will praise them as honoured brethren.
Internet Censorship: The Internet Is Under Attack?
According to many key sources of internet trends, the recent governmental seizure of control over the internet has been perceived as a threat to global freedom. The internet culture has flourished from what once was the domain of the knowledgeable few, to what is often called "Web 2.0"; user generated and driven content, shared and open to all interactively and easily. Nowadays, most people between their childhood and retirement age will spend time online regularly. They do so to catch up on the latest news, kill time watching funny videos of cats, keep in touch with long lost friends and relatives, etc... The list of activities people perform regularly online is pretty endless, as new applications of the internet are coming along every day. Some of the things people do online are currently illegal, in quite a few countries, and for years now the governments of those (often developed) countries have been trying to figure out how to enforce laws on the internet. From copyright infringement to "Indecent Pornography", it has been a game of cat and mouse, as technology on both sides is developed to outsmart the other.
We were all made aware of this arms race when sites like Napster and The Pirate Bay were legally challenged, when news of sting operations on paedophile and terrorist networks hit the papers. We were glad of our Government's action against those who would harm or way of life. Now however, it is our governments themselves who are threatening our way of life; in a new development in this arms race, we the people are being targeted with internet censorship.
The ACTA has been implemented in several "Freedom Loving" countries such as Australia, America, and now the United Kingdom has followed suit with the Digital Economy Bill (The DEBill is now The Digital Economy Act since it was pushed through parliament... shouldn't have dragged my feet writing this blog...). Now we have internet censorship, blacklisted websites and filtered content.
Internet Censorship: Spreading The Word!
So as far as I can tell, the internet is going to become more strictly controlled, surveilled, filtered and censored worldwide. Copyright piracy, inappropriate porn and terrorist communication are simply convenient distractions, so that dissent can be monitored and controlled. If any of the videos in the internet censorship playlist are removed, or if you can no longer gain access to this page then you will know that I was right.
Since the development of the internet, it has been used to express opinions and information freely with the rest of the world. Don't allow this tool to be used to gag and control you, speak out against this right infringement. Several organisations have interactivist campaigns you can join to let your voice be heard; The EFF, The ORG, 38 Degrees and of course Project Freeweb.
If we do nothing, we are in very real danger of losing access to the "real" internet like other less than free countries with more extreme levels of internet censorship ( an obvious example is the People's Republic of China (oh no, I guess that my site's blocked there now...)). Internet superstars such as Tim Berners Lee and John Perry Barlow have declared their opposition to internet censorship. Internet deity Google have spoken out against the global trend towards internet censorship measures and the state controlling the web. Google even released this handy tool to see how much your internet content is being filtered. We have to all stand together and say "No, we DO NOT WANT internet censorship, filtered content or our internet to be arbitrarily cut off!". Of course as with anything online, you have an overwhelming choice of mediums for interactivism to convey such a message!