Reviews

The Unending Saga of Internet Cops, Robbers, and the Rest of Us

Creative chaos may be the mother of Internet invention. But inventiveness is a threat to the Powers-that-be. Is crime-fighting just another handy euphemism for Orwellian consolidation?


The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Length: 310 pages
Author: Nate Anderson
Price: $15.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-08
Amazon

Recently, I put a question to the CIO of a large financial services firm at an Internet privacy group event: Given the emotional and financial toll identity theft takes on a consumer—and the frequency of high-visibility data breaches—is our tolerance for online commerce exhaustible? My point was that while the industry can theoretically indulge a spy-vs.-spy ‘attack-counterattack’ dynamic forever (all the while perfecting its defenses against each successive data breach and passing the cost onto us) the battle is asymptotic. Final victory is unattainable.

We consumers, on the other hand, have but one social security number to give our economy. Life is short. Particulars are few. How do you cry ‘Uncle’ to a spambot or a sociopathic teenager in St. Petersburg?

Confirming Upton Sinclair’s claim (well sort of) that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his IT budget depends upon his not understanding it, this CIO smirked then shifted into techno-acronymic mode, rattling off a series of eerily dystopic countermeasures looming on the horizon: biometrics, fingerprint recognition, retinal scans, contextual IDs and identity wallets. In a pinch and for the right product features, there’s always a consumer’s first-born child as genetic proof-positive. Prepare for identity daycare centers.

Okay, clearly my question was more rhetorical than reality-based. How do I know this? Well, 2014’s Cyber Black Monday posted record sales, undaunted it would seem by last year’s Target and Neiman Marcus data breaches which potentially compromised tens of millions of identities. In a global economy parched for growth and stretched for boots-on-the-ground mall time, progressively invasive protocols will brook fewer and fewer complaints. We will be asked to throw our cellular particulars into the fray, and you know what? We will agree.

Eddie Bernays’ century-old project of body-snatching citizens and leaving consumers in their wake has yielded the desired civic apathy. Who camps out days before at the polling booth? Tragically, a retinal scan has become a small price to pay for that new iPhone 6 Plus. Why? Because we have depreciated ourselves. However, that’s another soapbox altogether.

Completing our Panopticon encirclement, the private sector has been joined mightily against this cyber-crime wave by law enforcement agencies. In his recent book The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online and the Cops Followed, Nate Anderson offers a fascinating primer on how the policing effort has evolved after a rather slow start. Anderson, Deputy Editor at on-line IT journal Ars Technica, offers a series of case studies where the implicit dilemma tends to circle around the old Dionysian-Apollonian vexation: how to balance the anarchic spirit of creative advance against the stodgy old control-paradigm of put your hands up and don’t move! Somehow, evil must be kept at bay without smothering innovation beneath a blanket of thin blue lines.

Another crucial point Anderson makes is the blurring of the lines between spy-craft and policing, a marriage as troubling as it appears inevitable. Police surveillance smacks of something between pre-crime monitoring and voyeurism. My goodness, isn’t there enough post-crime to fight?

Throughout the book, Anderson’s examples range from the utopian to the creepy to the prurient to the jaw-droppingly accessible. Apparently, Needle Park has gone on hiatus. Mail-order heroin is just a click away.

The Sealand/HavenCo story reads like an Internet version of ‘The Mouse That Roared’. Sealand was a circa 2000 attempt at creating a principality in North Sea waters in the cement leg (yes!) of an abandoned WWII naval fort. HavenCo was the data hosting services company that operated in Sealand with the purpose of hosting companies with controversial material via a satellite Internet link. Both were established with the highest libertarian principles in mind.

However, in short order the principality and the business clashed as the former aspired to act more like a sovereign nation (it even had a prince); HavenCo accused Sealand of nationalizing it while discouraging some of its more off-color customers. One of the last straws for HavenCo was when Sealand embraced international copyright law. Sell-outs!

Of course as Anderson points out, the larger world was closing in anyway, all across the globe. HavenCo had overestimated the impregnability of its chilly North Sea platform. Since connectivity implicates at least two loci, in-border crime—even that originated from a distant place—becomes no less prosecutable where the dodgy content terminates. It had just taken the authorities a little time to figure their latitudes and crack down. That’s a large theme in the book, by the way: Keystone cops playing eternal catch-up on a learning curve all parties are ascending, with the bad guys always mere inches ahead.

Other essays range from spam king Oleg Nikolaenko who provided much of the impetus for the CAN-SPAM Act to the music industry’s full-on assault on single mom Jammie Thomas for illegal music downloads. As Anderson points out rather sardonically, the “optics weren’t great—faceless coastal corporations against small-town Midwestern mom.” Nonetheless much was riding on the case for the industry. The ensuing trials proved a nightmare for all parties, though it ultimately prevailed against Thomas to the tune of $222k, an amount as yet unpaid.

On the creepier side, there’s the tale of the overly curious webcams controlled by remote access tool (RAT) software, often a malware download which allows unknown voyeurs to control webcams on stranger’s computers, take photos of the victims and send them detailed instructions that clearly indicate the users are being watched. The psychological trauma resulting from this activity can be understandably quite acute; nor is the sense of personal invasion mitigated when it turns out law enforcement is the perpetrator as in the case of one substitute teacher who was arrested after a period of on-line surveillance for receiving stolen property (her PC).

There are also warrant issues as Anderson points out with the FBI’s attempt to judiciously use Computer & Internet Protocol Address Verifier (CIPAV) to monitor the email activity of a suspicious machine. Often these warrants are set for extremely finite periods of time. In fact the FBI’s formidable suite of in-house cyber-surveillance tools are closely vetted with bureau attorneys for legal compliance. The point Anderson makes is that even legally-sanctioned surveillance is, well, surveillance.

Meanwhile the judiciary is on the look-out for government fishing expeditions. As one Texas judge opined of the FBI’s surveillance software, “what if the target computer is located in a public library, Internet café… what if the computer is used by family or friends uninvolved in the illegal scheme?” Good questions indeed, Your Honor.

Another essay deals with early FBI packet sniffer Carnivore where the same argument is made: “It might be looking for Joe X. Terrorist’s e-mails in transit, or it might try to monitor his instant messages, but yours and mine might also pass through the same router.” Somehow discriminating searches have to be kept to their narrow charters. The recent news of NSA employees going through the personal information of acquaintances is hardly encouraging.

Anderson is a great writer with a lucid style. The stories are at times humorous yet consistently informative, and his grasp of recent jurisprudence is formidable. Even more important, he writes without obvious ideological bias. This agnostic approach gives reasonable voice to all sides.

Sealand/HavenCo’s John Barlow makes a final, surreal appearance in the book speaking at a 2011 e-G8 meeting in counterpoint to French President Nicolas Sarkozy who, one suspects, is oblivious to the subtly patronizing premise of his views when he intones: “Don’t forget that behind the anonymous Internet user there is a real citizen living in a real society and a real culture and a nation to which he or she belongs, with its laws and its rules.” And the Internet is what, Mr. President? A La-La Land for time-wasters lacking all cultural and societal contribution? Sacré bleu! We are a nation, too!

Much to his surprise, Barlow is met with applause when he responds that the meeting’s focus is an antiquated attempt to impose, “the standards of some business practices and institutional power centers that come from another era on the future, whether they are actually productive of new ideas or not.” In the end, there is no end, or as Anderson says “We’re never going to engineer the mess out of it.” The best protection against creativity and innovation is public vigilance, pragmatism, tolerance and informed policing.

In the Afterword, the book very briefly delves the myriad issues brought to light by the Edward Snowden affair, which really broke after publication. It remains to be seen whether this 'messy business' of perpetual, virtuous conflict called the Internet can be fostered and preserved for the long-term.

Splash image: Digital Eye © deepadesigns from Shutterstock.com.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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