Review: “No Safe Harbor” by the United States Pirate Party.

I finished the United States Pirate Party’s No Safe Harbor yesterday, and was impressed by both its scope and its quality. I purchased the paperback from Amazon, and had it shipped to Australia for just under AU$20 all up. It is also available in several formats for free download (the traffic was so enormous that they had to shift sites), with a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

No Safe Harbor is divided into three sections that deal with the Pirate Party Movement’s three key policy areas – institutional transparency and accountability, the right to privacy, and intellectual property reform – in an attempt to explain the aims and policies of particularly the USPP. Generally, however, the essays it contains can be applied to almost every Pirate Party globally, and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get a grasp on the issues that Pirate Parties are trying to make a stand on.

“Assassinating Citizens,” by Marcus Kessler, is the first essay in No Safe Harbor. The best way to describe it is ‘shocking.’ It describes the case of Anwar Al-Awlaki, “a Yemen-American born in New Mexico, who was the victim of targeted killing by the United States. The concept that the US Government can order the assassination of its own citizens without trial is not something many Americans would be comfortable with, I presume.

Ryan Moffitt’s “The Worst Part of Censorship is [This Phrase Has Been Seized by ICE]” deals with both censorship and intellectual property. Not many people know this, but websites that have the .com or .net top-level domain are operated by the US company Verisign, who are able to shut down websites following an order from a judge by request of the US Government. The implications for censorship are obviously rather scary.

“The Parable of the Pasture” (Howard Denson) and “Breaking the Two Party Two-Step” (Andrew “K`Tetch” Norton) both deal essentially with voting and government. Denson’s essay tackles with the fact that no matter who you vote for, the politicians will usually by corrupted by the system and lifestyle, while Norton’s places the burden of responsibility for who screws the country over firmly on the voter. He is critical of tactical voting, and the myth that “third parties are a waste of time.”

Reagen Dandridge Desilets’ “Indie Authors Shaking the Pillars of Publishing” is a must read for anyone wanting to self-publish via the net, or even in hardcopy. It’s a great starting point for those who really want to harness the power of modern methods of publishing.

Although rather long, “Fluid Democracy” by William Sims Bainbridge is probably the best point for anyone trying to understand fluid/liquid democracy. It explains, as we move further toward ‘info-politics,’ the fundamental principles and concerns that parliamentary participation via the internet involves.

Another essay that also deals with intellectual property is Kembrew McLeod’s “Prviatizing Life.” It explains to what length corporations will use patents to fence in their profits – even if that puts people in the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations at risk. An eye-opener as to who really runs the world. This is complimented by Andrew Norton’s “Killing the Corporate Person,” which proposes methods of making those who run corporations truly responsible for the actions of the company, rather than using the corporation as a proxy for their wrongdoings.

Kicking of the part of the book that deals with privacy, danah boyd’s “”Real Names” Policies are an Abuse of Power,” really comes to grips with why anonymity/pseudonymity on the internet is very important for the marginalised, abused and those whose exposure would severely hurt their reputation (such as school teachers who have  professional lives, but don’t want their personal lives exposed).

“Criminal of Innocence,” by Travis McCrea is the recounting of a “guilty until proven innocent” story involving a teenager who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how an incident where he was wrongly accused of drugs possession led to him becoming jaded an anti-authoritarian.

“Privacy Now, Nothing Later” by Ryan Moffitt discusses how trusting we are that corporations won’t abuse our personal information, and so we enter into a form of voluntary surveillance.

I think one of the most fascinating essays in the collection is also one of the shortest: “Personal Privacy” by Travis McCrea. It’s related to Moffitt’s piece, in that it emphasizes that corporations have no obligations to protect your personal privacy. You voluntarily give them information, and in return receive a service back. If you’re not willing to give them information then you need to take proper precautions. Ideally information you don’t want sent out should be kept to yourself.

“Notes on the Fourth Amendment” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation is primarily useful to Americans, however, as the US has such global power, it’s useful for those outside the States to understand their domestic situation. “The Universal Declaration for Human Rights,” from the UN, is published in full, and is well worth reading to be informed of what rights the international community has agreed everyone should have.

Lorelly MacTavish explores the emerging American dystopia in “No Safe Quarter” – and it’s damn scary. The Government, if the piece is accurate, is treating their citizens like criminals. Constant surveillance mechanisms are being put in place and the population is treated as guilty until proven innocent. US citizens have the right to an armed militia, to protect them from a tyrant government, but they’re being slowly boiled alive, their rights being eroded bit by bit.

Anything Rick Falkvinge writes is usually worthwhile. His “History of Copyright” introduces the intellectual property section, and is a pretty thorough overview of the evolution of copyright, and Cory Doctorow’s “the DRM Sausage Factory,” explains how copyright is ruthlessly protected, and is big business for corporations specialising in crippling products with digital rights management (DRM) technologies.

“Pirates” by Lawrence Lessig is revealing – it’s an exploration of how the roots of the modern copyright industry began with piracy, and how piracy is conducive to a developing culture. Sure, everyone thinks it’s just getting everything for free, but when you consider that the film industry moved from the East Coast to Hollywood, CA, just to avoid infringing patents on motion pictures (it was too hard to enforce patents from such a distance), it makes you wonder what big cultural shift ‘internet piracy’ is the beginning of.

“Questions Concerning Copyright” is presented as an interview with Brad Hall (vice-chairman of the Florida Pirate Party), and addresses what the Pirate Party movement stands for, though each Party is slightly different.

“This Gene is Your Gene” by Kembrew McLeod spoke to me the most from the section on intellectual property. As a musician, the issue of copyright is a conflict within me, and I need constant confirmation that I’m not “betraying my kind,” by being opposed to such strict copyright measures as we have today. On the one hand, strict copyright is control, money, ownership. On the other hand, it’s suing your fans and not being allowed to share music. So I pitched my tent in the camp of the latter. McLeod explains Woodie Guthrie’s approach to copyright – “Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do” – and how the subsequent publishing companies and collecting agencies go completely against that. It shows that the history of folk music is appropriation, adaptation, heck ‘piracy’ if you think sampling other people’s music without permission is piracy.

Overall, No Safe Harbor is an eye opener. It is well written, varied, and plentiful with examples that even my technologically impaired mother can relate to. The articles are interspersed with ‘Mimi and Eunice‘ cartoons by the rather brilliant and talented Nina Paley, which add a humorous touch and highlighting the contrasting serious yet playful attitude of the Pirate Party Movement.

There’s a few typos and formatting issues, granted, but for their first book, the United States Pirate Party have delivered one of the most comprehensive collections on just why the existence of Pirate Parties is justified, necessary, and something that lawmakers and industries should be watchful of.


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.

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