Heather Brooke

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Heather Brooke

Heather Brooke (born 1970) is an American journalist & freedom of information campaigner. Author of "Your Right to Know", "The Silent State", "Assange Agnosties" and "The Revolution Will Be Digitised" & winner of the Washington Coalition for Open Government "Key Award". Also known as the pioneer who forced the British Parliament to answer to its own freedom of information laws.

Books[edit]

Your Right to Know: A Citizen's Guide to the Freedom of Information Act, 2nd Edition[edit]

  • As the saying goes - the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. Politicians have taken advantage of our indifference by imposing ever more draconian and restrictive laws that increase their power while diminishing ours. Asking questions of our public bodies is the best way to ensure they are working for our interests and not those of politicians. Through FOI we can go behind political rhetoric to see the true state of affairs.
    • Page 4.
  • The success of any freedom of information regime depends on two main factors: A tightly drawn law with a clear statement of intent that makes clear statement of intent that makes clear a presumption of openness, and a bold regulator who is tough and not afraid to exert his authority and challenge government interests.
    • Pages 4-5.
  • The cost of making government more responsive to the people who fund it and in whose name it exists should not be attributed solely to FOI, but even if it is, surely that is a cost worth bearing? Making government transparent and accountable to the public directly increases the efficiency of the public sector more than any number of government regulators or watchdogs.
    • Page 5.
  • Getting information is only the beginning. Transparency in government must be accompanied by the public's right to be heard and to influence government policy. The first objective is to get the facts, for without facts we are powerless to oppose government decisions or bring about change. The next step is to open up the decision-making process so we finally have a government accountable to those it serves. This should be our right and not a privilege.
    • Page 8.
  • You should not expect politicians to promote freedom of information. Why should they? They have a vested interest in controlling the public's access to information and thereby maintaining their grip on power.
    • Page 285.
  • Politicians may initially find it difficult to accept new standards of public accountability, but we must make the costs of not doing so even greater. The best way to do this is by publicly embarrassing and shaming those officials and departments who refuse to answer to the public.
    • Page 286.
  • Maybe you would prefer not to be bothered with how the government is run. If that's the case then you have no right to complain when your taxes are raised, or if your children's education is substandard, or you have to wait a year for a vital operation. Good government does not happen by itself but is the result of individual effort. One of the easiest and most effective things you can do is simply to ask for information. I hope I've given you the tools and confidence to do exactly that.
    • Page 286.

The Silent State: Secrets, Surveillance and the Myth of British Democracy, 1st Edition[edit]

  • In secrecy, bureaucracies grow large, ungainly and unaccountable to those they are meant to serve. When there is no fierce spotlight of public accountability shining, there is no pressure to ensure systems are streamlined or even working. What you find throughout any bureaucracy protected by secrecy is a cesspit of illogic and waste. And because the state keeps rebranding, shifting responsibility from one set of bureaucrats to another, most of the work being done is for the purpose of keeping other bureaucrats in employment rather than satisfying the needs of the public.
    • Page 35.
  • In the public sphere, perception is reality: it's more important to be seen to do something than actually to do it. At least when private companies use PR and advertising they must spend their own money and there are other corporations vying for our business. If a company doesn't give us what we want they face bankruptcy. Public institutions, however, are monopolies. We have no choice but to buy, if not use, their services. If we don't like the way our particular police force operates it's not like we can choose another one or even withhold the money used to run the one we don't like. We're forced - under threat of imprisonment - to pay for a monopoly service and for it to tell us how great it is. This is the real danger of institutional PR. In the absence of competition it is only through a diversity of opinion and public scrutiny that some level of accountability can exist. PR stifles debate and suppresses opinion through the use of centralized press offices and communication protocols.
    • Pages 45-46.
  • Bureaucracy is the business of controlling other humans, making them do what you want them to do. That may be acceptable if what you are asking them to do is reasonable, rational and for the common good, but more likely what bureaucrats ask is treasonable, nonsensical and counterproductive to the public good. This is because the primary business of a bureaucrat, left unchecked, is creating more bureaucracy to further his or her own prestige and power. The result is that rules are in place serving no function but to keep bureaucrats in work and to expand their bureaucratic fiefdom. Before you know it you can't even hold a village fete without filling out more than fifteen different forms from various arms of the government.
    • Pages 92-93.

The Revolution Will Be Digitised: Dispatches From the Information War, 1st Edition[edit]

  • We are at an extraordinary moment in human history: never before has the possibility of true democracy been so close to realisation. At the cost of publishing and duplication has dropped to near zero, a truly free press, and a truly informed public, becomes a reality. A new Information Enlightment is dawning where knowledge flows freely, beyond national boundaries. Technology is breaking down traditional social barriers of status, class, power, wealth and geography, replacing them with an ethos of collaboration and transparency. In this new Enlightenment it isn't just scientific truths that are the goal, but discovering truths about the way we live, about politics and power.
    • Page ix.
  • Citizens around the world have long declared a desire to be trusted with the formation of their own opinions, and that can only come when they have access to the facts. This is the essence of the information war. Do we trust citizens to communicate freely and come to their own conclusions, or do we believe those in authority have a right to restrict and manipulate what we know? Do we hold to Enlightenment ideals of reason and the pursuit of truth no matter where that takes us, or put our faith in authority to make certain an uncertain world?
    • Page x.
  • The Internet is powerful because it allows people to organise around issues at unprecedented speed, broadcast their thoughts and challenge those in charge. A wave of such groups banded together in early 2011 to demand the removal of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East as one country after another rose up with varying degrees of success. But the Internet doesn't cause revolution. It is a communications network. What people choose to do with technology - that is where we can make moral judgements. Some people will use it for ill, others for good. Security forces tend to focus on the ills, while the majority use it for good. In the name of protecting us from 'bad things on the Internet' there are increasing moves to suppress communications networks in both repressive and democratic countries. Demands to shut down, censor, filter or in other ways oversee and control the way people communicate are on the rise.
    • Page xi.
  • At a time of information overload, good journalists are more important then ever. They serve as the public's hired guns to collect information from various sources and challenge it for the purpose of distilling down what is important and true. They-signpost issues that are worthy of our attention. In the past when we bought newspapers we were paying for that particular newspaper with its content- a bundle of news and entertainment. In the digital age we're buying the carriage (e.g. the Internet access) and readers decide later what information they want to view over that carrier.
    • Page 70.
  • Being a professional journalist is rather like training to be a lawyer. There's a certain amount you can learn in school but largely it is a vocation learned through practice, with scepticism being a primary attribute.
    • Page 70.
  • The powerful have historically tried to impose their will through mechanisms of enforced ignorance such as censorship, secrecy, threats, physical intimidation and violence. This model is difficult to sustain in a networked world based on Enlightenment values. This is not to say that Western democracies have abandoned these heavy-handed tactics, but more often the methods have shifted to more sophisticated ways of maintaining power such as media management, public relations and legal intimidation. In the midst of all this information and misinformation how can we filter out what is important and true?
    • Page 72.
  • When a politician claims for example that 'crime is down' since he implemented a certain policy, it is the professional investigative journalist who knows the raw data on which this statement is based (criminal incident reports) and who asks for verification. He or she can then go to other sources to question the veracity of the data. The reason I specialise in the intricate details of bureaucracy isn't because I have a passion for paper-pushers, but rather because I need to know all the types of information collected, by whom and where they are stored so I can get my hands on them. A statement isn't a fact. Even when the person making the statement is an authority he or she still needs to provide evidence or proof that what they say is the truth and a professional journalist should be asking for this proof and supplying it for public scrutiny. All this accumulating of statements, data and information which then has to be verified takes time. But this is the only thing a journalist does that marks him out as a professional. It's the only reason anyone would choose a well-known newspaper's website over an unknown blog. The newspaper as a brand has built up, over time, a reputation for challenging the powerful and giving people meaningful, true information. The press is not like any other business and what it sells shouldn't just be rehashed press releases or celebrity gossip, but the civic information necessary for people to understand their society and participate in it. It is a check on political and financial power, or at least it should be.
    • Pages 72-73

(Empahsis added).

  • Leaks have happened before. They are not new. But the industrial scale of leaking made possible through the digitisation of information and the ability to communicate instantly across the globe - that is new. If it is to be revolutionary, however, we need a model for a new type of politics.
    • Page 226.
  • Free speech is not the great danger for humanity. Concentration of power is. We learn this lesson over and over again, and yet seem compelled eternally to repeat it. Communism, colonialism, monarchy, state socialism, tyranny- all become enemies of the people because they offer their citizens not too many opportunities to communicate or associate, but too few. Power is the dynamic force that fuels politics and it is this, not speech, which needs to be constantly monitored, controlled and checked. We view crimes against humanity as aberrations, individuals gone wild, when we should be seeing them through the prism of power. Abuse happens when a culture values some people more than others and those exercising power are not accountable for their actions.
    • Page 230.
  • Authoritarians offer citizens a deal: if we hand over our freedom, they will guarantee certainty and safety. This might have been possible in a closed society with little interaction between people, but it is a false promise in a knowledge economy where citizens are interconnected. If the best chaos theorists can't model the weather beyond a week, how does the National Security Agency think it can predict which of us will turn into a terrorist? If our intelligence agencies persist in monopolising knowledge we will see continued intelligence failures.
    • Page 236.
  • Over the past year I've thought a lot about censorship, surveillance and regulation of the Internet. Is it necessary? Is it really so dangerous to allow individuals an ability to associate and communicate freely? Certainly there exists a criminal minority who take advantage of the freedom of the Internet, but no one is arguing that crimes shouldn't be prosecuted. This is about allowing the vast majority of people to communicate without state intervention. Despite all the dire warnings, the prophesies of doom and destruction that were foretold by the Pentagon, the US State Department, Hosni Mubarak, even English High Court Judge Eady, I look at the fallout from all that was published in 2010, all the breaches to establishment power that occurred through a networked citizenry- and the good clearly outweighs the bad. From the uprising in Iceland to the ousting of dictators in the Middle East, free speech has fundamentally changed the world for the good.
    • Page 236.
  • Why, then, are the world's governments intent on controlling and regulating the Internet? Free speech is most threatening to authoritarian systems such as autocracies, militaries, the police and security services. Security services in principle exist for our protection but that is so only when they are accountable to the public for their considerable power. We are seeing a push by these agencies to move beyond the rule of law, to be accountable to no one but themselves. National security is becoming the new word of God to which all must submit in blind obedience. The decisions made, the liberties eroded, the crimes committed in the name of national security cannot be challenged because the information on which they are based remains secret.
    • Pages 236-237.
  • We seek a saviour, someone to rescue us from the problems of the world. A saviour is the simple story, the easy option and that is why it is so compelling. You don't have to do anything except believe. There's no need to negotiate with other people, or figure out how to create a robust system within the bizarre and contradictory parameters of human nature. I must admit I fell prey to this when I first met Julian Assange. He was going to lead the way to a bold new age. Instead I learned that power when concentrated is dangerous no matter who holds it or for whatever good intention. The real revolution happens in our own minds, when we stop believing there is someone or some agency who has all the answers, who is infallible and will save us, and instead come to realise we have that ability within ourselves. We may be susceptible to cults of personality, but we can build a check against this into our political systems.
    • Pages 237-238.
  • The world may be more complex and uncertain than we would like, but giving away our freedom for the false promises of protection is not a sustainable solution. We are defined not just by what we preach, but by what we practice. We cannot claim to be an enlightened democratic society if we live in breach of these values, without the rule of law, without reason, or the rigorous commitment to truth.
    • Page 238.
  • We now have a technology that unites individuals in such a way that we can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty and the Internet gives them access to the sort of information that was previously accessible only to elite scholars. They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates. The greatest achievement isn't in producing technology, but using it to re-define the boundaries of what is possible.
    • Pages 238-239.

Attributed[edit]

  • It is scrutiny by the general public that keeps the powerful honest.
    • The Independent - "The lives of others: Heather Brooke's new book opens up further fronts in the war to set information free", 9 April 2010.
  • Journalists are, or ought to be, the public's hired guns sent out to collect information, question it, verify it and distil it to what is important and true. This takes time and skill, and is the only thing a journalist does that marks him or her out as a professional. It's also the reason why anyone would choose well-known newspaper's website over an unknown blog.
    • Press Gazette - "Harold Evans, Guido Fawkes, Heather Brookes and Bild on journalism and the public interest", 27 September 2011.
  • The survival of journalism in the digital age rests on its unique selling point: serving this public interest. Fail or forget to do that, and it has no future.
    • Press Gazette - "Harold Evans, Guido Fawkes, Heather Brookes and Bild on journalism and the public interest", 27 September 2011.
  • If you believe the promise that an authoritarian state makes that if it has enough knowledge on every citizen it will keep people safe. I think that’s a false promise. It doesn’t actually happen. If that was the case then East Germany would be a really incredible place to live and in fact it wasn’t, it was really horrible, most of these places were really horrible.
    • Huffington Post "Heather Brooke: Data Dealing Is A Bigger Scandal Than Phone Hacking", Interview with Dina Rickman, 17 August 2011.
  • I’m talking of the revolutionary quality of digitization. And I say it’s revolutionary because once information is no longer a bunch of box files or papers in a filing cabinet but just bits that fly through the air, it means that it’s so hard for people in power to control it. And it’s always been true that knowledge is power. And so once it becomes very difficult for people in power to keep hold of information it means that it becomes very hard for them to keep hold of power, because power just flows out. The default now is zero cost for information to spread instantly around the globe. And in fact you have to pay money to stop it now. That’s incredibly disruptive and revolutionary.
  • The first thing is that you’re always at a disadvantage, because a bureaucracy is funded by the public to have permanent people there who can relentlessly advocate for their own interest. And that’s the problem: when bureaucracy stops working for the public interest.
  • What’s really important is to have systemic changes. By that I mean, for example, putting into law that people have a right to access official information. Once freedom of information becomes part of the bureaucracy, the bureaucrats who are freedom of information officials have a vested interest in making sure that that law is there and that it actually works, because it kind of justifies their existence. One thing is to institutionalize rights to know.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any law that’s there to protect the citizens from massive State surveillance. We have to collectively come up with some fundamental values around people’s right to privacy, the right to be left alone from government, and rights to free speech.
  • We’ve come up with ways to judge the quality of a product. The thing is that we’re just getting used to the idea that information is a product, and we have to come up with criteria on which to judge which information is worth paying attention to and taking seriously and which isn’t. So we have to think: is this information new? Is it relevant? Is it trustworthy? Can I verify it? Who’s the source? If you’re a journalist you’re used to doing this as your job, but that’s going to become increasingly necessary for people online, because they just get hit with so much information, and if they don’t want to just sit there, manipulated by all different kinds of propaganda, they have to start getting tooled up on how to be a savvy information consumer.
  • The problem with WikiLeaks is that it’s been taken over by Julian Assange, and that is directly opposed to what the whole movement is meant to be about: decentralized power, collaboration, equality and transparency. Under Julian Assange, WikiLeaks has become exactly the opposite of all of these things: it’s become totally centralized, it’s become a hierarchy, it’s not transparent. And it’s not collaborative, but incredibly divisive in the transparency community, because anybody who dares to challenge or criticize Julian comes under severe fire from him. A person who’s meant to be a leader of a movement, which is what he claims to be, you’re meant to be about building and accruing allies, rather than going into the movement and being divisive. But that’s exactly what he’s been.
  • The movement of radical transparency and accountability is not about putting a new person in charge, it’s about getting rid of the whole idea of hierarchal politics. It’s about decentralizing power.
  • A lack of government oversight hasn't hindered the internet. Quite the opposite. A hands-off approach is largely responsible for its fantastic growth and success. The tremendous innovation and economic boon produced by the free internet should be proof enough that the dead hand of government isn't needed.
    • The Guardian "We should all be hacktivists now", Column in the Guardian, 20 April 2012.
  • This is the information war we are now engaged in. Governments are seeking to militarise cyberspace while citizens fight for the right to communicate and assemble freely online without state surveillance.
    • The Guardian "We should all be hacktivists now", Column in the Guardian, 20 April 2012.
  • We need to codify our values and build consensus around what we want from a free society and a free internet. We need to put into law protections for our privacy and our right to speak and assemble.
    • The Guardian "We should all be hacktivists now", Column in the Guardian, 20 April 2012.
  • To be successful, a campaign to maintain the free internet and freedom of information has to go beyond vandal hackers. Stunts designed not to provoke dialogue or persuade the public of the rightness of the cause but simply to throw up a middle finger to authority are more hindrance than help.
    • The Guardian "We should all be hacktivists now", Column in the Guardian, 20 April 2012.
  • The public pay for and elect the government and it is only by the people’s will that those in public office hold power. Public servants’ primary responsibility is to serve the people and we have a right to know what they are doing in our name and with our money. Public accountability does not end the day after an election.
    • Newsletter (UK) "MAURICE NEILL: Upholding our right to accountability", 18 May 2012.

Chatham House Talk (September 28, 2011)[edit]

Transcript

  • What I call the ‘information war’, where through the control of information our society is being radically transformed.
  • The point about digitization, just to explain what I mean by that, is the way that information is no longer a physical commodity. It doesn't have a mass like it used to. So it used to be that if you wanted to leak a bunch of documents, you physically had to carry away these huge boxes of documents and then you had to physically photocopy them somehow. And they had this physical mass, and it was through that mass that they could be controlled by people in power. When information is digitized, it loses that mass for the most part. It becomes almost ephemeral, it's like an idea; it's like a thought. And it spreads and it can be shared almost instantaneously. So you can take that, and then you combine it with the internet, which is this web in which everybody is talking to each other and sharing information. And you've got the makings of what I think is a digital revolution, which nobody quite knows how to handle it, what to do with it.
  • In the same way that in freedom of information around the world, the onus is always… the balance is always on disclosure and the state has to argue why it keeps things secret. But the problem always is in enforcement and who enforces it. And it becomes particularly problematic in the intelligence agencies. Because there you've got this argument of national security and what is happening is that national security is becoming the new word of God, where you can't challenge it. You can't challenge the facts behind why we go to war or why have we put people in prison or why have we occupied a country. And that's where I do kind of think that we need to push the line further.
  • I want to put paid to this idea that if you've nothing to fear, you've nothing to hide. I interviewed a really interesting guy in this book. He ran the data campaign for the Obama election, when Obama was being elected. And what they do is they just harvest huge troves of databases. And they're doing it for the basis of trying to predict who might vote for Obama in the election. And he just took me through this whole data business – data brokerage, data dealing. And he showed me this 10,000... well, it was a 464 page dictionary, a data dictionary, with 10,000 data units in it. So that's for every person, it's 10,000 things that you could find out about that person. Their political association, if they drink Coke or Diet Coke, what sort of magazines do they subscribe to, have they ever had any court cases against them. It's just like a raft of stuff. The problem is, is how these things are used. It's fine if somebody wants to sell you some products, but increasingly states are accessing all this information. And they're building algorithms to try and predict criminals. … It's pretty well-known that the National Security Agency in America is building algorithms and it's taking all of these datasets and basically trying to predict who is going to be a problem for us in future. And to me that just seems an incredibly dangerous road for us to go down, that you’re no longer innocent until proven guilty. We’re starting to imagine or predict who is going to be a problem.
  • I think with all technology, people have an idea of how it will be used, but then it has a life of its own and people use it in all kinds of ways. In the same way with Facebook. I doubt when people first created Facebook they imagined it was going to help people in Egypt overthrow a dictator. So it does have a life of its own that we can’t predict.
  • I’m very much a free market capitalist, actually. I don’t agree with a kind of totalitarian, one government or sort of universal law. I think what will happen and what is happening now is, in the same way as… In the way that countries make themselves attractive to investors through different pieces of legislation they offer, whether it’s secrecy in the case of the Cayman Islands or Switzerland, I think the fact that some countries now are offering very robust publishing laws, it will be that as information is global, what you might see is that these big internet companies like Google or Facebook, that have their servers, will start to relocate those servers to countries where they have less interference. In a way, you’re creating a kind of free market of freedom of information law.
  • The main thing, if there is a power that the media has, it’s mostly because they represent the public in quite a direct relationship. They’re very populist in the sense that they are meant to be the public’s hired goons who go out, find information, collate it all, verify whether or not it’s true, and then signpost to the citizens that this is worth reading. And they make it in such a way that it’s interesting to read. So they are kind of spokespeople for the people. And in an interconnected age, they are definitely quicker to realize the way power has shifted. You find most journalists now are on all these social networks. They’re all about creating… they want a direct relationship with their audience, in a way that politicians have been very loathe to do.
  • You find most journalists now are on all these social networks. They’re all about creating… they want a direct relationship with their audience, in a way that politicians have been very loathe to do. They don’t want to come down to the masses. They still want to be in that fortress, in that ivory tower where they can lecture down to people. They haven’t really adapted to this two-way communication.
  • What I say in the book is that rather than it being the death of journalism, this whole deluge of information, it to me marks a time when journalism can really come into its own, because as we’re drowning in information, the whole point of a journalist is to signpost what’s important and then to verify whether or not it’s true.

"We Steal Secrets" 2013 Movie[edit]

Transcript by WikiLeaks

  • This is where we get into the information war - that speculative blood became more important than the actual blood. We already can see all that terrible stuff – we know about that. Let's focus on your nightmares, how all these people might die because the government's secrets have been unleashed.
  • It was that whole Wizard of Oz moment. We all look at these politicans – oh wow, they're so powerful - and then it was the little dog pulling the curtain away.
  • The American government said: 'You can't publish this, it's dangerous, it's going to damage world affairs, diplomacy, etc, and then you publish it anyway and it's for the greater good, telling people what they needed to know.

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