Friday, September 18, 2020

Restoration of Law & Order: The War-Cry which may help Trump defeat Joe Biden in November 2020

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Vanshita Banuana

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Restoration of Law & Order: The War-Cry which may help Trump defeat Joe Biden in November 2020

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Global Views 360

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September 18, 2020

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Donald Trump at a presidential elections rally | Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

At the peak of the “Black Lives Matter” protest in June 2020, against the brutal killing of George Floyd by the police, the US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities. It is now September, and as Black Lives Matter protests— and the police brutality that ignited them— continue amidst a pandemic leaving over two hundred thousand Americans dead and millions infected, Trump’s fear-mongering distortions of events also continues.

The executive order sets requirements for police “certification and credentialing” of law enforcement agencies, and links the credentials to discretionary funding. It bans chokeholds except where deadly force is allowed by law. A database will be created to share information and track incidents of excessive use of force, terminations or de-certifications of officers, criminal convictions for on-duty conduct, and so on. Additionally, the order asks for surveys and community support programs to address mental health, homelessness and addiction in context of law enforcement’s response to them. Lastly, the order proposes that new legislation be developed to increase funding and resources provided to law enforcement.

While announcing the executive order, Trump called for a “restoration of law and order” and more funding for police at a time when Americans are protesting in cities across the country to reduce police funding and presence in order to combat police brutality. He claimed to want to put a stop to “looting and arson,” further remarking that Americans want law and order even if they “may not say it” or may not “even know that’s what they want”. Additionally, he believed the percentage of bad police officers to be very tiny.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the announcement, and called Trump’s call for “law and order” a racist dog-whistle specifically intended for his voter base in light of the upcoming election, and reiterated the need for lesser police presence. Allocation of discretionary funds, mentioned in the executive order, has been known to lead to increased militarisation of the police. They observed that Trump used the word “race” once and never used the word “racism,” and that he was surrounded by law enforcement officers throughout the announcement and his prepared remarks.

Use of fear-mongering to shore up the support for electoral benefit is not something new which Trump is employing, but a time-tested tool for many leaders in the Republican Party. The phrase “law and order” has a long cultural history in America, even before its use by politicians was popularised, and therefore racialised (if it wasn’t already).  

President Richard Nixon’s TV ads in the 60s showed middle-aged white women walking nervously down city streets at night. Trump’s false claims of Biden wanting to defund the police are complemented by his recent campaign ad that shows an elderly woman at home alone, who calls the police when a burglar breaks in. However, she is told that the police can no longer serve her due to being defunded. Setting aside the misconceptions about what defunding the police would look like, the ad is clearly designed to create panic at the thought of a fantasised future, one that Trump and his family like to call “Biden’s America” every time they post pictures of present-day Trump’s apocalyptic America.

It is definitely not unlike Trump to use racist rhetoric about crime meant to cause fear. It was one of his biggest selling points in the 2016 election as well, promising a border wall and anti-immigration policy to keep out immigrants— mostly Mexicans— who he claimed would bring crime and drugs into America. This year Trump has revived the argument by acting as the saviour of the suburbs, who he claims are under the attack of calls for desegregation. To that extent, at the 2020 Republic National Convention, Trump invited the McCloskeys, the couple who brandished firearms at Black Lives Matters protestors, to speak about “forced rezoning,” which they alleged would make their suburban neighbourhood unsafe. Nixon’s comments about the “city jungle” threatening the suburbs come to mind.

President Trump’s election campaign flag with Confederate flag | Source: Gilbert Mercier via Flickr

Many would notice that the racism in Trump’s statements is often barely covered up by his abstract and vague choice of words. The message, whether in 2016 or 2020, remains unmistakably the same: he is telling rich and middle class white people— painted as the peaceful victims— that he will protect them from violence caused by the ‘other,’ i.e., poor people of colour.

This fear of the ‘other,’ the angry Black American, is the same fear used by Republican Presidential candidate (and later President) Richard Nixon in 1968. The law-and-order rhetoric that evolved during that election period can be connected to 21st century ‘tough-on-crime’ policies, both of which have heavy racial undertones and are weaponized by Republicans as well as Democrats.

Is Donald Trump the new age Richard Nixon? That might seem to be overstretched, but quite a few traits and  similarities can be drawn between 2020 and 1968, perhaps most of all due to the widespread protests and clashes with police that erupted after the assassination of civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. Another major political and cultural event of the time was the Vietnam War, which led to a feeling of disorder that many Americans might be feeling at present as well. Trump is using promises of imposing “law and order” to project a strongman image; the desire to project such an image, however, hypocritically leads Trump to encourage violence where it benefits him.

However, these strategies aren’t as successful as Trump wants them to be— least of all successful enough to cover up his gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the suburbs have not remained as ‘pure’ as they might seem in Trump’s eyes; they have grown in diversity of wealth and race, almost parallel to cities. Trump is out of his depth when forced to reckon with mass unemployment, preventable deaths, and science, and he would do anything to bring the focus back to his comfort zone, which is why it is unsurprising when he uses Black Lives Matter protests and renewed conversation around policing to spread unfounded alarms about increased crime and violence.

According to recent polling data, while neither Trump nor Biden are viewed favourably by any significant margin when it comes to law enforcement, Biden is surely being viewed as more trustworthy when it comes to handling a crisis like the pandemic. Trump’s constant barrage of tweets and other announcements are less appreciated or supported when they cause further confusion in an already extremely chaotic environment. It is hard to imagine trusting a President who tweets “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to remain calm, organised or level-headed in any manner.  

While many may have expected Trump’s voter base to fall for the same old, recycled talking points, the public health crisis and economic meltdown took the conversation away from it. Now President Trump is desperately trying to take control of the narrative and scare voters to back him in November 2020.

There is some method to his apparent madness. The US President is not elected by securing  the majority of the popular vote, they are chosen by securing a majority of votes in the electoral college. There are different modelling of US poll results which predicts that Trump may lose by over five million popular votes but still win the Presidency due to scoring a majority of electoral college votes.

The constant hammering of being the “Law and Order” President and painting Joe Biden’s support for Black Lives Matter protest as the “support for lawlessness” is the only plausible way for Trump to gain a majority of the electoral college vote and retain the US Presidency in November 2020. It is to be seen whether the voters fear the COVID-19 & economic meltdown more than the Law and Order.

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January 19, 2021 8:34 AM

Internet privacy in Brazil: An example of already weakened state of Democracy

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s ascent to power attracted international attention for their potential impact on human rights. His highly controversial positions on Brazil’s past military dictatorship, civil rights and his greater support for conservative agenda is very likely to jeopardize freedom of expression and the nation’s fragile democracy. Bolsonaro’s ascent to power has not been welcomed by people around the globe.  His blind eye towards democracy has created a human rights crisis in Brazil. In 2017, violence reached a new record in the books of Brazil with an estimated 64,000 killings. More than 1.2 million cases of domestic violence were pending in the courts at the start of 2018. About 5,144 people were killed due to police brutality in 2017 and weakening state control of prisons has facilitated gang recruitments. Brazil has lost over 100,000 people to COVID-19, the pandemic which Bolsonaro strongly repudiated as a conspiracy. The president’s desperate authoritarian attempts to forcibly seize control has pushed the nation into a political crisis inter alia free fall of the economy, a pandemic, a human rights crisis and a democratic recession. “This is the worst crisis Brazil has faced in its history. It’s a political crisis, an economic crisis, and a public health crisis. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I can’t think of another moment when the country was in worse shape than it is right now.” These are the exact words of Professor James Green, a Brazilian studies teacher at Brown University, a man who has lived through the military dictatorship in Brazil which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

Amidst these crises, Bolsonaro has periled the integrity and autonomy of Brazil’s most vital democratic institutions. In May 2020, the scandalous president even contemplated ramping up the military to shut down Brazil’s Supreme Court as they continued investigations into his network of advisors and his family. The anti-terrorism bills pushed in the senate after the ascent of Bolsonaro is another key example of endangerment to democracy. The vague and broad definitions of terrorism in the bill potentially criminalizes protests and even basic social movements. These are inconsistent with the standard of precision that Brazilian criminal law maintains. The capricious characterization of a “terrorist act” leaves the door open to subjective and arbitrary decisions which is not new to the nation.

The anti-terrorism bill says that it is “terrorist act” to interfere or tamper computer systems or databases with any political or ideological motivation even without a malicious intent. This would jeopardize the work of several security researchers and journalists in Brazil. Unfortunately, they are not alone.

On 30th June 2020, the Senate of brazil passed the PLS 2630/2020   (Law of Freedom, Liability, and Transparency on the Internet) popularly known as the fake-news law. Fake news has definitely been a problem all over the world. 17 states have passed some form of regulation directing disinformation during the pandemic. The term “fake-news” has been engraved in the global political discourse in the last half decade. With the decline in global levels of press freedom, the domino effect of so-called “fake-news laws” is attracting some serious risks to press freedom and freedom of expression. It is certain that Bolsonaro took advantage of the pandemic situation and passed the fake-news law with the excuse of COVID-19 misinformation. There are several underlying concerns and apprehensions about this law.

  1. Traceability requirements for private messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal would require the apps to store the logs and records of “broadcasted messages” which implies all the messages sent by over 5 users which reaches at least 1000 people within the span of three months. Messaging service companies are required to report most of the information to the government of Brazil hence creating a centralized log of data interactions. This breaks the end-to-end encryption service provided to the users by some of the messaging apps. If companies do not oblige to weaken the technical protection given to the users of Brazil, the bill forces them to leave the country.
    This imposition of “tech mandate” was condemned by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as they called it out for weakening privacy protection. Attached to this is a “technical capability derivative”, whether or not platforms will be able to trace back individual messages.
  1. Article 37 of the law mandates all the private messaging and social networking apps having a customer base in Brazil to appoint a legal representative who will have the power to remotely access user logs and databases. This pseudo attempt to localize the measures not just gives rise to privacy concerns but also questions if the Brazilian Senate has undermined United States’ laws such as Electronic Communication Privacy Act and CLOUD Act. Both of these laws mandate US-based social networking service providers to follow and check certain legal safeguard before handing the private data to any foreign law enforcement agents.
  1. If any social media account is reported to be inauthentic or automated, the online platform would have to confirm the identity of the user and verify the identity with any government ID in Brazil or a passport for a foreigner. The government can also demand confirmation of identity for any account through the means of a court order. This provision broadly attacks anonymity and privacy of users online and ignores its benefits on the internet such as whistle blowing and protection from stalkers.
  1. This law also makes it illegal to create or share any content online which may pose a risk to” economic order or social peace” in Brazil. Both of these terms are vaguely defined and even vaguely present. This opens gates to a wide range of content creators to be called out as “illegal”. The law also criminalizes intentionally being a member of an online group whose main activity is sharing defamatory content. This includes all meme groups which primarily share memes about anyone in an authoritative position in Brazil. This definitely puts a subjective cap and poses significant challenges to the freedom of expression and restricts basic ability of Brazilians to engage in discourse on online platforms.

The fake-news law makes social media companies legally liable for content published online on their platforms which acts as an incentive to them to restrict the freedom of speech of Brazilians at the time of any social or political unrest or even times like the present. While Brazil faces a real problem of fake news, this hastily written statute is not the right solution. At the time of a pandemic, when most of the world is functioning on a virtual sphere, the reckless fake-news law has added weight onto the fragile thread holding Brazil’s democracy. Jair Bolsonaro has managed to push democracy to a breaking point even without the drastic steps that he earlier contemplated.

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