Big Brother” comes to the Vatican

As a result of the document leak scandal, each Vatican employee has now been given a swipe card with a microchip so that they can be traced at all times

Cardinal3--330x185

Having greeted the Swiss Guard in his magnificent uniform, an impeccably dressed monsignor walks briskly past until his eyes catch sight of the two security barriers located beyond the marble door frame. And his heart sinks with disappointment: from 1 january, anyone who enters or exits will have to swipe their new magnetic ID cards which are fitted with a chip that makes it possible to locate the card’s owner at any time.

Vatican City, Apostolic Palace, frescoed corridor in the Third Loggia: security checks in the Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s control room, have been boosted. And not just in terms of the times when the building can be accessed. This is just one of the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal. Locked archives, more stringent checks on those who wish to view dossiers and the obligation to declare every document that is photocopied. The Holy See has introduced a set of new, tougher rules, which even apply to the few members of the papal household. The personal secretaries’ office has been declared off limits to prevent a repeat of the leaked document incident.

Next to the Pope’s study

The Pope’s secretaries, Georg Gänswein and Alfred Xuereb share an office that is adjacent to Benedict XVI’s study. In this office, apart from the photocopier, there was also a desk with a computer for the papal butler. Angelo Guger, the now retired papal butler who served three Popes, used it for small secretarial tasks assigned to him by Fr. Stanislao Dziwisz. This is where Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s former butler, made copies of the famous leaked confidential documents that were passed on to Fr. Georg when the Pope had finished reading them. Because of the Vatileaks scandal, not only is the new papal butler, Sandro Mariotti, also known as Sandrone, not given any secretarial tasks, he is forbidden from spending time in the secretaries’ office. Security has also been tightened with regards to the handling of documents that make their way from the Secretariat of State to the Pope’s desk. These documents are then returned to the Secretariat of State with any additional notes and the unmistakable “B16” the Pope adds in his own writing to all letters read by him personally.

Clocking in and out

The card that shows what time someone entered and left and the apostolic building and the Secretariat of State is not in itself linked to the Vatileaks scandal. It is really a way to ensure everyone respects their agreed working hours, though long gone are the days when John XXIII could respond ironically to the question once asked to him by a diplomat who was interested in finding out how many people worked in the Vatican: “About half…” But the decision to fit the cards with a chip that can be used to locate the card’s owner anywhere inside the apostolic palace, is a telltale sign that the Holy See is tightening checks beyond working hours. “Only superiors have access to information in case there is a problem – a prelate told Italian newspaper La Stampa – and so people will not be monitored constantly.”

A “guardian” to oversee coded messages and photocopies

The man in charge of the Secretariat of State’s office for coded messages, the Slovenian monsignor, Mitja Leskovar, has the task of applying the ne security regulations. The prelate, who was born in Yugoslavia during the communist era and became an anti-espionage expert, handles confidential messages exchanged between the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncios. Even making photocopies has become complicated in a post-Vatileaks Vatican: those who wish to photocopy texts have to add their name and what it is they are copying, to a special register. The registers are then checked by Leskovar. Greater care and respect for the rules now need to be shown in order to access the two archives kept for the Secretariat of State’s first and second sections respectively. They are both located in the Third Loggia of the Apostolic Palace two different people are in charge of each one. The first archive contains documents relating to the Pope’s daily service to the universal Church and the Roman Curia, the editing of papal documents and reports by Apostolic Nuncios on local churches. The second one holds letters on the relations between the Holy See and the world’s various States. Any Secretariat of State official who wishes to consult one of these documents must fill in a written and authorised request form. This rule already existed before but was not applied rigidly enough. Those who work inside the archive cannot carry mobile phones on them; these must be left in the cupboard provided. Tougher rules, more thorough checks and a tightening of procedures occasionally slows office work down. Even though Vatican leaders are certain Paolo Gabriele has no hidden network of accomplices, the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal are destined to make working life in the Vatican more difficult.

Click to article

Electronic tracking: new constraint for Saudi women

Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter — a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom — with critics mocking the decision.

“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.

“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote Israa.

“Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” joked another.

“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist,” tweeted Hisham.

“This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned,” said Bishr, the columnist.

“It would have been better for the government to busy itself with finding a solution for women subjected to domestic violence” than track their movements into and out of the country.

Saudi Arabia applies a strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy the ban, with many arrested for doing so and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again.

No law specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned them after 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars in November 1990.

Last year, King Abdullah — a cautious reformer — granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, a historic first for the country.

In January, the 89-year-old monarch appointed Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, a moderate, to head the notorious religious police commission, which enforces the kingdom’s severe version of sharia law.

Following his appointment, Sheikh banned members of the commission from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and attire, raising hopes a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the country.

But the kingdom’s “religious establishment” is still to blame for the discrimination of women in Saudi Arabia, says liberal activist Suad Shemmari.

“Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions,” said Shemmari, who believes “there can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them” as equals to men.

But that seems a very long way off.

The kingdom enforces strict rules governing mixing between the sexes, while women are forced to wear a veil and a black cloak, or abaya, that covers them from head to toe except for their hands and faces.

The many restrictions on women have led to high rates of female unemployment, officially estimated at around 30 percent.

In October, local media published a justice ministry directive allowing all women lawyers who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a lawyer’s office to plead cases in court.

But the ruling, which was to take effect this month, has not been implemented.

Click to article

TEXAS STUDENT SUCCESSFULLY DEFIES ‘TOTAL SURVEILLANCE STATE,’ CITING ‘MARK OF THE BEAST’

The idea of being tracked wherever one goes by a government computer chip may sound like something out of Science Fiction dystopia films like “V for Vendetta” or “Total Recall,” but apparently, it’s actually happening. And at least one Texas high school student has embarked on a mission to stop it.

Meet Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at Texas’ John Jay High School Science and Engineering Academy, and a resistor against a new program there that enables the school to track its pupils: The proposed “tracking” method would require students to wear badges containing Radio Frequency Initiation (RFID) chips, and then track the chips embedded in the badges, presumably as a means of ensuring students don’t play hooky or go off-campus without permission, etc.

But Hernandez refuses to play along with the badges, even braving the threat of expulsion to do so. Why? Because she believes they’re Satanic, according to the blog God Discussion:

The choice has not been without controversy, as several parents have come forward with negative comments regarding their children.

Hernandez is claiming religious principles for refusing to carry her ID card, stating that she believes it is satanic, specifically calling it the “mark of the beast,” in reference to one of the interpretations of Christian biblical prophecy as outlined in the apocalyptic book, Revelation.

And while Hernandez’s reasons might strike some as odd, she’s having more success than one might initially expect, due partially to legal support from the nonprofit Rutherford Institute, which just successfully blocked her expulsion in court. Russia Today reports:

 

Andrea Hernandez was told she’d be expelled from John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy in San Antonio starting next week if she insists any further on disobeying a new policy that requires students to wear ID badges equipped with tiny Radio Frequency Identification (“RFID”) chips. Now attorneys with the Rutherford Institute say Hernandez has been granted a temporary restraining order that will prohibit the Northside Independent School District from relocating the student to another facility.

“The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go — not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,”Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead says in a statement.

“Regimes in the past have always started with the schools, where they develop a compliant citizenry. These ‘Student Locator’ programs are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government.”

According to San Antonio’s KENS5 News, a judge gave Hernandez a temporary restraining order from the school district and ruled on Wednesday that the principal’s orders to make the surveillance mandatory were a violation of the student’s speech and religion.

Click to article