Is this it? Is this the end of free society? Are you bearing witness to the permanent extinction of privacy thanks to technology? We wrote yesterday that America’s domestic spying scandal is a travesty for civil liberty. But what did we mean? And are we being overly dramatic?
Well, no. Anytime the intelligence agencies of a country use secret courts to mine your private digital data without your consent — and without any suspicion of a crime — then you are no longer living in a free society. You’re living in a police state. And the tendency of all regimes that accumulate too much power is to abuse it. That’s the threat you face now.
Some people are too busy eating cheeseburgers to be bothered by the emergence of ‘the architecture of oppression’. That was the term whistle blower Edward Snowden use to describe how America’s National Security Agency (NSA) records phone calls, emails, text messages, Skype calls, and banks all that and any other kind of digital communication by ‘foreigners’. The NSA can only query that data — peek into every corner of your private life — with a court order from a secret court.
The secrete court was created in 1979 and goes by the name of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In its 33 years of existence, FISC has rejected exactly 11 of 33,900 requests by the US government to eavesdrop or otherwise spy on suspects, according to Evan Perez of the Wall Street Journal. Last year, FISC rejected zero of 1,856 requests, although it modified 40. It is not, in other words, exercising a whole lot of judicial oversight of executive power.
To summarise: your data is being stored. With the consent of a secret court that hardly ever says ‘no’ and is not subject to transparent democratic oversight, that data can be ‘mined’. It’s as menacing as it is breathtaking in its hubris.
‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of,’ say the Zombies. ‘Besides, there are terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers and perverts out there. They’re the only ones who ever complain about invasions of privacy… If it makes us safer, isn’t it worth it?’
Your natural rights aren’t granted to you by the government. You don’t need anyone’s permission or consent to be free. In fact, democratic governments govern with the consent of the governed. We have power over them, not the other way around.
If we accept a world where we allow the security apparatus of the Nation State to tell us how much freedom and privacy we’re permitted, we’re not free. We’re on the way to tyranny. Truth be told, we’re probably already there, but are so comfortable watching TV and eating curly fries that we can’t be bothered to object.
Here’s the thing, if the government can bank all of your digital data for the duration of your life, it’s only a matter of time before you become a suspect in a crime and get convicted. And once the permission is secured to ‘mine’ your data, you can be sure you’ll be found in violation of some law. Throughout history, people with this kind of far-reaching bureaucratic authority can’t resist the temptation to abuse it, mostly to punish political opposition but sometimes because they are petty psychopaths with enormous coercive resources at their disposal.
Here’s a final point, if you think these laws won’t apply to you here in Australia. The logic of the permanent surveillance state is that the War on Terror is everywhere all the time. That means every street in every town is a potential battlefield, and everyone with a mobile phone is a potential enemy combatant. In the Warfare State, you are on the front lines whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not.
It’s only a matter of time before the law empowering the NSA to record the data of non-Americans applies to Americans. In fact it’s more likely Australian citizens would have already been subjected to NSA searches of your data because to American eyes, Australians are foreigners. If you use Skype, Facebook, Apple, and Google, say hello to the algorithm reading your email. And you can be sure that despite public protests by elected politicians, intelligence agencies in the Western world would be chortling with delight over this God-like view into the lives of ordinary citizens.
We’re truly on the threshold of an era where individual liberty might never recover from the attacks of the Welfare/Warfare State, aided by technology. Can we drag ourselves back? If we can, it will require a revolution of a different sort. And technology will certainly be involved. More on that tomorrow.
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