Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endem­ic glob­al sur­veil­lance, the rather thread­bare old argu­ment about “if you have done noth­ing wrong and have noth­ing to hide, you have noth­ing to fear” has been trot­ted out by many Big Broth­er apo­lo­gists.

But it’s not about doing any­thing wrong, it’s about hav­ing an enshrined right to pri­vacy — as recog­nised in the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the hor­rors of World War 2, and for very good reas­on.  If you are denied pri­vacy to read or listen, if you are denied pri­vacy to speak or write, and if you are denied pri­vacy about whom you meet and see, then free­dom has died and total­it­ari­an­ism has begun.

Those were the les­sons learned from the growth of fas­cism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to pri­vacy, you also lose the abil­ity to push back against dic­tat­or­ships, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and all the attend­ant hor­rors.

How quickly we for­get the les­sons of his­tory: not just the rights won over the last cen­tury, but those fought and died for over cen­tur­ies. We recent gen­er­a­tions in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too fin­an­cially fat and socially com­pla­cent, to fully appre­ci­ate the freedoms we are cas­u­ally throw­ing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police depart­ment in Detroit has just sent out all the tra­di­tion­ally vital stat­ist­ics of its female officers to the entire depart­ment — weight, height and even the bra size of indi­vidu­al female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mis­takes and hit the wrong but­tons. So this may not sound like much, but appar­ently the women in ques­tion are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho envir­on­ment of law enforce­ment, one can but cringe at the “josh­ing” that fol­lowed.

Put­ting aside the obvi­ous ques­tion of wheth­er we want our police officers to be tooled up like Rob­ocop, this minor débâcle high­lights a key point of pri­vacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman — they are pretty much obvi­ous for chris­sakes — but does every­one need to know the spe­cif­ics, or is that per­son­al inform­a­tion one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there.….

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-stand­ing pil­lars of their com­munit­ies, might have learned a valu­able les­son. It is not a “them and us” situ­ation — the “them” being “ter­ror­ists”, act­iv­ists, com­mun­ists, lib­er­als, Teabag­gers — whatever the theme du jour hap­pens to be.

It is about a fun­da­ment­al need for pri­vacy as human beings, as the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge also dis­covered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god for­bid, one’s weight. This is about big­ger issues if not big­ger boobs. We all have some­thing we want kept private, be it bank state­ments, bonk­ing, or bowel move­ments.

How­ever, with endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, we have already lost our pri­vacy in our com­mu­nic­a­tions and in our daily routines — in Lon­don it is estim­ated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily busi­ness.

More import­antly, in this era of fin­an­cial, eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al crises, we are los­ing our free­dom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of sur­veil­lance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, real­ised by those unas­sum­ing chaps (and obvi­ously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforce­ment, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not pos­sibly be import­ant enough to be on that par­tic­u­lar radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abund­antly clear that we all are), there is a bur­geon­ing private sec­tor of cor­por­ate intel­li­gence com­pan­ies who are only too happy to watch, infilt­rate and destabil­ise social, media and protest groups. “Psy­ops” and “astro-turf­ing” are ter­ri­fy­ing words for any­one inter­ested in human rights, act­iv­ism and civil liber­ties. But this is the new real­ity.

So, what can we do? Let’s remem­ber that most law enforce­ment people in the var­ied agen­cies are us — they want a stable job that feels val­ued, they want to provide for their fam­il­ies, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the cour­age to speak out and expose wrong­do­ing, be it law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als speak­ing out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers expos­ing war crimes, illeg­al sur­veil­lance and tor­ture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the cour­age to protest and throw the tired old argu­ment back in the faces of the secur­ity proto-tyr­ants. This is what the found­ing fath­ers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as trait­ors by the Brit­ish Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “sedi­tious” writ­ings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the cour­age to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they pro­duced a good first attempt at a work­able demo­cracy.

Unfor­tu­nately, the USA estab­lish­ment has long been cor­rup­ted and sub­ver­ted by cor­por­at­ist interests. And unfor­tu­nately for the rest of the world, with the cur­rent geo-polit­ic­al power bal­ance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the chan­ging polit­ic­al land­scape can shift the goal posts of “accept­able” beha­viour — one day your are an act­iv­ist wav­ing a plac­ard, the next you are poten­tially deemed to be a “ter­ror­ist”.

But also remem­ber — we are all, poten­tially, Tom Paine. And as the end­less, neb­u­lous, and frankly largely bogus “war on ter­ror” con­tin­ues to rav­age the world and our demo­cra­cies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take indi­vidu­al respons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect our pri­vacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fel­low cit­izens. We need this pri­vacy to be the new res­ist­ance to the creep­ing total­it­ari­an­ism of the glob­al elites.

Read the sem­in­al books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth.….

With thanks to my moth­er for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

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