Big Brother as a new form of society?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Shocking news reached us last week from the United States regarding the eavesdropping scandal that involves the US government. The digital state terrorism under Obama Bin Laden (the difference is really just a mere letter) has only been further institutionalized in his terms of office and undermines the basis of the democratic constitutional state inside and outside of America. Everyone’s a suspect, massive data storage and then continuous, real-time profiling of every citizen, in particular the citizens and organizations the governments dislikes. ‘’Just trust us, we don’t actually trust you.’’ One-sided transparency, citizens without any form of privacy, the government shielded by so-called state security protocols and always at war with an unknown enemy, so ‘’everything is permissible‘’.

  • A democracy is characterized by administrative transparency and respect for the private life of citizens. Within a dictatorship things are exactly the other way around: transparency of private life and administrative secrecy are the norm. To what extent is America still democratic? Over there whistleblowers that represent fundamental rights and real patriots in the true sense of the word are portrayed as terrorists.
  • 29-year old Edward Snowden is committed to his own principles and is now forced to seek asylum far away from the United States.
  • After having revealed abuses by that same government, Julian Assange felt the need to flee to the Ecuadorian embassy in London where, by now, he’s been holed up for over a year.
  • Where are the days when such people got the credit they deserved? Not that long ago, during the Watergate Scandal, the American president had to resign. It also brings to mind George Orwell’s newspeak: simply turning everything around, denying, lying, deceiving. So here we have it: the government that sold "change" and "hope" to its own people and the world.

A few hopeful changes à la Obama:

  • Guantanamo Bay is still open and its prisoners have been held there for years without any form of fair trial and with no way out; secret courts are the norm.
  • Everywhere in the world, unwanted citizens and innocent citizens are pre-emptively eliminated without any form of trial, judicial process or evidence through the use of drones, which additionally violates the sovereign airspace of foreign states. In case a drone crashes, instead of apologizing for violating international law, the drone is ordered back in no uncertain terms.
  • By now hundreds of pilots are trained to fly drones and to kill "suspects" in a computer game-like way.
  • Echelon, Carnivore and other data-collection programs are now complemented by PRISM, in order to be able to create a "digital life file" of every citizen, used to analyze the past, the present and possibly future behavior and ways of thinking. In case these ways of thinking are not to the government’s liking, the words "terrorist" and "part of a criminal organization" are immediately proclaimed and a profiling program commenced. This shameless infringement of the right to a private life takes place under the guise of terrorism prevention.
  • Whereas in the past citizens under reasonable suspicion of a crime could be tracked on the basis of a judicial decision and whereas control was specifically aimed at foreigners in the home country, nowadays it’s every citizen’s turn without judicial interference and in the US, already 5 million officials of the State have access to such classified information. And the target within PRISM very clearly is the entire world and all (forms of) communication. Welcome to the new world! Data macht frei!
  • Now the Obama administration is in the possession of these data, they are directly abused as well, for example by not handing out permits or by carrying out extra tax controls on dissenting groups. For years Privacy First has warned of function creep when it comes to this kind of legislation and the execution thereof. In this respect the Patriot Act is the least patriotic law (newspeak) since the coming into existence of the US and is applied all the time to be infinitely abused by the government, also outside of the US.

This was just a brief overview of cases that have come to the surface. Privacy First is especially bothered by the lack of self-reflection and self-control that governments display. "Is it technically possible? Then let’s do it!"

Instead of having a democratic discussion and offering a content-related reaction including apologies, or instead of the people responsible resigning, an immediate attack is launched and a sideway discussion started, exactly similar to the Wikileaks Affair:  

  • Everything is inverted, the whistleblowers are terrorists and privacy fetishists who are actually weak and sensitive, characteristics that need to be eliminated immediately.
  • Immediately diverting the question away from the topic and focussing on the mistakes made within the organization with the aim to eliminate whistleblowers; how can it be these whistleblowers have not been detected earlier?
  • The subsequent phase is the stigmatization of the whistleblower, saying that more resolute action is needed to discourage other intelligent people with common sense and a democratic vision to undertake any such actions.
  • After that comes the stigmatization of those holding different views and the press; the disgraceful free press that dares to publish such information: there has already been a call to prosecute any press that collaborates with whistleblowers. An immediate counter attack and you don’t need to talk about the content, a very easy option!
  • It is allowed by law through the Patriot Act! Instead of calling this law into question when true patriots that are committed to principles reveal abuses.
  • Shamelessly asserting that nothing’s going on when information is shared without the permission of citizens from other countries, with the argument that it’s convenient and that the government knows what is good for citizens. And all of this from a line of thinking dominated by fear, without a privacy-friendly alternative.

Time and again the government evades the real debate about reinforcing the fundamental principles of the democratic society on the basis of faith, about stimulating individual responsibility of citizens and, where necessary, about modifying the system with technology in order to improve the democratic process. The US government, like many other governments, has totally gone out of its mind and has forgotten it serves the interests of its citizens and the democratic fundamental principles instead of the other way around.

Privacy First makes a call to all pressure groups and government institutions to have a broad debate in society about this; in this digital age we are in need of a concrete alternative for the organization of a democratic society in order to stop the explosive growth of government terror that targets innocent and defenceless citizens. In this way Western democracies rapidly become totalitarian dictatorships while our society turns into an "electronic concentration camp".

→ What difference is there still between a dictatorship or a single-party state like China and the big leader of the free Western world, the US? That they are capitalistic societies?

→ What meaning does the message of progress, faith and love still have on a model of society that offers a hopeful future to the fully participating citizen?

At the end of the day scaling up, distancing of citizens, negative messages on the basis of fear, suspicion and black and white thinking will not lead to a more pleasant society. Nevertheless these are everyday occurrences since 9/11. A few years ago Privacy First already decided to choose for a free and inspiring society that had been fought for for 2000 years and to draw a line in the sand for citizens. We pay tribute to the whistleblowers! Who’s next?

Bas Filippini,
Chairman of the Privacy First Foundation

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