Who have you pissed off?

I have just spent 5 minutes thinking about how to start this blog.  The reason for the delay was that I have a fear that my blogs might come across as “lecturing” and so I was contemplating how to write to avoid that perception.  I gave up and just wrote this instead!  So if my blogs come across as “holier than thou” then I apologize as that is certainly not my intention.

My blog today has a lot in common with my last blog about Bradley Manning.    I was trying to think about how to summarize the similarity between that blog and today’s content and guess that it is my disgust at authority structures keeping secrets from the people they are serving and how they justify the secrecy as “for our security and safety” when in reality they don’t want us to find their dirty schemes to keep themselves in power.  In the case of Bradley Manning the military is trying to prove that he aided the enemy in leaking evidence of the war crimes.  I shake my head in disbelief at the games they are playing.  Isn’t it obvious that he did no such thing and that the real issue is that the military got caught with “their hand in the cookie jar” and is trying to punish the messenger?  How did they get to the point where all the focus is on the messenger, and the initial message of how some soldiers killed a van load of kids and laughed about it has been ignored?!  What a classic example of using the “for our own safety (we have to prosecute Bradley)” in order to take the heat off of themselves.  Crazy.

Over the past couple of days I have been following the case of the leaked NSA documents about Prism. In case you’ve been away from the news basically a few days ago information was leaked to the press showing that the NSA (National Security Agency in the US) has been collecting data on everyone who uses Facebook, Google, Skype etc etc as well as collecting all the phone records of US based phone companies.  I’ve known that the US has been doing this for quite a few years now so was surprised that this news got such a strong reaction – however I guess maybe people didn’t believe it and this really made it obvious?  I naively thought that everyone knew.  Of course Google, Facebook etc are now trying to back pedal by saying that “the NSA don’t have direct access to our networks” (of course routinely handing over all the data is not “direct access”) and it will be interesting to see how the great American marketing machine in the White House gets the public to “look at my hand over here” and thus forget this little issue that their government is collecting all their data like an Orwellian Big Brother.  What has suddenly made this even more interesting is that the employee who leaked the information has suddenly appeared in Hong Kong and given a press conference!

He gives a really good interview, and I notice that right on cue a US politician sticks his head up and in that great American tradition of punishing the messenger has stated:

“the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date”

Is it right that someone collects all of your correspondence and voice communications?  Make no doubt about it, this is what the US government (and many other governments) are currently doing.  This is the critical question.  Even more critical is “should a government be collecting this information”?  Of course Obama steps up and tells us that it is for our own safety.  To protect us from those nasty terrorists.  Naturally you can replace Obama with any nation’s leader.  They all seem to be doing it (except perhaps Iceland).  You can’t see it but I’m laughing right now because I just remembered a study I read recently where they released statistics on the number of terrorists the US have caught since implementing all those intrusive inspections at airports after 9-11.  Zero.  That’s right, absolutely none.  So why do they keep doing it and spending all that money on something with no return?  It wouldn’t be to keep up the illusion of “all those terrorists we are stopping”, would it?

“C’mon Rex” I hear you say, “aren’t you being a bit paranoid?  Have you had your meds today Rex?”  But all humor aside I am actually quite worried about them collecting all this information.  Now when I raise this with some of my friends invariably I get the reaction “I don’t care if they collect all the information, I’ve got nothing to hide”, or “I’ve done nothing wrong”, or something along that same theme.  Here is why I don’t accept that excuse and actually believe it is one that the government has pushed out for people to parrot. You see, if you have a normal good guy, someone who really believes in serving to the best of their ability, who really believes in serving to make the world a better place, then I absolutely would agree with you.  We would have nothing to fear with this kind of person having control of the information.  However how many politicians do you know like that?  Put another way, how many politicians do you know who lie; who say great things to be elected but after the fact we find that they are really only interested in expanding their power; who’s primary goal (not stated of course) is not to serve and make the country a better place even if it means sacrificing their career, but who will do whatever it takes to stay in that position of power?  Honestly, I really really struggle to find just one politician who isn’t like that!  Then take it a step further and think about all those government people in departments such as the CIA, FBI or NSA (or GCSB in New Zealand).  You probably don’t know anyone directly in a department like that, but think about those people who do and who have been reported about in the press.  Generally they are not like you and me right?  They are a little whacky yeah?

Think about all the emails, text messages, Skype conversations, and phone conversations you’ve had over the past 5 years.  Would you be ok with your best friend having all of that information?  Maybe not eh?  Well how about the government holding all of that information?  How about those crazy guys in the GCSB holding it?  Let’s take a step further.  Let’s say that you organize a protest against big banks.  You touch a nerve somewhere with the result that someone in one of those banks mentions the protest to a high ranking person in government.  Suddenly the government is probing all your communications with the view that you could be a “threat to national security”, perhaps justifying it by saying you are threatening the stabilization of the economy.  Then they find some innocuous communication which may have been some joke or something between you and some friends, or perhaps between your child and his/her friends, and threaten to report that in a not so favorable light unless you back off.  Remember these are not people like you or me, but people who have a lot of power in their hands, are used to being “important”, and expect to get their own way.  New Zealand is probably not the best country to use for an example since New Zealand is arguably the least corrupt country in the entire world, but I hope you get the idea.

I say it is exceptionally dangerous to put this power into the hands of the government.  And I would suggest that the people in power would absolutely salivate in delight at the prospect of having such information at their fingertips.  Using this power is the thin edge of the wedge.  Once used it is quite easy to get used to it and justify obtaining more.  What was that comparison again between power and drugs…..  Oh, I just thought of perhaps a good NZ example.  Think about what happened with Dotcom.  Before Dotcom it was illegal for the GCSB to spy on NZers.  Now John Key has unbelievably turned that situation around and pushed that in some cases it is needed “for national security!”  I’m not sure if it has passed yet or not.

How about another real world example?  If you have time then feel free to read this true story.  It is pretty scary.

So instead of thinking “I’ve done nothing wrong so I don’t care if they collect all my information”, think about what an enemy would do if they wanted to get at you and they had access to all your personal information and communications for the past 5 years.  What kind of story could they cook up for the press with selective presentation of your communication?  Maybe you don’t rock the boat much, but think about those other people in society who ask hard questions for the government.  What happens if the government can easily silence them?

Who have you pissed off lately?



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Comments (3)

  1. Today in Stuff they have another good opinion piece discussing Prism. In the comments section someone makes the comment that if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, and several people respond directly to that with some more great examples of why that is absolutely wrong. You can read the article and comments at http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/8781012/Prism-intrudes-on-NZs-sovereignty

  2. NZ Herald also have an article today about Prism and have opened it for comments. Some of the comments have left me a bit depressed:

    Bianca Lopez “I have nothing to hide so I don’t mind especially if it is for safety. ”

    Dr. Don “I have no issues at people reading my emails, listening to my phone calls as I am not doing anything illegal.”

    Ugh. Where do we start in educating these people?

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