Tuesday, February 28, 2006

They are watching you [pdf]

/ orwell / meets / kafka /
The International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance, has a report out that should send shivers down the backs of anyone still clinging to the fantasy of western liberal democracy. It exposes in quite horrific detail the road we are all travelling towards becoming a surveillance society of the sort one associates usually with dystopic Sci-Fi. This is all done of course with our own good primarily in mind and - lest we forget - the terrorists are out to get us all, so cut it out and speak louder. The article is a good 70 pages, of which I excerpt these ten signposts (as the report calls them) on our road to a permenent state of siege:

• The first signpost was the effort of the United States to ethnically profile Muslim, or potentially Muslim, immigrants and visitors, and to register and/or detain them under immigration laws and programs called NSEERS and US-VISIT.
• The second signpost was the move on the part of the U.S. and its allies to do through international channels what most of them could not do through their own democratic systems – to expand registration to their own populations and create what is, in effect, a global identification system. This was accomplished by requesting the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to introduce a “biometric” passport that would be imposed universally.
• The third signpost was the creation, by similar means, of a global infrastructure for the surveillance of movement – using the biometric passport and airlines’ passenger name records. Under this system, information about where individuals fly, and how often, will be tracked, stored, and shared between countries, and used to control the movement of people across borders.
• The fourth signpost was the creation of an infrastructure for the global surveillance of electronic communications and financial transactions. Through this infrastructure, state agents from our own and other countries will have cost-free, direct access to individuals’ emails, phone calls, and website browsing, and financial institutions will monitor transactions and report on them to state authorities.
• The fifth signpost is a development that feeds into all of the others – the radical convergence of government and private-sector databases, nationally and internationally. This is taking place under new laws, but businesses are also voluntarily surrendering databases to government agencies, and the U.S. government is purchasing databases, domestically and abroad. The result is the creation of a global web of databases that will be used by the U.S. and other countries (in conjunction with the infrastructures for the global surveillance of movement and of electronic and financial transactions) to generate detailed information dossiers on everyone.
• The sixth signpost is the growing number of mistakes and abuses that demonstrate the dangerous flaws inherent in the “risk assessment” paradigm that is driving the collection, storage and linkage of so much information.
• The seventh signpost is the deep integration of countries’ police, security intelligence and military operations with American operations that governments around the world are acquiescing to, and their concomitant abandonment of national sovereignty and control.
• The eighth signpost is the huge profits being made by corporations in the new global mass registration and surveillance order, and the emergence of a new “corporate security complex”.
• The ninth signpost is what is happening to democratic societies – in terms of the erosion of democratic processes , centuries-old protections in criminal law, freedom of speech and association, and the rule of law itself as governments pursue the agenda for global, mass registration and surveillance.
• The tenth signpost, and perhaps the most ominous of all, is the collective loss of moral compass societies are exhibiting as they begin to accept inhumane and extraordinary practices of social control. Countries that hold themselves out as defenders of human rights are engaging directly in extra-legal rendition, torture and extra-judicial killing – as well as contracting out these services to brutal regimes which are being rewarded for their contributions.


Anastasia said...

The tension between civil liberties and security is intrinsic to the new world order, one that has to face such crucial issues as terrorism while at the same time safeguarding the rights of citizens. How do you go by ensuring that there is a balance? The battle against rhetoric is one that has to been won first, so that debate and sharing of ideas can ultimately prevail.

ιονκ said...

Although I agree with many of the principles of privacy and so on I tend to believe that if there is a way to break any implemented safeguards those will be broken, one way or another. Time and again this has proven true. Its just simply that the technology to archive life in its minute details is there so, it is indeed unrealistic to believe that archive fever will suddenly eclipse altogether from the human species.

I think the limited resources of our planet will make it sooner or later imperative that we exert more control of information, all sorts of information. We will have to be more careful, so to speak, with how we go about using our resources and naturally our lifestyles and the only way to do so is through adequate information and archiving systems.

I think the democratic way to go about this problem is not to question the inevitable but to seek openness and accessibility for all and by all.

The notion of privacy changes when we are all part of the same entity and that information is equally accessible to anyone and everyone.

Information becomes indeed a dangerous weapon when it is accessible in a limited, unilateral sort of way, when it belongs to the few who control it. When information is shared completely it is not a weapon anymore but rather a tool. Of course the road towards such democratization of information is long and hard and in the meantime those who control information will use and abuse it according to their own interests.

I firmly believe though that the ensuing discourse should focus on sharing rather than hiding or protecting information.

A simple example: Once in academia one can access via the Internet an immense databank of information with systems such as the Athens Network. Once out of academia all this becomes inaccessible? Why? Why should public knowledge be made inaccessible unless someone pays for it? Why is there such a blatant discrimination between those in academia and those who are not; between those who have and those who have not?

So I believe that we should be asking for more information, for more access to information rather than more restrictions. Asking for more privacy, in a time that every cell phone has a built-in camera, that satellites thousand of km's above our heads record every square inch of this planet, and controlled only by few select powers may perhaps be a more dangerous and foolish option.

kkk said...

Hiya talos,

Really interesting post, and an issue that won't go away overnight!

Here in the UK this insidious influence has been particularly visible recently.

However, rather than rant and rave, I prefer to look at the options, given the high level of probabitlity that this scenario WILL in fact play out in full.

It is not that people (acting in their right mind) would want this, but more that they will not oppose it during the stages where that opposition would be meaningful (i.e. the early stages). After that, it will be too late as what will be presented will be a fait accomplit.

We see this already in the UK. Blair has apparently commited to the biometric database and associated ID to whatever business intereests are implementing it. The sums involved, obviously, are huge. EVERYTHING in the govt. mechanism is currently geared to "selling" this. Big time. Blair is more likely to pull out of Iraq than to give up this idea, since he is in total thrall to American control.

The Tories' Cameron, OTOH, has denounced the idea as "un-British" and declared opposition to it, yet with every passing day his statements become more and more wishy-washy, as he is afraid that he will lose vote share if he is perceived as too democratic/libertarian.

So there you have it:-
What do you do when people democratically choose "anti-democratic" things? In the final analysis democracy is not that far removed from mob rule, anyway, is it?


My sense on this is that only with the formation of robust alliances of independent people TOTALLY opposed to this direction will there ever be any chabce of anything meaningful happening.

It's like saying:- "OK, 90% will go with this, but what about the 5%-10% that will absolutely not, to the point of standing separate.

Renegade Eye said...

Reactionaries in the USA, openly do not believe there is such a thing as the right to privacy.

All of our rights came through, and dependant on class struggle.

Actually the attacks on privacy are the worst in history. In the height of the cold war, atleast the right to privacy, was considered a legitimite right.