The surveillance state and privacy

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By Kalbasa Arbuzken


Someone is listening, watching and collecting information about you. Every time you go online, you risk your privacy. Does it worry you?

As of 13th October 2015, the data retention law went live and ISP’s for will store your non-content data up to two years.

In the age of Edward Snowden’s, Bradley Manning’s and Julian Assange’s, the right to one’s privacy (their thoughts and things one does in private) has become a hot topic in the advent of the surveillance state.

The very nature of privacy compels the question to be asked; can or should the Government ‘protect’ privacy?

Back in 2013 when called to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the director of the NSA James Clapper, openly lied when asked if data was being collected on millions of Americans.

Mind you, he was under oath. This shouldn’t be so striking to those of political orientation, the memory of men serves well to highlight the history of deceit and untruthfulness in the halls of power.

‘In war, truth is the first casualty’, Aeschylus the Greek tragic dramatist once wrote. Indeed even as opined by Noam Chomsky to the Guardian “…governments will use whatever technology is available to them to combat their primary enemy – which is their own population.”

Former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the main protagonist of the Snowden revelations has written many articles and talked in length talking about these issues.

In the opinion of this author, his repertoire is exceptional. His talk on TED, ‘Why Privacy Matters: A TED Talk by Glenn Greenwald’ on October 2014 is necessary viewing. Running just under 20 minutes, this eloquent fellow manages to deconstruct much of the allusions inhabiting the media space.

From an article by Crikey titled ‘Your guide to the data retention debate: what it is and why it’s bad’, details Australia’s current data retention policy. Data retention retains a person’s online presence in the form of information which “…consists of subscriber or account holder details, the source and destination of a communication, date, time and duration of communication, location and what services was used e.g. voice, SMS, social media, Skype, and the type of delivery services (ADSL, Wi-Fi, VoIP, cable, etc.)”.

Some conciliation is that browsing history and the size of downloads is not retained. Regardless the article stresses the costs to justify this will be immense, somewhere in the vicinity of $400 million, with little in terms of preventing or solving crime, the retained data serving only anecdotal benefits.

To quote the Crikey article, “Danish police, who have a much wider metadata and content data retention scheme, said the sheer amount of information was too unwieldy to use. Barack Obama’s hand picked NSA review panel found that mass surveillance by the NSA had not been necessary to stop any terrorist attacks in the United States.”

Metadata, or data about data, once collected in bulk (bulk surveillance), presents a vivid portrait of a person’s life. Stripped of the politics and ideology that permeates this issue and laid bare, surveillance on ordinary people under whatever pretext becomes fundamentally a point of ethics, is it right or wrong?

As noted in an article published on the American Civil Liberties Union website,  ‘My Life in Circles: Why Metadata is Incredibly Intimate’, “(metadata) collected over time is an intimate repository of our lives–whom we love, whom we’re friends with, where we work, where we worship (or don’t), and whom we associate with politically. The right to privacy means our metadata shouldn’t be collected and analysed without reasonable suspicion that we’ve done something wrong.”

We must ask then, is it right (ethical) for the State or more precisely other individuals to have the ability to mass survey and invade ones property/privacy? To ‘define terms’ as purportedly once expressed by Voltaire for clarity of discourse, the author approaches this question from the libertarian creed as developed from the classical liberal movements of the 17th and 18th centuries and beyond, in essence a moral science. In part 2, we will follow this line of thinking.


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