Sunday, 23 February 2014

Surveillance, Now and Then

So I was reading A bit by Dalrymple on Takimag regarding (in a rambling way) the amount of surveillance we experience in or everyday lives, and it strikes me that there is a point being missed.
   Any time someone expresses concerns about the growing use of non targeted surveillance (think 'security cameras') there is the response: 'if you are not doing anything wrong, why would you care?" I think it is essentially the same argument cops will still use on you regarding talking to a lawyer, or taking a lie detector test. If you are the sort who feels that only guilty people need lawyers to help them deal with police then there is little I can do for you. If you were not born yesterday or if you ever read the news, or even if you have just a little bit of common sense then you know that there are a lot of reasons to be careful when dealing with authority, even if "you have nothing to hide".  But cameras? where is the harm?
   Dalrymple, and most others discussing the subject will bring up repressive societies which made extensive use of surveillance to keep their populations in line. These historical examples are usually formerly eastern bloc countries which bear little resemblance to our modern western democracies. As such they suffer as analogies. Tyrannies use surveillance to control their peoples, yes but our country is not tyrannical so why worry about being on camera all day every day? The problem with this argument is simple of course:it assumes that ones government will never take on aspects or tyranny. That is a big problem since every government in the world, in the absence of conflict, inevitably slides toward increased government control and decreased individual freedom. Democracies are by their very natures tyrannies of the majority, capable of all the sins associated with the worst of human behaviour.
     The point being missed is that the  biggest problem with comparing the old iron curtain governments with the modern situation lies in the sequencing. It's not that our government is tyrannical and using the surveillance to suppress our freedom, it's that the surveillance will allow them to do so if they so choose. The old states established repressive regimes and used surveillance in order to ensure their people stayed in line. In western countries, extensive surveillance is being integrated with our everyday lives for benign or even beneficial reasons. Thus the is little resistance to them. However, their existence will facilitate increased government controls and may ensure  successful transition to more and more authoritarian rule. Future dictators will have a easy time ensuring complete compliance with dictates.
    If this sounds paranoid to you then i would ask what, exactly are you basing your assumptions on? I mean, you are assuming that governments will progress towards freedom and accountability, forever are you not? How long has that been the case? How many great republics or benevolent non democratic governments  have been replaced with repressive regimes? What is it about your current government that suggests that it will always support your right to freedom?
   An individuals right to live freely within any society is bolstered by limitations in the power of governments to enforce the rules. This applies to people's living arrangements (you cannot, in Canada live with one woman while still married to another) or to their rights of freedom of expression, or assembly, or anything else. If the government of Ukraine had been able to suppress the riots of 2014, the president (prime minister?) would not have had to step down. Likewise Syria, Afghanistan now and under the soviets, and Egypt. The point is that if your government has the power to see everything you do then they will have the power to control you should you act against them. Add civilian disarmament to the mix and you have a population of slaves living in a system which doles out rights and privileges as it sees fit, in the interest of perpetuating itself. If we could drop such a scenario into historical nations or empires, how many of them would you want to live under today?
    If you are still not worried consider the many tales of inappropriate use of authority in the news today. After all cops, enforcement officers, child welfare bureaucrats, tax assessors and everyone else who can impact your life are all just people. They will act stupidly, politically or maliciously, impacting you. Having access information about where you go and what you do, all day every day in the hands of such folk can seriously harm you. Safeguards you say? Read the news.

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