With Glenn Greenwald’s partner being harassed by security forces at Heathrow, the last warning bell for totalitarianism has chimed. For upwards of a decade, activists of the Pirate Party have been warning that laws that are marketed to the public as being “against terror” or “against child pornography” are so vague and so full of exceptions to due process that they don’t make sense if they’re not actually targeted at creating a totalitarian society. With family members of reporters taken away for detention and harassment, the last warning bell has gone off – there will not be another bell before they come for me and you.
David Miranda, the partner of the journalist who has been publishing and revealing the extent of the NSA’s and GCHQ’s pervasive surveillance, was detained yesterday at Heathrow for pure harassment reasons. This is the last warning bell of encroaching totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the same security forces demanded that the newspaper in question ceased reporting on the surveillance, even to the point of destroying their laptops.
The Prime Chancellor of Britain, David Sutler Cameron, was informed of this detention and harassment before it happened. That simple fact says way too much of what’s going on, right here, right now.
When societies turn fascist and totalitarian, things happen in a certain order. The first is that pervasive, sweeping, and vague powers are given to police and security forces using some bullshit excuse. Here in the West, those excuses have been child abuse imagery and terrorism. Reporters have been doing a terrible job at showing how those laws actually promote child abuse and are ridiculously badly prioritized (more than 100 times as many people die from falling down staircases than from terrorism).
But those laws did something else, and if history is a guide, did so on purpose. They eliminated the right, indeed the theoretical possibility, of reporters to protect their sources. With the advent of the Data Retention Directive in the EU, freedom of the press was essentially abolished – all leaks would be traceable after that point. And yet, practically no reporters spoke up about it. So effective was the government fear campaign using the bogeymen du jour. (In the 1950s, it would not have been child porn and terror, but communism.)
The laws allowed for sources to be harassed, and for reporters to be harassed. Looking at the many examples of history, that is the next thing that happens as a society goes totalitarian.
The last visible thing that happens as a society goes fascist totalitarian is that the reporters with an ability to report on the developments are harassed and detained. After that, reports go silent. This was the canary in the coal mine, this was the last warning bell. There will be no more warnings after this, only silence, before the same forces one day come for you. And then, it is too late.
Meanwhile, it seems people do not understand the ramifications of all their internet traffic being wiretapped. It’s as close to hostile mind reading as you can get. Consider the fact that the first one to know if you’re diagnosed with a strange disease, it used to be that the first in the world to know (before your friends and family) was Google. Now it’s not Google, but the security agents. That is not theory, that is the state of current affairs. These security forces don’t just wiretap your phone calls – they know what newspapers you read, what articles you read in them, for how long, in what order. They know every piece of information you are looking for. Why don’t people see that this is a recipe for totalitarianism?
As Consumer Watchdog sounded a false alarm about GMail the other week and its users’ expectation of privacy, it turned out that Consumer Watchdog didn’t understand that a mail server must necessarily process e-mail in order to display it to the users. This is a disastrously low understanding of the most basic information security: who can see your private information? Do they understand that when you enter your ATM PIN, you are giving your PIN to the creator of the ATM’s program code? I’ll have to conclude, “probably not”.
And the people who don’t understand that every machine that sees their private information has an owner that also sees their private information, they are going to be robbed naked of their most intimate details without even knowing it. This would not be a problem if they weren’t the overwhelming majority, and as a result, alarm bells from people who do understand basic information security have not been taken seriously.
This is not new, just depressing.
Meanwhile, in the Berlin winter of 1932, families were still going skating in the park on weekends. Their lovely country, having the most progressive capital in the West with its charming cabarets, could not conceivably go down the dark path some eccentrics were doomglooming about.
I cannot begin to describe my frustration as I was reading a proposed law aloud to people in the streets of Stockholm. The proposed law would abolish any right to secrecy of correspondence and allow – no, mandate – the government to wiretap everybody, always, in bulk and without warrant. They looked at me like I was an idiot. Some said what the others were apparently thinking: “Such a law can’t pass here. You’re making that up.” And so, the FRA law enabling bulk warrantless wiretapping passed in Sweden.
The developments that are happening – right here, right now – are too shocking for most people to comprehend. Many don’t want to absorb what is happening, because the consequences are horrifying. And I understand them completely.
There is exactly one thing that can reverse this trend. There is one thing, and only one. If politicians aren’t losing their jobs en masse over this, and fast, then we will pass a point of no return. Democracy still works, but its fundaments are becoming increasingly eroded, and one day it will fall. All of the current parties have sold out to surveillance and wiretapping. They must be kicked out, or we will have Orwell on steroids within a decade.
After all, with all that has been revealed as reality now, if the politicians responsible for this are re-elected in denial or in a shrug of the shoulders, totalitarianism beyond your nightmares is just around the corner. Re-election will send a signal that further consolidation of absolute power is a boost to their careers, and act accordingly.
Yes, that means I am advocating voting for somebody that has privacy as their number one priority. I started one such party that has spread to 70 countries. There may be others, take your pick. That is the only thing left you can do within the current crumbling framework of a democratic society, and doing so is much more important than jobs, than money, than healthcare, than schooling, than any of the usual political billboard issues.
The one remaining option after that is not a place any of us want to go.
I wish I could ask how many more warning bells people need to see what’s happening, but the question is pointless, because there won’t be another one. This was the final bell.
(Article photo of marching soldiers by José A. Warletta.)