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Freedom of Speech, Government Espionage and Whistleblowing

June 9, 2013

There is indeed a growing library about Wikileaks, as a quick search on google/Amazon will tell you (which, you all know, mines your shopping data and patterns to recommend books and other products to you) http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Library-WikiLeaks-Books/lm/R1633HKPBAQHPP.

I digress.

Back to the point of this post: following close in the heels of Aaron Swartz who freed research that should have been made readily available in the first place is a former sub-contractor to the NSA, Edward Snowdon, who has been revealed as the source who leaked the fact that the government has been engaging in direct data-collection of its people for reasons that only the latter knows. Both are ‘hackers’ of sorts though of a different kind. We all know that Julian Assange was one too, all those years ago. In case you have not read my post on this, now is the time

Of course, we should know by now that we are all open books: many have social media profiles, bank accounts, and have subscribe to various commercial enterprises. How do you think we can spam mails and spam calls: from companies who have been given the right, by law, to sell whatever data that have been collected of us. In fact, in the US, one has to OPT out from having one’s data being circulated, and even then, the OPTING OUT has a limited timeframe, whereby you would then have to renew, otherwise, you are once again an open source of profit for the commercial sharks. Those of you who post mushy, cheesy statuses alike, and baby photos, will see all the data you have shared, mined for profit or security. Even TV shows have jumped into the bandwagon of having detectives going into the online profile of their victims to find out who their connections are. And, who is to say, that the governments can’t tap into your most private moments? They can call on a tech company that hosts your data to reveal information about you, or to upload all the content you have hosted with them, pretty immediately. One might say that this is the age of post 9/11, but really, this has been happening since when people were still using those old black dial phones (though, obviously, it was a lot harder then since they have to actually go through filing cabinets and those cardboard boxes you see a lot at the archives).

Even as the citizens the world over are battling for freedom of speech on the internet, against censorship, and the commercial overlords who have decided that the intellectual capital of the world should be doled out by them for a price, governments the world over have participated, blatantly and sometimes more subtly, in the surveillance of their citizens. China is a case in point, as are many authoritarian regimes who have managed to secure a high level of economic prosperity and technological sophistication, such as the Singaporean government, for example. We all know that the Israelis have to do it all the time, given the hostility that they face from their neighbors.  My own country of Malaysia has tried to do so too, but they lack, at this point, a sustainable infrastructure or organization to do so as systematically (which, of course, has not stopped them from taking down a blogger or two when it suits them, or be accused of pushing someone off a tall building or bombed someone to smithereens).

The Europeans may be less blatant about it, since the fall of the Iron gulag, and they have less funding than most of the aforementioned regimes for extra-legal agencies who operate above the law with the unequivocal consent their governments However, in act that preserve inter-governmental ties and ‘goodwill,’ the same ‘free’ governments are not above extraditing ‘rogue’ citizens of their diplomatic partners back to their home country to face trial. Also, they are not above assembling ‘secret’ task forces if they find themselves threatened. This is what ‘extra-judicial’ means.

Not long ago, after the Boston bombing, an FBI (or was it CIA) director came on NPR to talk about how the government actually lacks funds to do the level of close individual surveillance that they have been accused of (this came amid criticism surrounding the way in which the manhunt for the bombers had been handled). This is not too far from the truth. I would suspect, rather, that whatever funds that they might have, is possible spent on tracking the wrong people (but then, who are to know what is right or wrong, since spies and ‘moles’ are meant to be undetectable and nondescript anyway).  But this is besides the point. For decades, that have been tonnes of books written by journalists-turn-book authors about the role of CIA in various surveillance related espionage, and anything can be a reason for surveillance to take place: domestic security, drug wars, criminal money laundering, and suspicion of involvement in some level of international espionage. Often, the reason given is that of suspicion of such activities on the part of the individual, though there was never enough evidence for a warrant (which was the whole reason for such surveillance in the first place).

While one might understand some level of rationale for the need of surveillance in a police state (which is where most of us are living in nowadays, for most of the twentieth and now all of the twenty-first century), the question of ethics and double-standards come into the picture when on lies about its use and then prosecute the ones who tell on you. We do know that an NSA gig is pretty high security and I am sure Snowdon, as did Manning, know how heavy the hand would come down on them should they break the air-proofed contracts which they have signed. Yet, there is a drive within, one that would turn their lives upside down, that made them do it. Hackers are known for taking risks (they get bored quickly and they always need a challenge) but a number of them have their own rules of ethics whereby the right to individual liberty and right to information by the individual is inviolable (yes, some are anarchists and some are libertarians, but they also function as a commune who protect and look out for each other).

Even if the American people buy into their government’s justification of security, they are increasingly questioning the way sentencing is meted out: that being a criminal and brutal rapist does not earn you the same level of punishment as exposing government secrets (or even hacking into something to expose something such as in the Steubenville case). Of course, the reason is clear: when you rape someone, you merely violate the life of that individual, who at the end of the day, is but a cipher (unless you clearly raped the wrong person, in which case, the heavy hands of the law will come down on you hard). But if you ‘rape’ a supposedly secured system, one that who uphold the superstructure  of power we all know and love, you hit at the insecurity, and therefore, at a nerve.

Of course, the difference is, if you do something becomes you feel it is the right thing, you have supporters behind you, who, at the end of the day, no government can completely suppress.

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