The secret’s out, there can be no more secrets
The novel “1984” brilliantly sets out a bleak nightmarish future where ‘Big Brother’ is always watching and listening. Perhaps he was really speaking to societies like Australia who incorrectly assume they are immune from such systemic breaches of privacy.
The novelist George Orwell wrote the work not long before his death in 1945 as both a critique of totalitarianism in the aftermath of World War II and a warning to future generations. Orwell forewarned of the nation state’s capacity for total surveillance, exemplified by the ever-present monitor in the central character Winston’s home. His home was always “switched on” (sound familiar?) and the lack of privacy was so oppressive that characters in the novel were fearful of having the wrong dream and uttering words which could land them in trouble with ‘Big Brother’. They called it a ‘thought crime.’ It all sounds fun but also quite impossible, right? …Right?
The anti-encryption bill and the panoptican legacy – here’s the link.
One of the most effective forms of behaviour control is the creation of the idea or feeling that you are always being watched – even if you’re not. Imagine having to assume that every email, password and conversation was being scrutinised by the government, just because it had the lawful right to do so. This is the panoptican legacy at work. Here’s the summary explanation.
“The basic set up of the panoptican is this: there is a central tower surrounded by cells. In the central tower is the watchman; in the cells are prisoners, workers, or children, depending on the use of the building or the metaphorical comparison we wish to draw. The tower shines bright light so that the watchman can see everyone in the cells. The people in the cells however, are unable to see the watchman, and therefore are forced to assume they are always under observation. This is just a snippet, click here for more.
Now think about the hasty introduction of Australia’s despotic anti-encryption bill passed by royal assent into law on December 6th last year.
How anti-encryption laws represent contemporary digital deprivation of privacy
When a government feverishly implements a bill despite the protestations from groups ranging from civil liberty organisations, human rights advocacy groups, cybersecurity experts and multinational giant tech corporations, something sinister has taken form. This is not a standard conglomerate of stakeholders who often rally together around social and political issues, on the contrary they are, for the most part, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But in the government’s passing of the Access and Assistance Bill they have all amazingly, vehemently voiced their outrage in a display of the most unlikely unity. They have gathered together to form the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet and its members include in no order of preference or importance, the following luminaries: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone comprising the communications sector; digital policy industry associates including Facebook and Google; and representing the problematic issue of our fundamental and inalienable human rights being breached, Amnesty International has taken a stance with the alliance.
We Should all be Worried
Let’s talk reality. When a government pushes through a law which unites organisations that historically conflict with each other and is also overwhelmingly unpopular with the public, something smells.
The legislation as it now stands in the form of the anti-encryption bill is an attempt to legalise or legitimise what is undoubtedly already occurring. To think that before the introduction of this bill our rights to privacy and data were safe and secure is to adopt a stance of blind optimism equalled only in scope by purposeful ignorance. This makes the need for encryption more vital than ever. The resistance to its purposefully motivated destruction at the hands of those who seek to serve and protect should be as loud and articulate as possible.
When Orwell and his contemporary visionaries provided us with their work and ideas about the inherent dangers in taking this path, I am sure they were sceptical about whether their hard-won wisdom would be heeded. What would have been difficult to fathom is that these dire warnings have been misappropriated as a ‘how to guide’ in the administering of repressive regimes. They have become a blueprint on how to hoodwink the public into not only accepting laws which compromise their integrity (above all else) but permitting our rights to privacy to be obliterated. All swept away due to the often-repeated but never seriously challenged argument that it is being done for our own protection and safety.
The very probable reality is that whatever the government announces, whatever rationale and reasoning it concocts, the truth of that matter may lay in the opposite direction. And they’re not even trying to keep it a secret – because we can no longer have secrets!