Two years ago I wrote an article about surveillance, censorship and privacy because I had become quite alarmed about the blatant attack on privacy and freedom that was taking place. You can read that article here. Since then there has been a drastic escalation in both the amount and the types of surveillance being forced on the population – 99.99% of whom are largely innocent of any crime. In my own life I have experienced some deeply troubling developments and so I have been moved to write an update. I hope this article is helpful and informative and I trust that it helps to open people’s eyes about what the surveillance revolution is really all about. Hint – it’s not about catching “the terrorists”!
Today I was in a Woolworths supermarket in regional Australia. At the self-checkout I was confronted with a bold new sticker which literally yelled at me “ALL TRANSACTIONS ARE RECORDED”. Shocked, I looked around and saw that all of the self-checkout screens had the same offensive sticker. I asked the supervising attendant what the sticker meant. She replied “it means that all transactions are recorded”. Wow, that was so helpful. Trying my very best to be patient, I clarified “exactly what is recorded about the transaction?”. And then the propaganda began to gush… “everything is recorded”… “account details”… “personal information”… “it always has been”… “it’s required by law”… “those stickers have always been there”… “by choosing to use a credit card you give us your details by choice”… etc. I was utterly shocked by the intolerant and aggressive tone that accompanied the propaganda, not to mention the blatant lie that the sticker had “always been there”. When I raised this seemingly obvious point she became even more aggressive and asserted that the stickers had indeed always been there. Something in me said “No. No more”. And I refused to allow her to get away with this aggressive campaign of shameless lies.
The only reason I was at Woolworths in the first place is because I recently discovered that my local IGA is in fact not actually “I” (as in “Independent”), so I have reluctantly returned to Woolworths in protest. I discovered that what I knew as Independent Grocers Association (IGA) is in fact now called Independent Grocers of Australia (still IGA) and it is owned by Metcash. I discovered that by-and-large each supposedly “independent” IGA franchise has little control over the stock they carry. The vast majority of product lines they carry and the stock levels they carry are decided by the warehouse managers at Metcash. My recent email inquiry to Metcash about this contradiction in their advertising campaign remains unanswered.
But I digress. Back to the propaganda campaign.
The supervising attendant’s manager was called and promptly appeared. They could be related. In this town they probably are.
The supervising attendant’s manager’s manager was called. The store manager no less. A very decent man who, after initially taking the same line as his subordinates – “by law we must retain and store your information for seven years” – did a magnanimous job of getting the answers I was after. When I requested to view the Woolworths policy and procedure documents outlining the government legislation that necessitated such privacy breaches as well as the documents outlining how staff are to be trained to implement the program, Mr Manager disappeared into the bowels of the store. Several phone calls later and many searches of Woolworths policies later he conceded that they were in the wrong. Whilst ripping the offensive sticker off my self-checkout screen (where I had already paid for my shopping with CASH) he admitted that Woolworths had no right to store and retain my personal details. The store had apparently misinterpreted the initiative known as “Wave One”. The stickers were meant to be placed on staff-operated screens and to be seen by the checkout personnel only. “Wave One” is apparently a new Woolworths loss prevention program – to prevent cash being stolen from checkout tills by checkout staff.
Always been there, eh?
Stickers were ripped off screens.
The aggression vanished.
I was given a box of chocolates and a $20 gift voucher for the inconvenience.
But you know what? I don’t buy it. I can’t believe it. They were all so certain of the meaning of the stickers. That it was about storing the details of every transaction – credit card numbers; bank account details; items purchased. And they were so sure that “it has been government policy for twenty five years” to store the details of every transaction. The only thing that has changed is that “now we have to tell you that we are doing it”. This is the scary part: the aggressive totalitarian surveillance propaganda just spewed out of them automatically and it was only because I asked for evidence of their claims that they retreated and stopped snarling at me with salivating bared teeth.
What if I hadn’t protested? What if, like most people, I just accepted their surveillance propaganda? What if I just accepted that they had a right to record and store my personal information and there was nothing I could do about it? Clearly everyone around me was doing that. The looks, the headshakes and general embarrassment told me that I should just shut up and get on with my day. The level of aggression and intolerance and discomfort told me to stop “questioning”. Stop “making a scene”.
Stop… making sense.
I imagine I will be waiting a long time for the Woolworths “Wave One” documents I requested. They have my email address but I won’t be holding my breath. “Wave One” of what I wonder? Will “Wave Two” be the actual implementation of such an aggressive surveillance policy? Is “Wave One” just a trial run to see how people will react to it?
Orwell. That’s what I keep coming back to these days. More and more. Orwell. 1984. It was no ordinary novel. Power. Control. Fear. And we are living it in Australia in 2017.
Since I wrote that first article on surveillance two years ago I have been the target of surveillance in my own home. My house has been broken into several times with nothing stolen. Locks have mysteriously broken. Electrical appliances have been interfered with. I have evidence that my movements are under surveillance. Text messages have been intercepted and interfered with. My computer has been accessed remotely. My email files have been altered and a program has been installed that can re-direct my incoming messages, and reply to my messages before deleting them – possibly before I read them. I recently found a device that appeared to be a bug or transmitter of some sort. I didn’t have my glasses on at the time so I just presumed it was part of my son’s electronics project. When I questioned him about it later, he denied any knowledge of the device. But by then it had vanished anyway.
As these incidents have mounted so has my dismay. Why me? Why am I such as threat? I’m such small fry. In the scheme of things I’m a nobody in the world of alternative journalism – or “fake news” as it is now called. There are so many other highly successful independent journalists and publications who reach hundreds of thousands of people with their work. I’ve written five articles (read them here) and I publish information on a Twitter account which hardly anyone reads because of the restricted reach algorithm that was applied to it shortly after I started it. Ditto for the Facebook page I abandoned a few years ago.
Five articles. A largely inactive Twitter account and a totally inactive Facebook account. That’s it. And I’m being treated like a dangerous underworld criminal.
Many of my friends and associates have distanced themselves from me. The only people who still contact me voluntarily are the ones who don’t do social media of any kind. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Clearly I’m doing something that is particularly threatening to someone or I wouldn’t be attracting such attention. But I’ve been baffled over what that might be.
Then a few days ago I had the a-ha moment I’ve been searching for. I stumbled across this eye-opening interview by Abby Martin about the Deep Web. The Deep Web contains a small encrypted online communication network called the Dark Web or Dark Net. It is an encrypted space offering anonymised private communication. I wrote about the Dark Net, encryption and anonymising software in my article two years ago and made reference to them (and other methods for maintaining your privacy and freedom) in my very amateur unrehearsed one-take You Tube clip here. Martin’s interview outlines how so-called national security organisations such as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) are highly threatened by individuals who develop and promote such privacy methods because it gives the innocent public avenues for conducting private communication – away from the spying eyes of the government. Outrageous precedent-setting prison sentences have been handed down to people like Barrett Brown, Ross Ulbricht and Aaron Swartz who have developed and promoted methods for circumventing totalitarian anti-privacy surveillance imposed by the state.
And it suddenly dawned on me why I have come to the attention of someone who wants to know what I’m up to – because I promote ways of maintaining privacy and freedom, and I give my readers the ability to access the truth. And these are the things that are most threatening to the powers that be. In my original article on surveillance I actually showed my readers how to access methods to maintain their privacy and freedom, and on my Twitter page I give my readers access to sources who disseminate truth. And because privacy and freedom and truth are antithetical to surveillance and antithetical to state-sponsored totalitarian control of the population, I am now apparently a ‘threat’. If people knew the truth about surveillance they certainly would not be begging the government for more of it to protect them from ‘the terrorists’. As I stated in my article two years ago –
“Spying on innocent people is clearly a pretty lazy, unsophisticated and ineffective approach to national security. Clogging up security storage networks with vast amounts of information on innocent people only hinders an agency’s ability to focus on any actual terrorists due to the massive information management burden it creates. It’s obvious that the extent of surveillance we now deal with on a daily basis is not really about catching “the terrorists” at all. It’s increasingly about monitoring everyone’s movements. Monitoring what we do, where we go, who we associate with, and most disturbingly it’s about monitoring the flow of information. Recent changes to the policies of government minions Facebook and Google indicate that these corporations have actually taken the next step. They are now controlling the flow of information.”
Since I wrote this passage we have seen the rapid escalation of online surveillance and censorship to prevent so-called “fake news”. This is what I meant back then by “controlling the flow of information”. In other words, denying access to ‘unauthorised’ information; forcing a particular version of events on people; telling people what ‘the truth’ is; controlling what people can know; influencing what people believe.
And that’s what surveillance is about. That’s why I’ve been targeted. Mind control. Surveillance is about keeping the public dumbed-down, fearful, powerless and unable to identify the truth. We used to call it ignorance or stupidity and it was a much-maligned state of being. But according to my former friends and the shoppers in the regional Woolworths store I was in today, it’s now highly encouraged. In the past we used to make up our own minds about issues. Now groupthink is forced upon us through fear-laden war porn and propaganda from monopolised media outlets, as well as through new phenomena such as social media, ‘political correctness’, targeted advertising and ‘advertorials’, and politicised school/university curricula. The intrusion of power-hungry corporations into our lives under the guise of ‘knowing what’s best for you’ because ‘experts know best’ and ‘the research proves it’ is particularly insidious and confusing for most people. I spent many years in academic research and I know damn good and well how easy it is to conduct fraudulent research in order to get the results you want. The non-disclosure agreements that researchers must sign ensure that the public is never alerted to dodgy methodology or ‘inconvenient’ outcomes.
So this is the sad and sorry state of affairs in 2017. As I have discovered, if you dare to step out of ignorance you will be ostracised and treated with suspicion. If you want to ‘fit in’ and not draw attention to yourself then don’t think for yourself – believe what ‘authorised’ sources tell you to believe. Don’t rock the boat and don’t question authority. And above all, don’t engage in any behaviour that even remotely resembles the promotion of freedom and truth.
Is this really the future you want for your kids?