PRIVACY: 1. The right to be free from secret surveillance and to determine whether, when, how, and to whom, one’s personal or organizational information is to be revealed. 2. Someone’s right to keep their personal matters and relationships secret. 3. The state of being apart from other people or concealed from their view.
It’s been an interesting journey, not doing Facebook. At the end of 2014 when Facebook introduced their most obscene privacy violations to date, I could no longer justify being part of the massive social experiment – or as it is otherwise known, the massive CIA/NSA data grab and surveillance behemoth. I posted articles alerting my Facebook friends to the implications of these insidious privacy violations and a small number of them showed tentative concern. However, over three years later, they are all still hard at it.
I logged on to Facebook recently to determine if anyone else had woken up to the psyop, only to confirm that now more than ever friendships are primarily conducted on social media. In those 40 months of absence from the platform they are all still at it, more intensely than ever. Yet their contact with me has dwindled to zero. I no longer even get the obligatory token “Happy Birthday” message when they are prompted to send me one.
OK, so maybe they think I will not get the messages because I have left Facebook. Many of them have my email address and my mobile number, so a quick text or short email? Nope. Many of them have my postal address and could send me a birthday card like we did in the old days? Nope again. I’m one of the few people who still have a landline, so a quick “Hi, how’s things” maybe? That’s how we used to do friendship maintenance. Buuuuuuuuuut, nope. A big fat NOPE. Nothing. It’s like I no longer exist. Like I unknowingly stepped through a space/time portal that delivered me into another set of dimensions, but I’m somehow still on the same planet.
I DON’T FACEBOOK, THEREFORE I AM NOT.
It’s not a generational thing because nearly all of my (former) Facebook ‘friends’ are my age or older, so they certainly should remember how we did it in the past. In the BFB era. You know, Before FaceBook. But they’ve all been sucked in. Posting their entire lives and children’s development online, for all to see.
To give it some perspective, let’s go back a decade or two. You know, BFB……
The thought of putting one of my family photo albums in the local library for everyone to flick through is cringe-worthy to say the least. The words ‘strange’, ‘egotistical’, and ‘show-off’ come to mind. Sending photos of my dinner through the post to 157 friends makes me keel over in laughter. The act of taking a photo of my dinner in the first place is just utter nonsense. If I’d re-posted all the junk mail from my letterbox to everyone I know I’d have been locked up as a public nuisance. And as for asking me to give over my credit card number or banking details, you’d have been laughed out of town. These details were kept private – even from family and friends.
Back then we didn’t have to surrender all of our personal details just to buy a ticket to see a band or to catch the train. We just used to hand over the cash. Anonymously. We travelled anonymously. And associated with others, anonymously. Now, there’s a record of when and where you use the train; a record of what concerts you attend. And if you use Facebook the way most people do, there’s a record of your entire life. And this is the most insidious privacy breach of all because Facebook users are publishing it VOLUNTARILY.
So who do you blame when you voluntarily publish all your personal information and it goes pear-shaped? When your details are shared with people they shouldn’t be shared with, à la the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal? Mark Zuckerberg? Do you think you can get some justice by blaming Mark Zuckerberg??? Sure, Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress this week and he gave ten long hours of testimony. No mean feat for someone of his intellect. He got some tough questions. And he made US$3,000,000,000 (AUD$3,859,500,000) in the process, making him the world’s 7th richest person. In the time that he fronted Congress, Facebook’s total market value rose by US$23,000,000,000 (AUD$29,589,500,000). So much for justice. Do you really believe that Mark Zuckerberg gives a bugger about your personal details?
Meanwhile, as Zuckerberg ponders how he is going to spend the billions he has made at your expense, your personal details are still in the wrong hands. And so-called ‘privacy breaches’ are still going to happen. Privacy statements mean squat when there’s a hack or a security breach. After a hack or an ‘error of judgement’, your personal information will then be in the hands of people you never gave permission to have it. And there is nothing that you can do about it. The damage is done, and there can never be justice when the damage is already done. It’s like giving birth – you can’t change the result: blaming your partner isn’t going to change the result.
When you hand over your personal information, you are, by definition, losing control of it.
When you voluntarily serve up your personal details you have no-one to blame but yourself when it goes pear-shaped because you are the one breaching your own privacy by handing over your details in the first place.
The only solution is to maintain control over your personal details and to maintain your privacy in general. Like we did in days gone by. Forty months ago I realised that things had gone too far. I felt very uncomfortable with what I was routinely being asked to do even though other people seemed fine with it. So I decided to step out of the hive mind/collective slumber and to trust my own inner knowing: I decided to think for myself.
I stopped publishing my life on Facebook. I stopped handing out my personal details to strangers. I refused to agree to outrageous ‘Terms of Service’ and so-called ‘Privacy Statements’. I missed out on events and experiences. I started taking notice of the growth of mass surveillance, data mining and privacy breaches. I started taking notice of the general degradation of the concepts of privacy and the individual. I made many enemies by refusing to comply with outrageously unnecessary requests for my personal information. But by-and-large I have maintained an ‘old fashioned’ level of privacy – albeit with less ‘friends’.
I think, therefore I am.
I think Descartes was on to something. Thinking and doubting. Logic and privacy. If I am not in control of my personal information, can I have privacy? By definition, the answer is no. So by even the most basic process of logic, the conclusion is –
“If I give up control of my personal information then I cannot have privacy.”
In 2015 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% of whom are 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 liethat 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?
(UPDATE 19/10/2017: I was recently in another Woolworths supermarket in a different town in regional Australia and guess what? The same stickers were plastered on all of the self-checkout screens. Deja vu. What are the chances that two managers from two different stores have misinterpreted the “Wave One Loss Prevention Program” in exactly the same way? Pretty slim to none would be my answer. So I now have good reason to believe that my gut reaction was correct – “Wave One” is a trial run of an aggressive privacy-destroying surveillance program.)
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 in 2015 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 and I just presumed it was part of my son’s electronics project, so after handling it I left it in the box where I found it. It was a small white plastic device with two or three tiny aerials coming out of it, in a miniature zip-lock plastic bag. When I questioned my son about it later that day, he denied any knowledge of the device. I went looking for it to show him, only to discover that it had vanished. I turned the house upside down in a frenzy looking for it but eventually I had to concede that it was gone.
Therefore, I had to face the fact that someone had broken into my home and removed the device that afternoon when I went out to pick up my son from school.
Therefore, I had to face the fact that someone was watching my home and monitoring my movements.
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. Business relationships and transactions inexplicably go sour and are often destroyed for no apparent reason. People seem unusually suspicious and avoidant of 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.
I eventually came up with several explanations for this harassment. One is that I’ve been targeted by an asshole with too much time on his hands who has worked out that I do not entirely practice what I preach when it comes to privacy and surveillance. He’s getting some sort of sick kick out of showing me how easy it is for him to access my home and my computer, making me look like a fraud for promoting privacy in this era of surveillance. But that doesn’t explain the destruction of my personal and business relationships.
Alternatively, maybe I’m a randomly chosen targeted individual (T.I.), ie. the random victim of covert electronic surveillance and harassment. This is an increasing global phenomena and more information can be found about it here,here,here and here. Women are far more likely to be the victims of such harassment, but considering that I found the device in my son’s room he may be a target too. The other possibility is that I am/we are non-randomtargets of covert electronic surveillance and harassment ie. it is being done because of who we are. I was reluctant to go with this option because it’s a pretty out-there thought to think – “I’m being spied on because I write articles about the dangers of the New World Order/Global Governance in my spare time” or “Maybe it’s because I was in Moscow in 1991 during the Gorbachev coup” or “My son is being spied on because his grandfather had something to do with ASIO and they tend to recruit nepotistically, don’t they?“. Yeah, thoughts like that are a recipe for being locked up.
Recently I stumbled across this eye-opening interview by Abby Martin about the Deep Web which may explain why I have been targeted. 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 2015 article 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 methods because firstly, it alerts the public to the ongoing attack on our privacy and freedom and secondly, it gives the innocent public avenues for maintaining their privacy and freedom. Outrageous precedent-setting prison sentences have been handed down to people like Barrett Brown and Ross Ulbricht who have developed and promoted methods for circumventing totalitarian anti-privacy and anti-freedom surveillance schemes imposed by the state. Aaron Schwartz took his own life after being targeted by the US government because he was a passionate advocate of freedom, specifically, freedom of access to information. He was a brilliant code writer who developed ways to circumvent the requirement to pay for downloading academic journal articles – for which he was indicted. He also developed ways to help people protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is probably the real reason why he was targeted. Because of his actions the anti-freedom SOPA bill was defeated, and the government eventually targeted him to “make an example” of him. The pressure was too much and on January 11th 2013 Aaron tragically took his own life. In contrast, in Australia the corresponding bill – the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 – sailed through both houses of parliament on June 22nd 2015 without even a whimper of protest. Mostly, I suspect, because Australians were too busy checking their Facebook status and uploading selfies to Instagram.
So maybe that’s why someone seems to want 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. These are the things that are most threatening to the powers that be. In my original article on surveillance I 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 to state-sponsored totalitarian control of the population, it appears that I am now a ‘problem’. 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 2015 article –
“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.
It’s a form of mind control.
Andthat’s what surveillance is really all about. Control. Control of people. Their thinking. Their behaviour. Control of their entire lives. It’s 1984 in action. Surveillance is about keeping the public dumbed-down, fearful, powerless, too afraid to think for themselves, 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, treated with suspicion, and potentially become the victim of covert surveillance and harassment. If you want to ‘fit in’ and not draw attention to yourself then don’t think for yourself and always 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.
It’s been 10 years since I first read Foucault. I was a lowly mature-age undergraduate who was blissfully unaware of any deeper geopolitical agendas operating across the planet. Back then Foucault was torturous reading. Highbrow academic-speak at it’s worst. However I’ve recently had the urge to re-visit this flowery Foucauldian philosophy. Since waking up to the real geopolitical agenda behind the surveillance state, Mr Foucault’s power/knowledge thesis has taken on a whole new dimension for me. It now smacks me over the back of my head with sirens screaming “Are you paying attention????“. In particular I’ve been drawn back to his book Discipline and Punish where he introduced me to the Panopticon. If you don’t know what the Panopticon is, it is a concept invented by 18th Century Philosopher Jeremy Bentham. It takes the form of a circular prison with cells arranged around a central observation tower, from which prisoners could at all times be seen. A further explanation can be found here. The most insidious aspect of this design is that each cell has a window on the outside creating a backlighting effect to the central observer, meaning that every movement in every cell is immediately discernible to the watcher. In Foucault’s words the Panopticon is “a marvellous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power” because “he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power.”
Clearly the important words here are “…and who knows it” because it suggests that it’s the knowledge of surveillance that leads to the self-regulation of behaviour.
Bentham’s Panopticon was not a real building. Some argue that Bentham devised the idea after seeing how his brother, Samuel, arranged his factory in Russia. However in Bentham’s writings the Panopticon was never meant to describe a real building. It was an intellectual concept; a metaphor. Again, in the words of Foucault, “…the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form…it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use“. In other words, what Bentham was describing was a method of enforcing prescribed behaviour in a population, as well as ensuring the absence of proscribed or prohibited behaviour by making the population believe that they are being watched. “The Panoptic schema makes any apparatus of power more intense” because the subject becomes their own enforcer. Bentham himself stated it clearly: that the Panopticon is a way of obtaining from power, “a great and new instrument of government“. Amazing awareness and insight from 225 years in the distant past. Most people today have nowhere near that level of insight. In fact most people today are falling for ever-increasing levels of Panopticism even though the writings of Bentham and Foucault, like George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, forewarned us of this impending tyranny.
A recent study conducted by Dr Elizabeth Stoycheff of Wayne State University in the US state of Michigan has shown that mass surveillance is indeed having a ‘chilling effect’ by silencing dissent and minority opinions. See more here and here. The study had two main conclusions. Firstly, that mass surveillance silences minority opinions and therefore it “may enable a domineering, majority opinion to take control of online deliberative spaces, thus negating deliberation“. You’ve probably experienced this in online forums such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube when paid “shills” and “trolls” hijack the comments section and are scathing of any opinions that are even remotely anti-establishment or pro-freedom. Those who are assertive about their dissenting beliefs are attacked and humiliated, with the obligatory ad hominem being a dead giveaway that you are being targeted by a paid troll. With most people self-censoring and afraid to voice their dissenting opinions, it becomes easy to manufacture majority opinions online in this way. The second major finding of the study was that those participants who shared the “nothing to hide” belief – those who tended to support mass surveillance as necessary for national security – were the most likely to silence their minority opinions. On this finding Stoycheff commented that “online privacy is much bigger than the mere lawfulness of one’s actions. It’s about a fundamental human right to have control over one’s self-presentation and image, in private, and now, [online]“.
Such self-censorship for the greater good has been a significant achievement of the surveillance state to the extent that people now subvert their true beliefs and routinely plead for more government intrusion. We’ve been brain-washed and bullied by concepts such as “political correctness” (also known as “Cultural Marxism” or “Linguistic Fascism”), the “War on Terror” and “Climate Change” into believing that we must concur with the majority opinion. Most importantly, we’ve learned that we must not question the majority opinion because there is a looming threat that is greater than any individual’s right to privacy, right to freedom of speech, and increasingly, their right to freedom of thought. If we have a dissenting opinion or, God forbid, an original thought on a topic, we must bury it or face a barrage of criticism from the vocal majority. The media have been complicit in this endeavour by bombarding us with fear-laden topics and imagery supporting the majority opinion, to the extent that we now plead for our freedoms to be taken in exchange for some ‘justice’ or relief from the perceived threat. The Panama Papers scandal is a perfect example of this. People will soon agree for their financial freedom to be curtailed by, for example, the introduction of a global tax grid, in order to reduce the ‘threat’ of tax evasion. See my article on this here.
Mr Bentham would turn in his grave. His metaphor is now writ large. Globally. Empowering the state to take your privacy and freedom carries a far greater risk than any actual threat to security. Handing over your liberty in exchange for perceived security is voluntarily adding an extra dimension to Bentham’s Panopticon. In the modern Panopticon not only are we obeying the rules of surveillance and accepting the accompanying loss of freedom, but by self-censoring for the ‘greater good’ we are also saying “Take my individuality; my essence as a person. Take the unique gift I bring to this world because I am worthless. The collective is more important than me and my perspective“.
Well I beg to differ. It is the diversity of the collective that gives it depth and worth. Just as the variety of nationalities and cultures is what gives our planet such richness and beauty, it’s people who make the collective what it is. Yes, individuals. With their pesky tendency to have their own perspectives. The onslaught of political correctness, self-imposed censorship and enslavement to majority opinion is not a healthy future for individuality and freedom. Jeremy Bentham first alerted us to such threats in 1791. Aldous Huxley spoke of it in 1932, George Orwell in 1949 and Ray Bradbury in 1953. Michel Foucault continued to write about power and liberty in the 1970s and 80s. Currently many people from many sectors are screaming at the top of their voices about democracy, privacy, freedom of speech, surveillance, censorship and other issues central to liberty but their efforts are largely falling on deaf ears. I truly hope more people wake up before it is too late.
For more on the Panopticon see clip here and article here.
For a humorous look at Facebook surveillance see this spoof here.
For more on encryption debate read articles here and here.
For more on surveillance see clip here and my article here.
In August 2014 the Australian Federal Government claimed that existing surveillance legislation needed to be updated. The reason given? To “combat home-grown terrorism and Australians who participate in terrorist activities overseas”. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 has since been updated and the Bill that was proposed – the highly intrusive Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 – passed through both houses of Federal Parliament on March 26th 2015. Digital privacy for Australians legally ended on October 13th 2015 when mandatory data retention began. See more here. In the Senate, the Australian Greens and a small number of cross-benchers were the only politicians who fought against this Bill. Both major parties voted unanimously for this gross violation of our privacy and civil rights.
– “Surveillance in a democracy should be targeted, proportionate and levelled at serious criminals, organised crime and national security threats. This Bill entrenches the opposite.”
(Video used with permission from Senator Scott Ludlam)
WHAT IS “METADATA”?
There are several problems with this legislation, not least of which is the use of the word “metadata”. Most concerningly, the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has refused to give a clear and concise definition of what metadata actually is. What this means for you is that there is a very blurry line between what is considered to be “content” and what is considered to be just metadata or “information that allows communications to occur”. So there is a very real possibility that the content of your communications will be accessed and stored. Information such as your browsing history, your pin numbers, your passwords, and the actual content of your messages and phone calls can be stored – so be very careful what you share on Skype! Furthermore it is well known from previous experience in Australia, Europe and the U.S. that metadata and other surveillance data are used primarily for non-terrorism criminal cases such as insider trading. Rob Sims from the ACCC publicly supported the new legislation by claiming that it is “absolutely essential” for fighting white collar crime. But why this new focus on white collar crime when the legislation was supposed to be about catching “the terrorists”? Considering that the Attorney-General has reserved the right to use metadata for civil cases, this legislation can now also be used to catch and prosecute people for doing relatively harmless things like illegal downloading. Furthermore, legislation introduced to Federal Parliament the very same day that the Data Retention Bill was passed – the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) 2015 Bill – will now give media corporations extraordinary powers to block websites they deem “harmful” and to prosecute illegal downloaders using, surprise surprise, the new data retention laws. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 swiftly passed through both houses of Federal Parliament on June 22nd 2015. It begs the question of why the Australian public has been told that they are giving up their privacy and civil rights to catch “the terrorists” when it seems that everyday Australians are the real target of this legislation. See more here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
EVERYDAY TRACKING DEVICES
Surveillance methods that are already part of your everyday life include your credit card and customer loyalty cards and apps; your local library and DVD hire cards; Pay Pal and anything you purchase or book online; your Opal Card and e-Tag; licence plate readers, CCTV and GPS – basically anything that has a digital or electronic aspect to it. Whenever any one of these everyday tracking devices is activated a permanent digital record is created of the transaction – what you bought/borrowed or what you did, when you did it and where it happened.
So what do they do with all this information? Take Amazon for example. Amazon has built a multi-million dollar intelligence cloud for national security agencies to use. This gives the agencies access to all purchases made at Amazon – purchases that in reality are nobody else’s business. Yet all of Amazon’s transaction details are fed into this cloud. The security agencies then analyse it and based on the subject matter of each purchase, the buyer is assigned a “risk rating”. Your browsing history is also recorded. So even if you only view a book or DVD on a controversial topic, you are flagged as a potential risk.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
In early 2015 European Union (EU) border control authorities planned to harass travellers from March 2015 through September 2015 to give up their biometric data. The capture included fingerprint scans, iris scans and facial recognition scans for all forms of travel – road, train, sea and air – for all non-EU nationals who entered Europe. This ‘biometric dragnet’ was a trial run for the EU’s new “Smart Borders” program.
In early 2015 this was the plan – Arlanda, Charles de Gaulle and Madrid airports would be capturing your facial image. At Lisbon airport you would be subjected to facial and iris pattern scans. Moving trains from Gare du Nord in Paris and Lasi in Romania would have taken your fingerprint scans; your facial image would also have been taken in Lasi. If you planned to drive on the roads leading into the border town of Udvar you would have been iris-scanned. If you were caught driving near Sculeni you would have been subjected to both iris and facial scanning. Border control officials on roads leading into Kipoi Evrou in Greece and Vaalimaa in Finland would have compelled you for your fingerprints. Helsinki, Port of Piraeus, Cherbourg and Genoa were the seaports and shipping areas participating in the data collection, so your personal biometric data would have been taken from you in those locations too. Although this program was a trial it was clearly a practice run for a global data acquisition program. Problems with Europe’s Schengen agreement have been used to justify this gross invasion of privacy and imposition of a global totalitarian surveillance state. However as we have all seen it is clearly not stopping “terrorism”. If you don’t already have an e-passport you certainly soon will. If you ever wish to travel overseas again it will soon be mandatory to have all of your biometric data on file and encoded in your e-passport. Welcome to the new global surveillance state. Where billions of innocent citizens are groped, spied-on and treated like criminals while “the terrorists” continue to rape, murder and prosper.
And just a word of advice – if you haven’t already worked it out – anything with the word “smart” in front of it is just another term for surveillance. Smart phone, smart meter, smart watch, smart TV, smart borders, smart parking, smart travel – these are all methods for collecting your data and tracking you. And all for the purpose of catching “the terrorists”. And don’t even get me started on Ancestry.com!
For more on facial recognition and GPS tracking see here and here.
MONITORING AND CONTROLLING YOU TO CATCH “THE TERRORISTS”?
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.
Facebook now not only monitors your messages (see more here and here) and spies on you in general (see more here, here, here, here, here, here and here), it imposes algorithms on every user’s posts. These algorithms determine how much exposure each post gets. Posts from individuals and organisations who circulate information that is considered to be in any way subversive, or contrary to government (or Facebook board members’) interests, have restricted-reach algorithms imposed on them such that their posts are rarely if ever seen by anyone. See more here.
Similarly, Google – the biggest data miner on the planet – is changing the way its search results are calculated. Search rankings will now be based on an Orwellian artificial intelligence-based “level of acceptableness”, rather than the previous popularity-based system. Google’s AI method analyses data associated with sites related to the user’s search words. The further that this data deviates from state propaganda, the further down in the search results they appear – if they appear at all. And because search engine results are vital to the business model of many organisations, the deployment of this ‘knowledge vault’ by Google will gravely impact the public’s access to information and services – especially from sites such as alternative news sources. See more about Google here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. So just like Facebook, Google is now controlling the flow of information by obscuring and withholding information that the government does not wish to be circulated. That folks, is censorship. Welcome to 1984.
TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO ABOUT SURVEILLANCE
Firstly, for protection when not online, disconnect all hardware when you are not using it (ie. modem, webcam, dongle, etc). Make sure you are completely disconnected from any possible remote access. FBI Director James Comey covers his webcam so you should too! See more here.
For protection when online, various types of software can be used –
1. One option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as Tunnel Bear. This will hide your online identity. If you have a Mac Book Pro use Firefox as your browser and Duck Duck Go as your search engine. This will give you anonymous online searching.*
2. Use software such as Disconnect or Ghostery to protect you from cookies and 3rd party trackers but be aware that these tools have problems associated with them.* See more here.
4. Use spyware such as Spybot. In this new surveillance and data mining age anti-virus software on it’s own is no longer adequate protection against cyber-attack.
5. Most computers have the capacity for remote desktop access. Disable it. For early versions of Windows go to “Control Panel” then “Device Manager” then “System Devices” and you may see a device called “Remote Desktop” or something similar. Disable it. For Windows 10 go to “Search” in the StartUp menu. Type “Services” in the search bar. Click on “Services Desktop App”. Scroll down to “Remote Access Auto Connect”. There will be eight entries related to remote access. Disable all of them. For each one – double click on it for “Properties”; in the “General” tab go to “Startup Type”; change it to “Disabled”; click “OK”. Do this for each entry. While you are in this directory you might like to search through and see of there is anything else you wish to disable. They can always be enabled if it is absolutely required. If your provider or anyone else you trust requires you to install remote access software so they can work on your computer remotely, ALWAYS delete the software immediately after they have finished working on your computer.
6. The Windows application “HomeGroup” is highly suspect. It quietly appears on your computer without your request or permission. You simply boot up as usual one morning and there it is – an icon that wasn’t there yesterday. It is a file sharing application that allows your data to be shared with others. It also contains a “Listening” application which is a HUGE red flag. Disable both of them. You’ll find information on how to do this here.
In your everyday life there are many options to avoid being tracked –
7. Get rid of those customer loyalty cards and apps. Sure, you may lose your discount, but what is your privacy worth to you? They record everything you buy, and your health insurer may not like the fact that you have regularly purchased chocolate, soft drinks, ice cream and biscuits when you want to claim for diabetes treatment in the future. Don’t believe it? See more here.
8. Support local shops rather than buying online. Not only will you keep a hard working Australian in business and their employees in a job, but you won’t be able to be tracked by your online credit card activity when you USE CASH! Remember good old cash? No-one can track you when you USE CASH!
9. Use a pre-paid Opal Card and pre-paid access for your mobile phone/device – both paid for WITH CASH!
10. Finally, the most important thing you can do is to JUST SAY NO! Get educated and get involved. Write to your local Federal member. Better still, make an appointment to SEE your local Federal member. Tell them that you strongly oppose these infringements of your civil rights and freedoms. Find out what’s going on in regards to legislative changes and make submissions to the committees involved. Start the conversations “Who owns my personal data?” and “Where is the oversight on surveillance?”. Australia is still a democracy and you have the right to voice your opposition to any proposed changes to legislation. The level of surveillance currently being rolled out is outrageous – it is totally unnecessary and unjustifiable. The only way to change this dark progression into a surveillance state is to speak up.
*Suggestions from Cullen Hoback, maker of the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” about online user agreements (see trailer here and an interview about the movie here).
For more information about internet censorship and how it is affecting the public’s access to unbiased and propaganda-free information, and how the alternative media are responding to this go here.
For interviews with NSA whistleblowers about surveillance go here, here and here. These clips are time consuming but well worth the investment in order to understand the full ramifications of what is being forced upon us.
Laura Poitras’ documentary CitizenFour is a brilliant, highly informative yet truly chilling account of the Edward Snowden leaks as they happened. It is a very sobering wake up call for all those people who naively claim “I have done nothing wrong so I have nothing to hide”. However questions have been raised about how the leaks have been handled by the journalist involved – Glenn Greenwald. See more here about how Glenn Greenwald has censored the release of the Snowden documents and made deals with the corporate media over the publication of the documents. The BFP Roundtable interview is well worth watching.