Big brother: Man of the ear

Kill the beast: Big business behind US surveillance scandal
By Ameen Izzadeen
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. This long-forgotten maxim attributed to far-thinking political philosophers such as Leonard Henry Courtney, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln needs to be inscribed on a plaque and placed on the Resolute Desk at the White House Oval office and kept in every American home.
The rot that began to set in during the George W. Bush presidency has under President Barack Obama become further putrefied. Yet a majority of the Americans are not bothered about the stench. This was because President Bush and his neocon cabal had told them that there was a beast out there and if it was to be eliminated the people had to sacrifice a part of their constitutionally guaranteed liberty and privacy.
It was exactly 12 years ago that the Bush administration introduced the draconian Patriot Act. If any other country, especially a country that challenges the US global agenda, had introduced such an act, the US would have accused that country of moving towards authoritarianism. The Patriot Act introduced in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States restricts civil liberties, eats into the citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of information, freedom of speech and the right to legal representation and a fair trial.
The long title of the Act itself points to the possibility of abuse. It goes as: the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. President Obama in 2011 extended the Act and modified it further, taking away more of whatever little liberty was left with the citizens. Yet the Americans, except for a few intellectuals and socialist activists, kept mum because they wanted the government to kill the beast — the so-called Islamic terrorists, the creation of misguided or mischief-making US foreign policy. The great American statesman Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying that a society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.
The Americans have long forgotten Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the founding fathers who are still highly respected outside the United States for their great contributions to liberty, freedom and human rights.
Even after the recent revelations by Edward Snowden that the state has been keeping a close tab on phone conversations, email exchanges and the internet habits of the citizens, the Americans have by and large not responded angrily as though they had indeed traded their liberty for a little bit of security.
Probably brainwashed by the media or Hollywood or lost in their pursuit of material goods, a majority of the Americans have not realised the magnitude of the mistake they are making. Their silence may encourage other nations also to adopt similar measures that will eventually make the whole world a collection of police states with little respect for individual liberty and human rights.
The Americans do not understand that by their silence they are making the government nasty, brutish and selfish — the characters the 17th century social contract theorist Thomas Hobbes saw in man during the state of nature or the period when state did not exist.
Yes, the Americans are making a Leviathan, the strong government which Hobbes advocated. They have come to believe that democracy is only electing a president and congressmen and women every four years. Democracy is much bigger than mere elections.
Today, the US fits the picture which it painted years ago of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War we were made to believe that every citizen of the Soviet Union was either a spy or being spied upon. We were told that if there were a group of ten Soviet citizens in a gathering, five of them would be spies. Everyone would know they were being spied upon, but none would know who the spy was. Even a spy would not know who the other spies were.
Yet the Soviet surveillance state pales into insignificance in comparison to the scale of US surveillance, which we now know, thanks to Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) employee who blew the lid off the surveillance scandal and now lives in exile in Russia.
The scheme has not spared even allies. Yesterday an apparently angry German Chancellor Angela Merkel protested to the US following reports that she had been spied upon by the US surveillance system. Days before, French President Francois Hollande cried foul, when Le Monde newspaper revealed the NSA had collected 70 million odd private and public communications of French citizens in two months. The French newspaper described the spying as “intrusion on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens and the secrets of major national firms.”
Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff slammed the Obama administration for conducting espionage on her nation and spying on her personal email. “Tampering in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff said in her address to the United Nations.
On Tuesday, Mexico urged the United States to investigate claims that the NSA had spied on email communications of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
These revelations show that the mass scale surveillance of the United States is not confined to issues involving terrorism alone. Surely Merkel, Rouseff and Neito are not terrorists. Rather, the US surveillance system is a capitalist tool. In the guise of hunting terrorists, it seeks to know who is getting what contract from whom. The French believe the spying programme had helped the US to outbid France and obtain massive contracts in Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
But just as the Americans who have let the Leviathan eat into their liberty, the victim states of the US espionage system are only making token protests. There won’t be moves to penalise the US or slap sanctions. Probably allies such as Hollande are condemning the US for public consumption while winking at Obama. Besides, countries such as France and Britain have their own programmes to spy on their citizens. The whole affair smacks of hypocrisy.
Take for instance, Britain. It has launched a witch hunt on the Guardian newspaper which published the Snowden revelations. The British police raided the newspaper office, forced the management to destroy the computer drives where the Snowden files had been saved, threatened to arrest journalists, including Glenn Greenwald who got the scoop of the Snowden files and harassed his partner at the Heathrow airport.
If a developing country had taken similar measures, Britain would have cut aid or supported resolutions against that country at the United Nations Human Rights Council. If a less powerful Commonwealth country had taken such measures which were clearly an affront to free speech, Britain would have accused that state of violating the Latimer House principles.
Well, the world is becoming a dangerous place to live in. Big Brother is watching us and setting a bad precedent to states which are either authoritarian or moving towards authoritarianism. Whatever little privacy we have now is fast becoming extinct.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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