Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who watches the watchers?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
I wonder when bin Laden was congratulating himself over 9/11 whether he had the foresight to know he had already won the greater war.
Did he have the forethought to know his horrific act of malevolence would reawaken grotesque leviathan convictions deep within the depths of the West which would become his unwitting ally?
The once latent notions of totalitarian State control united with unbridled power and sustained by all-encompassing surveillance, which in the 1930s and '40s, subverted and undermined democracy and wrought havoc and mayhem on the world, have with 9/11 arisen anew. And with breakneck speed they have spread, meme-like--with the tenacity of a metastatic cancer, throughout the minds of democracies' governing elites.
Governments of the so-called free world, in one fell swoop, have made the biggest grab for power in modern democratic history under the guise of protecting citizens from terrorism, yet those who are primarily and mostly affected are the citizens themselves. Our democracies have paid a horrendous price for the 'The war on terrorism' to the point of the citizen being reduced to little more than a serf with respect to his freedom of movement, the right to privacy and his/her ability to hold government to account.
Modern electronic surveillance in its many and varied guises has made a mockery of privacy laws. The ability of modern computer networks to bring together many disparate and seemingly non-connected snippets of one's life can produce a picture of extraordinary detail. As tiny little information snippets are collated an image appears about one's life as a photograph appears to emerge and pop up from nowhere in a developing tank, yet the citizen's ability to have even modest control over his data is now nigh on zero.
Having a one-way flow of power from the citizenry to the ruling elites or through increasingly intrusive surveillance will not solve terrorism. Surveillance is the bluntest of blunt instruments for resolving political disputes: voyeuristic, snoopy, leaky and often incompetent bureaucrats, spooks and law enforcement who are on unjustified fishing expeditions, increasingly harm the citizenry with this one-way flow of information, whilst only incompetent or silly criminals or terrorists are caught. For example, witness the incredible--almost unbelievable--bungle with the MoD--Ministry of Defence's loss of the personal details of 600,000 people in the Armed Forces or those who were interested in joining them.
Never the reverse occurs. After a surveillance operation, you never have the State go to the citizen and hand over the gathered information. The State never opens its books, records or files for public scrutiny, never lets those who are performing the surveillance be seen or named in public and never lets citizens know that they were under surveillance. A State with secrets is a democracy compromised.
Terrorism will only ever be fully solved through bona fide political means. This is not to say the problem of terrorism, especially when targeted against defenceless and innocent civilians, is not a tragic problem of monumental proportions--it certainly is. Nevertheless, undermining our democracy and well-established way of life in the process is not only idiotic but also acknowledges the terrorists have won. On every count, it is wrong.
The Communications Data Bill
Perhaps, in the horrific light of the UK's pending Communications Data Bill, it's time to visit the prophet once more. Those who know the text below will sigh with disturbed resignation and concern, those who have never read it before should commence at the beginning--some 246 pages back--at least it is in my 1972 Penguin Edition:
" …Much had changed in him since that first day in the Ministry of Love, but the final, indispensable, healing change had never happened, until this moment.
The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.
He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. "
Depressing. How many of you Winstons are out there?
When you've finished you should contemplate why there's hardly a whimper from the citizenry, especially those of the English-speaking countries, over their enormous loss of rights since 9/11; or congruently, consider the transfer--or more correctly--the compulsory acquisition of powers [rights] by the State from the citizenry since then. It's pretty simple really, governments, through their propaganda and spin departments have 'manufactured consent'* for the transfer of power. In the hands of skilled propagandists, the citizenry is very pliable. A tragedy it may be, but true.
What has happened to our democracies and to our democratic rights and freedoms over the last few years has been simply appalling, there are no other words for it. Moreover, the pending Communications Data Bill has to be the very bottom of the barrel, if passed it would have to be the very worst legislation to come out of any democratic society. It is hard to imagine anything could be worse.
Whether you are for the legislation or not you should read about how governments go about conning you, the citizenry. Yes, we all know it is by incessant, all-present, all persuasive, seemingly logical messages from governments, their spin-doctors and propaganda departments. Well, here is pretty much the original template: the master document for all propagandists, spin doctors, public relations companies, BS artists et al. Of course, it is not one they would ever have admitted reading or even knowing about. Written by one of the most reviled and despicable persons of 20th Century, this now dated document, parochial in parts--with some references that won't be familiar to everyone and written in a form a little unfamiliar to us today--arguably changed the 20th Century, and not for the better. Nevertheless, it's brilliance shines though, and it ought to be read by all citizens as a salient lesson in the remarkable power of professional propaganda, from either the State or elsewhere. We should ALL learn from it, not just those who expect to order us citizens about. Heed its methods, and try to make yourself much less susceptible to them: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb54.htm.
…So, 'who will watch the watchers', who will guard the guardians?' Democracies have the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature for this purpose. However, as the proposed Communications Data Bill clearly attests, something is not working. In the end, it is we citizens who have to take responsibility. Write, complain and make a nuisance of yourselves. As Thomas Jefferson and perhaps Thomas Paine said 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.'
* No, I won’t be tempted mention the author of that phrase for fear of it being indexed, it would then attract his loony critics.