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The Surveillance State

Back in the days of the Cold War, the world was simple. We were on the good side, because we were living in a democracy and were free. The communists were the bad guys, because they were forced to live in a dictatorship where all civilians were spied upon and subject to awful surveillance of everything they did, to keep them in line. They were not free, and therefore we were superior. Or so went the message, anyway.

Isn't communism terrible, we thought. Everyone's personal letters were read by the state, and everyone's phone calls were listened to. People lived in fear of their regime, fear of what might happen if one didn't obey the system. Wow, were we glad that we were "free" and not subject to such a terrible, fearful totalitarianism.

Fast forward just a few years, and what do we have now? Monitoring of all our internet communications (email, website access, telephone calls) is now apparently common-place. Paid for by us, approved of by the people we gave the responsibility to, but kept secret from us. Mobile phone tracking monitors us even when we're not communicating with anyone. Motorway cameras monitor our vehicles, noting down everywhere we've been and when. Even recycling bins in London secretly track our mobile phones every time we walk down the road. And these are just the things we happen to find out about.

Power-crazed and paranoid spooks are violently attacking each and every citizen, and trampling on their rights, enabled by a chorus of smug, unaccountable politicians. The path to a total police state where each and every citizen is continuously watched is a slippery one, and at the same time, the democracy necessary to avert this is being eroded. As we speak. What will we do when we are no longer able to peacefully reclaim our country?

Snowden's revelations

It has long been known that certain governments have had measures to monitor internet and telephone traffic. Carnivore, Echelon, NSA, GCHQ and the like have been around for decades. But only with the "terrorism" bogeyman have they been able to expand their reach and their power so drastically that they appear to have completely lost sight of who they work for or what their aim is. The terrorism which they are now inflicting is the worst kind of traitorous deception, deeply wounding the countries and societies they claim to defend.

Since Edward Snowden began to make his courageous confessions, it has been interesting to watch the panic in the security agencies. Tragic to watch the outright lies being told, depressing to watch their blasé abuse of so-called anti-terrorism legislation purely in order to bully, intimidate, punish and abuse anyone involved with the revelations.

That David Miranda got "detained" for 9 hours at Heathrow airport is of course just a minor inconvenience for one man - they delayed him and confiscated (stole) his personal property, but that was apparently it. The bigger problem is the message that they wanted to send to any journalists connected with Snowden. "Investigate what we're doing, and we'll make sure your families are put on our watch lists". That's thuggery. And all the politicians who voted these ridiculously-worded laws into place should be on trial for thuggery. Now is not the time to claim that you couldn't imagine those laws would be abused, because lots of people pointed that out at the time.

Another incident, which actually took place before Miranda's "detention", was the British police marching into the offices of The Guardian newspaper and smashing up their computers. No, really. Is this also new "anti-terrorism" legislation, I wonder, which allows the police to maliciously destroy computers just because they can? Obviously it didn't achieve anything (apart from sending an alarming message to all those interested in press freedom) because obviously the data on those computers was safely elsewhere by then. So it was just thuggery. Terrorism, if you will, instilling fear by committing violent and indiscriminate acts.

Terrorism, n: (1) what the government suspects us all of being involved in when it takes away our rights; (2) what the government is inflicting on us.

Calling for change

The biggest problem stopping political change is that there is currently no choice. At least in the USA and the UK, all the major parties stand for more or less exactly the same thing on the major issues. All the parties want war, all the parties want to be seen to be fighting against terrorism, and all are desperate to expand the surveillance state. All turn up their noses at accountability and democracy, and embrace secret laws, gagging orders and emergency legislation. They all want our private lives to be opened to scrutiny, but they are equally fixated on keeping this surveillance secret from us.

There is no choice. A vote for one group has the same effect as a vote for the other group, the abuse just continues. And where there is no choice, there is NO DEMOCRACY.

Barack Obama campaigned on a platform promising change, a refreshing new wind of democracy and freedom to overturn the mistakes made by the Republican administration. He wouldn't stand for illegal wiretapping, he'd abolish Guantanamo and stop the abuses such as illegal wars, extraordinary rendition, torture and drone strikes on civilians. And into his second term of office, he's now defending and expanding the illegal wiretapping, continuing all the previous wars, supporting the war profiteering and spearheading the secret surveillance programs.

In the UK, the war-hungry and honesty-averse Labour party led by Blair (or "Bliar" as he is sometimes known) shared the bulk of the main policies with the opposing Conservative party who now lead the current coalition government. There has been no change at all in the attitude towards war, towards brazenly lying to the public, towards installation of surveillance cameras and most recently hasty implemention of internet censorship. So how should one vote if one doesn't agree with the current coalition (who appear disorganized, incompetent and showing a complete disregard for the rights of the electorate) and also doesn't agree with the practically identical policies of the Labour opposition?

That really is an honest question. How can we unseat these fools from power? They work for us, we should sack them.

Protect your privacy

In the meantime, before the last chances of voicing any opposition are removed from us, please. Take steps to prevent the state putting you completely under surveillance. However small, the sum of many people taking such steps will make a difference.

Starting to use encrypted email is perhaps the most effective step. Encrypted email needs to become normal, and it needs people like you to encrypt their normal, everyday emails in order to be effective. Use Thunderbird, use Enigmail, use GPG, anything which puts you in control of the encryption. Of course that requires persuading the person you're emailing to do this too, and that's the trick.

I don't know enough about Tor to know whether to recommend it or not. But for sure it's not a good idea to tell Google about every single search term you want to look up. There are many alternative services around. And alternative email providers, and maps. My hope is that email will eventually decline and be replaced by distributed peer-to-peer (or friend-to-friend) networks with encryption as standard. But for now we have to make best use of the tools we have, and promote discussion of whether we, the people, want to have a total surveillance state or not.