Erosion of our rights and privacies

Recently I was having a conversation where I was informed that the larger telecommunication companies were at a summit in the UK. I was told that the summit was to find a way of stopping the download of illegal activity on the internet by making your internet provider responsible for your downloads.

I stated that I was against the idea of ISPs monitoring my internet activity but that it was easy enough for them to do, as they own the infrastructure that I am using to access the internet, they have to monitor the service in order to maintain and regulate it, and I have a contract with the ISP. My stronger objection was with the government and law enforcement having an open invitation to also monitor my internet activity. I have no contract with them and I do not give them permission to invade my privacy.

“But what about the spread of child pornography?” was the argument. “You obviously do not care about the children. I am prepared to give up my rights in order to protect the children.”

A statement like that is an obvious, emotive argument that does not take into consideration the medium and long term ramifications of handing over the rights to your privacy.

That argument is not a quick fix as it does not stop paedophiles, who use much more sophisticated methods than typing ‘child porn’ into Google.

The spread of child porn on the internet is a very serious matter and a serious solution must be found. I do not claim to have that solution, but I know that forcing everyone to give up their right to privacy in order to catch the less than 3% of the global population who have been caught with online child pornography is not the answer.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey, of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, 11.1 percent were victimised by a stranger. More commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%), a family friend (16.3%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%), another known person (15.3%), or the father or stepfather (13.5%). It should be noted that these totals add to more than 100 percent (103.7%); this indicates that a small proportion of child sexual abuse victims (3.7%) were abused by perpetrators belonging to more than one category.


Does this mean that males should never be left alone with children by law and be chaperoned by another adult with children at all times? Or is this a step too far, requiring a more refined approach to a very serious problem?

A long lasting solution needs to be more sophisticated. Governments, law enforcement and ISPs need to find a solution that targets the individual and not the masses.

They must find a solution that is the equivalent to a scalpel, and not a blunderbuss firing buckshot into innocent bystanders.

“But you should not mind being monitored, if you have nothing to hide”, came their response. The solution has to be far more complex.

Just because we have nothing to hide, does not mean that we want to give up our right to privacy.

For obvious historic reasons, Jewish communities in the UK have a strong aversion to governments that require intrusive and overt surveillance of the population. Large swathes of their communities value their right to privacy, a lesson learned from their bitter past.

I went to buy a ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone sim card phone in Melbourne when I first got here. I was asked to show them 90 points of identification, the same that would be required for an official government or financial undertaking. They scanned the picture part of my passport and sent off the details to their clearing company. After a few minutes, the clearing company came back to the shop with the message that there was no Australian visa associated with the passport that I had submitted. Apart from the fact that this was true as I had newer passport, how did they know this information?

I was applying for a mobile phone, not applying for a job. How were they able to access government records in order to establish my legal status in the country?

What right does the Australian government have to sell my information like that?

Surely my passport information should be confidential, but clearly it is not.

I was able to buy a house, a car, and obtain a job without anyone checking my visa, yet a commercial telephone company was able to check my visa status.

I object to my privacy being so blatantly violated for a commercial convenience.

There was a move in the UK a while ago to bring in identification cards, and to force everyone to carry them about their person at all times. In Australia, they do not have national identification cards, but everywhere you go people ask to see your driver’s licence as a primary form of identification.

What if you do not drive? I hear you ask. Then the police can issue you with a voluntary identification card, or you have to carry your passport and two utility bills around with you.

Growing up as a black male in a London that was still learning to see me as English, I was constantly stopped and harassed by the police. It was important for me to know and understand my rights.

The police could not ask you to turn out your pockets and then use the argument that “you should agree if you have nothing to hide”.

Shop keepers could not ask to see inside your bags (that is a bag that your own and not one that the shop has given you to carry your goods) just because you fit a profile of people that they believe steal.

If you let them look in your bag, “if you have nothing to hide”, why stop there? Whey not let them reach into your pockets and pat you down? After all, you have nothing to hide.

I, and my generation of non-whites in England, have fought too long and too hard to have our rights recognised, and I am not about to give them up on the back of some popularist, ill-conceived shock-jock soundbyte.

The same applies to the internet. Just because I have nothing to hide, it does not mean that I actively wish to give up my civil liberties. It does not mean that I want to be constantly monitored. It does not mean that I wish to be under constant surveillance and censorship.

There are always well meaning reasons for people to be coerced into giving up their basic civil liberties, but most of these mask the fact that they are substitutes for intelligent police work, or proper investigations that may be more costly and require more resources.

Crime of every description on the internet is a new frontier for the police of every nation. The law always appears to be one step behind the criminals, and the criminals have better resources.

However, this does not mean that we must “throw the baby out with the bath water”. We must not throw away the rights that we have fought so long and hard to obtain and preserve, under pressure from a government leading by fear.

It is important that we are able to have an academic debate about protecting the erosion of our civil liberties in modern society, rather than trying to win an argument from an entrenched position.

It is not only the responsibility of governments to think about solutions to 21st century problems. Collaborative thought is the only way that we will collectively find a solution to these very serious problems.

Maybe together we can assist in finding a refined and tailored solution to this difficult problem, rather than allowing governments and law enforcement with secondary agendas to implement blanket laws that dictate our fate.



~ by jeditopcat on 13 July, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: