When honest people are unjustifiably placed under constant surveillance, they begin to act differently. They change their behaviour to suit the changed environment where there is an ever-present fear of being watched, where people feel that they are treated as criminals by default for just living out their lives. Genuine targets of surveillance however have already taken countermeasures to work around the pervasive surveillance, with the ultimate result of not solving any actual perceived issues, just creating more.
I do wonder whether the Government has considered that such an environment may serve only to provoke a more aggressive responses from marginalised communities already under constant surveillance due to tenuous and perceived threats of ‘terrorist activity’. The threats of terrorism that are not addressed by existing legislation are far outweighed by the provocative nature of the extended powers being proposed.
Terrorism is a term that is more regularly being used as a mechanism to stifle dissent in the Western world than any act of violence against civilians these days, such as in the case of David Miranda, the partner of prolific transparency journalist Glenn Greenwald, attempting to enter the UK and having his data seized. Yes, actual journalism is defined as terrorism these days according to UK law, as the truth is absolutely terrifying to the ruling class of the modern Western ‘liberal’ democracy.
Terrorism is a word used to provoke fear in the population, and to provoke unquestioning acceptance of the most heinous revocations of due process and human rights in the history of liberal democracy.
I define terrorism as any action that uses violence and intimidation in order to meet the political goals of the aggressor. We are unlikely to soon see the Government provide a solid definition, as it does not play into their hand as well when they opt to take away our rights to further any of their fear-based exercises.
Perhaps taking action to ensure that marginalised members of our society are less isolated would be a better option than actively provoking a response from these groups, for all purposes. This, however, is obviously not as fun or as easy as whipping up a racial hatred storm to “stop to boats” and consume the votes. Giving the executive the power to determine who or what groups are considered terrorists, simplifying the discussion down to an abstract “goodies versus baddies”, only serves to play into the hands of political bias and not genuine protection of Australian society.
The most appropriate response would be to build strong relationships with these communities in order to respond swiftly and appropriately to issues within society before they escalate beyond control. Instead, by going down the route of treating all persons as guilty until proven innocent, fuel is being provided to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of domestic terrorism.
One of my biggest concerns is that while this policy is being fuelled by xenophobic fear-mongering, actual genuine threats may be overlooked, perhaps in the same way that Anders Breivik managed to massacre dozens of peaceful political activists in the name of “stopping multiculturalism”. Perhaps is it worth considering whether due to fear, the world is placing disproportionate focus on combatting Islamic jihad, and in practice enabling right-wing nationalist organisations or individuals free reign to plan their next atrocity.
Xenophobia is blinding. Ubiquitous surveillance is agitating. The outcome is self-fulfilling.
None of this is to say that there is not a potential threat from radicalisation of persons fighting overseas. On the contrary, I am suggesting that where there is a legitimate suspicion that a person may have broken the law, there are already sufficient mechanisms available that don’t require dismantling the rule of law in our country. A person leaves to go to a territory considered to be a potential hot zone for fighting? Law enforcement agencies have access to the records of who they are and where they are going. Follow up on those individuals and see if they have committed any wrongdoing. Consider using the digital surveillance powers that you already have available to you such as a data preservation order targeted specifically on this suspect. This is called gathering evidence of criminal activity, with the intent of pressing charges where wrongdoing is found, and giving the individual a fair trial. This is a core precept of what makes up a modern, liberal democracy. Kill that, and you have nothing left to defend from ‘terrorism’—you’ve already done their job for them.
After all of this, there’s the question of proportionality. There is no proportionality here. Ubiquitous surveillance creates a massive haystack for finding a needle that may not even be there, where traditional police work based on actual available evidence, strong relationships with diverse communities and working to build an inclusive society would solve the problem (where one is proven to exist) in a much more effective manner.
Treating literally every Australian as a suspect, reversing the legal principle of innocence until proven guilty, in confluence with the slew of other proposed weakenings of legal principles such as reversal of the onus of proof, is a recipe for disaster.
I will end with my favourite quote from this entire debacle by Senator Brandis: “[data retention] is very much the way in which western nations are going”. This reminds me of a question my mother used to ask me as a child: “if your friends all jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?” Our Government just answered that question in the affirmative, and wants to force us all off it with them. Let’s not let them take us down with them.
Now get back to destroying this absurd budget, all of you.