Taking the mountain bike for a long ride and a few thoughts on surveillance.

In just over a week, I will be setting out on a long bicycle tour of rural New South Wales to take photos and rid myself of a few health problems including what I believe is Type 2 diabetes. A half dozen doctors can’t make up their minds and the treatment program they set made me feel like I’d soon be saying G’day to JC. Since managing things myself these past few months, I already feel better and think a sustained regime of physical exercise and a near paleo diet will do the trick. It’s going to be tough going and of course I’ll post updates and photos when I find an Internet connection. Right now I’m waiting for delivery of a trailer for the mountain bike and a ‘swag’ which is like a cross between a sleeping bag and a tent. Both should be here late next week so God willing as our Muslim friends say, I’ll set off early Saturday week.

Below are a few thoughts on surveillance and laws limiting freedom of speech and artistic expression. A bit rough but wanted to get them out there and feel free to comment and tell me what you think.

In the lead up to the 2007 I was at a meeting of GetUp which is an left-leaning organization created to campaign on issues such as climate change and gay marriage. The topic was which amongst a smörgåsbord of issues should be the focus of organizations efforts in the lead up to the upcoming federal election. I suggested state surveillance is a concern and was surprised when all sitting around the table said they didn’t have a problem with that because, well after all, we need to be protected from terrorists and the usual, if you haven’t done anything wrong then you have nothing to fear. The famous statement that people who would trade freedom for security deserve neither freedom nor security came to mind but there was no point in trying to convince people who had always lived in a secure democracy inherited rather than won at great cost in human lives. I’m not discounting the contribution made by Australia in achieving victory in World War II but am concerned that people do not appear to understand that it was a war to protect democracy as much as it was to protect our nation from invasion. As far as democracy is concerned WWII was a battle won but not the end of a war which is ongoing and today, we are losing.

Simply put, the belief long held by the far left, the far right and those who speak on behalf of God, that a perfect society can exist has not disappeared and where they have for the most part been unsuccessful in stirring the masses into revolt they have, a bit like a second best option, imported their policies into center politics. The battlefront today as far as protecting democracy is concerned is and as always when those who believe they have the perfect operating system are in position to set policy, primarily freedom of speech and the first to be targeted are again and as always, artists and writers. Here in Australia we have laws so extreme they make even a scribbled drawing or a diary entry potentially punishable by years in prison and all enacted to ‘protect society’. From what these laws protect us has never been fully explained beyond some vague reference to terrorists and other creepy people lurking in the shrubbery but does a terrorist or creepy person who sits on a park bench watching panties run about the playground, really commit to her or his diary or make a clumsy sketch of their evil intent? Is writing a line such as “I struggle with the desire to [enter offense here] and need to see a psych” a criminal offense potentially equal under Australian law to the actual commission of the [enter offense here]? What good are these laws if not to give the government the right to legislate thought and where better to start than in attacking people which even the most committed and brave of civil libertarians, the far left, the greens and or the religious or the far right would not dare to raise a whimper of protest in defense of their civil rights? Or as said above – do not believe in free speech themselves? Terrorists and pedophiles are the prefect initial target and when in place laws are much easier to apply to anyone else who might allegedly endanger law abiding people. Hitler targeted ‘decadent artists and writers’, Stalin did the same and where no proof could be produced of evil intent then a charge such as ‘endangering children by putting broken glass in Soviet butter’ did the trick. Off to the Gulag!

Intent has always been difficult to establish and even more so the ability to legislate thought. That being the ability to prosecute people not for what they actually did but rather for what they are thinking. Again the pedophile scare created the perfect opportunity to create legislation that enables prosecution not for having sex with a child nor even looking at child porn but simply for having had thoughts of doing so if such thoughts can be proven by something as innocuous as a diary entry or terms typed into a search engine. Doesn’t matter if you changed your mind and shut down the browser before anything illegal appears on screen. The thought was criminal in itself and potentially punishable by as many years in prison as would be the case had you done [terrible act] to [age and gender of victim]. Governments love pedophiles near as much as the far right love terrorists. The truth is that pedophiles of the kind who look at pictures with one hand under the table are most often people who suffer from major depression (as established by studies conducted in the United States and Australia) and who present little or no danger to children. A British study put the risk of they actually committing a contact offense at less than five percent of those arrested for illegal porn and the chances of a child becoming a victim at one in a million. Basically children have a greater chance of being run over so if their protection at all costs is the reason for these laws then let’s protect them by banning all motorized vehicles.
At great cost to the taxpayer prisons are full of people who shouldn’t be anywhere other than lying on a counselor’s couch and all that so and as was the case here in Australia, that our current prime minister when seeking state support for proposed legislation that would enable terrorists deemed dangerous to be kept in jail beyond their sentence, could say “after all – we already do it to pedophiles’.

But wait! – As the TV salesman said flashing a golden tooth – there’s more! We have the legal ability to lock up anyone with a wrong thought but relying on search terms, diary entries and picture albums is hardly sufficient to fully benefit from these new laws and if we are to avoid future terrorist attacks then we also need data retention and mass surveillance so that intelligence agencies can conduct things such as network analysis to determine what a target is possibly thinking. And potentially prosecute someone for preparing a terrorist attack not based on a ton of fertilizer found in an inner-city storage facility but simply on the pattern of their communications and therefore their thoughts. Brilliant many would say – even if pity for the sods with a porn addiction or fantasies of world domination – and I would agree that governments have a duty to protect society but not at the cost of civil and political rights and not at the cost of the freedom and rights of future generations.
Notice that none of these laws to protect us from terrorists have a sunset clause attached which means that in a century when the last terrorist has long gone to hell and when surveillance technology is beyond anything we can imagine these laws will still be enforceable giving a future dictatorship, and no society is immune from takeover by extremists, tools that Hitler and Stalin could only imagine late at night whilst experiencing involuntary ejaculation. Actually this lack of a sunset clause, and it was demanded but unsuccessfully by I can’t remember which Greens senator when data retention laws were passed, is further indication that terrorists and pedophiles are the excuse and not the reason. So the question becomes who in the future is the target? Unspecified? Then its probably you or rather your descendants.

The likely reason if we allow ourselves to make as educated a guess as possible could be contained in an address given by a Danish environment minister when he took world leaders on a tour of the disappearing glaciers of Greenland. In his welcoming address he said there are two ways to tackle climate change; the first being to do nothing in which case we most likely face a mass extinction event and, the second, would be an immediate shut down of the fossil-fuel-based world economy which he said would result in ‘blood on the streets’. Both possibilities are unthinkable but the military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have to plan for all contingencies and civil unrest caused by mass migration away from the worst affected areas, food and water shortages and economic collapse could well be on the horizon if a delicate balance between these two extremes is not achieved. We could also assume that as time passes and nothing is done to reduce emissions, that some may get to a point where they believe the only option left is direct action including attacks on infrastructure, businesses and individuals deemed part of the climate change problem. Without declaring support for violent action, I can say I would understand if such action occurred because it is only normal people protect their children from not a potential but actual life threatening situation. I also think we should protect our right to take strong action should there be a need – can be civil disobedience – and in a first instance we need to resist attempts to prevent climate activists from organizing and people in intelligence and law enforcement will have to decide who’s interests are most important? Their children or billionaire climate change denialists whom we could suspect, believe fortune will insure their children survive.