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We face surveillance of our lives and attempts to control our every behaviour

Santa’s making his list about now, checking it twice, finding out who’s naughty or nice. Sad to say those lists are already being compiled, not by Mr. Claus Esquire, but by those in assumed positions of power.

A glance across the water at Ireland makes plain the putting together of the naughty list is well under way. Legislation hustled through parliament there, in the aftermath of riots after the stabbing of children and their teacher outside their school, gifts authorities astonishing new powers of surveillance of the Irish people with a view to seeing who’s naughty or nice.


But the genesis of the theft of freedom predates any recent unrest. Back in 2022, politician Pauline O’Reilly talked openly about how she and her colleagues were working to shorten the leash. ‘That’s exactly what we’re doing here’, she said. ‘We’re restricting freedom, but we’re doing it for the common good’.

The common good. Fear the common good like no other state cover for theft of your rights. Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.

Santa’s surveillance is the least of it. More and more it’s clear an unholy alliance of governments, banks, big tech and intelligence agencies is making a reality of round the clock surveillance of citizens.

They’ll know what you’ve been reading. They’ll know all that you’ve said. They’ll decide if you’ve been bad or good, and they’ll put the mockers on your bank account and generally make your life unliveable or throw you in jail if you put a toe out of line.

In another life, what feels like 100 years ago I was part of a team at British Telecom taking care of content on the company’s website. Back in the mid 1990s, it was only the 3rd website to exist in Britain. I found the internet even more confusing then than I do now, and among a slew of questions I had was how and why everything was free.

Free software, free access, millions of pages of information about anything and everything. I couldn’t work out why something so amazing was free to all comers. Cui bono, you might say.

More recently I realised it was all about baiting a trap, all that convenience. So much for nothing, in return for just handing over more and more personal data to persons unknown. And here we are, flies stuck on one big web with spiders that know more about us than we know about ourselves. Genius, really. But then it was the idea of the US military.

For the longest time, the internet was a place of anonymity. No names, no pat drills.

Now that anonymity has been identified by the powers that be as the final obstacle standing in the way of total control. Which reminds me of something else I learned at BT.

In the early days of the telephone in the US, an undertaker called Almon Brown Strowger was convinced he was losing business to a rival undertaker, whose wife was the operator at the local telephone exchange. Whenever anyone called looking for an undertaker, she always connected them to her husband’s business.

And so Strowger invented an automatic exchange that took human operators out of the loop. Now the connections were made by an unthinking machine, and no human could watch or interfere.

Now, 140 odd years later, it seems to me the authorities would prefer they could step in again. See who’s talking to who, what they’re saying, whether it’s right think, or wrong think.

The new legislation in Ireland gives the State unprecedented power to pry into what people are reading, writing and saying online. If a policeman wants to see what an Irish man or woman has been looking at online, reading online, he can demand access to mobile phones, computers, tablets, whatever.

For that kit that is protected by a pin, the policeman is empowered to demand it. Failure to comply could lead to prosecution and a year in jail.

Stop and think about that. No more privacy and flunkies of the state deciding in advance of any evidence of wrongdoing, whether you or I are likely suspects. A judge decides if you seem likely to circulate a document, a meme, a link and so makes a judgement about whether a hate crime might be committed in the future.

Here we have nothing less than the advent of thought crime or even pre-crime as it was imagined in the sci-fi movie Minority Report.

Santa checks if you’ve been bad in the past. Now we face a future where myrmidons of the state can decide arbitrarily if you might be bad in the future. In Ireland as elsewhere, the necessary legislation for the prosecution of so-called hate speech has been in place for decades, and in cases where such has been applied, been shown to work perfectly well, the new legislation is only about surveillance. The right to pry and to punish in advance.

And it goes without saying, this will hardly be limited to Ireland. If the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that small, well regulated populations are used as test beds for the next bright idea from the authoritarians.

I’m thinking about how Israelis, Australians and New Zealanders, for example, were made the lab rats of the most draconian steps taken during the COVID debacle.

What has seemed to empower the state and Ireland will surely spread like a virus that really does put everyone at risk. Populations and societies where state reach is already powerful – what they call strong state capacity as in Israel, Australia and New Zealand to name but three – may be regarded as pre-programmed to trust authority more than they ever should.

I see the meek acceptance by too many of restrictions and measures that ought to put the fear of God into every freedom loving human being is manifesting now as something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, where captives sympathise with and so take the side of their captors.

#face #surveillance #lives #attempts #control #behaviour,

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