Yesterday, which was International Human Rights Day, Writers Against Mass Surveillance set up a petition to launch an appeal in defence of civil liberties against surveillance and information storing by corporations and governments. As someone who has been following the whole sordid and often surreal NSA affair (see this article about the Information Dominance Centre - yep, really, that's what they so benignly called it - with your surveillance-loving types courting funding by using a Captain Picard chair to milk funds from congressmen. It's scary stuff if you like to believe politicians are grown ups), I can only cheer. It's a worthy international cause supported by a very impressive bunch of writers from all over the globe. You can hardly argue with their stance:
The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.
This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.
A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.
To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.
* Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion.
* Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.
* Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.
* Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.
WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.
I just hope citizens in general haven't been too trained in handing over all their personal information to be outraged at what has been happening all over the world, and too accepting of what they perceive to be a fair trade-off for the technological goodies they so thoroughly enjoy to see that such passivity leaves us vulnerable to the vagaries of politics. It's all good if your government has no busybody, fascist tendencies, adopts zen-deep calm in the face of calamities, is rational when faced with irrational suspicions, is transparent, kind to old people, children and animals, and has sterling anti-corruption policies in place. However, Orwellian powers are less fun in the hands of ruling bodies who decide they need to know and control everything because their own citizens are actually the real enemy, who are in government purely to accumulate wealth and power for themselves and their cronies and family, or who are a collection of sociopaths who simply like to keep people in a permanent state of fear and paranoia for the fun of it.
Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Checks and balances, please, really big ones, because people mostly have a very hard time not abusing power.