FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Manifest Surveillance

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Melbourne.

It is a pity that an Attorney General with the surname of Dreyfus has decided that history, notably one of injustice, is something for other people. The Dreyfus Affair, France’s divisive scandal involving Captain Alfred Dreyfus’ alleged communication of French military secrets to the German embassy in Paris, plagued France from 1894 to 1906.

The point of it was that Dreyfus was framed and made an example of, banished to Devil’s Island.  He was convicted – twice.  He was exonerated only in 1906.  The military establishment, with its baubles and pleasantries, had been keen to keep evidence coming to light that a certain French Army major by the name of Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was responsible.

The modern Australian Dreyfus, given name Mark, is of a different nature, a creature of an establishment indifferent to the exposure of corruption and crime via a vigorous blow of the whistle.  According to the highest serving legal officer of the government, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are, in fact, not even whistleblowers.

On Tuesday, speaking to the Security in Government Conference in Canberra, Dreyfus not merely attempted to disabuse his audience of the very idea that Snowden and Manning had performed feats of noble duty in untenable situations.  He defended Australia’s own telecommunications interception programme.  His policy: trash and defend.

There was nothing too surprising about his brief.  When the establishment speaks about matters of security, notably about those from within it who breached those onerous covenants of secrecy, its voice is unimaginative and unrepentant.  “Where an activity has been authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies and where no wrongdoing has been identified, the disclosure of information is not ‘whistleblowing’.”[1]

Dreyfus is evidently inhabiting another space of political contemplation.  Crime is up for redefinition.  “Collateral Murder” was evidently authorised, a product of a legal, if misguided enterprise.  The Iraq War logs were of the same ilk.  And the broadest surveillance programs in history, a product not of parliamentary approval but executive gluttony, was perfectly in order. Ergo, it’s all legal, and Manning and Snowden are wrongdoers, merely common “politically motivated” criminals.

Besides, spying on Australian citizens was perfectly legitimate for their own good.  “I want to reiterate that Australia’s intelligence activities are carried out in a manner that is consistent with our law, and or the purpose of protecting Australia’s democratic values.”

But are such measures, questionably legal to begin with, effective, let alone necessary?  Hardly, if you consult the figures in the 2011-12 financial year.  They reveal that 293,501 disclosures of metadata to various government and non-government organisations under the Telecommunications Act resulted in a paltry prosecution rate of 0.7 percent.  The trawling operation is proving to be simply that, a desperate attempt on the part of the government to get a bite.

The Greens have alleged, with some foundation, that there is a “bipartisan agreement” between the Australian government and the opposition coalition to trash and tarnish the role of whistleblowers.  Democratic health is evidently too cheesy for them to stomach.  For them, the gagged are the good.

Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam was particularly forceful at a conference of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network about this understanding.  “We have, over the last day or so, seen our attorney-general declare that people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are not whistleblowers and respectively cutting them loose indicating that the Australian government doesn’t support the kind of legal protection that really should be [given] to whistleblowers who disclose war crimes.”[2]

Such behaviour demonstrates, yet again, that the centre of Australian politics is polluted, a sinister consensus that surveillance is good, or at worst benign.  This is a concept of manifest surveillance, or, to use Ludlam’s term, a “surveillance agenda”.

Various symptoms result from this manic behaviour: self-censorship and a cultivated climate of constipated fear in revealing information; a further entrenchment of the very security culture we should be guarding against.  Ultimately, such atmosphere manifests a process of inadvertent collaboration: the citizen is encouraged to collaborate in his or her own silence.

Such a strategy also suggests that the surveillance state is merely an extension of broader interests disconnected with the democratic experiment.  Spying is what makes us good; monitoring is what makes us decent.

To Ludlam’s credit, a bill has been introduced to Parliament that would limit the government’s ability to accumulate and gorge itself on intercepted information.  How far it goes given the asphyxiating stance of the major parties remains to be seen.

A few starting steps are required to redress this disease.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a measure in the form of a global data protection agreement, though one can’t help feeling that this was done well after the horse of surveillance had bolted.  When caught in the act, any response is bound to be disingenuous.

Even more disingenuous are the staff of the office of the Australian Attorney-General himself.  One spokesperson considered that the legislative hoods of Canberra would consider supporting the “protection of communications and personal information held by private and public sector organisations” in such a global scheme but reiterated that old hoary chestnut of “balance”: intelligence services need their fill; private citizens need their privacy.[3]

That equation has been out of balance for years now, and needs desperate correction. It is not bound to come from that man Dreyfus.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is on the Victorian ticket for the Senate, running with Julian Assange and Dr. Leslie Cannold.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/14/australian-attorney-general-attacks-snowden-manning

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
Paul J. Ramsey
What Trump’s Travel Ban Reveals About His Long-Term Educational Policy
Norman Pollack
Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago
Michael Brenner
The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
Sam Gordon
Falling Rate of Profit, What about Some Alienation?
Jack Random
Sidetracked: Trump Diaries, Week 8
Julian Vigo
The Limits of Citizenship
James Graham
French Elections: a Guide for the Perplexed
Jeff Mackler
The Extraordinary Lynne Stewart
Lee Ballinger
Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”
Binoy Kampmark
Romancing Coal: The Adani Obsession
Nyla Ali Khan
Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir
Chad Nelson
The Politics of Animal Liberation: I Can’t Quit You Gary Francione
Weekend Edition
March 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Reynolds
Israel and the A-Word
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail