Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Turning Back Dystopia


Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren were right when they argued in 1890 that “the right to be let alone… secures the exercise of extensive civil privileges.” That ownership of being, secured by legal protections, remains one of the most powerful features of any state which regards personal liberties as sacrosanct. It ensures spatial protection. It enables identity, however peculiar, to flourish.

Unfortunately, the hollowing out of the state’s activities, the interlinking with the corporate sector, and the privatisation of security services, has made an assault on such concepts as privacy relentless.

Technology has made sifting bureaucrats indifferent, executing state directives with a degree of moral flabbiness. U.S. President Barack Obama takes the standard line that the Peeping Toms of security are gathering information on subjects responsibly, without a sense of villainy. “They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking for content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.”

The paradox at one end is that officials can gather information (in Australia, without a formalised warrant system) in the hope of mining those “folks” who engage in things naughty against the state, but who are also bound by covenants of secrecy. Violations of privacy are complemented by undertakings to keep mum. The state’s withering of the body of liberties takes place unabated, concealed by en edifice of stifling silence.

The secrecy extends to the entire conduct of the dispute resolution process in which employees might find themselves when contesting a claim with the public service. This can be seen by employees of the Australian Public Service, to take one acute example, which insists on gagging clauses in any settlement offers that might not need to go to court.

Such deeds of release, as they are termed, can serve a primary purpose: to conceal forms of management, or systematic mismanagement, within an agency. They can be used, therefore, to cut the oxygen off from the whistleblowing process.

In the United States, it is fitting that some efforts are being made to combat programs which have seen the relentless accumulation of information under the auspices of protection. Their aspiring rationale is that the more data we have on you, the safer we make you.

The phone records program is a particular nasty in this regard, maintained by an unduly broad reading of the Patriot Act. There is no need on the part of government to show probable cause that the particular individual might be engaged in terrorist activities.

The American Civil Liberties Union has made the plausible case against such latitudinal reasoning, filing a lawsuit arguing that metadata, when suitably sifted, can reveal the private dispositions of the users as standard eavesdropping activities. “Each time a resident of the United States makes a phone call, the NSA records whom she called, when the call was placed and how long the conversation lasted.” The agency tracks “when she called the doctor, and which doctor she called; which family members she called, and which she didn’t”.

Much of this lies in the problems of expectations. It is incumbent on the part of elected officials and members of the public to foster the necessity of respecting privacy. To that end, attitudes such as Justice Harry Blackmun from 1979 must be deemed archaic, views doubting whether “people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial.”

Such ills also find themselves manifest in the private sector, with entities such as Facebook prove indifferent to the way information is transferred or sought by government services. As Edward Snowden’s disclosures show, such companies tend to share the same pillow with their government counterparts. Governments seek information; companies dealing with an extensive base of users pass them on. Subscribers are none the wiser at the fact that they the surveillance voyeurs are in charge.

Last week, it was revealed that the social-networking monster had received requests for information from the agents of 74 countries on 38,000 users, with half of them coming from the United States (Al-Jazeera, Aug 27). Mind you, Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, puts up a brave front in response to such queries. “We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests.”

Such a response is hardly sufficient. The companies want to stay in business. It is axiomatic that, in order to do so, they may have to relent more than they might wish. Security interests, however vague, prevail.

The movement against broad based intrusions must involve a concerted effort of law that will police the interception of material and monitor access to the private data bases of users by “third parties”. The global movement against surveillance, orchestrated by such parties as the WikiLeaks Party in Australia, must roar with confidence. Dystopia must be rolled back.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently running with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party in Victoria. Email:

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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases