Wiretap this !

Police work, good old-fashioned police work, seems to have fallen out of favor of today’s bureaucrats who would much rather eavesdrop on any conversation they wish to at the click of a button.

There is the news from the US about the Obama (Hope and Change?) administration seeking wiretap capabilities, not only for services such as Skype and Gmail but also for decentralized p2p services such as bittorrent. Of course, anyone who intends to use crypto to prevent eavesdropping will find any number of tools for this purpose. What then? Expand this so-called authority, behind the cover of “public security”, beyond the above named services, to all communications on the internet? Not only is this path dangerous because it moves us closer than ever to fascism, it is also highly ineffective and inefficient.

And then there is the benefit of hindsight. To quote from this piece:

according to several other officials, after the failed Times Square bombing in May, investigators discovered that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, had been communicating with a service that lacked prebuilt interception capacity. If he had aroused suspicion beforehand, there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped.

Right. And if pigs could fly maybe you wouldn’t need predator drones. Or even better, if we had Sherlock Holmes we wouldn’t need to wiretap anybody. If only … Such arguments are as groundless as they are foolish. You cannot argue for future powers based on past failures. That is like a kid saying to his mom: If I you had bought me a helicopter for Christmas I wouldn’t be late for school as I have been in the past. Any reasonable mom would likely ground such a child and the same should happen to proponents of such arguments.

Remember that famous memo: Osama Bin Laden determined to strike in the United States, dated August 6, 2001. What happened next is history.

Point being, in the absence of competent leadership all the surveillance in the world is of no use. Perhaps it would be better to legislate competence in the Federal government starting at the level of the White House. Now, that would be a start!

Then there are the older developments regarding Blackberry and Skype in Dubai and India as reviewed in today’s article in the NYTimes. It quotes the honorable G. K. Pillai, the Secretary of the Home Ministry of the Government of India:

“All communications which is done by Indians or coming to and fro into India — and where we have a concern about national security — we should have access to it,”

For non-Indian readers let me remind you that Mr. Pillai is a bureaucrat not subject to any civilian oversight unlike most high-level American officials. He is one step below the Home Minister who is an elected official, however for all practical purposes it is these “babus” – as we lovingly call them – who pull the relevant strings. So now, this gentleman, a political appointee with no public accountability, under whose able supervision the government has been utterly unable to contain the Maoist rebellion in many parts of India, is suggesting that all communications in India should be accessible by his department.

It is no great surprise to hear such hyperbole from an Indian civil servant or politician. After all, as yet, the Indian public practices a don’t ask, don’t tell policy towards its governmental functionaries. Decades of corruption and mismanagement have left us all but disillusioned about the likes of Mr. Pillai.

These developments should serve to remind the public in every nation that, increasingly, governments are content to install surveillance systems in every aspect of our lives. Such an attitude is dangerous, not only because it does nothing in terms of security, but also because such systems will simply serve as instruments of public control and repression for anti-Democratic forces who might gain power in any nation which has goes down this path.

I have a suggestion. Let’s just cut to the chase and install v-chips in every person’s head. That way anything you see, say, type or read is directly accessible for surveillance. No more hassles about such trifles as the First or Fourth Amendments or court orders. Wouldn’t we all sleep so much more peacefully in such a world?

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