Surveillance society clock

September 22, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

I’m not sure if the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is six minutes behind the times! The ACLU site has just launched the Surveillance Society clock, which is supposed to symbolise I guess how rapidly we are becoming a society that is watched and monitored. Frankly, I thought the surveillance society was already here.

The clock is set at six minutes to midnight – midnight is of course the darkest hour – and the ACLU says:

The reality is we are fast approaching a genuine surveillance society in the United States – a dark future where our every move, our every transaction, our every communication is recorded, compiled, and stored away, ready to be examined and used against us by the authorities whenever they want. The ACLU has created this Surveillance Clock to symbolize just how close we are to a “midnight” of a genuine surveillance society. But it’s not too late – there is still time to save our privacy.

Very apocalyptic but when you consider how our privacy is being constantly eroded, I have to agree with ACLU. They point the finger of blame at:

  • Powerful new technologies
  • Weakening privacy laws
  • The “War on Terror”
  • Courts that are letting privacy rights slip away
  • A president who thinks he can ignore laws against warrantless spying on citizens
  • Big corporations willing to become extensions of the surveillance state

ACLU also highlights surveillance milestones – a timeline from 1830 to now showing technologies or policies that have impinged on our privacy. Scary when you look at the 2000-2007 column – go here to see fuller detail.

I think though that there are aspects of surveillance that can be protective eg CCTV cameras that capture an assault. But then you read something like the news item I came across the other day in The Sydney Morning Herald on proposed new spy laws for security agencies. And you wonder whether the pendulum is constantly swinging towards abuse of our rights. It would seem that ASIO, plus the State and Federal police, without a warrant, could secretly track people via their mobile phones (unless you have it switched off) and monitor what you’re looking at on the Internet for up to three months. The rationale behind the proposed laws is the usual – counter-terrorism measures – and it’s not just going to affect someone suspected of an offence – the proposed laws can apply to anyone.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle sums it up well: “The bill “is more like something from East Germany than a party claiming to support liberal principles….There is no judicial oversight. Police and ASIO should have to get a warrant to track and tap people’s mobile phones or web browsing.”

At least in East Germany they had to run around secretly breaking into people’s homes to place listening devices on phones. It will be a far easier matter for ASIO and the police to simply demand that internet service providers and phone companies stream information to them after calls have been made or chat rooms visited. The proposed spy legislation is due before Senate this week and I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Meanwhile, I’ll be reading the latest ACLU report – Even Bigger, Even Weaker: The Emerging Surveillance Society: Where are we Now? – which you can download here.

Image credit: ACLU

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Entry filed under: Privacy, Surveillance society. Tags: .

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