Secrecy and surveillance: twin evils

November 14, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Kim photoTold you this week would be all about surveillance. Two ThinkingShift readers have alerted me to articles about declining freedoms and librarians up in arms over surveillance. Firstly, Andrew M sent a link to an article from ABC News about press freedom declining. Apparently, there’s a “subtle shift” towards secrecy in Australia. I would say it’s pretty overt actually. Irene Moss, former NSW Ombudsman, has conducted an independent audit. She reviewed legislation and practices related to free speech issues affecting the media in Australia.

And guess what? The state of free speech and media freedom is “being whittled away by gradual and sometimes almost imperceptible degrees”. The report points the finger at general access to information where governments should be more open and accountable; the growing use of spin and the raising of barriers to mask information rather than reveal it – suggesting that the free flow of information is not just an issue of law, but one of a “growing culture of secrecy and mutual mistrust”. Scarily, the audit uncovered about 500 pieces of legislation that contain “secrecy” provisions or restrict the freedom of the media to publish certain information. And up to 1000 suppression orders control court matters. It seems the public’s right to know is being increasingly eroded. Go here to read about the key findings of the report. Scary.

And then Stephanie B sent me an article from The Washington Post, which reports on university and public librarians in the US fighting against pending domestic surveillance laws that could allow federal intelligence-gathering on library patrons without sufficient court oversight. Apparently, libraries are considered communications service providers (CSP) and the proposed draft House and Senate bills would allow the US Government to compel CSPs to cough up information about the activity of users who are non-US citizens (of course only foreigners hanging out in US libraries are a suspicious bunch). This surveillance can be conducted without a warrant or showing of probable cause. The proposed legislation would include being able to monitor a non-US citizen overseas participating in an online research project through a US university library (ergo US territory).

More privacy rights being violated if you ask me. Thanks to Andrew and Stephanie for the links.

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Entry filed under: Librarians, Libraries, Privacy, Surveillance society.

The efficacy of surveillance The panoptic school

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