In a leaked National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation, the contempt for average people—zombies, as it describes them—oozes like the creeping, smiling puss from a festering plague sore laughingly settling on the body of its begging victim. I normally dislike 1984 comparisons, but when the NSA itself gleefully likens its surveillance of iPhones to Apple’s 1984-inspired Superbowl ad depicted in the year 1984, that clichéd line about the book not being an instruction manual should, rather than cue a groan, rip from the mind of any thinking person the assumption that our governments are trustworthy.
The Wikipedia page summarizing Edward Snowden’s leaks currently sits at almost 8000 words with nearly 300 citations. The documents—the majority unreleased—are claimed to number 1.5 million. Suffice to say, space forbids covering a meaningful fraction here, but the trend is that if they have the power to collect something, they probably will—and if there’s a law against it, they’ll probably break it or use international partnerships to skirt it. And the US isn’t alone in spying on its own or foreign citizens. Canada’s knee-deep in the corpse of privacy, too.
Unsurprisingly, Stephen Harper, who loves to gush on behalf of all Canadians about dead politicians as opposite as Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, is not outraged on our behalf that using electronic communications means we’re being watched—domestically or internationally. But you can’t only blame him, just like you can’t only blame Obama: this is not new, with at least the intention, if not the power, predating our current flavours of government.
Facing this vast, all-encompassing international surveillance of ordinary people, it seems horribly quaint and worthless to recommend writing your MP a letter requesting they help kill the spying. But still, enough people demanding change will theoretically move the most spineless of politicians to try rather than risk electoral defeat. We can’t count on their leadership and integrity, so the next best thing is making the right thing the safer thing.
Failing coaxing these critters toward respecting people’s business, the next federal election is in 2015, which means people will be putting themselves up for party nominations this year—some already have. If the privacy of you and your fellow human beings means anything, demand that those who condone mass surveillance are cut.
And if you fail, or are fed a hefty dump of non-committal political speak feigning concern, look beyond the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP. Those parties have no more right to this country just because they represent degrees of the status quo than anybody else—look for smaller parties with candidates who stand for something more.
And if those aren’t enough, put yourself forward. Whatever you do this year, and whatever it is, if you see something you don’t like, do something. Say something. You’ll probably fail when you take on the crushing, political-industrial machine and apathetic carelessness of the public that accepts rather than challenges. But at least you’ll have tried, and regretting a failure is volumes more noble than having done nothing. If you—we—don’t succeed, that still has to count for something. V