Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spying is about power

National's strapped-chicken intelligence "review" has already been criticised for a one-sided view of the balance between human rights and security. But as the Council for Civil Liberties points out, its not that they don't really talk about human rights - its also the way they talk about them when they do:

The lack of thinking about these issues results in statements like: "The debate about how best to balance the need for security and the privacy of individuals will continue for as long as both are seen as essential to a free society."

The use of the word "privacy" completely undermines the importance of the debate. Civil liberties and human rights aren't just about privacy - they're about power. They're about maintaining the proper power relationship between government and the governed in a democracy. Government agencies collecting, storing, and analysing information about people tilts the balance of power from the people towards the government. It weakens our civil liberties and thereby weakens our democracy.

[Emphasis added]

This is something that cannot be stressed enough. Allowing the government to spy on us gives them power over us - not just in the obvious, abusive ways (using our secrets for blackmail or leaking them as revenge), but also in the tone of the relationship it sets between citizen and state. It asserts that government is something done to us (by our "betters", of course), rather than by us. It is therefore inherently destructive of democratic values.

In a democracy, citizens have power over the government, not the other way round. And let's keep it that way - by disbanding the spy agencies.