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Everyone knows the old saying that ends with “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. However, in the USA apparently you don’t need to because there are more than enough fools who believe that the intrusion of technology into their privacy will make them safer.

 An astounding result of a recent Pew Research poll showed that 56% of Americans are happy to accept the National Security Agency (NSA) getting secret court orders to tap millions of phones for the sake of trapping terrorists. Even more astonishing, 45% - yes almost half – of Americans believe their Government should have the right to spy on their emails!

In hindsight, one should not be surprised at these poll results. After all, last November California – a state with twice the population of Australia – was convinced to vote against the mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically engineered products!

It seems that in the land of the free, laws are not really made by representatives of people who elect them into office. They are actually made by the people who have the most money to spend on propaganda campaigns. In the case of Proposition 37, the forces against mandatory labelling (think giant agribusiness) had endlessly deep pockets.

Thus, we can see that in the US, a majority of the population is frighteningly susceptible to propaganda. An even scarier thought is that there may be no reason to believe that the rest of us are any different to Americans in this regard.

Witness for example the explosive proliferation of video surveillance cameras.  According to some reports, there are as many as 5 million security cameras installed across Britain – that’s one for every 12 persons.

The Brits were sold the lie that video would help prevent crime, yet crime rates are not appreciably different than they were before installations commenced in the mid-1980s. Surveillance cameras are likewise proliferating across the US and countries like Australia, where we were also given the spin about crime prevention.

Governments could perhaps make a good argument that video surveillance in certain places can at least help them identify and apprehend criminals after the fact.

That being the case, governments in free societies should not be opposed to their citizens implementing their own video surveillance of law enforcement officers and other public servants during the performance of their duties. In actual fact, trying to use your phone as a video device under such circumstances may well get you into trouble.

In fact, taking a video of anything in a public place could land you on a terror watch list, particularly if you have dark hair, olive skin and a beard. In the US, at the very least that means you could expect your phone to be tapped and your emails to be intercepted. Worse, without your knowledge you could be added to a no-fly list or even incarcerated indefinitely without charge.

There is a quote attributed to American statesman and journalist Benjamin Franklin that is often paraphrased but the original form which appeared in his notes best conveys the message: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

However, that doesn’t seem to worry more than half the American population these days who appear to be more than willing to sacrifice their freedom for the promise of security.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 25 years of experience working in Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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