On June 8, 1949, George Orwell published a novel describing a fictitious world gripped in the vise of constant war and a society held captive by the ever-watchful gaze of a shadowy totalitarian dictator known as "Big Brother." The book has since found relevance again and again in our modern world. The main character, Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader. Sounds familiar? The first time I read “1984” I thought it was a science fiction masterpiece. Fast forward to the present nightmare.
The biggest break western democracies could hope for came compliments of Osama Bin Laden on 9/11, delivered on a bloody silver plate. The witch-hunts of the past resumed in earnest thanks to The Patriot Act and all the consequences and government agencies that followed. The once proud American people gave up their freedom and privacy without batting an eyelash.
Politicians and governments hate Democracy, even those who have risen to power through a democratic process. Since they are genetically incapable of being honest, they resent to be held accountable or questioned over their actions. Once they are in office they spend most of their time making sure the same people who voted them into power are kept in the dark and under close control, preferably through fear, lies and technology.
There is very little difference between today’s NSA and the KGB of old. The KGB infiltrated organizations, business and social groups, reporting anything that was considered anti-communist. The NSA and Homeland Security label anything that it doesn’t like, or wants to crush, as “terrorism” without distinction. It’s the password that allows them to smash open any door, the Constitution be damned, especially the Fourth Amendment. The rest is accomplished through all kinds of electronic surveillance and the gratuitous contribution of millions of Internet subscribers who blissfully, mindlessly and cheerfully post their lives and movements on social networks.
That’s why Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning and Glenn Greenwald are, in my book, heroes. They are the avatars of our cyber society. They have turned the tables, paying a very high personal price.
The latest disclosure, a few weeks ago, included an internal report, dated May 2012, that cited 2,776 violations over the previous year of rules meant to protect Americans ‘privacy.’ We have also learned that Google, Facebook, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, Amazon, and many others, will bend over backwards to provide the government with their data banks of information plus refusing service to any entity or person labeled non grata by the hysterical “global powers” on the verge of losing the little façade, credibility and respect they may have left.
There is a high degree of pleasure in seeing governments squirm, scramble, scream, lie and run for cover over the half a million plus documents made public by WikiLeaks in the past, and now the top-secret documents leaked by Snowden, clearly showing the NSA overstepped its legal authority thousands of times since 2011. The reactions are predictable and full of senseless shrill sound bites for the benefit of the masses. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, said that informants should be executed.
WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden are a step forward in our need and craving for freedom of information. On the other hand the backlash, not surprisingly, is not far behind. It is already in the making a new wave of imperial laws aimed at labeling as “terrorists” the digital Robin Hoods.
It is interesting to see that both Snowden and Assange allied themselves with the “old media” newspapers, to push forward their agenda. It is fundamentally important that the credible publications now involved perform what they are supposed to be good at: verify, investigate and confirm the information released by Snowden or any other whistle blower. The new and the old tools of communications must come together to dissect, stimulate, analyze, expose and organize the debate more than ever before in our history. They must consolidate their position as watchdog for the public interest. At the same time it is extremely disturbing to learn that Glenn Greenwald’s partner was taken into custody while in transit at London’s Heathrow under the “anti-terrorism” provision, only to learn the next day that the action was meant to send a message to those involved in the reporting of government’s secret surveillance. More likely it sounds like vindictiveness of those in power against journalists doing their job in exposing the abuse of people’s rights.
As the drama unfolds over the fates of Julian Assange (still hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy after more than a year), and Edward Snowden (for the time being a “guest” of Russia), Bradley Manning is headed for prison while those who presided over torture go free. The three of them have been rendered stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. These are the old, bad tools of dictatorial political aggression. In reality the government is not even afraid of them, it is afraid of us. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised - and it should be.
We can only sit back and hope for more documents to be released applauding Wiki-Leaks for saying: “Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It is inherently an anarchist act… We get information …vet it like a regular news organization…release it to the public, and then defend ourselves against the inevitable legal and political attacks.” Sadly, all of the leaks combined tell us one thing: “if we do not already live in a police state, we are hurtling fast in that direction.”
With all the talking of how much information the government has been able to collect about all of us there is a touch of underlying farce in the whole story as it keeps unfolding: NBC News reported last week that The National Security Agency still doesn't know exactly what and how much Edward Snowden took from them. There you have it, our only hope: The endemic incompetence of any government and its ability to screw everything up.
Those who think Assange and Snowden are just hackers “threatening” our security should pay close attention to the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”
Only the truth, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient, will set us free. Pier Angelo