On May 4 The Australian’s Paul Maley ran an exclusive story with the New South Wales Counter Terrorism Minister, David Elliot. The headline read:
‘Terror cops ‘need more of your info’.
According to the minister, ‘Police increasingly will need to rely on basic information about people’s daily personal transactions – such as car hires, knife purchases or hotel bookings – if they are to prevent terrorist attacks.’
‘As terrorist attacks become more rudimentary, Mr Elliot has flagged greater co-operation from the private sector as the key to keeping the community safe…. Islamic terror would likely be with Australians for decades to come, and defeating it would likely require ever greater sacrifices in privacy. In particular he said, deeper and more frequent information exchanges between authorities and the private sector could be needed, perhaps including mandatory reporting requirements for some industries.’
Mr Elliot cites other industry areas such as airlines, the finance sector and gambling as a prototype for the mandatory reporting we need to undergo to buy a knife from now on.
The completely irrefutable logic for this is that, ‘In most of these terrorist attacks… there has been significant face-to-face contact with the private sector’. Well well, who’d have guessed it, these criminals BOUGHT STUFF! Like everyone else!
All of this is required apparently, because of the murderous actions of Khalid Masood in London, so now everyone in Australia now needs to undergo security checks to buy knives and hire cars.
This isn’t simply a case of more retail voyeurism from our governments but another step in the long march of government into our personal lives. The pretext is the same worn-out excuse they use every other time, safety for all.
The minister has just come back from a counter-terror conference hosted by the New York Police Department and attended by intelligence services from across the Western World. He’s been briefed and now he’s in the know regarding terrorist activities and methods. No doubt important documents were shown and he was in with the clique with the big players.
And the message the boys from Langley and GCHQ want the minister to deliver to tax payer world out here? Strangely enough it’s the same message they’ve been sending our way for years.
‘Get used to us looking into every aspect of your personal lives and shut up about it.’
Fortunately for all of us tax payers out here who may think these people are insane, the minister has anticipated our foolish objections and told us what our response should be.
‘He acknowledged such moves would ignite fresh concerns about privacy but he said most of the information police or domestic intelligence agencies needed to prevent attacks concerned low-level commercial transactions that most people would not object to surrendering.’
How kind of him. I kinda suspect that ‘surrendering’ them, like on a voluntary basis, won’t be part of the deal.
One of the most startling comments from Mr. Elliot is, ‘As terrorist attacks become more rudimentary’. Just think about that for a moment. For those who might not be sure that you’ve read this correctly the Counter Terrorism Minister is telling you that terrorist attacks are now a basic and primary fact of life. From this statement on, any claim that you are protecting our way of life becomes meaningless because he’s already surrendered our way of life.
The public-private information sharing project he envisages and euphemistically calls ‘information exchanges’ will be one way, legally required and you the customer will pay for all compliance costs, as per usual.
I agree with the minister on one thing though. We do need more information, more information on him and the activities of the governments of this country. Our governments are our servants not the other way round and if my government won’t trust me, why should I trust them? Just where in your performance so far can you show me why I should trust you with one byte of data that you already have, let alone any more?
It’s time to drop the euphemisms and call this what it is.
This is crime.
This is criminals planning and carrying out criminal activities just like criminals have done for thousands of years. The State uses the term terrorism to muddy the waters and make you think it requires special treatment compared to other crimes, it doesn’t. Never in the past has the State claimed that it needed population wide intrusion powers to prevent or punish crime. The State already has all the power they need, all that’s required is to drop the politics and do their job and focus on the groups most likely to commit such crimes and target them, just like they do in any other criminal enterprise. By the admission of our political leaders time and time again this is simply the work of a tiny minority. If this is the case, why on earth would you need to target the purchasing habits of every Australian? It seems like a tremendous amount of effort for no reason, unless of course you simply want to get the population used to regular and ever increasing intrusion into their lives. The sums don’t add up and our political masters are tying themselves up in ever increasing webs of Newspeak, hoping that you and I don’t notice. Either it’s a tiny minority that’s nothing to worry about or it’s much wider and more pervasive demanding more policing powers, which is it?
You’re planning no terrorist attack, you’re committing no crime, you have no intention of doing anything of the sort, so why would or should the government have any right to look into any of your affairs? By casting the net over all, you make all suspects. Only law breakers warrant police examination and if you’re not one of those the State has no business looking at any knife purchase you make, any car you hire or any hotel you stay in. The State has all the power it needs to stop this from happening, all that’s required is for politicians to use those powers instead of telling you and me that we have no right to privacy.
If this is allowed to continue, this ‘legal mission creep’, just what future excuses will be used to stop other crimes? What surveillance will be required to stop domestic violence for example? It’s a crime and is ongoing so will the minister now classify it as a rudimentary part of life and demand greater powers of home life observation? If you think that sounds ridiculous so did the idea of fingerprint scanners at the King of Knives but that’s the path we’re being taken down.
What will be the States yardstick of success? What is the end point in your ‘information exchange? At what point will the State declare success, remove the intrusion requirements and give us back our rightful privacy? The minister uses the timeframe of ‘decades’. After ‘decades’ will this be removed or is ‘decades’ simply another nebulous government term that actually means ‘forever’? Will they keep it going long enough for the initial concerns to die down, for another generation to grow up who are now conditioned to accept intrusion, until the next justification comes along for the State to demand to know even more?
If the measures are introduced and another crime is committed, will there be an admission that they haven’t worked or will you say the measures didn’t go far enough and demand more? Will there be an audit of government intrusion methods to date and an explanation if these have worked and if not why not? What results were promised the last time the government demanded more of our lives and have the results matched the promise?
The March incident in London perpetrated by Khalid Masood that Mr. Elliot points to as justification for these new measures is probably the worst example he could pick. Masood stayed in a hotel, rented a car and used a knife. Exactly how would the new ‘public-private information partnership’ now envisioned prevent the crimes he committed? To make a knife all you need is a piece of metal and a grinder. I did it as a kid all the time (uh oh, is that the police knocking on my door?) and if you’re really keen you can do it without a grinder, just ask anyone who’s been in prison. You can also steal one, so monitoring the knife purchases of all Australians would achieve absolutely zip. British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Masood was, ‘not the subject of any current investigations’, so when he stayed in a hotel it would not have been flagged. In a situation where you believed that by staying in a hotel you would alert authorities, you’d simply do something else. So monitoring the hotel habits of all Australians would, yet again, achieve absolutely zip. Masood also hired a car, however as with the hotel nothing would have been flagged and if you thought it would, you’d simply do something else like buy a car or steal a car or borrow a car or use a truck. Yet again, monitoring the car hiring habits of Australians would achieve absolutely zero.
In reality, there is no conceivable end to the excuses that governments can make to intrude into your life and there is no conceivable end to the areas of your life into which they want to intrude. All they need is a semi-plausible excuse and a compliant public to accept it. The State requires only a constant state of tension and ill-defined amorphous fear that requires them to do ‘something’ for you to submit.
It is a sad day in Australia when the solution posed by our politicians to crime is to demand more access to the lives of law abiding citizens with measures that will do nothing to prevent crime. Watch for this type of thing as elections draw near because there’s nothing like ominous yet opaque warning about scary things that could happen to keep us all submissive and tucked into our beds at night. Oh, and by the way, if someone uses the old pathetic line; ‘if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide’, tell them, ‘if I’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got no reason to spy on me’. On second thoughts, tell that the Stasi closed down a long time ago.
Stephen Cable is a writer at LibertyWorks. He has an intense interest in the ideological contest between freedom and control that dominates our social and political discourse. Stephen strongly believes in free market systems, freedom of speech and smaller government.