(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
It was one of those weeks when the bad news just wouldn’t stop. However, one major event weighed heavily on everyone’s mind and ended up overshadowing everything else. An event which-years from now-will be considered the final nail in the coffin of life as we currently know it. An event which will be remembered as the starting point of the sordid state our future lives will be in. We are now marching towards the sort of nightmarish existence that all of our favourite ‘dystopian lit’ authors warned us about. The die has been cast, all the ducks are in a row and tyranny is knocking on our doorsteps. But enough about the elevation of Narendra Modi as his party’s campaign chief.
Earlier this week, whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald-confirming a lot of people’s vague suspicions and breathing life into a thousand conspiracy theories-released documents which revealed how deep the tentacles of the secret intelligence agencies of the US government are embedded inside the global communication system. They ‘allegedly’ monitor every text, every email, every chat, every phone call, every tweet, every ‘like’ on Facebook, every to-do list, every post-it note, every game of scrabble and every entry in your journal. (Even the ones that come with a lock. All the government wants to know is why you would not want to share your most personal, darkest, and most revolting thoughts with the rest of the world. What are you, an enemy of the state?)
The only groups of people rejoicing this news are (a) lonely people who finally have someone who is listening to them all the time and (b) the sycophants of the surveillance state. The people belonging to the second group are always excusing the government’s violation of citizens’ privacy with “if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried.” But then these people never practice what they preach and don’t make all their personal information available publicly. WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?
Monitoring every activity of every citizen does not make us safer; it makes us more vulnerable. You may think you’re doing nothing wrong right now, but what happens when the state decides that something you do every day is now illegal or equivalent to treason. For example, what if they made googling “UPA Government + Achievements” a punishable offence? (Though the joke would be on them because they don’t have any, unless you consider ‘giving Manmohan Singh an ulcer’ an achievement). Binayek Sen was jailed by the Chhattisgarh government for possessing reading materials that were considered ‘sympathetic’ to the naxalite cause. In Iran in 2009, the government arrested, jailed and tortured thousands of protestors belonging to the Green Movement on the basis of their internet activity and GPS data placing them at the scene of the protests.
No politician or bureaucrat goes around wearing a “lose your freedom now, ask me how” button. Allowing a government to put their citizens under surveillance without any oversight will never end well. All the information they possess can and will be used against you. Being able to keep tabs on every movement of their citizens is the wet dream of most governments. Once you start giving up your freedom, there is no limit to what can be taken away in the name of ‘national security.’
Even the Indian government is working on a central control system which will be able to monitor its citizen’s activities across all communication networks. People who can’t get their shit together to make a website strong enough to let more than one person book a train ticket at a time are going to keep track of all our personal information. It’s totally not going to be misused because if there is one thing government departments in India are known for, it’s their ability to keep important information secure! Somewhere outside the big government office in the sky, standing in a line waiting for lunch break to be over, a dozen RTI activists are nodding in agreement.
As the leaked documents show, the NSA doesn’t even have to go through the formality of seeking a court order to access anyone’s personal information. They don’t even have to ask or inform the service provider because they have direct access to their systems. And they can do that for people who they don’t even suspect of any wrongdoing.
This march, the NSA collected ninety seven billion pieces of evidence from computer networks worldwide, six billion of those gathered from India.
We’re all now citizens of the surveillance state. Being a terrorist until proven innocent is the new normal
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?