OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Leviathan

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  • Idiot Savant,

    I want a smaller Leviathan, one which is less hungry for my freedoms and less likely to run amok by e.g. giving false data to the PM's office to smear the leader of the opposition, or by spying on whole countries, or by conducting massive "incidental" spying on kiwis. As for how to get it: I'll vote for any party which goes after our spies with a red-hot castration tool.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Thompson,

    I am very glad you wrote this Keith. There is a mode of thinking which is gaining currency among our editorial leaders that if the public are not overly concerned about at thing - such as mass surveillance - then we shouldn't be either.

    For me the issue is this. Thanks to the invention of the smartphone and cloud computing we (everybody with a smart phone or an web-mail email account) are effectively wide open to Government surveillance. Sitting ducks as it were.

    The smartphone followed 911 and in the period of madnesss that followed the CIA / NSA received its record everything, keep everything, partner everything mandate - along with a mandate to torture people.

    This mandate was embraced with such enthusiasm that upon it has been built an extraordinarily powerful trans-national network of spies - five eyes - which has eyes on the entire globe. When Nicky Hager wrote his book about Echelon in the 1990s this was what was imagined. Edward Snowden risked his life to warn us that it was no longer an imagined thing, it was fully operational.

    As you say, protecting our freedom to expression, to political thought, to protest, and to have a strong democracy is why we fought both WWII and the Cold War. Now it seems that we have given this idea of freedom up for the sake of security - without being asked - and certainly without legislative permission.

    What's more those who don't want to concern themselves with the matter seem to take some comfort in the idea that the people with this extraordinary power are the good guys.

    Even if that were certain (and there is plenty of reasons for saying that it is demostrably false - JTRIG, the deliberate building of backdoors to encryption not to mention the illegal spying on journalists in the UK to name just three recently revealed examples ) this apparatus once in place will be impregnable, and who will be in charge of it next.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely & those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 220 posts Report Reply

  • mike.riversdale,

    So, now what?

    If, as it seems to me by the conversation (or lack) from my family & friends this is a non-subject then what do we, who claim to be appalled actually do?

    I have no answer. I am at a lost.
    What do to you, I, we do?

    (Keith is doing what he can using the skills and outlets he has, how do I support/grow his action with whatever I'm supposed to do?)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to mike.riversdale,

    What do to you, I, we do?

    Make an effort to work with MPs while not being a crank, submit to select committees, join and/or help political parties that promise the closest policy to what you want to see, use social media to spread real-world stories of abuses, use whatever juice you have to support the journalists who are keeping this issue alive in the national discourse, try not to cry yourself to sleep at night.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Gone up north for a while...

    help political parties that promise the closest policy to what you want to see

    What happens if some party (that happens to be in power) suddenly offers to fix your woefully inadequate bridges - but you know that that is just their selfserving redirection of Government resources, hitherto directed elsewhere - so you have to know it's a 'bribe' and that someone else will miss out on something else they were promised, if you vote for this party?
    what to do? selfless or selfish?
    they know which buttons to push


    PS: I'd be looking at anything Key and cronies said to check for phrases like 'if elected we'll look at...' he has pedigree in this area...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7876 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Attachment

    The worm turns...
    I also wonder if Leviathan is related to Ourobos - who we'll be seeing in any Ragnarok coming soon...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7876 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Leviathan is biblically a large sea monster, but these days in modern Hebrew, livyatan is... a whale.

    I feel there's an angle there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Pedigree ¢hum(p)

    Key […] has pedigree

    De$¢ent anyway. But you meant history, not biology?

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1875 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Do I understand this correctly: the difference between mass data collection and mass surveillance is that if I have left a blamelessly obscure life so far, chances are that nobody has bothered to read any of the emails I've sent, my purchase history, library books and other online communications and so on. But, if I decide to do something tomorrow that gets interpreted as worthy of surveillance, all that information back into the past is open to either the GCSB or NSA or both. And we have no idea what that trigger might be, or what they might do with it?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Thompson,

    Mass Data Collection is Mass Surveillance. As soon as they want to find you and track down your friends and family and associates they can. As soon as someone with the right level of access wants to destroy your life by trawling through your secrets they can. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

    And because of that dissent becomes dangerous and the people become more pliable. Before you know it people will be discouraging you from discussing contentious subjects on account of them - to use Mike's words - being a non-subject.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 220 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to B Jones,

    the difference between mass data collection and mass surveillance is that if I have left a blamelessly obscure life so far, chances are that nobody has bothered to read any of the emails I've sent,...

    Technically yes, in the John Key sense of "yes, of course". The data is unquestionably collected, but the human element is in designing the system that trawls the data, not trawling the data. You have to be quite a threat before anyone looks at your data, and they're unlikely to look at most of it regardless.

    Much as if you get arrested and tried no-one is going to drag you through evidence showing that you cleaned your teeth before you left for work and every tiny step up until the point you drove through a crowd of schoolchildren. All that matters is the Police opinion of the relevant facts. With the data collection, all that matters is "computer says guilty" and the secret police proceed from there.

    The question for them is whether it's easier to prosecute you directly or just arrange for problems to beset you. Especially if you travel internationally, it's often easier to notify the Indonesians that you've got prescription opiates and maybe they should look very, very carefully at that prescription. Or the US and the media files on whatever electronics you have. Can you prove you licensed that ringtone?

    I suspect but don't know that McCarthy type processes are already in place - we know that they spy on dissidents in NZ, and do various illegal or probably-illegal things to gain information and reduce their influence. The question is how far does that go.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1177 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    The state had no business in our homes, in our communications, in our minds. That was what we meant by freedom.

    It seems like a lifetime ago that protesters where out defending there right to smack there children. That ground swell of grunting about nanny state taking our God given rights , Or some such thing.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4163 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Moz,

    I suspect but don’t know that McCarthy type processes are already in place – we know that they spy on dissidents in NZ, and do various illegal or probably-illegal things to gain information and reduce their influence. The question is how far does that go.

    Mega upload is good and properly an example, made of.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4163 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Make an effort to work with MPs while not being a crank

    This is important. Don't be a crank. Be measured and correct.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    It really ups the cost of any kind of activism, doesn't it. Anyone heard when Nicky Hager's likely to get his computer back?

    What gets me is how you can actually make good decisions with all that info. With that much data, surely it's tempting to just confirm your own biases and ignore info that contradicts, or forget that you might only have part of a picture. Bletchley Park caught buckets of German sigint, and had a huge job deciding what was useful and not. This is orders of magnitude bigger. It must be really hard, without close oversight or contestability, to avoid poor decisionmaking the way other government departments are supposed to.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    I'd be happy to license the title "Turing's Bastards" to anyone writing a book about all this, for a nominal fee.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    It seems we *are* being spied on. I’m angry. It’s not a contract any of us signed up for. We didn’t vote for it.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2088 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Russell Brown,

    This is important. Don't be a crank. Be measured and correct.

    The problem, of course, is that those in power like to paint anyone who doesn't like the way things are as a crank. Hager, for example, is nothing but measured and correct. And he is spun as a liar, a thief, and a conspiracy theorist for taking what the government says in its own documents at face value.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    The problem, of course, is that those in power like to paint anyone who doesn’t like the way things are as a crank.

    Being a house crank like Jamie Whyte is fine. If the example of Brash is any indication, a spent crank won't get a knighthood for services rendered.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    The problem, of course, is that those in power like to paint anyone who doesn’t like the way things are as a crank. Hager, for example, is nothing but measured and correct. And he is spun as a liar, a thief, and a conspiracy theorist for taking what the government says in its own documents at face value.

    Yeah, that's true. But imagine if he actually did say something crazy.

    Anyway, here's Hager being measured and correct on Selwyn Manning's new Evening Report site:

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Myles Thomas, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Measured and correct in the face of this and the rest of the bollocks commonly known as political spin and journalism, is a tough ask.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." - attributed to Cardinal Richelieu.

    I'm not confident that The Musketeers are riding to our rescue this time.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    'I was shooting my mouth off about saving some fish. Now could that be construed as some radical's views or some liberals' wish'

    It seems quite reasonable to draw a distinction between degrees of mass surveilance as to the collection and interrogation of data. What troubles me is the scope for abuse and quite what qualifies one for investigation.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to 81stcolumn,

    what qualifies one for investigation

    The radical protesters standing there shaking their fist
    We've got them on our list.
    And the marijuana advocates who're permanently blissed
    We've got them on our list.
    And anyone who questions why we're tapping all your phones
    And intercepting emails, and surveilling your homes
    And every other spying act on which we must insist?
    We put them on our list.
    You know you're on our list.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1875 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Bell,

    The point of the title-page drawing is that Leviathan is made of the people. I'm sure John Key and the GCSB would make that point if faced with the comparison. After all, "we" (Parliament on the people's behalf) passed the GCSB Bill, didn't we? & the Search & Surveillance Bill (after a struggle) and we all got the opportunity to comment through the Select Committee process.
    And even in full knowledge of what's going on, a large number (even a majority?) of the NZ public would probably support it, or at least refrain from expressing strong opposition - because they (of course) have "nothing to hide". Or, putting it another way, govt agencies haven't got around to looking at them (yet), because they haven't upset the right(wrong) people. It'll come to some of the complacent in due course; then they'll protest.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 8 posts Report Reply

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