Do we want to live in a free society or in a Stasi style surveillance state ?

Call me naive but I am disappointed that the latest spying revelations hardly raised an eyebrow in so many people.


All our communication be it via the internet, mobile phones, use of credit or other plastic cards and any other digital devices is collected by the five eyes security network stored in the US to later potentially be used against anyone of us who rightly or wrongly comes to the attention of the authorities.
This is espionage against all citizens on an industrial scale Hitler, Stalin, the Stasi and any other dictatorships of the past would only have dreamed of. It should cause outrage in a western civilised democracy.
Instead the mainstream media, most of the politicians and the commentariat are mainly engaged in distractions. Like the question of the “legality” of the spy agency’s actions when they hoover up all communication in the Pacific including that of all New Zealanders. Or the question if it circumvents our law when all the collected data are passed on to the US where our agency can access them in case they are interested. Or the fact that we willingly give up privacy by using social media on the internet, join loyalty schemes at the local supermarket or give heaps of private information to our credit card companies.

The central philosophical  questions, which motivated the whistle blower to take action and reveal all this information are not addressed:

Do we want to live in a society where the government knows everything about us our actions, transactions, thoughts, interests, history, secrets, loves, hates, sexual preferences the lot if we ever dared to communicate them ? Do we want to give our government the complete tool kit of a an authoritarian dictatorial surveillance regime ? In other words do we want to live in a society where our government has total control over us ?

Or do we value free speech and information and expect and respect privacy even if we might belong to the saintly 0.1 % who have ‘nothing to hide’ ? After all Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights ? We wouldn’t want to give that up lightly.

The fact of mass surveillance – so far admitted in the case of the South Pacific but denied for New Zealand – boils down to one question: Do we want to live in a free society or not ?

And the reaction we see in the mainstream media is greatly inadequate or even collusive and consequently in the general public there is only a great yawn. The “nothing to hide” and “who is interested in me” crowd.

And the irony is that the spooks methods and increased powers don’t actually work. The often given example for the need of extra powers is the Boston Marathon attack,which is a classical example that mass surveillance does not work. Big brother is just building and increasing his empire and needs to package it’s desire for us to acquiesce.


I saw “Citizenfour” this week, the award winning documentary about the NSA spying on everyone as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Before I entered the theatre I noticed a few things. First I did not see any advertising of the fact that the documentary just won the BAFTA and Oscar awards. Normally the fact of just a nomination is heavily promoted. When I talked to the person at the box office enquiring how the film was doing and if the attendance had picked up after the Oscars the person didn’t even know that it won. Then I remembered that on Oscar night the documentary winner was not mentioned on New Zealand television news either even if there was extensive coverage of the event concentrating instead on the best/worst dressed. The same in the papers the next day. I actually had to google the result for best documentary. The cynic in me joined the dots and it looked as if “Citizenfour” was hidden from the New Zealand public as much as possible. Call me a conspiracy theorist.


I am not a film critic and leave that to the people who awarded the film this year’s BAFTA and Oscar for best documentary. What I however was most impressed with was the outstanding ethical and moral quality this extraordinary young man has displayed through everything he has done.
His motive was to inform us about the secret, illegal and unconstitutional – not in New Zealand of course as we are one of only three countries without a written constitution – practices of mass surveillance of all citizens. He did not take his treasure trove of information to “the enemy” or sell it on the open market. He did not dump it on the internet or keep it. He left it with top journalists who later won the Pulitzer Price for their reporting to publish the material responsibly without putting secret service agents in danger.

He did not seek publicity and fame for himself as this would detract from the issue. However he did not hide in the shadows as he feels good about the fact that he has done the right thing. He knowingly took the personal risk of life imprisonment or even death at the hands of the “biggest terrorist state” on the planet (Noam Chomsky) for his believe in the fundamental human values of the right to privacy, freedom of information and free speech.

Contrast this highest moral standard with that of our Prime Minister John Key.



Toby Manhire in the NZ Herald summed him up brilliantly :

“I don’t know what’s coming but I know that what’s coming is wrong, and it’s outdated, and it’s made up, but even if it isn’t wrong and outdated and made up, which it is, it’s based on stolen materials and in any case it’s absolutely the right thing to do and, of course, we do it because, at the end of the day, terrorism!”
“There is something breathtaking about the Prime Minister’s scattergun pre-emptive denunciations. On Wednesday he popped on his wizard’s hat, stared into the future, and categorically dismissed the story which appeared in the Herald the following day. Not for him the decorous classic “the Government never comments on specific intelligence matters”. No, John Key could “guarantee you it will be wrong”, he said with a wave of the prime ministerial wand.”

This is the Prime Minister who has elevated lying and deception and dirty politics in general to a new art form.

Only a couple of years back people were stunned to watch the now least flavored German accusing Mr Key in Parliament in front of rolling cameras of lying. “Why did you face turn red, Prime Minister?” And an opinion poll showed that more people believed the German than the Prime Minister. These days every new lie triggers the same reaction. The Prime Minister caught lying, yawn. The GCSB spying on us, yawn. Tell us something new.

One example in this context is the Prime Minister’s statement that he would resign if there was mass surveillance/data collection of New Zealanders by the spy agency under his watch. Of course he doesn’t mean it. He didn’t say if I find out I will stop it. His statement is just another form of denial that it is happening. See I am still here so it can’t be happening otherwise I wouldn’t be here anymore.
And the (Teflon) Prime Minister knows that he can get away with it because his pollster tells him that to many people are not interested. He doesn’t care about the damage to our political culture and that he is widely held in contempt.


Which still leave us with the crucial question to answer :

Do we want to live in a free society or in a Stasi style surveillance state ?

If we don’t defend our privacy and freedom and are eternally vigilant we will lose them. Don’t say you haven’t be warned. In this case by someone who comes from a country, which went through the experience twice (Gestapo & Stasi) in recent history.

by Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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