Funny business: “If you’ve done nothing wrong…”

"If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide..."

“If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide…”

The Brits have the best expressions, and events this past week on both sides of the world’s longest undefended border confirming the harsh truths of democracy in the Age of Terror recall a good one – “funny peculiar, or funny ha-ha?” The sinister synchronicity observed between sanctioned NSA snoops and the secret spy directives issued by the Honourable Peter MacKay, our Minister of Defence working his inner Big Brother should scare the bejeezus out of any intelligent democrat.

I leave aside the chill, forbidding privacy panopticon erected by US and Canadian governments in the name of counter-terrorism (to borrow the felicitous phrase minted by Forbes Magazine’s Anthony Kosner). Our bashful boyo Peter has relentlessly advanced Canadian national security policies first birthed in the immediate 9/11 aftermath, where the Communications Security Establishment, the nerdy, and utterly unaccountable software spooks and cyber-warriors that man and woman the New Age front line, freely pass along Internet traffic and private citizen communication records to the RCMP, CIS (our domestic spy service), and onwards south to the National Security Agency. Big Brother is not watching us – they are inside our digital skins.
Uber-Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham designed his 19th century panopticon prison to achieve perfect custodial efficiency – a grim spin on his mantra, ‘the greatest good, for the greatest possible number’. In a Bentham Panopticon, anonymous central tower guards not only efficiently observe large prison populations – the imprisoned become so psychologically attuned to ever-present surveillance, inmates modify all private behaviour to match the perceived expectations of their keepers. One never knows when one is under watch – one assumes one is always watched. The perfect Benthamite prisoner does their time and returns quietly to the community, appropriately reformed to contribute to perfect social conformity. The NSA and Peter MacKay are happy to have modern citizens think the same way – all in the name of national security.
Bentham’s correctional theories are belied by 21st century recidivism rates and socio-economic realities that tend to emasculate Utilitarian principles (Jeremy might wonder how over 50 percent of the current US federal prison inmates are black, against a 13 percent national demographic), but the disturbing image of purportedly liberal democracies held captive by anonymous, all-seeing government central observation towers endures. One day its Verizon ordered to release three months of ‘telephone metadata’ to the US snoops. The next it’s a Canadian cabinet minister apologist echoing noted civil liberties advocate  Senator Lindsey Graham, who tells us that First Amendment rights are “…sacrosanct, but (have) limits….In World War II, our population understood that what we say in letters could be used against [us by] our enemies. It was designed to protect us and ensure that we would have First Amendment rights because under the Japanese and Nazi regime, they weren’t that big into the First Amendment. We don’t need to censor the mail, but we do need to find out what the enemy’s up to.”

Too true, Senator, for just like the old ‘Pogo’ cartoon: we have seen the enemy, and he is us. Voters elect you, our own darling Peter, and their ilk. You don’t like the NSA? You feel a touch uneasy about President Obama defending this latest assault on personal autonomy and the rule of law as a proper ‘balance’ between personal freedoms and state interests? Look in the mirror. ‘Funny ha-ha’…?

Image of Bentham’s Panopticon used in the Presidio Modelo Prison in Cuba