In December 2015, Julian Assange made the disheartening statement that “mass surveillance is here to stay.” The Wikileaks founder said it’s already too late for “quaint notions of privacy and the right to privacy,” as costs for surveillance technology keep dropping, the infrastructure is already firmly established and politicians have no interest in preserving freedom.
“The Anglo-American alliance, which is formalized in the the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement [of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US], which has an additional 35 states feeding into that system, is so pervasive in terms of mass surveillance of domestic and international telecommunications that while some experts can achieve practical privacy for themselves for limited number of operations, and terrorists are experts, it’s gone for the rest of the populations,” said Assange.
9/11 provided U.S. authoritarians the pretext to construct a vast, hidden world of surveillance that cannot even be quantified in cost or exact size. Even the bravery of Edward Snowden in exposing the abuses of the NSA appears too little to counter the advance of the surveillance state.
Now, other members of the “Five Eyes arrangement” are being caught in their own scandals.
The British and Canadian governments are finding themselves in hot water after their courts excoriated spy agencies for illegal mass surveillance operations. Also in Canada, a disturbing case of law enforcement carrying out highly intrusive surveillance on journalists came to light.
In October, the British investigatory powers tribunal found that “security services operated an illegal regime to collect vast amounts of communications data, tracking individual phone and web use and other confidential personal information, without adequate safeguards or supervision for 17 years.”
The program of collecting “bulk communication data” – everything concerning the citizens’ phone and web communications – was started in 1998 and may indeed have been part of the inspiration for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping and Prism programs.
Of course, the British parliament is responding by pushing a bill to simply legalize using surveillance using surveillance leaving slim hopes for accountability for the 17 years of illegal rights abuses.
On November 3, the Federal Court of Canada blasted its domestic spy agency for “unlawfully retaining data and for not being truthful with judges who authorize its intelligence programs.” This mass surveillance, virtually unknown to the Canadian population, was carried out for a decade before the court was fully informed of it.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said it will stop analyzing the data, “there are no indications that it will destroy the data.” Officials are already preparing people to accept the new surveillance reality, with the Public Safety Minister saying their 30-year-old rights protection act is “showing its age as global affairs, threat profiles, technology and public expectations have rapidly evolved.”
Canadian law enforcement are also using surveillance to push – and go well past – the boundaries of civil liberties in their effort to silence those exposing police brutality and misconduct. Montreal cops targeted La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé and six other journalists by tracking their cellphone calls and texts and monitoring their whereabouts.
Stéphane Bergeron, the Public Security minister at the time, wanted to find out who was leaking information to journalists, but professes to have no knowledge that then-director of Sûreté du Québec, Mario Laprise, had ordered journalists to be targeted in the probe.
“If it becomes a common occurrence for police officers to have access to all sources of all journalists who have important news reports, our fear is that no one will ever want to talk to journalists, and that would have a dramatic effect on the freedom of the press,” said Sébastien Pierre-Roy, the lawyer representing La Presse.
Edward Snowden called for Montreal’s police chief to resign, who ran the department when five officers in the drugs and street gangs unit were arrested for fabricating evidence. Snowden rightly called the targeting of journalists a “radical attack on the operations of the free press.”
One of the ways the Montreal police surveilled Lagacé was to “track him by activating a GPS mechanism on his phone.” This gives us a small window into the capabilities of the modern surveillance state, which is the realization of George Orwell’s 1984.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
“The reach of these technologies is astonishingly broad: governments can listen in on cell phone calls, use voice recognition to scan mobile networks, read emails and text messages, censor web pages, track a citizen’s every movement using GPS, and can even change email contents while en route to a recipient. Some tools are installed using the same type of malicious malware and spyware used by online criminals to steal credit card and banking information. They can secretly turn on webcams built into personal laptops and microphones in cell phones not being used. And all of this information is filtered and organized on such a massive scale that it can be used to spy on every person in an entire country.”
As Snowden pointed out in March 2016, all of this unconstitutional mass surveillance “never stopped a single terrorist attack and never made a concrete difference in a terrorist investigation.”
The goal of mass surveillance is not to actually make people safer, but to satisfy two desires of the centralized authoritarian State – increasing the power of government and directing taxpayer money into the gargantuan belly of the military-surveillance industry.
American, Canadian and European technology companies are not only supplying their own governments with surveillance tools, but are exporting them to autocratic regimes around the world to aid them in repression.
Human rights violations are no impediment to the expansion of mass surveillance, whether it’s so-called “first-world countries” such as the U.S. and Britain, or those countries routinely labeled by U.S. politicians as human rights abusers.
As The Intercept wrote, the three scandals described above “constitute full-scale vindication of everything [Edward Snowden]’s done.”
“When Snowden first spoke publicly, these were exactly the abuses and crimes he insisted were being committed by the mass surveillance regime these nations had secretly erected and installed, claims which were vehemently denied by the officials in charge of those systems.
Yet with each new investigation and judicial inquiry, and as more evidence is unearthed, Snowden’s core claims are increasingly vindicated. Western officials are indeed addicted to unaccountable, secretive, abusive systems of mass surveillance used against their own citizens and foreigners alike, and the more those systems take root, the more core liberties are eroded.“