As far as watchdogs go …

So, am I being watched? I mean, am I subject to more scrutiny on the part of western intelligence agencies than the average man and woman? Are you, who are reading me, being watched?

Because we are all being watched, remember? Not only by the NSA, which appears to have assumed extra-judicial powers and which, incidentally, collaborates with any number of states.

In case you don’t remember, allow me to remind you of the EU Data Retention Directive, the formal purpose of which is to make it harder for criminals to escape. No matter who that criminal is, no matter how anonymous, the Data Retention Directive will make it very hard for him or her to hide in Europe for any length of time.

If the sole purpose of the Directive were to bring heinous criminals to justice, I would be all for it! I very much want the big bad guys brought to justice. In fact I am all for the directive in principle, but I am worried about certain nefarious side-effects. One of them being that we do not all always agree about who the really, really big, bad guys are. Not so very long ago, for instance, homosexuals were considered very bad. I mean really “bad”!

I for my part am of the opinion that one really bad guy is Benjamin Netanyahu and that another is George Bush. Were it not for them, I doubt there would have been a 9/11 (Netanyahu was not the PM at the time, but he had been).

Bush and Netanyahu do not bear all the blame for Israel’s expansionism, to be sure, but a big chunk of it, and thus for much of the ghastly global consequences of Israel’s crimes against humanity. (IS terrorism is just the first pixel of the rather dim picture.) Will Bush and Netanyahu ever be brought to justice?

So much for bad guys. As for the good ones, Edward Snowden tops my list. Without research and its shared results, humanity would never have got this far, obstructed as it has been from time immemorial by power mongers. Snowden has uncovered a weapon that was and still is being used to throttle investigative journalism, on which we so desperately depend for the defence and development of the common good. The US authorities, on the other hand, would do practically anything to get hold of him and put him away for ever, as they have with Brian Manley, who has more or less given his life to help us understand the gravity of the crimes against humanity committed by Bush in his war on Iraq.

I believe, and I hotly maintain, that in most normal circumstances you have to be a crook in order to reach the highest echelons of power, not only in the USA. I used to think Obama was an exception, but now I merely think that even crooks can have a few decent items on their agenda. Certainly, even crooks can love their children or their dogs. To get to the top, you have to be able to cross lines that no decent person can even imagine crossing. In other words, if you get to the top, look at yourself in the mirror and ask: “Where did I go wrong?” If you get to the top, make arrangements at once to bribe a biographer into painting a flattering portrait of you. If you are lucky, investigative journalists won’t discover the bribe, and the flattering portrait will confuse posterity for ever.

With such views I very much doubt I would be granted a visa to the USA, if I applied. Obviously the authorities to which I applied would have had to examine more than my passport and my empty criminal record (to which they officially have no access, by the way) to know that I abhor US foreign (or for that matter domestic) policy. And they would be sure to know.

I actually don’t think that I am the target of particular attention on the part of my own country’s anti-terrorist intelligence efforts. It’s not as though I were the Huffington Post. But I put to you that anybody in any country, in the EU or elsewhere, who is considered a potential political threat by the powers that be (political and corporate) could risk being subjected to extraordinary scrutiny simply because advanced tools of mass surveillance are in place. And where they are in place, they can be abused, as Snowden has so forcefully demonstrated.

Now if you believe that in your country they would never abuse those tools for political purposes, I congratulate you: State your views without fear, and with a little luck, you will not be made to suffer. But if you distrust your national authorities, you might consider shutting up.

That is what many critical journalists do. They have learnt to shut up. Journalists need to consider their future, their careers, their families, etc. They need to earn incomes like the rest of us.

No need to refer to Egypt or Saudi Arabia. In fact, no need to look further than to Spain, where an authoritarian and mendacious PM has been holding forth for some years now. He has nothing to offer the voters except strident references to Spanish glory. And since I actually read Spanish papers – at least I did – I have found that even El Pais has lost its spark. Its journalists now devote their literary verve on accounts about bickering and intrigues within opposition parties.

There is nothing glorious about Spain, these days. The country is as riddled by corruption as a Swiss cheese. We know about this, because the press revealed it. One by one, many of the ruling party’s crown princes have been dragged before the courts – not sentenced, it is true, because the courts are partial – but exposed to the public. (Nor have they been acquitted. The cases are merely protracted for years and years, frozen.) Even the King’s sister faces very serious charges (yes, of putting public money in her darling husband’s pocket).

The New York Times (and apparently also Amnesty International) have been rather heavy-handed in their  criticism of Spain recently. Apparently, the Spanish press is being straight-jacketed not only because of the structural challenges facing newspapers everywhere, but also because the PM now has the power to rein in freedom of the press. Whether due to restructuring or for political reasons, 11,000 journalists have lost their jobs in Spain in recent years. Those who are still hanging on are not likely to stick our their necks.

NYT about curtailment of freedom of the press in Spain


NYT about so-called “gag-law” in Spain

When mainstream newspapers have lost their bite, when they no longer do their job – i.e. to tell the public what the public needs to know in order to make informed decisions, for instance that Mr Rajoy, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Bush are crooks – others will have to pick up the banner and continue the race. Those others could be bands of laid-off journalists who form small subscriber-based internet “newspapers”. Or they could be well-informed citizens who maintain their own open websites.

Whoever they are, we need them. And because we need them, we must protect them. We must adamantly oppose surveillance of our private correspondence (including who we correspond with) orally or in writing. The contents of our correspondence must not be stored anywhere, except by court order and when there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that we have committed a crime punishable by a long custodial sentence. Obviously, we must also be on the alert against “gag laws” (cf. NYT in the second link) that turn expression of certain views in certain places into punishable offences.

Equally important is the protection of you, the reader.  Make no mistake. The websites you visit, the books you read, even the pornography you secretly enjoy – it is all your private business and should remain so. Google and Apple do not agree, but you might consider leaving Google and Apple.

It is sickening to hear members of the public exclaim, “why should I oppose the prohibition to film the activities of the police during demonstrations? I never take part in demonstrations, and I certainly have no interest in filming the police.” Maybe you have never taken part in a demonstration, Mister / Lady, but believe me: had you been a Spaniard living in Spain these past years, you might very well have done so. In Spain, I have seen grey-haired demonstrators wearing kid gloves, Italian shoes or mink.

What happened in Spain could happen in your country, too. In fact, as we speak, country after country in Europe is reeling under the burden of a tsunami of refugees. The ramifications of this mass movement of desperate people may be well-near devastating. I have known for years, and warned, that this would happen, so I am not surprised. What I don’t know is what happens now.

There will be trouble. There will be demonstrations and anti-demonstrations. But freedom of the press must not – NOT – be curtailed in any – I repeat – ANY – way.