Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are we being governed by people who haven't read 1984?

It's a question you have to ask yourself, when you read stuff like this, the gist of which is there in the opening sentences:
THE federal government wants your personal internet data, and they don't want to have to apply to a court to get it.
Revelations that the federal government wants Australia's 400-odd internet service providers (ISPs) to log and retain customers' web browsing data, so law enforcement can access it during criminal cases, have sparked alarm in the industry.
And not just in the industry, let me tell you.  Personally I'm not much of a libertarian. I am all for regulation in many instances, not so much because I have an overall gloomy view of human nature as because I think there are always one or two stinking, suppurating apples in any given barrel, and they're usually (to mix the metaphor) the ones who get the Darwinian upper hand when it comes to things like money and power. Witness the oil-drenched ocean life (and death) on the Gulf Coast, the crooked-cowboy home insulators and school-hall builders, the ludicrous spectacle yesterday of Gina Rinehart shrieking at her rent-a-crowd rally.

A few years ago my sister was hospitalised with a reasonably common but potentially grave condition: surgical adhesions from a childhood appendectomy were causing, in middle age, the sorts of appalling intestinal blockages that produce extreme pain and other symptoms you really don't want me to describe. In general, surgeons are loth to operate to relieve this kind of thing because of the risk that it will produce more adhesions, and her surgeon was playing a waiting game to see if the problem would fix itself. In the meantime she couldn't eat at all and was in increasing amounts of pain. My other sister and I went in there every day with Vegemite and Bickford's Lime Cordial to make her hot drinks to sip and get a bit of Vitamins B and C into her if nothing else.

It was all bit horrible and it got steadily more horrible. One day I went in to see her and she was in too much pain to talk to me, so I went in search of, and found, someone in a uniform behind a desk: a squat, dim-looking woman in fussy pussycat glasses, whom I asked for information about my sister's condition. By now I was what I have learned from Robertson Davies to call 'loaded for bear', so I may have been a tad more forceful than was tactful. The woman looked at me, I swear, with an expression of satisfaction. 'We can't tell you anything,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'

Further enraged by the inane formulation 'due to privacy', by which I assumed she meant that the privacy laws meant she couldn't divulge any information about my sister's condition, I succumbed to the red mist a bit. 'Here's my driver's licence. She's my sister. Have a look at my face, then come down the corridor with me [the woman was, I swear, literally doing her nails] and have a look at her face. Mind you, her face is so distorted with pain that you might be forgiven for not seeing a resemblance at the moment.'

The woman looked at me as if I were from outer space. 'Can't you ask her how she is?'

'No,' I said. 'I can see how she is. How she is is she is in too much pain to speak. I would like to speak to her doctor, could you give me his number please?'

I swear she smirked. 'We can't give you his number,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'

Got that? I can't get any information about the condition of a family member in hospital, but the government wants unchecked access to my browsing history. There you have the privacy laws. Due To Privacy, the individual is hog-tied but the government can do whatever it likes.

(What are they going to do, pounce on my links to Facebook's FarmVille game because they think it must be about bestiality? Given the degree of ignorance this government has displayed so far about the Internet and all its works, nothing would surprise me.)

The timing if nothing else of this new 'Ve haff vays of spying on your search history' development (nothing would surprise me there either) seems beyond demented, given that they are already tanking in the polls. Do they understand that that's largely because they've opened up a yawning chasm in the trust and support of their own heartland, what with the net filter proposals and the sidelining of the CPRS, and this will make it a million times worse? Who are this government's advisors, and what in the name of the Goddess are they thinking about?


Penthe said...

And how can they get uppity with Google one week for collecting data and then the next week say, 'we're collecting your data and there's nothing you can do about it'. Regardless of their intentions (and heavens above I cannot imagine what they are thinking) surely they can at least see that it looks bad.

A person could scream with frustration. Remember back when this government first came into power and said they would be consultative? Laugh, I didn't, but I should've.

Lord Sedgwick said...

Ah yes, the double standards of this group of people (on either side of the not so Great Dividing Range) who operate under, and at the drop of a titfer cry, "Parliamentary privilege, M'lud!" or the even more strident "commercial-in-confidence" anti F.O.I. escape clause and whose unguarded utterances are guarded by a 30 year restricted access rule.

Who's minding the minders? Arfur Daly?

Dave Bath said...

No... I think we are governed by people who /have/ read 1984... and appreciate the power that comes from over-surveillance and constrained twisted vocabularies.

I've got an appreciation of the power of all this data - I wrote the analytical backend for FlyBuys.

I don't know which is worse, the potential for invasion of privacy, or the potential for the spin doctors and backroom political operators looking at the overall statistics grouped by geography and demographic.

(Mind you, I'd say that Pride and Prejudice would be a title more appealing to the masses)

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

My theory of the problem with Australian politics is that we've created circumstances in which an extraordinary proportion of figures in power are psychopaths.

I don't believe this was always the case, or is inevitable to democracies (although I know some people hold this view).

Inevitably the power in politics will attract those who enjoy power for its own sake. However, in the days when parties had substantial membership bases psychopaths needed to be quite good at hiding themselves if they wanted to rise high - most got spotted for what they were somewhere along the line, and were quickly shunned.

However, the decline in party membership, and the loss of standards of internal party behaviour have reached a point where many senior politicians and staffers are there purely for the thrill of controlling others.

It's hardly surprising that these people would want to know that they could, in theory, see who had been viewing what site, even if in most cases they will never actually use this power. Stopping terrorism is a catchall excuse.

Zoe said...

They're stupid, it's their net history that people will be interested in, not ours.

To think I used to fancy him.

Zoe said...

OT, think you should see Nigel Molesworth tweeting the World Cup:

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Like all security measures , it'll be bypassed by the people who really need to be caught .
It's Sunday morning and I'm enjoying breakfast , otherwise I might start thinking about ID cards again ...

Liam said...

Last time I was in hospital I was seen to quickly, and sat down in a chair opposite the nurses' station to wait for my prescription and the papers for my GP. There was a big whiteboard on the wall with patient surnames, their symptoms and odd medical abbreviations.

"I'm going to have to ask you not to look at the whiteboard, Mr Hogan, it's private".

Allie said...

This post reminded me of an article in the Saturday or Sunday Age last week.

.. and then the comments, in this weekend's paper. The victim's family read Bearup's article, which brought a little bit of peace.

By way of introduction, my name is Allie and I'm just a lurker that enjoys reading your blog :)

Lynne said...

Kerryn - I think the biggest problem is that KRudd doesn't listen to his advisers. The public sector seems to have been sidelined by this government and we're all going to pay the price. Given that the Mad Monk is our alternative PM we are in very scarey territory.

Ampersand Duck said...

'Loaded for bear' is fantastic. There's really no Aussie equivalent, is there?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Somehow 'loaded for roo' doesn't have quite the same connotations, does it. Loaded for croc? Loaded for wild camel? Loaded for bush pig? No, wait, maybe not that last one ...

Lynne, are you think Lynne I think you might be? If you are, you might be right cos you'd know the general workings of the Labor adviser-leader relationship much better than me -- but I don't know how much credence to give the piece in the Australian the other day about Rudd's advisers all being brash know-nothing baby cowboys.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

"... the Lynne I think you might be..."

Stupid keyboard.