In 2015 I wrote an article about surveillance, censorship and privacy because I had become quite alarmed about the blatant attack on privacy and freedom that was taking place. You can read that article here. Since then there has been a drastic escalation in both the amount and the types of surveillance being forced on the population – 99% of whom are innocent of any crime. In my own life I have experienced some deeply troubling developments and so I have been moved to write an update. I hope this article is helpful and informative and I trust that it helps to open people’s eyes about what the surveillance revolution is really all about. Hint – it’s not about catching “the terrorists”!
Today I was in a Woolworths supermarket in regional Australia. At the self-checkout I was confronted with a bold new sticker which literally yelled at me “ALL TRANSACTIONS ARE RECORDED”. Shocked, I looked around and saw that all of the self-checkout screens had the same offensive sticker. I asked the supervising attendant what the sticker meant. She replied “it means that all transactions are recorded”. Wow, that was so helpful. Trying my very best to be patient, I clarified “exactly what is recorded about the transaction?”. And then the propaganda began to gush… “everything is recorded”… “account details”… “personal information”… “it always has been”… “it’s required by law”… “those stickers have always been there”… “by choosing to use a credit card you give us your details by choice”… etc. I was utterly shocked by the intolerant and aggressive tone that accompanied the propaganda, not to mention the blatant lie that the sticker had “always been there”. When I raised this seemingly obvious point she became even more aggressive and asserted that the stickers had indeed always been there. Something in me said “No. No more”. And I refused to allow her to get away with this aggressive campaign of shameless lies.
The only reason I was at Woolworths in the first place is because I recently discovered that my local IGA is in fact not actually “I” (as in “Independent”), so I have reluctantly returned to Woolworths in protest. I discovered that what I knew as Independent Grocers Association (IGA) is in fact now called Independent Grocers of Australia (still IGA) and it is owned by Metcash. I discovered that by-and-large each supposedly “independent” IGA franchise has little control over the stock they carry. The vast majority of product lines they carry and the stock levels they carry are decided by the warehouse managers at Metcash. My recent email inquiry to Metcash about this contradiction in their advertising campaign remains unanswered.
But I digress. Back to the propaganda campaign.
The supervising attendant’s manager was called and promptly appeared. They could be related. In this town they probably are.
The supervising attendant’s manager’s manager was called. The store manager no less. A very decent man who, after initially taking the same line as his subordinates – “by law we must retain and store your information for seven years” – did a magnanimous job of getting the answers I was after. When I requested to view the Woolworths policy and procedure documents outlining the government legislation that necessitated such privacy breaches as well as the documents outlining how staff are to be trained to implement the program, Mr Manager disappeared into the bowels of the store. Several phone calls later and many searches of Woolworths policies later he conceded that they were in the wrong. Whilst ripping the offensive sticker off my self-checkout screen (where I had already paid for my shopping with CASH) he admitted that Woolworths had no right to store and retain my personal details. The store had apparently misinterpreted the initiative known as “Wave One”. The stickers were meant to be placed on staff-operated screens and to be seen by the checkout personnel only. “Wave One” is apparently a new Woolworths loss prevention program – to prevent cash being stolen from checkout tills by checkout staff.
Always been there, eh?
Stickers were ripped off screens.
The aggression vanished.
I was given a box of chocolates and a $20 gift voucher for the inconvenience.
But you know what? I don’t buy it. I can’t believe it. They were all so certain of the meaning of the stickers. That it was about storing the details of every transaction – credit card numbers; bank account details; items purchased. And they were so sure that “it has been government policy for twenty five years” to store the details of every transaction. The only thing that has changed is that “now we have to tell you that we are doing it”. This is the scary part: the aggressive totalitarian surveillance propaganda just spewed out of them automatically and it was only because I asked for evidence of their claims that they retreated and stopped snarling at me with salivating bared teeth.
What if I hadn’t protested? What if, like most people, I just accepted their surveillance propaganda? What if I just accepted that they had a right to record and store my personal information and there was nothing I could do about it? Clearly everyone around me was doing that. The looks, the headshakes and general embarrassment told me that I should just shut up and get on with my day. The level of aggression and intolerance and discomfort told me to stop “questioning”. Stop “making a scene”.
Stop… making sense.
I imagine I will be waiting a long time for the Woolworths “Wave One” documents I requested. They have my email address but I won’t be holding my breath. “Wave One” of what I wonder? Will “Wave Two” be the actual implementation of such an aggressive surveillance policy? Is “Wave One” just a trial run to see how people will react to it?
(UPDATE 19/10/2017: I was recently in another Woolworths supermarket in a different town in regional Australia and guess what? The same stickers were plastered on all of the self-checkout screens. Deja vu. What are the chances that two managers from two different stores have misinterpreted the “Wave One Loss Prevention Program” in exactly the same way? Pretty slim to none would be my answer. So I now have good reason to believe that my gut reaction was correct – “Wave One” is a trial run of an aggressive privacy-destroying surveillance program.)
Orwell. That’s what I keep coming back to these days. More and more. Orwell. 1984. It was no ordinary novel. Power. Control. Fear. And we are living it in Australia in 2017 even though we have had plenty of warning. Interviews like this one from 2014 are important tools for educating the public, so why do so few people get to see them?
Since I wrote that first article on surveillance in 2015 I have been the target of surveillance in my own home. My house has been broken into several times with nothing stolen. Locks have mysteriously broken. Electrical appliances have been interfered with. Text messages have been interfered with. My computer has been accessed remotely. My email files have been altered and a program has been installed that can re-direct my incoming messages, and reply to my messages before deleting them – possibly before I read them. I recently found a device that appeared to be a bug or transmitter of some sort. I didn’t have my glasses on at the time and I just presumed it was part of my son’s electronics project, so after handling it I left it in the box where I found it. It was a small white plastic device with two or three tiny aerials coming out of it, in a miniature zip-lock plastic bag. When I questioned my son about it later that day, he denied any knowledge of the device. I went looking for it to show him, only to discover that it had vanished. I turned the house upside down in a frenzy looking for it but I eventually had to concede that it was gone.
Therefore, I had to face the fact that someone had broken into my home and removed the device that afternoon when I went out to pick up my son from school.
Therefore, I had to face the fact that someone was watching my home and monitoring my movements.
Therefore, I had to face the fact that SOMEONE WAS MONITORING TRANSMISSIONS FROM THAT DEVICE IN REAL TIME.
So WTF am I supposed to do with this information? WTF can I do about it???
I called the police after the first time that my home was broken into. The lovely constable duly wrote down everything I told her about the gate latch not being as we left it, and the front door being unlocked when we came in. But when I got to the bit about our clocks having been interfered with, she seemed a little reluctant. When I told her that I could prove what time the clocks had been turned back on, and therefore what time the intruders had been in my home, she seemed even more uncomfortable. “Has anything been stolen….?”. “No”. When I said that each clock had been turned back on at a different time therefore it was not a power outage, she really started squirming. Facial expressions give a lot away about a person’s thoughts.
OK. I get it. It’s weird stuff. But it happened. I swear on my mother’s memory that it happened.
So the next time the house was broken into without anything being stolen, I kept my mouth shut. And so on.
As these incidents have mounted so has my dismay. Why me? Why am I such as threat? I’m such small fry. In the scheme of things I’m a nobody in the world of alternative journalism – or “fake news” as it is now called. There are so many other highly successful independent journalists and publications who reach hundreds of thousands of people with their work. I’ve written five articles (read them here) and I used to publish information on a Twitter account which hardly anyone read because of the restricted reach algorithm that was applied to it shortly after I started it (also known as “shadow-banning”). Ditto for the Facebook page I abandoned a few years ago.
Five articles. A largely inactive Twitter account and a totally inactive Facebook account. That’s it. And I’m being treated like a dangerous underworld criminal.
Maybe I’ve been targeted by an asshole with too much time on his hands who has worked out that I do not entirely practice what I preach when it comes to privacy and surveillance. He’s getting some sort of sick kick out of showing me how easy it is for him to access my home and my computer, making me look like a fraud for promoting privacy in this era of surveillance.
Recently I stumbled across this eye-opening interview by Abby Martin about the Deep Web which may explain why I have made myself a target. The Deep Web contains a small encrypted online communication network called the Dark Web or Dark Net. It is an encrypted space offering anonymised private communication. I wrote about the Dark Net, encryption and anonymising software in my 2015 article and made reference to them (and other methods for maintaining your privacy and freedom) in my very amateur unrehearsed one-take You Tube clip here. Martin’s interview outlines how so-called national security organisations such as the NSA are highly threatened by individuals who develop and promote such methods because firstly, it alerts the public to the ongoing attack on our privacy and freedom and secondly, it gives the innocent public avenues for maintaining their privacy and freedom. Outrageous precedent-setting prison sentences have been handed down to people like Barrett Brown and Ross Ulbricht who have developed and promoted methods for circumventing totalitarian anti-privacy and anti-freedom surveillance schemes imposed by the state. Aaron Schwartz took his own life after being targeted by the US government because he was a passionate advocate of freedom, specifically, freedom of access to information. He was a brilliant code writer who developed ways to circumvent the requirement to pay for downloading academic journal articles – for which he was indicted. He also developed ways to help people protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is probably the real reason why he was targeted. Because of his actions the anti-freedom SOPA bill was defeated, and the government eventually targeted him to “make an example” of him. The pressure was too much and on January 11th 2013 Aaron tragically took his own life. In contrast, in Australia the corresponding bill – the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 – sailed through both houses of parliament on June 22nd 2015 without even a whimper of protest. Mostly, I suspect, because Australians were too busy checking their Facebook status and uploading selfies to Instagram.
So maybe that’s why someone seems to want to know what I’m up to – because I promote ways of maintaining privacy and freedom, and I give my readers the ability to access the truth. These are the things that are most threatening to the powers that be. In my original article on surveillance I showed my readers how to access methods to maintain their privacy and freedom, and on my Twitter page I gave my readers access to sources who disseminate truth. And because privacy and freedom and truth are antithetical to surveillance and to state-sponsored totalitarian control of the population, it appears that I am now a ‘problem’. If people knew the truth about surveillance they certainly would not be begging the government for more of it to protect them from ‘the terrorists’. As I stated in my 2015 article –
“Spying on innocent people is clearly a pretty lazy, unsophisticated and ineffective approach to national security. Clogging up security storage networks with vast amounts of information on innocent people only hinders an agency’s ability to focus on any actual terrorists due to the massive information management burden it creates. It’s obvious that the extent of surveillance we now deal with on a daily basis is not really about catching “the terrorists” at all. It’s increasingly about monitoring everyone’s movements. Monitoring what we do, where we go, who we associate with, and most disturbingly it’s about monitoring the flow of information. Recent changes to the policies of government minions Facebook and Google indicate that these corporations have actually taken the next step. They are now controlling the flow of information.”
Since I wrote this passage we have seen the rapid escalation of online surveillance and censorship to prevent so-called “fake news”. This is what I meant back then by “controlling the flow of information”. In other words, denying access to ‘unauthorised’ information; forcing a particular version of events on people; telling people what ‘the truth’ is; controlling what people can know; influencing what people believe.
It’s a form of mind control.
And that’s what surveillance is really all about. Control. Control of people. Their thinking. Their behaviour. Control of their entire lives. It’s 1984 in action. Surveillance is about keeping the public dumbed-down, fearful, powerless, too afraid to think for themselves, and unable to identify the truth. We used to call it ignorance or stupidity and it was a much-maligned state of being. But according to my former friends and the shoppers in the regional Woolworths store I was in today, it’s now highly encouraged. In the past we used to make up our own minds about issues. Now groupthink is forced upon us through fear-laden war porn and propaganda from monopolised media outlets, as well as through new phenomena such as social media, “political correctness”, targeted advertising and “advertorials”, and politicised school/university curricula. The intrusion of power-hungry corporations into our lives under the guise of “knowing what’s best for you” because “experts know best” and “the research proves it” is particularly insidious and confusing for most people. I spent many years in academic research and I know damn good and well how easy it is to conduct fraudulent research in order to get the results you want. The non-disclosure agreements that researchers must sign ensure that the public is never alerted to dodgy methodology or “inconvenient” outcomes.
So this is the sad and sorry state of affairs in 2017. As I have discovered, if you dare to step out of ignorance you will be ostracised, treated with suspicion, and potentially become the victim of covert surveillance and harassment. If you want to “fit in” and not draw attention to yourself then don’t think for yourself and always believe what “authorised” sources tell you to believe. Don’t rock the boat and don’t question authority. And above all, don’t engage in any behaviour that even remotely resembles the promotion of freedom and truth.
Is this really the future you want for your kids?