I’ve been having an on-going debate (better than argument!) about the right to privacy and whether governments have the right to randomly monitor emails in the interests of public safety. There are two points of concern for me. First is due process, the fact that I should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In most democracies the government (represented by police) has to prove just cause to obtain a search warrant in order to tap my phone, mail or home. Since the 9/11 attacks fear of terrorism has escalated to a point where people are not only happy to but encouraging governments to violate laws that protect our individual rights in the interests of public safety. How terrorists must be laughing now as the very laws we have embraced to represent the best of democracy and basic human rights are being thrown out the window from fear.
Those in fear believe “If you aren’t breaking the law, what does it matter?” The debate is about due process, and the implication that I’m guilty until I prove myself innocent. History is filled with “enemies of the state”, people who challenge the status quo. In a democracy we have the right to question the government and its actions and to take action through protest if necessary to make our voices heard. That is very different to trying to incite a revolution or violence which works outside of the democratic system of voting. I always remember the case of the Ku Klux Klan in the US during the 1980s when they were taken to court for inciting the beating and killing of a black student in Portland, Oregon. As abhorrent as racism is, the KKK has the right to be as racist as they want. What they are not allowed to do is discriminate against minority groups or incite acts of violence against minority groups. Speaking out against the US or other democratic countries is not against the law. A call to action that involves hurting or killing people is.
I recently attended the Writer’s Festival in Auckland where Jeremy Scahill spoke about drone attacks by the US in the war on terror. I was horrified to realise that President Obama has authorised the assassination of over 2400 people without due process. Belonging to Al Queda should not condemn someone to death. Due process dictates that evidence should be gathered and presented in a court of law to prove intent to cause harm. Of course you wouldn’t expect the accused to make him/herself vulnerable by showing up in court but they should be given the possibility of sending through written or recorded evidence to defend themselves and be represented by a lawyer.
Nelson Mandela, Ang Sun Su Kyi, and Ghandi were all considered “enemies of the state” and while they’re governments jailed them, the process of accusing them was carried out in the public domain and recorded for public access. To have thousands of people killed without any record of specific charges laid, evidence presented and an opportunity for defence is unconscionable. It leaves every one of us vulnerable to false accusations and no means of defence should we come under the magnifying glass of a powerful government.
My second concern is my right to privacy. I have the right to think, talk, right and act in private how I like as long as I’m not violating someone else’s rights. If I took action that raised a red flag; joining a group that promotes violence, large amounts of cash moving from account to account, etc. I would expect an application would be made to monitor me more closely and for a specific time period with an end date. For every step that my human rights are being violated I expect the government to justify it’s decision making and actions. What is unacceptable is a blanket eavesdropping on all citizens. It sets a precedent for not only mail and emails to be intercepted, but your phones to be tapped, house wired, etc. Where is the transparency?
We get upset when the knee jerk reaction to kids getting hurt on playgrounds is to remove the playgrounds. We have to decide if our kids having the right to play and explore their physical boundaries if worth the potential for harm. As a society we have to decide if our right to privacy and due process is worth the risk that not all terrorists will be prevented from harming others.
Are we safer? Yes. Are we safe? No. But I would rather the risk come from people outside our democratic system rather than within it.


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