‘Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear.’
It’s probably the most dangerous phrase you’ll hear in a liberal democracy.
Dangerous, because it seems to have a certain logical sense. Especially when people are indeed fearful of their safety.
And it’s basically what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was saying yesterday.
As you probably heard, the Turnbull government yesterday announced a proposal that would see states hand over the identities of all Australian drivers in a bid to strengthen national security laws.
It would mean authorities would be able to identify any Australian with a driver’s license in seconds using facial recognition technology.
A pretty drastic action, don’t you think?
Mr Molnar, a member of the Australian privacy foundation certainly does:
‘There is no opt-out for this, so in a criminal justice context, this breaks down the conventional notion of a probable cause for stop and search powers.’
I mean this is the kind of government surveillance you expect to see in a futuristic dystopian nightmare, probably directed by Ridley Scott. Or written by George Orwell.
I’ll shortly give you three reasons why this approach is wrong.
And why it won’t even work.
As well as a couple of companies creating the very tools that make this plan unworkable from a practical point of view.
These are opportunities you can look to invest in privacy today…
Beware big brother
First, I’ll give you three reasons why this proposal is both dangerous and flawed.
The first reason will be clear to anyone who tried to take part in the government’s census in 2016. As you probably remember, this was a complete debacle.
A prime example of government incompetence. Especially when it comes to tech.
The site crashed for 40 hours as minor ‘denial of service’ attacks made a mockery of the so-called security systems in place. The government sought to lay the blame at the feet at IBM.
Sorry, but that won’t wash.
And now they want your biometric data, and the ability to store it and track you using video surveillance?
What if a hacker gets into this centralised database and steals your identity details? They could easily create a trail of havoc for you to deal with. This is not a far-fetched notion.
It’s already happening.
License numbers, security numbers and credit cards, all now owned by some malicious power. Luckily you can cancel and replace such things.
Biometric data on the other hand? Well, that’s not easily changed. Unless you know a good plastic surgeon!
And just yesterday I read that the UK government was hit by 590 cyber-attacks in the last year.
Let me be clear. Centralised databases ran by the governments are high value target. And personally, I don’t trust an organisation that can’t even run an online survey to secure my data!
The second point is more dangerous in the long term.
Who polices the police? Despite assurances and safeguards, there’s no doubt that this information will become valuable for all sorts of inappropriate personal reasons to those in power.
From the married police chief that suspects his wife of having an affair, to the ambitious politician looking to dig dirt on her opposition.
The danger of such a system is that the privacy of the ordinary person is trampled while those in power retain the means to protect their own.
A simple solution would be to require all politicians and government ministers to allow themselves to be tracked by GPS, for their emails to be public knowledge and their phones tapped so the general public can listen.
I’m not being ridiculous.
That’s essentially what they are asking you to agree to.
My last point is this.
Such mass surveillance just doesn’t work. As technology increases, so do the methods by which criminals use against us.
Covata [ASX:CVT] has created a product which encrypts all messages so that only the specified users can access them. Its main customers are governments and big business with secret to keep. But it shows the technology exists.
Cryptocurrency MaidSafe is creating an entire new internet where only you can control who sees your data. Cleverly, there is no centralised database to hack. It’s all distributed around the world in tiny chunks, useless individually.
Data is the new power
Data is the new money of the 21st century. And naturally enough governments want to control data as much as central banks sought to control fiat money in the 20th century.
You can’t let them.
Do we need a cyber security strategy? Yes of course. But not a lazy one that just tries to impinge upon citizen’s rights. Policing needs to be smarter. That includes sourcing good data. But it’s not a carte blanche under the threat of ‘terrorism’.
Innocent until proven guilty is a crucial feature of our society.
Mass surveillance and tracking go against the spirit of our society.
A society that has thrived on the freedoms enshrined in individual rights. And a key right is the right to privacy. This is not some auxiliary right we can do without. It’s the catalyst for human progress.
Governments throughout history have always sought to increase their power in times of perceived chaos.
And not to go too far, but Hitler decreed a state of emergency in 1933 that overrode the civil liberties of the constitution. It was in response to a fire in parliament which he blamed on the communists. This state of emergency remained in place for the rest of the Nazi regime.
‘That could never happen here’ is a natural reaction, of course. And to be clear, I don’t think it could.
But you also have to remember the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
That might mean jumping at shadows sometimes. But these proposals are not shadows.
They are dangerous.
And they must not pass into law.
I’ll finish with one last quote.
It’s useful to draw upon the wisdom of others in moments like this.
‘Those who sacrifice a bit of liberty for a bit of safety deserve neither.’
Editor, Money Morning
PS: There are a bunch of cryptocurrencies like MaidSafe that are working on privacy enabling technologies. You will start to hear a lot about them in the next 12 months. But to get in before the herd you have to act now. Click here to read more about the opportunity in cryptocurrencies.