Sunday, October 08, 2006


On Friday the USA and the EU finally agreed a deal over the American Department of Homeland Security’s access to information about passengers on flights transiting American airspace.

The next time you fly to, or over, the US, their government will know you’re doing it. They’ll know, amongst other things, which credit card you booked the flight with, the email address and phone number you gave, which seat you are in and how many frequent flier miles you have.

Interestingly though the actual ‘No-Fly’ list that’s issued by the US Government for airlines to check if terrorist suspects are trying to board flights, doesn’t contain the name of the people the US Government thinks most likely to initiate an act of terrorism, because that would be a security breach! You’ve got to wonder what purpose it serves.

If you’ve sent funds or bought anything internationally over the last few years, chances are the US Government knows about that too, since the records of international money transfers were open to unrestrained scrutiny for quite a while before the EU got wind of it. Buying from Amazon Jersey may have saved you the VAT, but Uncle Sam now knows about your secret predilection for Jackie Collins novels and Father Ted DVDs!

Then there was the fuss earlier this year about US Government monitoring of phonecalls and emails.

So they gather all this information about the minutiae of our lives, wave a magic wand (and probably a building full of Crays) over it and then they go round up the terrorists, try them, sentence them and we’re all safer, right? Well, that’s the idea but it doesn’t quite work like that… It seems that sometimes they get it wrong. Whoops!

And don’t think that, in the country that trumpets itself as the paragon of civil rights and democracy, that you would actually have any rights or comeback if they get it wrong with you! Nope. If you’re suspected of terrorism all your civil rights go out of the window. The US Congress has recently enacted law that allows ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ to be arrested and imprisoned indefinitely without ever coming before a judge, let alone a jury. If one day you do get released, because it’s all been an enormous mistake, you don’t have any redress either.

Am I the only one who thinks that a government monitoring every aspect of people’s everyday lives; where they go, what they buy, who they talk to and email, and then whisking folks away to interrogation, detention and potential torture, without ever having to justify it, all in the name of keeping the population safe and free, is more than a little bit Orwellian?

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