Guest Post: Bill Muehlenberg – Statism and Surveillance Culture

It is not just in places like Communist China that we find the surveillance state in full swing. Sadly the so-called free West is not far behind. Sure, surveillance can be used for good or ill. The problem is, as the State grows in power and control, it is the last one you want having such hardcore surveillance abilities.

In the West this technology is a mixed blessing at best. We all may feel safer, for example, knowing that security cameras are in place, presumably to keep an eye on the bad guys. Criminals can often be detected and caught when the authorities go over security camera footage and the like. So far so good.

But as always, very real privacy issues arise here. Just how much are we willing to give up on various rights – including the right to privacy – in order to be kept safe, or at least to feel safe? Life is always about trade-offs, and we all put up with the infringement of our rights to some extent.

For example, most folks are willing to put up with lengthy security checks at airports if it means the likelihood of terrorism or plane-hijackings is greatly lessened as a result. So we will often compromise on certain goods (privacy and convenience, eg.) for other goods (safety and security, eg.)

But knowing where to draw the line and how far all this should go is always the tricky part. At the moment with the Rona hysteria, our every move is being monitored – by QR tracking and related devices. It gets harder to enter a supermarket, a store, a restaurant, or some sporting event without them.

Claims that this information will never be shared and used for other purposes has already been shown to be bogus. How much further will all this go? Mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports are already upon us in various quarters and continue to become the norm. Two-tiered society is already here. Health apartheid is already occurring.

Let me look at a recent example of the double-edged sword of surveillance technology: Apple has recently announced it will now monitor all its iPhones for child abuse and child pornography. Let me state at the outset that actual child abuse is of course a horrific thing.
But should anything go to see it stopped? We can easily make things worse if we are not careful here. Plenty of eyebrows have been raised at the collateral damage of something like this, with significant concerns about privacy leading the list.

Even if we naively think the Big Tech Giants and the Big State in the West will never abuse their powers in this regard, what happens if such tools fall into the hands of tyrannical states? Being an international corporation, Apple can easily be badgered by various authoritarian governments to serve their purposes.

One recent American article raised some obvious concerns about this:

By law, American companies have to report child abuse and exploitation imagery on their servers to NCMEC, which then works with law enforcement on an investigation. Other tech giants do the same when emails or messages are sent over their platforms. That includes Google, Microsoft and Facebook. So why are so many privacy advocates up in arms about Apple’s announcement?

It’s because Apple is checking photos on your iPhone, not just on its own servers in the iCloud. It’s going one step beyond what its rivals have done, checking every photo on a device rather than just on a company server. (It’s also scanning images to check whether they’re of nude children, using a different technology, but that’s all done on the device and doesn’t go to Apple. A simple warning comes up, suggesting iPhone users may not want to send or view nude images.)

Alec Muffett, a noted encryption expert and former Facebook security staffer, explained on Twitter that when someone buys a phone, they expect to have control over what’s happening on their property. But Apple is denying that right and “although it ostensibly exists to prevent upload of CSAM to their iCloud platform, they are using the user’s device to do it and making the tectonic-shift statement that ‘it’s ok by us to do this sort of thing to user devices.’”

Muffett and other encryption experts like Johns Hopkins professor Matt Green and NSA leaker Edward Snowden have also raised the alarm that Apple could now be pressured into looking for other material on people’s devices, if a government demands it.

“How such a feature might be repurposed in an illiberal state is fairly easy to visualize. Apple is performing proactive surveillance on client-purchased devices in order to defend its own interests, but in the name of child protection,” Muffett added. “What will China want them to block?” https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2021/08/06/apple-is-trying-to-stop-child-abuse-on-iphones-so-why-do-so-many-privacy-experts-hate-it/?sh=66dedc6a2fab

Exactly. And when Big Business or Big Government decide today that certain things are evil and must be stopped regardless of the collateral damage, there is no way it will stop with legitimate concerns such as child porn. Many in the Big State, Big Tech, and Big Business firmly believe that all sorts of other ideas and groups are evil and must also be dealt with.

Conservatives have long been on the receiving end here. Those who question climate alarmism, Covid hysteria, or radical left narratives are increasingly being viewed as enemies who must be targeted. ‘But, but,’ the critics will say, ‘any move like this is justified if it ends child pornography.’

They think any negatives can simply be dismissed: ‘Anything that reduces child sexual abuse is well worth it.’ But if that is the case, then what will be the next step? Should we allow the authorities the right to enter homes, confiscate computers, and check everything we have ever done online with no questions asked?

This is the same mentality. To prevent some evil – in this case, child abuse – we need to take drastic steps, even if it means greatly infringing on basic human rights and liberties. It is ‘the end justifies the means’ mindset, and it sets a very dangerous precedent.

But some will foolishly say: ‘Well, if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.’ Um no, I am not buying that for a moment. I have no child porn on my computer, but that does not mean I will be thrilled with the authorities breaking into my home, taking away my computers, and looking for whatever they want.

When we get to that place, we are no longer free and democratic nations, but are in deep and dark tyranny. Woke capitalism coupled with the Total State is the stuff of dystopian novels, and we are seeing all this being played out as we speak. There is no end to where all this is going.

If ‘keeping us safe’ – be it from child porn or the Rona or pesky conservatives and their ‘misinformation’ – means the end of our liberties and the suppression of our civil rights, then we must slow down and think things through much more carefully. If not, the West really has signed its own death warrant.

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25 Responses to Guest Post: Bill Muehlenberg – Statism and Surveillance Culture

  1. Kneel says:

    “But some will foolishly say: ‘Well, if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.’”

    The answer to this unthinking riposte is simple:
    “OK, so you are happy to have your medical test results (for any- and everything) send to you on a postcard and that postcard left on a community bulletin board outside your local public library?”
    The answer is inevitably “No, that’s my private business, no-one else’s!”.
    Yes, exactly so.
    What is on my phone is my business, no-one else’s – unless you have probable cause that I have committed a crime and get a search warrant, then bugger off!

  2. Zipster says:

    You will own nothing and you will be happy!

  3. Speedbox says:

    Our patronising government, and notably those involved in security, re-assure us that we have nothing to worry about from their observation of our activities. Everything is in order. The ‘Right Chaps’ are in charge. Coupled of course with the “if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear”. What a crock.

    Billions of people have nothing to hide – they simply expect a degree of privacy – but intrusive surveillance continues its march into our lives.

    And in that respect, covid is a gamechanger. If the extent of covert surveillance wasn’t bad enough, there is no longer any pretence that we are being observed and monitored – for our own good of course. ‘To keep us all safe’ because ‘we are all in this together’.

    In the United States, the land of the free and home of the brave, the NSA routinely collects data from Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter. But the US are not the only ones – although they arguably led the charge – with virtually every nation on the planet collecting data on its citizens that it has no need to collect.

    Data is power and no government, ever, stepped back from accumulating more power.

  4. Katzenjammer says:

    “But I’m not doing anything wrong. I don’t have any on my phone”.
    “Ummm, Apple doesn’t know that until it’s breached your security fingerprint and checked all your photos.”
    “Oh dear.”

  5. C.L. says:

    In the West this technology is a mixed blessing at best. We all may feel safer, for example, knowing that security cameras are in place, presumably to keep an eye on the bad guys. Criminals can often be detected and caught when the authorities go over security camera footage and the like. So far so good.

    But this is how conservatives lose every single argument in contemporary culture.

    Sure, surveillance is good – we just need to make it nicer or something.

    No.

    Cameras don’t make anyone “safer.” All they do is make investigations somewhat easier for increasingly lazy police.

  6. Gilas says:

    The old Eastern Block and the USSR mainly relied on State-generated fear, the natural passivity of the proles and early school indoctrination.

    Good old Oz has all that, untold thousands of CCTV everywhere and 4G/5G to complete the octopus.
    Best in the World!

  7. Adam D Adam D says:

    The avenues to stop child abuse/porn are already well established. It seems the establishment is too lazy to do their job, they decide instead to focus on the easy and compliant.

  8. Rabz says:

    Murray Rothbard on the evils of government data collection, which inevitably results in the metastacism of statism.

    https://mises.org/library/statistics-achilles-heel-government

    Surveillance is simply real time data.

  9. John A says:

    Claims that this information will never be shared and used for other purposes has already been shown to be bogus.

    There is an additional aspect to this involved.

    The Polizei of the PDR of Viktoriastan let slip when investigating positive cases at a Woollies store in the north of the city (the investigation that went to the wrong store) that they had also traced people via their credit card transactions at the shopping centre.

    Now we all remember agreeing to terms and conditions for use of our plastic cards (even if we didn’t read them) which included privacy protections in terms such as “we collect your data only for the purposes of facilitating the transaction and any subsequent actions directly related to the transaction you initiate with the merchant.”

    And merchant services agreements with the sellers would have equivalent provisions both between the merchant and the bank and between the merchant and the customer. The data is not to be used for other purposes or disclosed in any way to identify an individual card user.

    So I am presuming that Diktator Dan has implemented emergency powers which remove the need for “probable cause” and avoid the need to obtain a search warrant and inform the cardholder that these privacy provisions have been “stood down.”

    A question for the future: Will ALL these emergency powers be laid aside when the emergency is over (assuming it will end at some time – admittedly an untested assumption)?

  10. RobK says:

    If there is a means, there will be an obligation.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-15/safewa-app-sparks-urgent-law-change-after-police-access-data/100201340
    “ When the government introduced the app in November 2020, Health Minister Roger Cook assured the public only authorised WA health contact tracing personnel would be able to access the data.

    He said he was confident the new laws would not hamper police investigations.

    “By bringing in this legislation, it is not as though we are impeding the police in any way because they have at their resources, far more sophisticated methods of locating someone’s whereabouts,” Mr Quigley said.

    As part of the contact tracing system, people can also check in with pen and paper.

    Under the legislation, businesses would have to keep that handwritten data for 28 days, but destroy it as soon as possible after that.

    Mr Quigley said businesses that failed to do, and released the data, so would face up to a year in prison and a fine of $20,000, and corporations would face a $250,000 fine and two years in jail.

    Community trust ‘broken’

    Opposition Leader Mia Davies said the government had breached the public’s trust by allowing data to be used for other purposes. ”
    RTWT.
    In another report (which I can’t locate atm) the police commissioner said it was obliged to use the data to assist them because at that time it wasn’t unlawful to do so.

  11. Rabz says:

    Will ALL these emergency powers be laid aside when the emergency is over?

    No. The “emergency” will never end (or will simply morph into some new hobgoblin) and consequently there will be no justification (in our beloved leaders’ opinion) to lay the temporary emergency powers aside.

    Ever.

  12. Old School Conservative says:

    How will Apple differentiate between innocent phots of your kids in the nuddy, from porn photos used by those of a peculiar bent?

    This is just an excuse to take one more incremental step towards totalitarianism.

  13. thefrollickingmole says:

    I was considering a posing along the lines of ‘Legalize child porn”.

    Because its been used as the stalking horse for an incredible rollback of privacy.

    Plus Im sure no other agency but those damn Russkies would ever do something like this..

    https://www.deccanchronicle.com/technology/in-other-news/120117/beware-hackers-are-planting-child-porn-on-peoples-computers.html

  14. Dot says:

    Yeah, no child abusers or MAPs at Apple would ever abuse this technology guys…

  15. FlyingPigs says:

    Given the promotion of LGBT+ values in schools seems a bit…. creepy.

    Seems Apple have grown into their 1984 niche quite well.

  16. rosie says:

    Yes. And even when access to CCTV is available all they have to say to victims of crime is so sad but none of the CCTV at those shops was working today.

  17. incoherent rambler says:

    If not, the West really has signed its own death warrant.

    We are past the signing, now walking handcuffed up the scaffold stairs*.

  18. Chris M says:

    So this will apply to the elite also right? The pals of Eppstein are being reported by apple as we speak? Would include the likes of Hunter and Joe?

  19. MatrixTransform says:

    I have no child porn on my computer

    I have a heap of photos of my own kids in the nuddy frolicking in long grass that I should have mowed. in the 1990’s

    My son sends me pics of my grand kids that pay homage to some of the classic he himself appeared in.

    all completely normal

    … unless Apple don’t think so.

    FFS!

  20. Barry says:

    First professed target is always the child pornographers.
    Then they claim to be after the terrorists,
    But the real target, and they will get there very quickly, is the copyright infringers.

    It’s all about revenue protection.
    They couldn’t care less about the kiddies or the beheaded.

  21. Dot says:

    I don’t even think it is about enforcing IP.

    I think it could be machine learning (massively parallel processed AI using vector mathematics) used to steal IP.

  22. Bar Beach Swimmer says:

    When we get to that place, we are no longer free and democratic nations

    I think we’re already there.

  23. TFM et al:
    “Plus I’m sure no other agency but those damn Russkies would ever do something like this..”
    ****************************************************
    No man in Australia is invulnerable to this.
    I understood the coppers were allowed to make a copy of all your devices and left yours with you as a guarantee they wouldn’t tamper with your files.
    But in many videos of the confiscation process, I see multiple computers being removed from the ‘offenders’ places and put into the police vehicle.
    My assumption then, is the authorities have the expertise to download files onto your computer and falsify dates etc.
    What guarantees are there we cannot get framed?
    None.

  24. Vicki says:

    Late to this thread, but have interesting info to add, I think.

    My daughter, who is generally uninterested in such things, reported something “that will worry you, mum”.

    Apparently my granddaughter (who is just 15) will now have her own Medicare registration. She will have all rebates sent to her bank account! But worse, she was required to provide voice recognition sample. What IS THIS ABOUT?

  25. DDinAus says:

    But worse, she was required to provide voice recognition sample. What IS THIS ABOUT?

    “In Australia my voice identifies me.”
    This phrase is used as a voice id during telephone inquiries with some Commonwealth agencies.

    Will this work with the police in NSW?

    It has/is being adopted by Scottie’s mob for all voice communication.

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