Privacy and double standards

Old Gestapo Prison in the EL-DE Museum

Old Gestapo Prison in the EL-DE Museum (Photo credit: Aaron Olaf)

Yesterday 26th April was day on which one of the most cruel Government Machinery of oppression was created. It was Gestapo! The Geheime Staatspolizei (German for Secret State Police, abbreviated “Gestapo”) was the secret police of Nazi Germany. It was instrumental in creating a havoc which has no parallel in human history. The ignoble role of Gestapo is aptly narrated as under:

During World War II, the Einsatzgruppen (“Task Force”, mobile killing squads) was formed, and came to be an integral part of the Gestapo. It was the Einsatzgruppen‘s job to round up all the Jews and other “undesirables” living within Germany’s newly conquered territories, and to either send them to concentration camps or put them to death.  At the end of 1940, when the Jews in Eastern Europe were interned in ghettos, the Gestapo was charged with guarding and supervising the ghettos, imposing forced labor, and causing starvation and disease in an effort to decimate the ghetto inhabitants. After the invasion of Russia in 1941, the decision was made to kill all the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and the Gestapo was called upon to supervise the dispatch of the Jews to the camps specially adapted or constructed for the program of mass murder. The Gestapo units excelled in their unabated and premeditated cruelty, in their ability to delude its intended victims as to the fate that awaited them, and in the use of barbaric threats and torture to lead the victims to their death, all as part of the “Final Solution.” The units were taught many torture techniques, and were also taught many of the practices that German doctors in Dachau tested on the inmates of concentration camps. During its tenure, the Gestapo operated without any restrictions from the civil authority, meaning that its members could not be tried for any of their police practices. This unconditional authority added an elitist element to the Gestapo; its members knew that whatever actions they took, no consequences would arise. (Source: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Gestapo.html.

What is the parallel? Have we learned any lessons from the past?  Please read the italicized words again. Now every country under the guise of threat of terrorism is arming its police with same authority. How so ever noble this idea may be, but it has serious repercussions. People languishing in Prisons for months together, without any protection. Courts refusing to look into these matters, fearing its own safety. The war, even if won, is lost on the anvil of human rights. Once such drastic powers of intrusion into privacy through electronic surveillance, based only on suspicion is unleashed, it tends to lose its direction. Even the most authoritarian regimes are not able to control it. Following is an excerpt from news on China, how its surveillance techniques were misdirected for personal ambition:

When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anti-corruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped – by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.  The story of how China’s president was monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state. To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another – repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule.

“This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”

Party officials, however, say it would be far too damaging to make the wiretapping public. When Mr. Bo is finally charged, wiretapping is not expected to be mentioned. “The things that can be publicized are the economic problems and the killing,” according to the senior official at the government media outlet. “That’s enough to decide the matter in public.” (Source:http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/asia/bo-xilai-said-to-have-spied-on-top-china-officials.xml)

Another example is Colombia:

Illegal spying on human rights activists and journalists is still happening in Colombia, according to a new report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ………  the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states in its report for 2011, presented Monday Feb. 27 in Bogotá, that it continued receiving reports about illegal spying, especially from human rights defenders and journalists. The OHCHR report on the situation of human rights in Colombia says ‘there has been uncorroborated information on the involvement of State agents, including members of civilian and military intelligence services, in illegal and clandestine operations. ‘Most cases have not been resolved. If no significant progress is made in preventing, investigating and punishing these acts, it will be difficult to guarantee non-repetition,’ it adds. (source: http://www.globalissues.org/news/2012/02/28/12838)

Incidents like this, a plenty in every country, show what a loose cannon it can be.There have been numerous incidents of wire-tapping all over the world including India and USA. Needless to mention that intrusion into privacy is expressly forbidden by 4th Amendment to the USA Constitution.See this link on invasion of privacy in USA.

My point is, it all begins with unnecessary intrusion into the lives of people. Or are we going back to dark ages when people merely holding a secret meeting were burned alive for hearsay or sedition. All in the name of common good. It is a wake up call. Would some body take it? Would United Nation, which on political issues, is already defunct rise to the occasion and ensure that all Governments commit to some standard on intrusion of people’s lives?

It is only when life of rich and influential is intruded by such measures, that it comes to light. Incidents when businessmen use state machinery to espionage on each other or when police arrest people merely on wire-tapped conversation, which it obviously can not reveal, remain clouded in secrecy. Even today. Truth is intrusion into lives of people and secrecy in affairs of State, precedes physical and mental torture of citizens. Respect for human liberty is an absolute respect it can not be in partial. (Remember Guantanamo Bay) and what about Bobby Sand.

Countries like UK is considering to give sweeping powers to itself to hold secret court hearing where such material would be accepted unchallenged. It is an accepted public opinion on the part of jurists that:

“It would permit the extension of closed material procedures, in which claimants and their lawyers are excluded from court and refused sight of government evidence, to any civil claim, whenever a minister considers that openness is against the ‘public interest’. This violates two of the most basic principles of our common law system: the right of every party to know the case against them, so that they can answer it; and the principle that there must be equality of arms between parties in court. It would permit secret hearings, and the giving of secret judgments by courts, accessible only to the government.” (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/mar/06/secret-court-hearings-government-law)

But will we learn anything from history? The noose is tightening. Democracy is supposed to be least hostile towards citizen. It is not expected to be efficient. It is good if it is but that is not in issue. Real issue is that these different measures which vest vast powers in few hands are inherently evil.

© Sandeep Bhalla

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2 thoughts on “Privacy and double standards

  1. Pingback: Phone tapping in India and ludicrous denial. | Sandeep Bhalla's Blog

  2. Pingback: I miss the surveillance! Please tap my phone again? | Sandeep Bhalla's Blog

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