Someone dear to me recently warned me off expressing anti-government ideas and opinions on the internet. ‘They record everything,’ she told me.
I’ve been reflecting on that small statement.
Firstly, who are ‘they’? Well, they’re individuals employed by organisations paid for with public money (until and unless and until they are privatised and become competitive – god help us). People who have a) technology and b) legal clearance (probably) to ‘record everything’. GCHQ? Mi5? Mi6? The National Security Agency? The police? And perhaps other more shadowy security agencies, whose existence most of us are unaware of…
Then, what does ‘record’ mean? My guess is that there is no recorded and filed repository of everything, electronic or otherwise. It would be so onerous and time-consuming that half the population would have to be working full time at recording the other half’s communications. Rather, it means anything you’ve written (and probably spoken) could be accessed retrospectively by security agencies.
By the same token, accessing ‘everything’ would be a waste of effort given that the vast majority of communications represent no threat to what we’ll call security for now. Professional communication spies would need good reason to focus on an individual, a group, or a cluster of communications. Monitoring is probably carried out according to a set of criteria, with clear goals and measures, as in any other government department. There is certainly a list of those whose communications are regularly checked – and probably a subset whose communications are routinely recorded.
So, is my near and dear person right to be worried about what I express and share online? Well, I’ve often expressed dissatisfaction, frustration and anger about the UK’s current government. But as public awareness and strength of feeling grows, I’m one of an increasingly large number. I’d be surprised (but not amazed) if I’m on a special list somewhere
If I am on such a list, should it worry me? Well, I have supported and encouraged anti-government action ranging from petition-signing to peaceful revolution. I do this not because I’m naturally subversive or anarchistic, but because I see clearly that our government consistently puts economic growth and profit above the wellbeing of people and planet, and fails to recognise that a healthy economy depends on healthy people and planet, not the other way round. This erroneous ideology causes suffering to people and other species, and untold environmental damage – much of it at a global scale and possibly irreversible.
While mainstream media is dominated by mindless entertainment, and controlled by the wealthy and powerful who depend on the continuance of unchecked capitalism, I’ll gratefully use the rich, diverse and sometimes crazy world of social media to share the work of those who uncover acts of injustice, cruelty and destruction, and the courageous and beautiful creative responses of those who realise, and care.
I’ll continue reaching out to those who maybe don’t understand the damage being done by the wealthy and powerful, or don’t realise how they unwittingly contribute to it through their work or their purchasing choices – or who know, at some level, but for various reasons feel they can’t make changes to the way they live (and we all know what that’s like…)
I said lightly to my concerned one, ‘They can’t put me in prison’. I don’t condone violence; what I and many others like me share isn’t illegal. But it is inflammatory. With the rise of social media, the government and powerful corporations are fast losing control of who knows what, who says what, who feels, thinks and believes what. This represents a serious threat, not to ‘security’ in the way that the government would have us believe, but to the destructive dominance of the wealthy and powerful. Communication is already monitored more closely, free speech debated more hotly, and across Europe laws purporting to address acts of terrorism are increasingly used to subdue and silence those who are vocal and active in their fight for Life versus Destruction.
Five years ago, it might have seemed inconceivable that you could end up in court for expressing anti-government sentiments. Today, it doesn’t seem so unlikely. For that reason alone, I believe it’s more important than ever to continue sharing information, exposing corruption and spreading myriad creative responses. This way, people are increasingly able to inform themselves, take personal and collective responsibility; create healthier ways of working and spending despite our government – ultimately either rendering it redundant, or replacing it with wiser, more compassionate leadership.
Whilst I’m waiting for that vision to become reality, I’ll post my subversive posts – even if they do record everything – and fight for Life in the best way I know how.