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All your jobs belong to us

Australian civil liberties are looking increasingly shaky as the Australian government proposes sweeping new laws that give security services astonishing powers to control ‘people of interest’.

UP to 80 Australian Muslims could immediately be placed under effective house arrest under the Government’s proposed anti-terror laws.

The laws mean they could each be required to wear tracking devices, or prevented from working, or using the telephone or internet, or communicating with certain people.

Fancy that. The state wants to have the power to rob you of your right to make a living and put an electronic dog collar on you.

The laws will apply to anyone who has trained overseas with any of the 17 banned terror groups, including al-Qa’ida, Jemaah Islamiah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abu Sayyaf and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The intent of the law is that authorities leave these people alone if it is considered they no longer pose a security risk.

Oh, so that makes it okay, then?

I must confess to having mixed feelings about this. I do not want people who have been hanging around that sort of outfit running around in Australia without some sort of supervision. I loathe these barbarians and their theological nonsense, and I concede that we do not live in a perfect world.

But to see people who have not actually committed an offence to be deprived of their ordinary right to make a living, and to be dragged hither and yon at the whim of an Australian beaurocrat is almost as grating as an Islamofascist.

There are real threats that Australia have to face. This story outlines how the Australian government sees the situation. But there are some troubling aspects.

For example, there hasn’t been any sort of terrorist attack in Australia since 2001 by Islamic extremists. The report claims that they’ve already disrupted several attacks. Therefore it seems that the onus is definately on the Government to prove the case that it actually needs these new powers. Instead,

The Government insists it should be taken on trust that the new laws will be carefully implemented and used only sparingly.

Only the most casual observer of the Australian political scene will have any trust in the government’s ability to do so. The Australian government has been mired in controversy over mis-management of the immigration system, and its competence in security matters is hard to assess. And with the re-introduction of ‘sedition’ laws, the government’s ability to prosecute people for their opinions is wider then ever.

All this is troubling enough, but what is even more alarming is the way democratic governments all over the world seem to be competing with each other to take more powers to control and imprison their citizens. The common thread is that if you are different, you are a threat.

Care to explain to me how that makes dealing with real terrorists any easier?

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38 comments to All your jobs belong to us

  • Euan Gray

    There are real threats that Australia have to face

    And that’s the problem – the threat DOES exist. So what to do about it? There are basically two ways you can approach it, the active way and the reactive way.

    The reactive way is possibly more in tune with a liberal/libertarian mindset. You wait until something actually happens and then go after the offenders. This minimises the impact on civil liberties but at the price of eroding the liberty not to be blown up, and in any case it has limited utility against suicide attackers. This is the normal way of dealing with most crime, and it works because most criminals are still around to be punished after the crime. However meaningful and deterrent the punishment may be, though, it doesn’t work if the criminal intends to kill himself in the commission of the crime.

    The active way is to identify and neutralise the threat BEFORE it does something. The problem with that is that it is not entirely reasonable to prosecute people for what they might do but have not yet done. Surveillance is, therefore, the answer. Again, though, it’s easier to do this with people who, for example, wish to overthrow the government because they generally want to be around afterwards. A revolutionary taking a train might just be on the way to a political meeting. A suicide bomber taking a train might have a bomb in his bag. Given that it is not hard to make explosives and fashion them into a bomb, you’d need really intrusive surveillance to know whether he was doing this or not.

    Whilst it is not pleasant that liberties are curtailed in the interests of security, unless someone can come up with a better and non-intrusive way of stopping people like this BEFORE they do something, it’s hard to see what else can be done.

    EG

  • What is the genesis of the “all your *insert noun here* are belong to us” meme?

  • Euan Gray

    What is the genesis of the “all your *insert noun here* are belong to us” meme?

    It comes from an old computer game where the translation to English from the original (I think Japanese) went “all your base are belong to us.” Well known amongst geeks.

    EG

  • ADE

    We are at war. You have to make sacrifices. Bye bye some of our liberties.

    But we are also a democracy. After we’ve won, we’ll vote back the freedom not to be suveyed.

    In the meantime, I’m voting for not to be bombed.

    ADE

  • Bernie

    Euan

    at the price of eroding the liberty not to be blown up

    That is a very dangerous idea and one I do not think makes any sense. It has obvious corrollaries that are already a part of political “think”.

  • Euan Gray

    That is a very dangerous idea and one I do not think makes any sense

    Which is more important – the right not to be spied upon when you’re making bombs, or the right not to be blown up? That’s what it really comes down to.

    If you want to minimise the chances of being vaporised by a suicide bomber, you need to accept some degree of curtailment of liberty because that is really the only way of finding and stopping suicide bombers. If your society doesn’t want to accept that, fine – but don’t moan about nothing being done to stop it after it happens.

    EG

  • Bernie

    By the same argument we have “rights” to not being murdered or robbed or raped or offended. Therefore anyone who might possibly commit those kinds of crimes should have the same restrictions put upon them.

    I know you wouldn’t agree with that so what difference do you see?

  • Euan Gray

    I know you wouldn’t agree with that so what difference do you see?

    I see the extremely obvious difference that suicide attackers by definition don’t care about legal penalty for their behaviour because they don’t intend to survive to suffer the penalty. Even if it goes wrong and they don’t die but get arrested, they are still martyrs to the cause and so not deterred.

    On the other hand, murderers and rapists tend not to kill themselves after committing their offence, so the prospect of arrest and punishment works as a deterrent.

    EG

  • Robert Alderson

    The US gets round the active/reactive conundrum for dealing with potential terrorists by prosecuting under VERY broad conspiracy laws and infilitrators. Governments with a judge-led (rather than adversarial) system launch lengthy and thorough judicial investigations whilst keeping suspects in detention.

    The mere fact that the authorities treat somebody as a suspect substantially degrades their potential value to a terrorist enterprise which cannot be sure whether or not to trust the person.

    The other tool that government can use to avoid the repulsive “control orders” method is plain and simple deportation. Any foreign citizen who has received military training from a hostile group should be immediately deportable. Any naturalized citizen with such training has, arguably, accquired that citizenship under false pretences and could have it removed.

  • Bernie

    Okay so we are coming from different directions here. You are looking at how to stop their crimes and I’m looking to maintain some liberty.

    The reason I don’t like the use of this argument is that it is leading to an out and out police state. It is being used to justify legislation that is then being used against people who are not potential suicide bombers.

  • Lascaille

    But to see people who have not actually committed an offence

    Engaging in military training with a banned terrorist organisation is not an offence? Why the hell not?

  • Euan Gray

    The mere fact that the authorities treat somebody as a suspect substantially degrades their potential value to a terrorist enterprise which cannot be sure whether or not to trust the person

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that most serious terrorist organisations have always known this and plan accordingly. This is why you have the cell structure in terrorist groups and why terrorists are given only the barest minimum information they need to carry out their designated tasks, for example. The fallout if the terrorist is exposed is thus very limited because there simply is not much he can give away and so trust becomes less of an issue.

    Any naturalized citizen with such training has, arguably, accquired that citizenship under false pretences and could have it removed

    And what do you do with someone who was born with citizenship?

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    You are looking at how to stop their crimes and I’m looking to maintain some liberty.

    Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with people who are perfectly prepared – indeed, happy – to sacrifice themselves in pursuit of the greater goal, it is more or less inevitable that there must be a trade-off.

    The reason I don’t like the use of this argument is that it is leading to an out and out police state. It is being used to justify legislation that is then being used against people who are not potential suicide bombers

    So how do you decide who is a potential suicide bomber? The problem we are up against is radical Islamist fundamentalism, so inevitably you’re going to focus on Moslems. Does this mean you want legislation that applies only to Moslems? And is that reasonable in a legal culture based on the rule of law?

    EG

  • Lascaille

    Why don’t we just bury the suicide bombers in a pigskin shroud?

  • The US also gets around this problem by having security agencies that operate outside the boundaries of the law to a certain extent. The CIA and NSA aren’t really concerned with prosecution so much as acquiring information, so illegal (in the sense that it’s not admissable in court) surveillance and the like isn’t as much of a concern to them.

    Australia don’t really have an equivalent system (unless ASIS has been significantly expanded in the last few years) so they are trying to draft laws to give ASIO CIA-like powers.

  • Verity

    Because to get the shroud in which to wrap garbage, you would have to kill an intelligent, clean animal. You could simply cake them in pig shit, though, before putting them in a normal shroud.

    Re citizenship, I think it is time we stopped according automatic citizenship to children born of foreign parents. Neither Singapore nor Malaysia accords citizenship to babies born of foreign parents on its soil. The kid itself has to choose, aged 12 or something. I think they should have to choose in Britain at age 21 and at that time, have the option of signing a pledge that they will never work against the interests of the United Kingdom. The penalty for breaking it would be automatic deportation. No Human Rights hearings, because it is something they would have chosen to sign of their own free will. If they subsequently went to Pakistan for military training, or became members of groups that intend terrible harm to our country, they would have broken their signed pledge and deportation would be automatic.

    Should they choose not to sign up for citizenship aged 21, they would remain a foreign national and be liable for deportation. This would also mean that any children they had subsequently would not be British nationals.

  • The Happy Rampager

    it is not entirely reasonable to prosecute people for what they might do but have not yet done.

    Do mine eyes deceive me, or has someone seen the error of their ways?

  • Joshua

    Euan’s response to Bernie’s concern that laws curtailing civil liberties are being applied to people who are not potentially suicide bombers:

    So how do you decide who is a potential suicide bomber?
    The problem we are up against is radical Islamist fundamentalism, so inevitably you’re going to focus on Moslems. Does this mean you want legislation that applies only to Moslems? And is that reasonable in a legal culture based on the rule of law?

    Perhaps it isn’t reasonable – but neither is this kind of surveilance of a civilian in a society that purports to require due process to establish guilt.

    I think Bernie’s concern is that the potential for abuse here is great: we shouldn’t approve of such steps on the part of the government lightly and certainly not without substantial guarantees. This includes – at the very least – clear limitations on the use of such powers. We don’t want to get into a situation where the determination of who is a potential suicide bomber is “we know one when we see one.”

    History is replete with examples of democracy faltering in just this way – broad powers granted in response to some emergency and then abused. It is thereofer proper for people to be concerned when such proposals are made.

    A relevant line from the original post:

    For example, there hasn’t been any sort of terrorist attack in Australia since 2001 by Islamic extremists. The report claims that they’ve already disrupted several attacks. Therefore it seems that the onus is definately on the Government to prove the case that it actually needs these new powers.

    I completely agree. If the government doesn’t even seem to need such measures, it does rather tend to make me skeptical of moves to pass them.

    A better route to go might be to outirght forbid the activities the government finds “suspicious.” This means that some activities will slip through the cracks, of course, but better them than important limits on government power.

    So far, the impact of terrorism has been mostly psychological. Death rates are within the statistical bounds for accidents. (It has been, for example, widely noted that more people die in the US in highway accidents each year than died in the 9/11 attacks.)

    We don’t know if there will be a bigger, more devastating attack that breaks these bounds – but if there is I think I can safely tell you two things about it now:

    (1) The terrorists will choose someone to carry out the attack that the Australian government isn’t actively tracking (i.e. this program will not prevent it) and
    (2) It will lead to much more sweeping curtailment of civil liberties (and of muslims specifically) that will be draconian but demonstrably necessary and much more effective.

    The tradeoff that Australians are now asked to make, in other words, isn’t really a tradeoff at all. There is creeping curtailment of civil liberties with no demonstrable payoff – and in response to a threat that has not yet and may never reach “emergency” proportions.

    It would, of course, be possible to pass legislation that would come close to guaranteeing that no serious attacks would ever occur, but no one is going to stomach it because it would involve mass deportations, internments camps, etc. etc. – you get the idea. It’s a tough pill – but the kind of measures that actually prevent major catastrophes will not be possible until after such a catastrophe. In the meantime, the best we can do is stay as normal as possible by not, among other things, turning into a police state for no good reason.

  • Arty

    The report claims that they’ve already disrupted several attacks. Therefore it seems that the onus is definately on the Government to prove the case that it actually needs these new powers.

    Huh? If the authorities have disrupted several attacks that’s all the proof I need.

    Scratch a libertarian… find a leftist.

  • guy herbert

    It has been, for example, widely noted that more people die in the US in highway accidents each year than died in the 9/11 attacks.

    More each month, in fact. US road deaths in 2002 exceeded 42,000.

    The report claims that they’ve already disrupted several attacks. Therefore it seems that the onus is definately on the Government to prove the case that it actually needs these new powers.

    I’d quite like to see the evidence that they have disrupted several attacks, before we do anything less concrete. You will recall the UK prosecution in a “ricin plot”, in which it transpired there was no ricin and no evidence of any attempt to produce it. The men found not guilty have been re-arrested under prerogative power, pending arrangements being made for them to be deported to Algeria–in effect, to be murdered.

    (Would Arty conclude that this is evidence they deserve to die? And if so, how is the idea that people ought not to be arbitrarily killed through state action “leftist”, exactly?)

  • Tedd McHenry

    The problem with that is that it is not entirely reasonable to prosecute people for what they might do but have not yet done. Surveillance is, therefore, the answer.

    Yes, but it makes a big difference who is being surveilled. An approach that has been used for centuries (beginning, I think, with anti-piracy laws) is to define a “criminal organization” and then apply different standards of civil liberties to those who are believed to be members of such organizations.

    Under that approach, it becomes acceptable (even, I think, to most libertarians) to surveil someone surreptitiously or intrusively. (Assuming an appropriate definition of “criminal organization” and appropriate safeguards limiting how someone gets categoriezed as a member.)

    I assume this is being done under anti-terrorism laws in most countries. But it also appears that many anti-terrorism laws go beyond this, permitting surreptitious or intrusive surveillance of people not identified with a criminal organization. I don’t think we’re yet at the point where we should be willing to accept that further expansion of state power.

  • Tedd McHenry said:

    it also appears that many anti-terrorism laws go beyond this, permitting surreptitious or intrusive surveillance of people not identified with a criminal organization.

    Your point is understated. The laws proposed here and at the EU level explicitly advocate compulsory intelligence gathering on the entire population. This doesn’t mean the intelligence on the whole population is being analysed just that its being gathered and can therefore be analysed without further debate. I refer to the telco data retention proposal and the per-mile road tax scheme, and to an extent, ID cards.

    This is an order of magnitude worse than merely saying that some people are going to be surveilled on unspecified criteria, in that scenario there is still an implicit limitation on the type of person under the microscope.

  • Richard Garner

    We are at war. You have to make sacrifices. Bye bye some of our liberties.

    But we are also a democracy. After we’ve won, we’ll vote back the freedom not to be suveyed.

    Hmmm. Could happen I suppose. It is certainly not very common that governments give up all the powers they grant themselves in times of war. Nigel Meek, of the Libertarian Alliance and Society for Individual Freedom once should be a survey he had compiled showing the growth of government over the last century or so respective to GDP, and government always grew fastest in time of war and never fell back to prewar levelsf you think the powerful like to give up power, and democracy respects liberty, then maybe we should believe you.

    Now, if you can just tell us how we can tell when this war will be over and how long it will take to win it.

  • Bernie

    The “war on terror” is the best kind of war as far as the state goes as it has no defined or even barely imaginable ending. We are therefore in a permanent state of emergency and the state can justify whatever it likes from here on out.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Bernie:

    We are therefore in a permanent state of emergency and the state can justify whatever it likes from here on out.

    Not to put words in your mouth, but I think what you should be saying here is, “…the state can try to justify whatever it likes…” It’s still up to voters, hence the value of dialogue like this.

    Unlike other forms of violence, terrorism is still on the rise (http://www.humansecurityreport.info/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=63), so it’s not unreasonable that voters still show support for civil liberties compromises. (I’m not saying I agree, just acknowledging that it’s not an unreasonable position.) Eventually, the “war on terror” will either prove successful (fewer attacks) or unsuccessful; in either case, voter support for the civil liberties compromises will drop.

    Simon:

    Your point is understated.

    I’m an understated guy.

  • John K

    Now, if you can just tell us how we can tell when this war will be over and how long it will take to win it.

    Exactly. We will never see OBL signing a peace treaty on the deck of the USS Missouri. A war against a concept which can never be shown to have ended is the perfect war if you wish to establish a total surveillance national security state. The state will never give up its new powers, because the rules of the game have changed. Listen to the Dear Leader people!

  • Tedd McHenry

    John K:

    A war against a concept which can never be shown to have ended is the perfect war if you wish to establish a total surveillance national security state.

    Are you suggesting that OBL’s objective in starting this war was to make western countries into “total sureillance national security states?” I haven’t read all his words on the subject, but I don’t recall that particular ojbective having been mentioned.

    Or were you just making a general observation, not directly related to the present situation?

  • guy herbert

    OBL may have provided the occasion for the “war against terror”, but he did not declare it. His aims as far as they can be deciphered are cultural-millennarian and not state-like. The Islamist “terrorist” act is more existentialist than instrumental.

  • John K

    Are you suggesting that OBL’s objective in starting this war was to make western countries into “total sureillance national security states?”

    OBL’s motives are immaterial. The power elites which have been lacking an enemy since the end of the Cold War now have a new one, and a much better one. Unlike the USSR, OBL will never be able to actually destroy our society. However, as a bona fide old man of the mountains, he will never go away. He’ll always be out there in his cave, plotting our downfall.

    Sweeping new security powers and massively increased budgets all round! It’s a win-win for the securicrats.

  • From the article: “The laws will apply to anyone who has trained overseas with any of the 17 banned terror groups, including al-Qa’ida, Jemaah Islamiah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abu Sayyaf and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

    The people who are being monitored are not random Muslims. They are members of a paramiltary army that has already declared war against us. They’ve backed up that declaration of war by slaughtering thousands of civilians. They are enemy combatants, and as such, should be protected by the Geneva convention and nothing else.

    If they’re not wearing a uniform, they’re not even protected by that.

    This has nothing to do with civil rights.

  • Tedd McHenry

    John K:

    Sweeping new security powers and massively increased budgets all round! It’s a win-win for the securicrats.

    Fair enough, but I’m still not getting your point in bringing all this up. What is it you’re proposing we do about it?

  • rosignol

    Engaging in military training with a banned terrorist organisation is not an offence? Why the hell not?

    Excellent question.

    Methinks there is already a word for joining a militant organization (as indicated by, for example, recieving combat training from them) that has the intention of carrying out armed attacks against the government that you are a citizen of.

    I am fairly certain that engaging in the behavior that word describes is already prosecutable under the existing legal code. Why do we need new, vaguely-worded laws and a vast surveillance infrastructure to deal with the problem?

    This is not a new problem. What is new is that calling such actions by their proper name, and treating those who commit such actions accordingly, is unfashionable.

  • John K

    Fair enough, but I’m still not getting your point in bringing all this up. What is it you’re proposing we do about it?

    Never voting for the fascistic securicrats of NuLabor is a start. Seriously, what are the little people meant to do? The state has us by the balls does it not?

  • Tedd McHenry

    Seriously, what are the little people meant to do? The state has us by the balls does it not?

    John, if there were an omnipotent and megalomaniacal “power elite,” such as you’re suggesting, they’d want you to think like that.

  • Kim du Toit

    “The people who are being monitored are not random Muslims. They are members of a paramiltary army that has already declared war against us.”

    Perfect.

  • Errmmm, it should be all your job are belong to us.

    job with no s, and are in between.

    Nevermind, what are we talking about again?

  • John K

    John, if there were an omnipotent and megalomaniacal “power elite,” such as you’re suggesting, they’d want you to think like that.

    There are certainly megalomaniacs out there. They’re not omnipotent, yet.

  • Tedd McHenry

    There are certainly megalomaniacs out there. They’re not omnipotent, yet.

    And your repsponse to the substance of my post is?