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The Safe Citizen

The future price for safety and the need to stay vigilant during times of perceived fear.

· Politics Economics Institutions

I as with many people, have abided by the changes to the laws during the pandemic, but still have an uneasy feeling with the changes to legislation. The uneasiness comes from what seems to be a power grab. The questions I always ask myself with new laws are, "how can these laws be reinterpreted in times of war or pandemic? How do we define a terrorist in a time of war? Are western governments and consequently the citizens considered terrorists in the eyes of ISIS and the Taliban?

 I've heard countless arguments following the sentiment, "the west will never become an authoritarian regime as we're a democracy", or "that's a slippery slope to imply we're heading down the authoritarian route". Regardless of the conclusions of the discussions, there are some legislative changes that continue to concern me and those I’ve engaged in a discussion. The New Pandemic Powers in Victoria, Australia. The Anti-Terrorism Legislation, and the metadata retention laws.

These types of laws are often introduced under the guise of public safety. When the metadata legislation was introduced as an example, it was said to be necessary to combat 'serious criminal offenses' such as murder. But in practice the law has allowed access to personal data for other purposes, including the enforcement of fines debts, or to product public revenue (Australian Human Rights Commission 2020). 

In isolation the laws don't seem too nefarious, but when new laws are enacted, previous laws need to be reviewed. The metadata law does seem concerning as it allows the government access to large amounts of their citizens personal data. What makes my spidey sense really tingle are new powers were outlined in the 'Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill. In essence, it allows law-enforcement agencies or authorities to modify, add, copy or delete data when investigating serious online crimes (Kang & Abu-Khalaf 2021).

The bill introduces three new powers for law-enforcement agencies:

1. “Data disruption warrants” allow authorities to “disrupt data” by copying, deleting or modifying data as they see fit

2. “Network activity warrants” permit the collection of intelligence from devices or networks that are used, or likely to be used, by subject of the warrant

3. “Account takeover warrants” let agencies take control of an online account (such as a social media account) to gather information for an investigation.

There is also an “emergency authorisation” procedure that allows these activities without a warrant under certain circumstances (Kang & Abu-Khalaf 2021).

The ability to modify data, is the ability to alter truth, to rewrite history. It is a similar ploy that Lenin and Stalin used to meet the gulag quoters. Where Alexandr Solzhenitsyn describes in his book 'The Gulag Archipelago", that they would take you away, you would be put in a room and shown the crimes you've committed. These crimes didn't have to be legitimate; they just needed your signature for the bureaucratic process of justifying your admission to the gulags. If you didn't comply, they would threaten your loved ones, or begin the process of torture. As Solzhenitsyn describes, in order to get a signature on the crime, they would keep the potential prisoners awake for 2 or 3 days, begin the process of starvation, or terminal dehydration.

It would be unfair to put the Australian Government in the same sentence as the Gulag given the atrocities that were employed. However the framework that is seemingly being established, could allow for a similar fate. The ability to edit data, is the ability to incriminate an innocent person. What constitutes 'emergency authorisation' may seem a fair consideration in times of peace, but everything can be considered an emergency in a pandemic or time of war.

I'm sure before the Russian Revolution the Russian people had not considered the atrocities that would befall them, their children, and their grandchildren. To live in such a state of fear that "when people [were] leaving for work [they] said farewell to their families every day, because they could not be certain they would return at night, even then almost no one tried to run away and only in rare cases did people commit suicide. And that was exactly what was required. A submissive sheep is a find for a wolf." (Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenit︠s︡yn 1975) 

The revolution in part was brought about by economic issues, widespread inflation, food shortages, heavy losses in World War 1, and wealth inequality, with 1.5% of the population owning 25% of the land. Although the World Bank and Central Banking system continue to assure us there is no economic crisis and if any crisis that does eventuate, it can be solved through printing of money (Modern Monetary Theory). We must be cautious and vigilant in holding our government to account in times of peace. As it becomes increasingly difficult to hold a government to account during a state of emergency.


So you want to be an Autocrat? Here's a 10-point checklist

This brings me to an insightful article written by Shelley Inglis in November 2019, just before the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Shelly, who has spent more than 15 years with the United Nations, advising governments how to strengthen rule of law, human rights, and democratic governance, has provided a 10-point check list for identifying authoritarian tendencies.

Some are self-evident, some need current context.

1. Extend Executive Power

"The mainstay of today’s authoritarianism is strengthening your power while simultaneously weakening government institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries, that provide checks and balances." (Inglis 2019)

The trans-pacific partnership (TPP) is a good example of weakening government institutions, and rule of law within a country, being replaced by a secret tribunal that forces corporations and nations to settle disputes outside of national laws.


2. Repress dissent and citizen efforts to hold government accountable

"Restrictions on funding and other bureaucratic limitations silence the ability of the people to hold accountable those in power." (Inglis 2019)

Under the guise of public safety, we have seen a repression of dissent of the 'Anti-Lockdown and Kill the Bill' Protestors, whether warranted or unwarranted the process of repression has begun.

This same rule also extends to current practice of silencing of voices on social media and online video Platforms who expouse views that are considered concerning in the opinion of ‘fact checkers’.


3. Capture elite support and, when needed, demonize them too.

Most mainstream national news networks, as well as global media institutions are all seemingly on board with the exact same narrative in relation to Covid and the appeal to authority. It is a health discussion, not an economic, nor a philosophic discussion. We need to fix the immediate problem; the future problems will come later.


4. Appeal to populism and nationalism

"Most would-be autocratic leaders today exploit existing tensions within complex societies in order to solidify their support. Blaming external forces for a country’s problems is also a problem. A populist framework is being established, instead of "the people" as morally good being juxtaposed against "the elite" as morally repugnant" (Inglis 2019). The new "us vs them" narrative of the modern populist framework is "the people" against "the unvaccinated".

Eventually the Covid-19 Pandemic will be to blame for the Global Economic Failure, sweeping under the rug decades of Band-Aid fixing policies, which have attempted to keep a terminally ill system alive.


5. Control information at home; misinform abroad

"While propaganda and state-owned media is not new, control of modern technology and information has become a key battleground. China has developed sophisticated technologies to censor and prevent the circulation of unwanted information and to track individuals in society." (Inglis 2019)

Australia has begun the process of censorship, and due to the Pandemic is now legally allowed to track individuals in society.


6. Cripple the opposition (not as evident)

7. Covert Election Manipulation

a. "Mostly gone are the days of vote-rigging and vote-buying as a path to power. Would-be autocrats have found cleverer ways to tilt the playing field in their favour. These new tactics include hampering media access, gerrymandering, changing election and voter eligibility rules and placing allies on electoral commissions". (Inglis 2019)


8. Play the emergency card

a. "Some autocratic leaders continue to use traditional strong-arm tactics, like declaring states of emergency, to enable further repression." (Inglis 2019)

b. Since 2001, using the threat of terrorism or organized crime has played well for furthering autocratic rule. President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which seems to have resulted in thousands dead in the Philippines, is one illustration. (Inglis 2019)


9. Extend your model and influence

10. Learn and Share

a. Characterised as "autocratic learning" by scholars, national authorities from Russia, China, Iran… are developing and exchanging models for containing threats of social movements and the so-called "color revolutions". (Inglis 2019)

b. This Learn and Share model has been employed in the Covid Pandemic under the guise of public safety. I am 100% sure that there has been immense benefits for global public health through the learn and share method, however the it has also been used to justify new laws in 'combatting' Covid. Where a law enacted in Australia such as Curfew, is then trialled in other countries. Or when the vaccine passport was created in one country, others quickly adopted it.

With respect to Australia there are a few check marks made next to this list. We seem to be, at the very least, in the preparatory phase of an Authoritarian regime change. 


Strategy Games

I would hazard a guess, that most of the global population don't play strategy games, as such they might not think about political descisions through that strategic future sighted lens. 

In a game of chess, there are three parts, the opening, mid game, and late game. The opening is about 8 to 12 moves that acts as preparation for the mid game. 

When the discussion of whether we're moving towards an authoritarian regime comes up in media or personal discussion often the Nazi Concentration Camps and Russian Gulags are drawn as a comparison. The issue is this is an unfair comparison, it is akin to comparing a mid and late game chess match, to an opening of another. There aren’t mass human rights violations happening yet, but the preparation for greater controls over the thoughts and actions within the physical and digital realms is underway as we speak.

A cause for concern that every citizen in a Western ‘Democracy’ should aware of, is not a that of a national authoritarian take over, but a preparation for a global government. It is also important that in having discussions, that we not look at the preparation within a 3 or 4 year election cycles, but we see the preparations for a global system being a 50 year process.


 New World Order

In a speech by President George H.W. Bush addressing concerns on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the new world order was announced.

"A new partnership of nations has begun.

And we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective — a new world order — can emerge: a new era — freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world - East and West, North and South - can prosper and live in harmony" (Bush 1991).

"Some experts claim the world is at a “tipping point” where decreasing faith in democracy will drive the dominance of autocracy globally.

The social movements of today inspire some hope that civil society – a key ingredient for democracy – though under pressure, is fighting the trend.

Nonetheless, strengthening democracy across the globe will prove impossible if even the most established democracies today fall prey to the tactics of would-be autocrats" (Inglis 2019).