Archive for ‘June, 2016’
Still cant finish writing about Peter Dunne, thankfully we live in interesting times.
So the UK is leaving the EU. I can’t say I was surprised with the outcome but I have been with the post vote situation.
Either way it was a doom and gloom scenario for some people. If the vote was Leave then the UK sinks beneath the waves in an orgy of chaos and anarchy. If it was Stay then the UK is flooded with refugees and all semblance of English culture is washed away.
What has been interesting is that, much like the US and other democracies around the world, the established political order is being split along lines which have little to do with the prevailing political orthodoxy and more to do with the economic realities of their respective countries.
But it was the post vote grumbling that first got my attention as it appears that many of those who did not (and in some cases did) vote in the referendum have now decided that they don’t like the outcome and want another referendum so they can vote (a petition has been circulating) or demanding a weighting system for voters based on their age (so that the younger voters get more weight to any vote over the older). Both of these are the political equivalents of science fiction.
While democracy is a complex and often flawed beast it works the best at expressing the will of the people and usually only needs a majority to get a decision or change enacted and in the UK it appears that the older voters got out more than the young in an referendum with approximately 75% of the able population casting a vote. So while a close result (51% to 49%) there is not likely to be any going back because imagine the precedent such an action would set.
Don’t like the first outcome of an election or referendum? Have another and keep on until you get the outcome you desire (if such a thing is possible) while allowing the rest of the population to get the outcome they want. No, not going to happen! No government (much less a democratic one) in its right mind is going to let such a plant take root and flower as the fruits are surely chaos and civil war.
Meanwhile David Cameron has decided to step down after staking his reputation on the country remaining in the EU, which seems like a good outcome for those which don’t like Cameron and what he represents but few have seemed to consider who, or what, will fill his shoes and already the talk has turned to things like snap elections and “reaffirming the mandate”.
Possibly it will be Boris Johnson, ex-mayor of London and Tory MP who at least appears to have a sense of humor if his quotes are to be believed* but appears to be too controversial a figure to the more conservative members of the party to get the top job, but in these volatile times strange things can happen.
And in “possibly related” circumstances Jeremy Corbyn is facing down mass insurrection in his shadow cabinet over his failure to mobilize the populace to vote no to leaving with 35 MPs walking and Labours London youth wing spitting the dummy.
It’s been interesting to watch the degrees of reporting in the various totally not partisan English media about this but for me Corbyn has had the last word, at least for now, by tweeting that he was “elected as the Labour Party’s leader to redistribute wealth and power” as he retains the support of the actual party and the unions and that should be enough (for now).
Which makes sense if the argument that the voting in the brexit was along financial (and class) lines with those who were doing well and living in London arguing to stay while those who were not so well off and/or not living in London voting to leave (including a fair selection of recent immigrants to the UK if reports are to be believed).
It seems that Labour UK has finally reached the point where the contradictions inherent in the party have brought the situation to the point of crisis. It had been simmering away for some time since Corbyns rise to become party leader but perhaps the Champagne socialists in party needed an excuse to revolt and this looks to be it.
And between pondering what (or how many) knives Corbyn will soon be picking out of his back or what shambling horror will replace Cameron my thoughts briefly turned to Andrew Little and John Key here in safe, clean and neat New Zealand and how their situations would turn out if there was a vote for NZ to amalgamate with OZ or the South Island to split from the North (say goodbye to hydro power north island!).
But the most mind blowing of the things to come out of this post vote dust storm is the fact that Nigel Farage and UKIP have in effect backed away from
Farage played rather loose on TV by claiming that it was not him but “the party” which had made this decision and I was left wondering if the two halves of his brain were actually connected as rarely has a politician so blatantly, rapidly and publicly reneged on a campaign promise (and survived!).
So it would be probably fair to say that the UK is in a little bit of turmoil at the moment
*- “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”
“The dreadful truth is that when people come to see their MP they have run out of better ideas.”
For the past few weeks I have been struggling to complete my posts on New Zealand Future and the Maori Party so instead I decide to post about something I can summon enthusiasm for.
In the one year since returning to live and work in Christchurch two things have stood about the people in the city.
The first is that almost everybody you speak to has been effected by not only the quakes but the horrendous bureaucratic and legal process that followed in getting their lives back on track.
Almost anyone you talk to can tell you where they were on that day, what they did after, how they got home, who they spoke to and how they spent that first night. The details are vivid and highly personally and it speaks reams that almost all of them have happy endings. Loved ones and pets were safe, families a bit shocked but sound and neighbors rattled but doing well.
Such is the ubiquity of the events that it’s the quintessential conversation starter in Christchurch. Ask anyone where they were and away you go. Instant connection and genuine sympathy abound and people are usually happy to discuss the events.
Where it gets interesting is how people have coped in the five years following and again almost everyone has had to struggle with either insurers, builders, CERA, the council, ECAN, EQC, the government or lawyers to get their lives back on track but the discussion often takes a darker turn.
At first I thought I had wandered into some sort of weird statistical nexus where I was surrounded by people who had these incredible stories of how they had suffered, struggled and usually prevailed over a range of forces, who to many, appeared bent on doing nothing to help (despite that being their stated purpose) and everything to hinder.
As time passed though I came to realize that what I thought was a fluke density of people was in fact the majority of people living in Christchurch. And it was not just homes and families, it was sports clubs, cultural associations, businesses, community groups and a wide range of entities; all of whom had seen their lives, livelihoods and pastimes upended.
No one blames anyone for the quakes (except the odd religious loony claiming that sin city got what was coming to it). Things happen, that’s life.
On the other hand time and time again I had had to pick my jaw off the floor at stories (both in the press and from people) of what could only be considered corruption, nepotism, criminal practice and all manner dodgy and clearly illegal and immoral behavior by individuals associated with the rebuild, insurance industry, and council and government bodies.
I stopped counting the number of times I heard stories of people having to fight their insurer, builder, CERA or others tooth and nail to get simple things done, have their policies honored, crappy repairs replaced, contracts upheld and getting help with their lives.
And it’s not just individual stories. Not a week goes by that the local media does not have more on to add. I counted in my local weekly paper last week three major articles on issues with the quake and on top of that the daily paper also abounds with many more (stalled convention center, post rebuild job slump and displaced communities just to name a few).
Not all of them are negative but after sifting out the feel good fluff pieces ghost written for Jerry Brownlee or the powers that be most are either critical of the speed of the rebuild process, discussing the various dodgy issues going on, calling for an inquiry into one thing or another (including a royal commission to look at the whole thing) or simply stacking up what’s been done and finding it wanting.
And to add to the problem is the sheer complexity of them all. If it’s not nepotism or corruption in CERA (now renamed in an abortive re-branding exercise); its massive and rampant issues with the rebuild itself; struggles with insurers and pay outs; lives being upturned by homes being downgraded or shoddily repaired; the fact that the side of the city often worst affected by the quakes also happened to have some of the poorest neighborhoods; roads like rural tracks; once familiar and treasured landmarks gone; local businesses and services removed and not allowed back; schools being forced to close despite all clear dangers no longer existing (Redcliffs School); and on and on and on.*
In the first few years this level of concern did not exist; partly because it’s was understood that getting a city back on its feet takes time but also as many of these issues had yet to come to light.
Five years on it’s a different story and in the 12 months since moving here it’s clear that the coverage in the national media does not do even 1/10th justice to what this city and surrounding regions face. Outside of Christchurch it is becoming a silent tragedy with many people (previously including myself) just not wanting to hear any more about it but also believing that things have been mostly fixed and the city is back on its feet.
Yet whenever I take visitors to Christchurch for a drive through the Redzone (I don’t offer they just ask) it’s a rapid change that takes place as the initial chattiness and excitement of the “adventure in quake town” is soon replaced with a silent state of shock as the sheer extent of what’s happened and what’s going on is made clear.
Yes there are new buildings and repaved roads but there is also the empty expanse of the Redzone, looking like a slightly greener version of those aftermath photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with empty neighborhoods sprinkled with trees to indicate where property lines once were, the odd house not demolished just to make it clear what this place actually was and roads, that only now after five years, you can drive on without feeling like you’re on an amusement ride of some sorts.
Also the central city, once looking like a kiwi version of a war zone, now has some major new buildings going up but all of the character and heritage of Christchurch is mostly being replaced with dull corporate structures of steel and glass and the central city still has the open wound that is the half destroyed Cathedral right there, at its heart, standing as a grim reminder of what happened.
I lived within the four avenues for most of the 90s and have fond memories of walking or cycling the city streets, learning its secret ways, shortcuts and locations and becoming part of the community of students, artists, bohemians and general folk that make up any central urban area. All of those are gone and with no clear indication that they will ever come back as the only people willing to move back into the central city are the government and banks who are taking a stake on prime ground.
The big new glass buildings might give the impression of life returning but they are hollow reflections of what made up the city center and a forewarning of the sterile corporate soul that will infest the city center at cost to all else.
And that’s where we get to the second thing that I have noticed about Christchurch which is the palpable sense of fury and anger that exists among the people here. Again I thought it was just one or two people but over time I have come to see that the sheer scale of the negative effects of the rebuild is mirrored in the rage and anger at those who have had to live though all the negatives that followed in the wake of the quakes.
For example, mention Jerry Brownlee and it’s almost impossible to not get a string of expletives from people, and from all parts of the political spectrum, red, blue, green, yellow, whatever. His name will draw down a range of angry criticism which regularly borders on road rage levels of anger.
And I say this with no hyperbole at all that I would not be surprised to hear if someone went into an office of a particular authority and behaved inappropriately. As sad as such an event would be I have heard it described and imagined in detail many times; again from people you would never expect to fantasize about such a thing; setting out in clearly where they would go and what they would do. Undoubtedly these are all just the verbal venting of individuals who have been through a lot and are justifiably frustrated but who would never actually do the things they are describing (cathartic fantasizing) but such is the anger and upset at what has gone on here that this is the solution that comes to mind.
The fact that CERA and the government has refused requests for an official inquiry, trotted out a tired line of excuses again and again; refused to look into clear cut cases of corruption and nepotism; ignored issues and buried or twisted stories, surveys or investigations (often with a sprinkling of saccharine PR) where it could and allowed the insurance industry and a range of dodgy building providers (from individual cowboys right up to Fletchers) to game the system to their own immense profit is standard daily fare for people in Christchurch and the anger at such things is now legion.
What will happen I do not know. I have been back 12 months and it’s not like living any other city I have previously lived in (and I have lived in quite a few). The center is gone, it’s referred to as a doughnut city and while life thrives in the various suburbs where the energy and life of the center has now relocated there are others suburbs where communities are still struggling to get back to normal (New Brighton for example).
What I do know is that while most of NZ lives in quiet ignorance of what is happening here it’s a daily fact of life for those in the Garden City. I myself do not live in an effected area, I missed the quakes and have not had to deal with any of the aftereffects but I am a small minority among the upset and often angry many.
As political issues go it’s irrelevant. I doubt Labour or any other government would behave any better such is how our system has become and I wonder how it would be if the Capital was struck as Christchurch was; would the response be the same?
In the end I have an immense respect and sympathy for those that live here and every day I hear stories of them struggling to get their lives back on track and often they do but they mostly did it themselves with little help from government, council or anyone else. If they had not struggled and fought it’s scary to imagine what this city could have become.
This one is for Christchurch!
*- I would add links but there would be pages and pages of them. Just read the Christchurch Press or weekly papers in any day or week for an iota of what is daily here. Just Google it!
This one bubbled up after a three week run of in depth work. I blame my subconscious.
One of the fun parts of being at university was attending lectures for subjects I was not actually enrolled in. One of these was economics. I was doing Political Economics in POLS but the un-enrolled course I was sitting in on was hard core, perfectly pure, Chicago School dogma being drummed into eager young acolytes all ready to get out there and be part of the machine.
It was interesting stuff and while I soon found it to 20% sound theory and 80% minute social mechanics and psychology BS packaged as truth but I continued to attend lectures for the rest of the year, sitting up the back, smugly standing out by my dress, hair length and general demeanour as not one of the true believers.
They knew I was an infiltrator because they didn’t see me at tutorials and I was not of the general mold of Economics students but since I could hold a conversation on general concepts, was up with market play and kept turning up no one ratted me out, to which I was thankful.
And one of the interesting things I learnt attending that course was the concept of externalities, which in general is when a business excludes a particular costs from a product or process from its cost calculations.
For example a factory using chemicals in its production process will not factor in the cost of the toxic waste it produces, that is dumped into the water, sky or environment, if it does not have to, thereby making the product cheaper and generating more profit for the business.
But the concept does not stop there and I remember being fascinated as the lecturer expounded further on whether the decision to exclude was deliberate or due to incomplete information and if it was deliberate how such deliberations played out in the cost/benefit calculations.
It was, as he calmly noted (like a Mongol warlord ordering a pile of heads to be built form the population of a conquered city), not something that any aspect of morality should have influence on and at the end of the day the decision was to be deliberately amoral, made on pure cost calculation alone (in the Mongol case a simple calculation that fear would weaken the enemy and make victory come easier). And when he presented within the frame work of the economic theory (which at the end of the day boils down to “how to make the most profit”) it made perfect sense.
Such theories are clear, clean and crystalline in their perfection and inside their own particular paradigm make perfect sense, all the part fit together and the machine functions smoothly (my favorite example of such a theory at the time was John Rawls Theory of Justice but I have mellowed in my age).
Of course unexpected or unwanted things do occur and no functional theory can simply exclude them if it wants to pass peer review but often the mechanism to enable this is to simply treat the rouge data as a black box effect (ie X goes in, we don’t know what goes on in there, and Y comes out) or to set it up as having minimal impact (an externality) and the results of such styles of thinking is to either run very quickly into dogma (as economics has done) when confronted with a more holistic situation than its mechanistic process can handle or fall before the new and more complete picture.
And the process goes something like this: Ignore, ridicule then accept but acceptance only occurs after the current adherents of a theory pass on or give up or when the truth is so absolute that it cannot be denied.
Of course logic itself can easily become as much of a dogma as any crack-pot theory or religion (I always laugh when I go to people’s houses and they have the oh so trendy “Thou shall not commit logical fallacies” wall chart in their toilet) and the purpose of this post is not to wade of into the realm of abstract philosophical concepts but to look at the idea (such as externalities) and examples of such in real life (something all good philosophies should be doing).
And it’s here where we start to swing this post back towards the title of this blog, Kiwi (ie New Zealand) politics. But before people turn off thinking I am on another one of my rogernomics rants I beg a moment to show that I am not and am in fact looking at something far more relevant and current, poverty in New Zealand.
There is a reason why social safety nets exist. There is a reason why NZ built state housing in the 30s. There is a reason why states have laws to regulate economic and other activities and those reasons are, while possibly not absolute, due to a clear and obvious acceptance of most if not all related costs (to the state as well as groups and individuals), or to put it in other terms, refusal to allow externalities.
Now before someone accuses me of Keynesian leanings, that’s John Maynard Keynes not John Moneymarket Key for those not in the know, it’s worth pointing out that I am not advocating any solution which is can be simply boiled down to “make the state pay for it” any more than our PM is advocating “let the market take care of it” (although that is what he is doing).
Oh no it’s not that simple, but then again holistic theories never are. Reality is, often a messy beast that will not only track dirt into the house but also trail dirty paw/foot prints all over the rug, hide a nasty little surprise behind (or under the couch) and generally make you wish you never owned/spawned a cat/dog/children.
But back to poverty in NZ; right now, without going too far into media histrionics, the questions are: Do we have poverty in NZ, is it widespread, is it growing and (most importantly) what can we do about it?
Currently we have media reports of families sleeping in cars and garages, the government (mostly though ultra-hypocrite Paula Bennett, a previous receiver of state support and funding for education and living but also our beloved PM doing his best to put his “thinking serious face” on when confronted by the media) suggesting they live in motels or just go online and fill in some forms, beggars on the streets of the major cities and state housing stock (and the attendant social capital that it creates) being sold off to let the market take care of things but are these things sufficient to say we have a poverty problem in NZ?
For me the answer/bellwether of the answer to this question was not the media (because they rarely drive events or discussion they just respond to them) or looking out my window (I live in a resolutely blue collar neighborhood) but to the tone of those who support the current government and that tone is starting to change.
A good spike in the data to me was when erstwhile columnist now turned committed blatherer, Jane Bowron, used one of her columns to criticize John Key and the current government and it was poverty in NZ which was the switch she used to cut some strips on our kava swilling PMs backside (I’m hoping Pablo will be wading into the PMs Fiji Visit).
Now Mz Bowron may be a dyed in the wool Green voter in private for all I know but her column is resolutely mainstream and a rather noxious mix of folksy reminiscences, cut rate platitudes and dull day to day observations which are nothing if not well in touch with the main herd and its group consensus but also safely espousing/reinforcing the herds view.
And when one of the herd starts up on topics of such nature and unloads a double barrel of criticism on the current government you know a line has been crossed.
And it’s not just her, the fact that the mainstream media has finally picked up on what is not exactly a new problem (those families sleeping in cars were out where they were a long time before the TV news crews came a calling) and there seem to be subtle changes in the ongoing narrative around the poor, the unemployed and the homeless is enough to trigger a consciousness shift*.
John Key, National, Labour and much of the electorate have treated these issues as externalities for a long long time while not realising the grim flipside to dismantling the welfare state and its only now as that beloved kiwi dream, that of the quarter acre pavalova paradise, is now slipping out of reach of more than just a few poor buggers at the bottom that its beginning to register.
It’s not that home ownership is the main issue, because it’s not, but it’s that home ownership is a core plank in any welfare reform program from all budding peasant revolutionaries’ promises of land for the people to the sub-prime crisis in the US. Its integral to any welfare program and sits low down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
So when you have families living in cars, government departments housing homeless in motels (at a cost they have to pay back) increasing people on the streets AND general house and living costs racing out of reach of average pay packets and entering the realm of market speculation AND middle ground opinion starting to show a growing intolerance with the situation you have a slow but gradual rejection of political, social and economic externalities of poverty in NZ (and the attendant economic and political theories) and the beginning of a more holistic, more realistic view of NZ (complete with acknowledging the value of the market but also the worth of the people that actually compose it).
But if it’s not to plainly spelt out enough at this time let me take it one step further.
Somewhere in the 19th century when Europe created the model of the welfare state and began to address the problems of the growing underclass (and all its associated problems) that capitalism (then in its unadulterated rapacious stage) was creating the choices were clear: take steps to address the problems created by unleashing mercantile greed and labour saving technology on a feudal and mostly rural population or face the consequences and after the 1840s and several socialist near misses the consequences would be more likely to be a return to the savagery of the French revolution (then still a recent memory for many) than anything else.
More than now their eyes were open and ignoring the externalities was not an option. Funny how having a good proportion of the ruling class executed in front of a blood thirsty mob can bring about clarity (sometimes if only for a split second before the blade drops) in those that survive.
And today the focus of the battle is between the ideology of externalities (economics) and the grim meat hook realities waiting if we continue to ignore what we know is happening (a forceful and deliberate realignment of our social and economic priorities or at minimum a bloody attempt to do so buy those most affected by the purposeful and deliberate decline in our nation’s social and living standards by a cabal of ideologically lead criminals that we call politicians and their patrons).
Does that mean we will have revolution in NZ? Maybe, maybe not. The Kiwi psyche seems ill adjusted to sing the hymns of Viva Revolution or Liberty, Fraternity and Equality! But it does seem well suited for the kind of passive aggressive resistance common of general populations living in totalitarian regimes. None the less I would find it hard to see any real loss if such a thing did occur and a selection of MPs, lawyers and accountants were put up against the well in order to ensure that the rest toe the line.
It’s the reason democracies have elections (ritualized revolutions) rather than actual revolutions complete with real bloodshed and the ruling class being executed or imprisoned. Perhaps that’s why John Key is currently hobnobbing with the “duly elected” PM of Fiji; he is getting some advice on how to stave off an uprising.
And while some families living in cars seems like a far cry from and all-star cast singing and dancing their way through the French revolution it’s the fact that the traditional supporters of externalizing the costs of turning NZ into a free market bastion are starting to grumble that makes me wonder as one of the key tenents of counter revolutionary theory is that if you leave it until there are armed bands roaming the hills your chances of fixing it are almost nil.
It has to be caught before it gets to that point, when there are no obvious, flaming symbols of resistance and it often relies on more subtle readings of the situation than any crystalline theory can predict or is willing to acknowledge. And while it may not be the poor and miserable doing the leading, it will sure as be some motivated individual who is willing to say what the mob wants to hear that will be at the front.
In the US, the right has fallen prey to demagoguery while the left seeks to suppress through modulated pacification and assimilation of key themes while keeping the status quo in place.
In NZ the climate for 2017 is ripe for messages and possibly actions. At first it was dildos and mud but for how long?
*- The fact that Chris Trotter has been going on about this for ages is beside the point as he is an identified dyed in the wool socialist and the medias resident dispenser of left opinion.
Posted on 15:46, June 1st, 2016 by Pablo
I was invited to speak at a forum in Wellington on the “Privacy Security Dilemma.” It included a variety of people from government, the private sector, academia and public interest groups. The discussion basically revolved around the issue of whether the quest for security in the current era is increasingly infringing on the right to privacy. There were about 150 people present, a mixture of government servants, students, retirees, academics, foreign officials and a few intelligence officers.
There were some interesting points made, including the view that in order to be free we must be secure in our daily lives (Professor Robert Ayson), that Anglo-Saxon notions of personal identity and privacy do not account for the collective nature of identity and privacy amongst Maori (Professor Karen Coutts), that notions of privacy are contextual rather than universal (Professor Miriam Lips), that in the information age we may know more but are no wiser for it (Professor Ayson), that mass intrusions of privacy in targeted minority groups in the name of security leads to alienation, disaffection and resentment in those groups (Anjum Rahman), and that in the contemporary era physical borders are no impediment to nefarious activities carried out by a variety of state and non-state actors (various).
We also heard from Michael Cullen and Chris Finlayson. Cullen chaired the recent Intelligence Review and Finlayson is the current Minister of Security and Intelligence. Cullen summarised the main points of the recommendations in the Review and was kind enough to stay for questions after his panel. Finlayson arrived two hours late, failed to acknowledge any of the speakers other than Privacy Commissioner John Edwards (who gave an encouraging talk), read a standard stump speech from notes, and bolted from the room as soon as as he stopped speaking.
Thomas Beagle gave a strong presentation that was almost Nicky Hageresque in its denouncement of government powers of surveillance and control. His most important point, and one that I found compelling, was that the issue is not about the tradeoff between security and privacy but between security and power. He noted that expanded government security authority was more about wielding power over subjects than about simply infringing on privacy. If I understand him correctly, privacy is a commodity in a larger ethical game.
Note that I say commodity rather than prize. “Prize” is largely construed as a reward, gain, victory or the achievement of some other coveted objective, especially in the face of underhanded, dishonest, unscrupulous and often murderous opposition. However, here privacy is used as a pawn in a larger struggle between the state and its subjects. Although I disagree with his assessment that corporations do not wield power over clients when they amass data on them, his point that the government can and does wield (often retaliatory) power over people through the (mis) use of data collection is sobering at the very least.
When I agreed to join the forum I was not sure exactly what was expected from me. I decided to go for some food for thought about three basic phrases used in the information gathering business, and how the notion of consent is applied to them.
The first phrase is “bulk collection.” Bulk collection is the wholesale acquisition and storage of data for the purposes of subsequent trawling and mining in pursuit of more specific “nuggets” of actionable information. Although signals intelligence agencies such as the GCSB are known for doing this, many private entities such as social media platforms and internet service providers also do so. Whereas signals intelligence agencies may be looking for terrorists and spies in their use of filters such as PRISM and XKEYSCORE, private entities use data mining algorithms for marketing purposes (hence the targeted advertisements on social media).
“Mass surveillance” is the ongoing and undifferentiated monitoring of collective behaviour for the purposes of identifying, targeting and analysing the behaviour of specific individuals or groups. It is not the same thing as bulk collection, if for no other reason than it has a more immediate, real-time application. Mass surveillance is done by a host of public agencies, be it the Police via CCTV coverage of public spaces, transportation authorities’ coverage of roadways, railroads and airports, local council coverage of recreational facilities and areas, district health board monitoring of hospitals, etc. It is not only public agencies that engage in mass surveillance. Private retail outlets, shopping centres and malls, carparks, stadiums, entertainment venues, clubs, pubs, firms and gated communities all use mass surveillance. We know why they do so, just as we know why public agencies do so (crime prevention being the most common reason), but the salient fact is that they all do it.
“Targeted spying” is the covert or surreptitious observation and monitoring of targeted individuals and groups in order to identify specific activities and behaviours. It can be physical or electronic (i.e. via direct human observation or video/computer/telephone intercepts). Most of this is done by the Police and government intelligence agencies such as the SIS, and most often it is done under warrant (although the restrictions on warrantless spying have been loosened in the post 9/11 era). Yet, it is not only government security and intelligence agencies that undertake targeted spying. Private investigators, credit card agencies, debt collectors, background checking firms and others all use this as a tool of their trades.
What is evident on the face of things is that all of the information gathering activities mentioned here violate not only the right to privacy but also the presumption of innocence, particularly the first two. Information is gathered on a mass scale regardless of whether people are violating the law or, in the case of targeted spying, on the suspicion that they are.
The way governments have addressed concerns about this basic violation of democratic principles is through the warrant system. But what about wholesale data-gathering by private as well as public entities? Who gives them permission to do so, and how?
That is where informed consent comes in. Informed consent of the electorate is considered to be a hallmark of robust or mature democracies. The voting public are aware of and have institutional channels of expression and decision-making influence when it comes to the laws and regulations that govern their communal relations.
But how is that given? As it turns out, in the private sphere it is given by the phrase “terms and conditions.” Be it when we sign up to a social media platform or internet service, or when we park our cars, or when we enter a mall and engage in some retail therapy, or when we take a cab, ride the bus or board a train, there are public notices governing the terms and conditions of use of these services that include giving up the right to privacy in that particular context. It may be hidden in the fine print of an internet provider service agreement, or on a small sticker in the corner of a mall or shop entry, or on the back of a ticket, but in this day and age the use of a service comes attached with it the forfeiture of at least some degree of privacy. As soon as we tick on a box agreeing to the terms or make use of a given service, we consent to that exchange.
One can rightly argue that many people do not read the terms or conditions of service contracts. But that is the point: just as ignorance is no excuse for violation of the law, ignorance of the terms of service does not mean that consent has not been given. But here again, the question is how can this be informed consent? Well, it is not.
That takes us to the public sphere and issues of governance. The reality is that many people are not informed and do not even think that their consent is required for governments to go about their business. This brings up the issue of “implicit,” “implied” or inferred” consent. In Latin American societies the view is that if you do not say no then you implicitly mean yes. In Anglophone cultures the reverse is true: if you do not explicitly say yes than you mean no. But in contemporary Aotearoa, it seems that the Latin view prevails, as the electorate is often uninformed, disinterested, ignorant of and certainly not explicitly consenting to many government policy initiatives, including those in the security field and with regards to basic civil liberties such as the right to privacy and presumption of innocence.
One can argue that in representative democracy consent is given indirectly via electoral processes whereby politicians are elected to exercise the will of the people. Politicians make the laws that govern us all and the people can challenge them in neutral courts. Consent is given indirectly and is contingent on the courts upholding the legality if not legitimacy of policy decisions.
But is that really informed contingent consent? Do we abdicate any say about discrete policy decisions and legislative changes once we elect a government? Or do we broadly do so at regular intervals, say every three years, and then just forget about having another say until the next election cycle? I would think and hope not. And yet, that appears to be the practice in New Zealand.
Therein lies the rub. When it comes to consenting to intrusions on our privacy be they in the private or public sphere, we are more often doing so in implicit rather than informed fashion. Moreover, we tend to give broad consent to governments of the day rather than offer it on a discrete, case by case, policy by policy, law by law basis. And because we do so, both public authorities and private agencies can collect, store, manipulate and exchange our private information at their discretion rather than ours.