Australia is spying on one in 67 of its citizens, often on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. But are we ignoring the real driver of terrorism in the coming decades — climate change?
Big Brother is watching. Anyone concerned about institutional attacks on the right to privacy should read Glenn Greenwald’s book on Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency, published last week. In No Place to Hide, Greenwald reveals that the NSA has expanded its core philosophy to “collect it all” to include Australia.
Greenwald publishes NSA documents in the book that describe the Five Eyes partners — Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States — as a group that works together and shares most of its surveillance activities.
He also reproduces an email from an official of the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) in Canberra to the NSA asking for an extension of the agency’s partnership in order to include an increasing number of Australians involved in terrorism. But even without the help of the other Five Eyes countries, the Australian government already monitors the activity of an extraordinary number of its citizens.
According to a Senate submission from the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties, there were 330,000 authorisations granted under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act in 2012-13. That means Australian government agencies were able to intercept the communications of one in 67 of its citizens — and that’s just the ones we know about under this Act. If you think that one in 67 Australians is doing something so heinous that they deserve covert monitoring, so be it. But it seems unlikely to me.
As Greenwald told the PM’s program Mark Colvin, the DSD letter was not asking for specific individuals to be under surveillance; “they’re asking for a wide surveillance net to be cast over the communication system”.
And the problem with that is that historically, whenever you allow governments to engage in mass surveillance, abuse is virtually inevitable, he said. The letter “was asking for indiscriminate surveillance on Australians indiscriminately”.
It’s easy to play the terrorism card, but if you look at the actual risk of dying of terrorism, it’s far lower than being struck by lightning. US Professor John Mueller explained in 2012 that, outside of war zones, “the number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorist, al-Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred … It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub every year.”
US President Barack Obama said in January that “given the unique power of the state, it’s not enough for leaders to say, trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.”
Although Attorney-General George Brandis has claimed that Snowden’s revelations have put Australian lives at risk, he is yet to produce any evidence. As Greenwald says, “transparency is for those who carry out public duties and exercise public power. Privacy is for everyone else.”
Climate for terrorism. Just when I thought my own climate change fears couldn’t get any worse (why is the Sydney weather so unseasonably warm?), the arrival of a respected US defence newsletter has raised them a notch. According to the Defense One newsletter, the effects of climate change are starting to pose unique threats to global security. Former US army officer Jon Gensler has written an article saying that extreme weather events and rising sea levels are having drastic consequences for security in the developing world:
“Some of the least politically stable countries in the world will face mass-migration, provoking resource conflicts, all due to changing weather patterns that reduce arable land and fresh-water supplies.”
The Iraq War veteran said he had seen first hand how “climate disruption” put soldiers at greater risk. Both the creeping effects of climate change “as well as the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters pose unique threats to global security,” he said.
Gensler writes that urban poverty is a major driver of terrorism, with climate-based migrations likely to cause huge influxes in city populations around the world over the coming decades. Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated states in the world, could displace up to 18 million people by 2050.
Australia, of course, is on the frontline of this issue, with several desperate Pacific Island countries right on our doorstep.
If Brandis really wants to come to grips with the causes of terrorism, instead of labelling Snowden’s defenders as the “self-loathing Left” and “anarcho-libertarian right”, he should be monitoring the creators of climate change: the coal companies. At least that way he could keep an eye on Clive.
PNG art. For the first time in more than 40 years, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is opening up its extraordinary collection of Pacific art to the public. Plumes and Pearlshells will be the first exhibition focusing solely on the art of the Papua New Guinea highlands. The exhibition features works assembled by Australian collector Stanley Moriarty during his travels to the former Australian territory between 1961 and 1972.
The 89 works on display include architectural elements, ritual objects, dance masks, weaponry, bilas or body adornment, and rare sculptural works depicting the human form. They use an incredible array of natural materials, including pearl shells, which were once important symbols of wealth as well as carrying religious significance. Some of the more spectacular exhibits include feathers from hundreds of species of birds from the highlands, including the revered bird of paradise. For Games of Thrones fans, there is large cache of weapons, including shields, bows and arrows, clubs and axes.