A Pagan’s Thoughts on State Surveillance
It is being reported in the press that the Government is attempting to re-introduce what has been termed the ‘Snoopers charter. Members of the unelected house of lords have tabled amendments to some existing legislation being considered that would have the effect of forcing companies to record not only when somebody is connected to the internet but the content of their communications.
A lot have been said about the implications for freedom and privacy but I would like to quickly put forward a few thoughts from a Pagan perspective.
One of the founding principles of Wicca is expressed in the Wiccan Rede when it says
“An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”
Now this doesn’t just mean that you should be free to do as you will if it harms nobody else, it means that that freedom to act is a key feature of the philosophy, But the simple fact that somebody, the Security services, Police and even local authorities can read all your emails, see all your Facebook posts or intercept all your chat messages may well cause you to think twice about posting a perfectly legal, but embarrassing , message for example.
This is particularly true given the authorities dismal track record in keeping information they have gathered secure, if they cant keep details of secret enquiries into police killings for example what chance your facebook posts of emails wont fall into the wrong hands, or be used or seen by somebody who shouldn’t have access.
If you are harming none then it is nobody’s business what you are doing, but if everything you say or do is known, recorded and available to a multitude of people then that will place a constraint on you, you will be thinking of what others will think rather than doing what you will. – self censorship of word and deed.
Another part of the Rede says;
Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
So while we all should stay within the law, both civil and spititual the default position of the Law, and others should be to trust that that is exactly what we do. To keep details of everybody’s communication, even if they are not suspected of breaking the law, destroys that trust. When the authorities act as if we are all guilty and untrustworthy then it will not be long before we all begin the same way and society can exist for long without the trust of the people in each other and those put over them to rule.
Some may argue that we should give up some of our freedoms, some of our privacy because of the danger of Terrorism, but isn’t living in fear exactly what the terrorists want?
The Havamal Has something to say to us on this
A coward believes he will ever live
if he keep him safe from strife:
but old age leaves him not long in peace
though spears may spare his life.
It also cautions against even trying to know everything, pointing out that trying to know all is doomed to failure.
The unwise man thinks all to know,
while he sits in a sheltered nook;
but he knows not one thing, what he shall answer,
if men shall put him to proof.
And even if we trust our current Government, Police and security services, do we trust that every government to come will be as trustworthy? For example, It was only in 1951 that the witchcraft act was repealed, so within the living memory of many of us talking of witchcraft for example would be something you wouldn’t want the authorities to know.
Can we be sure that with the rise of fundamentalist religion that time will never come again? And even since the repeal of the Witchcraft act the stigma lingers In the early 90s for example there were , totally unfounded, allegations of satanic ritual abuse, With the typical tabloid reaction against paganism. Can we be sure that the information gathered today will never be used against us, or fall into the wrong hands?
If you still don’t think that our government would ever misuse laws look at the RIPA act. This allows to demand information, follow and implement surveillance on people. Originally implemented with the promise that it was to be used only for the investigation of serious crimes and not for ‘trivial’ matters.
Given the grave consequences for individuals’ privacy, one would hope that RIPA requests are seldom made, but this is not the case. It is thought that last year, 2013, between 100,000 to 500,000 were made. Are there really that many serious terrorist plots? It seems not!
RIPA has been used to identify whistle blowers for example –
And even to check up that somebody on sick leave is really sick,
Given the track record of government legislation in this area, and the guidance from our Pagan traditions I feel that we should all be very concerned about any attempt to increase the monitoring, surveillance and snooping we allow our rulers and their servants to do.
I finish with the words of Bengmin franklin
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.