‘It wasn’t that funny the day they raided my apartment,” a 26-year-old Russian practical joker said after he’d been hauled off to jail for posting a childish joke about President Vladimir Putin on his blog.
This week is Freedom to Read Week, and never has the world needed it more.
In Afghanistan, the husband and mother of a 25-year-old poet, Nadia Anjuman, have both been charged with her beating death because she disgraced her family by publishing a book of well-received poetry.
She was one of the secret sewing circle of Herat, women who engaged in the forbidden practice of discussing books while pretending to sew together.
In the US the Pentagon keeps many files on terrorists, including a group of Quakers who explain the pitfalls of army recruitment at schools.
The Raging Grannies of Sacramento also have an open file at The Pentagon. All those bad sing-songs might be a threat to national security.
Environmentalists and union advocates are being watched by various arms of the American government.
Tre Arrow, an environmental activist, has been accused of setting a logging truck yard on fire, destroying several trucks. He could receive life in prison because it’s being treated as a terrorist attack.
Even The New York Police Union has launched an injunction against the surveillance of its own members when they were picketing.
In Washington, it’s rumoured that as many as 30,000 government employees are dedicated to tracing phone calls and internet usage.
In Canada our federal government is redrafting legislation that will force electronic providers to record every phone call and internet site you view.
The cost will naturally be passed on to the consumer. That’s correct, you will soon have to pay for your own surveillance.
The homes and offices of journalists are being searched for their contact addresses.
Media outlets are charged with disobeying court orders and then the charges are dropped shortly before the trial date, leaving them stuck with the legal bills for a non-existent crime.
In Edmonton, police improperly used surveillance and communications equipment for a silly sting operation on an outspoken journalist.
It’s happening everywhere and in every form.
Parabolic microphones can eavesdrop on a whispered conversation100 metres away. Others can translate conversations from the vibrations on windows.
Satellites can read licence plates. All cellphone calls can be monitored and their physical position noted.
The next generation of cars are being planned with wireless networks connected to their emission systems to ensure the owners are doing proper maintenance.
This will also make the vehicle easy to track.
Microchips are being implanted in clothing so all your movements in every store you visit can be catalogued.
The next-generation drivers’ licence will be detectable from 7.5 metres away. The military is developing nano-insects that can — invisibly — search your home, monitoring you, as well as any suspicious odours.
Employers routinely track cellphones and internet use. Parents spy on nannies with devices which the neighbours can also surreptitiously monitor.
Microsoft and Yahoo and Netscape and Google are providing the addresses and browsing habits of Chinese dissidents to China. One dissident has already received 10 years in jail.
So what’s all this to you? You’re a good, innocent citizen. You’re not a terrorist.
There are many reasons to be afraid.
For a start, human beings have a tendency to assume tomorrow will be the same as today, but laws change. Societies change.
Will your blog meditating on Bible morality be held against you 15 years from now, or your praise of your favourite Imam who sometimes spoke in fiery metaphor?
Will you someday be suspect for having browsed the speeches and writings of eco-activists like Paul Watson and Edward Abbey?
Who knows if any of this will come to pass.
Look at what happened to David Irving, a sick holocaust denier and bad historian — in Austria. He just received three years in jail for declaring there were no Nazi gas chambers in a 1989 book.
Strangely, the historian who demolished his books in a famous libel trial ended up going to Germany to defend his right to publish the book she had shown was full of lies.
A recent memoir, Defying Hitler, explains clearly how societies succumb: At first it doesn’t affect you; then there’s nothing you can do about it anyways; then you find yourself complicit in order to survive.
This is exactly what’s happening to moderate Muslims who are too afraid to speak for fear of fanatics.
Even more threatening is the possibility of mistakes in public records, or the loss of privacy that will affect your business or health.
Portland attorney Brandon Mayefield was arrested for involvement in a terrorist bombing because of a false fingerprint positive on a detonator bag.
He spent two weeks in solitary confinement before the error was discovered.
Maher Aher spent a year in a Syrian torture chamber because he’d once witnessed a leasing agreement between a friend and man he’d never met before — who turned out to be merely a “person of interest” to the RCMP.
What if your daughter’s boyfriend made some improper internet searches while you were out one night?
Are you prepared to go to jail because some Latvian hacker used a keystroke virus to hack your personal information and used your name to commit illegal acts, or because Google’s or another agency’s files on your internet viewing, chat-room usage, tax returns, financial records and medical files have been hacked or seized by the US government under the Patriot Act?
Will this affect your ability to visit relatives or travel?
Yes, if you accidentally get placed on the US’s mysterious No-Fly list which bans people from any Canadian flight passing over American land.
Already, innocent Canadians have to go to Mexico via Japan.
You can’t have the freedom to read or the freedom to speak unless you have freedom from surveillance. Yet, like sheep, North Americans are meekly giving up their private lives to invisible crooks, corporations, and judges.