SA, US moving closer in curtailing civil liberties
Mohau Pheko
>MY recent trip to the IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington DC last week 
>convinced me the US has become the most dangerous country to visit . On a 
>flight from New York to Washington DC, I was searched three times.
>In the name of catching terrorists, the US government has established 
>programme after programme to monitor law-abiding citizens and visitors. 
>Ordinary people are being trotted out daily, wrapped in nice-sounding 
>phrases like "pre-emptive" arrest, in other words arrest you before you do 
>anything wrong. All this seduction is used on Americans to convince them of 
>the need to keep them "secure".
>A new US act, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, about 51 pages, 
>has authorised "trusted passenger programs". This allows government access 
>to personal information about "law-abiding" citizens. By calling it a 
>"trusted traveller card", it is marketed to make passengers believe they 
>will get faster, safer and more efficient check-ins and avoid travel delays. 
>Nothing could have been further from the truth in my case. The airlines are 
>using profiling and technology to track people : eye colour/retinal scan, 
>gender, religion, race, foreign-sounding name, fingerprints, DNA and a whole 
>range of characteristics are being used to monitor who is and who is not a 
>terrorist. I must have fitted the terrorist profile perfectly because 
>everything from my passport to my boarding pass seemed to indicate I was a 
>prime suspect.
>I was simply told: "Ma'm, please step aside, your name has been flagged and 
>we have to clear it with security." When I questioned why I was being 
>stopped so many times, I was quietly told by a sympathetic security officer 
>that my profile probably resembled the name of those suspected of crime and 
>terrorism .
>I might have been paranoid, but, it seemed to me, even the huge gentleman 
>sitting next to me, an intelligence marshal, must have chosen that seat to 
>ensure I did not harm any other passengers.
>Not only was I searched, but after boarding it was announced no passengers 
>were allowed to stand during the flight. If anybody did, the plane would 
>immediately return to the city it came from. Apparently, no one can stand in 
>flights of an hour or less. For longer flights, passengers are not allowed 
>to stand for the first and final 30 minutes of the flight.
>Before September 11, the US government had mandated vast databases of 
>detailed profiles of all the people in the US . Their finances, educational 
>background, employment, medical care, identity numbers, who they live with 
>and other activities about people's private lives, giving government 
>unfettered and immediate access to this information.
>T he US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently commissioned a 
>draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Bill . It seeks to establish a 
>type of martial law when a state public health authority declares a public 
>health emergency. If this becomes law, private property could be seized, 
>people subjected to medical tests and treatment without their consent, 
>physicians forced to administer treatments to patients as ordered by the 
>state or lose their licences . Individuals who object to this 
>government-mandated medical treatment on the grounds of religion or 
>conscience could be quarantined until authorities decide the public health 
>emergency has ended.
>Is there any doubt these measures are an anathema to a free society? I do 
>not imagine any of these measures will catch many terrorists. Research has 
>revealed the intelligence failure on September 11 was caused by too much 
>data clogging the system, rather than too little.
>What these measures do is primarily threaten freedom of speech and assembly, 
>and "what is going on in people's minds". A watched people are not free.
>President George W Bush has pushed for pre-emptive arrests. In other words, 
>arrest people before or just in case they are thinking about committing a 
>crime. Activists are under threat.
>Protest has taken on significant proportions in the US . About 600 people 
>were arrested before our march against the IMF-World Bank meetings. None of 
>them had guns; it was a peaceful demonstration.
>Frederick Douglass (1857) states: "Those who profess to favour freedom and 
>yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the 
>ground. They want the rain without the awful roar of the thunder and 
>lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. Without 
>struggle, there is no progress. This struggle might be a moral one. It might 
>be a physical one. It might be both . . . but it must be a struggle. Power 
>concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will."
>Could it be that South Africa's Interception of Communication Act, as well 
>as the Terrorism Act, aim to control our movements and actions? The 
>Interception of Communication Act allows government to snoop into our 
>speeches, data, text, and visual images in any combination or form. This is 
>any information transmitted by postal service or SMS or electronic data. The 
>act defines intercept as "acquisition of the contents of any communication 
>through the use of any means, including interception device, so as to make 
>all of the contents of a communication available to a person other than the 
>sender or recipient or intended recipient of that communication". It gives 
>government the right to monitor communication, view, examine or inspect the 
>contents and divert it.
>What this means is that the telephone company or Internet company can 
>furnish this information to government without your consent. Is this another 
>act put in place to muzzle dissent? Why do we need all these tools for 
>tracking individuals who have not committed crimes? Are we not 
>overlegislating rather than implementing existing laws that protect citizens 
>without grossly violating their freedom ?
>Are the laws SA is introducing meant to combat criminals and terrorism, or 
>are they meant to profile those who are seen as a threat to government? Are 
>they, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, meant to "announce there must be 
>no criticism of the president or government, or that we are to stand by 
>government right or wrong", because not to do so is considered unpatriotic 
>and under the new law morally treasonable?
>Perhaps policymakers in SA need to be reminded it is not the function of 
>government to keep citizens from falling into error; rather it is the 
>function of the citizen to keep government from falling into error. The 
>latest SA legislation on terrorism and interception of communications are 
>reminiscent of US legislation that is cutting off civil liberties .
>It is the beginning of a fascist dictatorship when a people are "protected 
>for their own good". It is easy to govern a people forced to live under the 
>menace of terror and invasion of their privacy. It demands no social 
>reforms. It does not haggle over expenditure on arms deals and military 
>equipment. We should beware of leaders who bang the drums of terror in order 
>to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervour. Patriotism is a double-edged 
>sword. It emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

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