Privacy v protection, a simplistic take from a surprising source.

November 22, 2013 |

As false dichotomy goes erstwhile Prime Minister Gillard has to take the prize for the week in Privacy or protection? You can’t have it both ways.  The article is based on a CNN interview (found here).  Her thesis is that it the choices are privacy or protection from security threats.  Simple as that.  A patently silly statement from anyone.  Incredibly foolish from an ex Prime Minister. It is the statement that emanates from shock jock territory. And should be treated as derisively.

Hoovering up a mass of data from all and sundry as the NSA did and claiming that this is necessary to provide protection is patently illogical.  Then as now the most effective way of dealing with threats is to have an effective intelligence agency working with professional law enforcement to identify risks, be proactive and put in the hours to build cases.  National security is not about creating a panopticon where everything is now of interest to an effectively unaccountable agency and there is no respect for privacy.  That mindset is corrosive for society and doesn’t work in any event.  A mass of data presents a daunting and unrealistic challenge for any intelligence body even armed with the most advanced algorithims.  What happens is reduce security agencies to hindsight operatives.  Go through the data after the event to solve a crime that has occurred.  What government can justify the expense of sifting through all data of non suspects irrespective of the civil liberties issues.  Information is key in preventing crimes but there are always targets of inquiry from whom information is sought.  That is a subset of the population, a tiny one.  It is not the population.  On that basis the people become the enemy, or at least treated as such.

Privacy is not absolute.  Not legislative structure has put that forward as a serious proposition.  Similarly the claim of national security is not a magic key that should give access to private comunication and personal information without limit.  It is not simple but a workable solution can be found. The weighting given to one vis a vis the other is not fixed.  It changes with the times and the nature of the threat.  It also changes with societal norms.  Blandly stating words to the effect of Privacy is dead, get over it, is an abrogation of responsibility by an ex PM.

The article provides:

Australians cannot have it both ways in wanting their government to simultaneously respect their privacy and protect them from terrorist attacks, according to former prime minister Julia Gillard.

But Ms Gillard, who was deputy to former prime minister Kevin Rudd when the government allegedly monitored the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, told CNN on Friday that she believed Prime Minister Tony Abbott should review Australia’s national security procedures.

In an interview with high-profile CNN host Christiane Amanpour, Ms Gillard said that Australians needed to appreciate the “difficult judgments” of national security.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard says intelligence gathering involves difficult judgments. Photo: Louie Douvis

”On the one hand Australians would rightly say to their government if there was a terrorist attack . . . why didn’t you know, why didn’t you collect the intelligence, why didn’t you stop it?” Ms Gillard said.

”Then on the other hand people say . . . I want my privacy and I don’t want the sense that phones are being tapped.

”Ultimately these two things don’t add up.”

Former PM Julia Gillard says Prime Minister Tony Abbott should review intelligence gathering in the light of the spying allegations involving the Indonesian President. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

On the spying allegations that have upset the Indonesian president, Ms Gillard said: ”Given these revelations about President Yudhoyono then obviously you would be looking again to make sure the system is as robust as you would want it to be for the future.”

Ms Gillard reportedly also encouraged Mr Abbott to apologise to the Indonesian President for the alleged spying.

Ms Gillard praised US President Barack Obama’s handling of similar allegations that his government spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

”If he had been aware he wouldn’t have authorised it, and he could certainly say for the future that it wouldn’t happen again,” Ms Gillard told CNN. ”And I think that that’s an appropriate response from Australia to Indonesia at this very difficult point in our relationship.”

But she said these issues were ”very difficult for governments to get the right balance”.

”The difficult judgments [are] about where the outer limits of that are.”

In other issues, Ms Gillard admitted her opposition to same-sex marriage was ”eccentric” given she was an unmarried atheist who lived in a de-facto relationship during her time as prime minister.

”I recognise that there was that big force for change,” Ms Gillard said.

Asked why she would not allow gay couples to have the ”option” of getting married – an option Ms Gillard says she rejected as a university feminist – the former prime minister said she had ”reasoned” her way to her position “through [her] own life experiences”.

”I didn’t want to impose it on anyone else,” Ms Gillard said, adding that she thought the issue of same-sex marriage would only be decided by a conscience vote across the Parliament.

The interview relevantly provides:
Allegations that Australia spied on the Indonesian president’s phone are a “big issue” for the two countries’ relationship, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview conducted Tuesday and aired Thursday.

It was her first news interview since being forced from power by her own party earlier this year.

As fallout from NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations landed in Australia, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono froze military and intelligence gathering with his Australian ally.

Gillard’s successor, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has refused to apologize for the alleged spying, but has expressed regret for the embarrassment that media reports have caused to Indonesia.

Though Gillard said it was “not appropriate” for her to comment on “intelligence questions,” she praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s reaction to similar allegations that the U.S. spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“If he had been aware he wouldn’t have authorized it, and he could certainly say for the future that it wouldn’t happen again,” Gillard told Amanpour. “And I think that that’s an appropriate response from Australia to Indonesia at this very difficult time.”

Intelligence gathering is a difficult to balance with privacy, she said, especially when the public sees attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings.

“Do governments get it right all of the time? Well, obviously not. Governments are made of human beings and so errors will be made. But you need a system with sufficient checks and balances and oversight.”

A female prime minister turns YouTube star

Gillard is perhaps most famous – certainly among her legions of female fans – for a fiery speech she gave in parliament last year that went viral.

Australian politics were in the midst of a scandal over sexist texts sent by the Speaker of the House and taunts of misogyny by the opposition leader – none other than the future prime minister himself, Tony Abbott.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not!” Gillard said, pointing at Abbott reclining thoughtfully on the front benches. The shouts of MPs suppressed by shouts of “Order, order!” from the speaker of the house.

“And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.”

“I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out is resignation,” she said, “because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern in Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.”

The speech has been viewed by millions on YouTube and made Gillard an instant hero worldwide.

“I felt within the parliamentary chamber,” she told Amanpour, “that it was a powerful speech, because you actually see the opposition sort of drop their heads, and so they went from yelling at me and very engaged in the debate to suddenly completely entranced by their mobile phones.”

But she had no idea how much the speech would resonate around the world.

“To this day I still get a little bit startled when a woman will come up to me, wherever I am in the world, and say, ‘I saw that speech and it really meant something for me,’ or ‘I watched it with my daughter and, you know, we cried while we watched it.’”

That sexism – Abbott once held to a rally next to a sign that read, “Ditch the Witch” – was the dark side of being the first female prime minister, Gillard said. But there were also aspects that were “hugely warm and embracing.”

“I’d have men come up to me and say can you sign this for my daughter? Some of them would say I didn’t vote for you or I’m not going to vote for you, but still I think it’s a really good thing that our nation has got its first female prime minister.”

Nonetheless, she does not believe there will be another female prime minister in Australia “any time soon.”

“But I’m very confident that, you know, I’ll live to see the next female prime minister and probably more than one,” she said. “And I’m also very confident that it will be easier for the next woman who comes along, because, you know, some of the things that happened I don’t think that the nation will want to go through twice.”

The interview can be viewed here and here.
It is surprising that the former Prime Minister, a trained lawyer, could be so simplistic and just plain wrong.  There is always pressure to reduce complex problems to an authoritative soundbit but her commentary is little more than reductio ad absurdam.  It is exceptionally foolish and ill thought out commentary which will not stand up well over time.  More to the point it is contrary to what is happening in the rest of the developed world on the question of privacy v security.  In the United States there is a rethink, by both Republicans and Democrats, of the carte blanche of the way data has been surveilled.  For good reason.  What is the point of claiming to be safe if you are not properly free. That is not freedom but conditional licence.

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