Hands in the Pockets (The Whistleblowers)
words and music Elaine Diane Taylor
©2011 Intelligentsia Media Inc. All rights reserved.
TIME’s Person of the Year this year was Pope Francis, with the second spot awarded to a person I’m interested in – Edward Snowden.
Throughout the last half of this year, the Guardian has featured articles about the NSA and their far-reaching surveillance programs, including Verizon giving all its customers’ phone records to the U.S. government. It also reported on a program called PRISM which involves access to the private emails and data that we entrust to tech companies.
On Dec. 10, 2013 the Guardian reported that the world’s leading authors have joined to say that state surveillance of personal data is theft and undermines democracy. They are calling for an international digital bill of rights to protect individuals in this digital age.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees protection against unwarranted search. Yet top-secret documents showing the NSA searching personal data were released by media outlets all over the world. We learned that Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, had obtained these documents and leaked them to the media. He is a whistleblower, exposing the spying of the U.S. government on its own citizens, as well as on countries around the world.
The ability of a government to search without warrant, reason or the knowledge of the everyday citizen is one of the reasons that the colonies left Britain to begin with. There is no freedom if a citizen lives with the feeling that they might be watched at any moment by a power they have no control over. It leaves a population with the feeling not that they are guilty but that they are potentially guilty, even within their own home and virtual space. It undermines democracy. It means that big brother is watching.
Snowden’s leaks are also a canary in a coal mine. The songbirds used to be taken down into the mines to warn of toxic gases. They would sing as long as all was well, and the presence of danger would affect the canaries’ tiny bodies first. If the birds fell silent and died then the miners knew they had to get out. The little yellow birds risked their lives for the miners’ safety.
In 2011 it was leaked to the media that the News of the World newspaper in England was hacking into phone calls, according to whistleblower Sean Hoare. The news agency, he claimed, was paying the police for access to police technology that tracked mobile phones. Hoare was found dead from what the Guardian reported as natural causes. Hoare’s claims were a canary in a coalmine, and the hands in the pockets paying for information is deeper than we ever thought, as go the lyrics in the song Hands in the Pockets.
There is no way for us to know how deep the pockets go, or who is paying whom for what information for what use. But it’s good for us to be aware and discuss it. It’s good for a citizen to have rights, and for the government they put in power to support and enforce those rights, as they represent the citizens who put them into the government.
Programs that breach fundamental rights should be brought into awareness. The whole point of the media is to be the fifth estate – to inform the citizens and to hold those in power to account.
Whistleblowers are an important part of bringing issues to light, because when hands are so far down in the pockets that there is no way to examine the legality and fairness of behaviour, then human nature causes people to hide facts and protect themselves, even if it harms many others.
It’s okay if Edward Snowden was a runner up for Person of the Year according to an entity I don’t know.
It’s the Impact of the Year that interests me, as we’re all going to feel the impact of his revelations, and hopefully the measures that are a result of the exposure, as we’re more and more virtually connected.