Big Brother goes global
You’ve heard of money laundering; now welcome to “policy laundering”. In the post-9/11 era of “international cooperation”, governments find agreeing so easy they’ve taken to having unpopular domestic policy ratified by obscure international bodies. Reintroducing the policy at home then becomes easy: after all, it’s in line with international standards. Invariably, these policies affect areas where civil liberties are an issue – above all surveillance – and little though we may realise it, have made massive inroads into daily life.
“Big Brother goes global” is the title of the Autumn 2005 edition of UK journal Index on Censorship, guest edited by Gus Hosein of the civil liberties watchdog Privacy International. From biometric identity cards to the shadowy practice of “rendition”, from global DNA databases to compulsory data retention, much suggests that we are “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”. But there is evidence of resistance: the campaign for global standards for freedom of information, and South American nations’ opposition to US strongarm tactics on intellectual property policy, are two examples of international cooperation from the “bottom up”.
Clearly, it’s time for civil society to adjust to the massive shift of power on the global political stage. “We must be wary of claims justified by ‘international obligations’, the need for ‘international cooperation’ and ‘harmonization’,” writes Gus Hosein. “As long as governments fail to show the same eagerness for more progressive regulatory regimes – on global debt and the environment, for instance – we must question their zeal for collaboration in other areas.” Now read on for the bigger picture.