Everyone wants freedom, and everyone wants security. But there’s a tension between the two, one person’s freedom is another person’s risk. Benjamin Franklin was pretty clear where he stood on the issue, in one of his most famous quotes he writes: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. I wonder what he would make of the Patriot Act shamed America of today.
So where’s the boundary between freedom and security? Every country makes its own decisions. It seems likely that we’ll be having another round of this debate in NZ shortly, as the government initiates a crack down on “organised crime”.
First a word on what this crack down is not. In a piece yesterday on Stuff (bizarrely posted under the “Technology” category) Andrea Vance cried wolf:
Racism online may become illegal in NZ
Posting racist or xenophobic messages on the internet and Holocaust denial could be illegal if New Zealand signs up to a international cyber-crime agreement. …
Commentator Bryce Edwards was quick to condemn: “Such a fraught attempt to censor what the state might view as incorrect thinking would be both ridiculous and outrageous”. Fortunately I/S at No Right Turn dug a little deeper. While the government is considering (as part of its crackdown) signing up to the Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention, there’s no suggestion (in any of the published material) that it is considering adopting the optional “protocol” which bans online racism and the like.
So what will the crackdown entail? 3 News had this description:
Govt plans organised crime crackdown
The Government says it is going to crack down on organised crime by improving information sharing between agencies and placing a stronger focus on “disrupting the money trail underpinning offending”.
The new initiative, ‘Strengthening New Zealand’s Resistance to Organised Crime’, has been developed by the Ministry of Justice along with police, the Serious Fraud Office, Ministry of Economic Development and other groups.
“Money underpins crime, so Government agencies are stepping up efforts to confiscate the proceeds of crime and work more closely with the financial sector to ensure there are no weak links in our rules and systems that criminals can exploit,” says Police Minister Judith Collins.
Sounds good so far, right? But…
The Government will begin with legislative changes it says will “remove impediments to the effective combating of organised crime, and disrupting key tools and processes used by organised criminals”
Ahh, there’s the downside. The “impediments” to organised crime are the laws that protect privacy and limit police snooping into our lives. “Removing impediments” means removing such laws. Which ones? When will we be told?
Ms Collins is brushing off concerns about a loss of privacy through information-sharing.
Typical, arrogant, not helpful. Instead Collins should be listening and engaging, recognising the legitimate concerns and responding to them.
“The people who actually benefit most about a lack of information sharing are quite often organised crime. Where as for the civil libertarian concerns I think they should be very concerned like the rest of us about organised crime and the fact that they could well target New Zealand.”
Collins is trying to scare us with the bogyman. Trying to get us to surrender some of our liberty in the pursuit of an unquantifiable increase in security / decrease in crime. Not good enough. It’s a debate that needs to be set out clearly and resolved publicly. If we let the Nats sneak it through under the radar then we could end up with NZ’s own version of the Patriot Act. No thanks.