Martin Luther King Jr and Lessons For the “War” on Terror

Ed Brayton has a timely post on the abuses of so-called anti-terror legislation in the USA. The interesting thing about this for me are both the parallels and dis-similarities with the situation in NZ. Ed addresses the claim that the only people who should be afraid of legislation/policies that allow surveillance without oversight (e.g. without search warrants) are criminals (the terrorists!). He rightly points out that in the past in the US such policies have been abused. Particularly abhorrent is the case of the FBI’s bugging of Martin Luther King, a man who was not involved in any illegal activity, and who is now almost universally admired. The FBI used this surveillance not to prevent crime or apprehend the guilty, but to harass and blackmail King. This serves as a stunning counter-example to people who say that us innocents do not need to fear such surveillance. The parallels for New Zealand are that we have similar legislation introduced recently, or have such legislation impending, and we have similar claims being made by the defenders of these policies. However we don’t have such obvious or well known examples of the abuse of such powers in our history to serve as warnings. We also don’t have the same tradition of defending freedoms and privacy from the state that America has – for instance our equivalent of the ACLU is neither as powerful or influential. Thus while I hope that abuses of such powers are less likely in NZ – because of our less partisan political atmosphere, our more independent civil service and our less politicised police force (I may be kidding myself, of course) – we are just as much in need of preserving our freedoms and privacy against the encroachments of the state, and safe-guarding ourselves against exactly the sorts of abuses that have occurred overseas.

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~ by Doug Newdick on April 5, 2008.

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