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Citizens fight back against surveillance state

Photo by Martin Abegglen
Pascal Abidor, an American PhD student in Islamic Studies at McGill University, experienced the meaning of "surveillance state" first-hand on a trip to the United States in 2010. Leaving Montreal on that occasion, he was detained and interrogated by US border agents, and his laptop and external hard drive were confiscated, searched and copied – all because of his field of studies. Perhaps the most disturbing part about this story? It was all perfectly legal.

For Pascal, the event highlights how countries like the United States have become surveillance states:

I would say that a surveillance state has now become as redundant a statement as good governance: the fact of being a "strong" state is now synonymous with the ability to surveil citizens.  That’s what makes the issue so important, in my opinion, as we are not dealing with a fad or a passing trend, we are dealing with something that is becoming part of the logic of how states function.  It is a logic which creates a major contradiction: governments exist to guarantee and protect the lives and rights of the people living within their borders, but now national security comes at the expense of the very rights that the government is supposed to guarantee and protect.  

Indeed, sometimes even without the law on their side, governments intrude on citizens' private lives. For instance, back in Canada, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was discovered to have used airport Wifi to track Canadian travelers, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

To fight this growing trend, citizens and organizations have been coming together against mass spying. On February 11th, several organizations worldwide -- including Open Media, a civic engagement organization which works toward informed and participatory digital policy -- launched a campaign that activists have dubbed "The Day We Fight Back". Its aim is to “pile pressure on the government and force them to listen to citizens instead of to shadowy spy agency bureaucrats.”

According to Pascal Abidor, mass mobilization like The Day We Fight Back is one of the ways citizens need to handle invasive states: “It is important because as long as it remains a vocal minority who oppose wide-scale government surveillance of citizens, these practices will only become more pervasive and more entrenched in the standard operating procedures of governments' security apparatuses.” 

Read more about whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations on the Media Coop. The Dominion also publised an article about how governments share private informations to corporations.

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