Diigo Links

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The good doctor



ok, I hate to get political again, but it's looking like I can't avoid this issue. Dr. Haneef, never in my life have I seen a railroad so poorly constructed. But that's probably because I've never seen a railroad built on paranoia, politics and the will to power.

Short summary of the issue for people not in Australia:

  • some doctors blow things up in England
  • the subsequent investigation turns up a link to another doctor living in Australia
  • this man, a week after a.his daughter is born and b.the events in England, his father-in-law purchases him a one-way ticket home.
  • this puts a red flag next to the link established above
  • link is amplified by Australian Fed police (beyond the signal strength, so distorted)
  • man is taken into custody without charge or habeas corpus, or other technical inconveniencies (i.e. civil rights)
  • when time comes for man to be charged, things start to fall apart
  • bail is set, so immigration minister revokes his visa for secret secret reasons (which later turn out to be neither secret nor reasons)
  • the "links" to doctors in England turn out to be mostly blood relation - which in my book isn't much of a link
  • it's revealed that Aust Fed police wrote some names in Dr Haneef's diary (and we're not talking about true blue Aussy names here...)
  • the "providing support" charge is dropped when it's revealed that the Aust Fed police sexed up the information.
  • the whole thing falls in a heap in the Fed govt's lap, but they fail to take blame or apologize
  • the man gets on a plane the next day to go back to his home country - which is characterized as suspicious by the Aust Fed Govt.
  • Fed immigration minister releases his weak and not-so-secret after all information, but just enough of it to get seemingly incriminating comments out of context.
  • the latest is that SBS has broadcast a "dossier" from the doctors home country that suggests, but does not detail, a link. But this document was written AFTER the Australian arrest. And the comment is designed to exclude the timing of this link from his home country (i.e. he didn't get linked here at home, it was in England that he picked up this "link").



Now, the "if you've got nothing to hide, you shouldn't care if the government wholesale violates your privacy" argument has been getting a bit of attention lately. This is partly because it's a difficult argument to answer economically. You can see how difficult some people find it by trying to read the linked SSRN essay (It reads like "depending on what the definition of "is" is, there is no there there"). But I believe you can see how easy it is to refute if you just examine the events above.

In our lives, we make a lot of connections, or links. Some of these are accidents of birth or location. We can call these "associations". Some links are intentionally sought out and groomed. we can call these "relationships". There's a broad difference between an association and a relationship. But even so, as links, it's a well established fact that normal, social adults are linked to each other by less than six links (I believe we have to include dead and alive people). Search on "small world theory" if you wanna fact check me, but I believe I'm right.

My point is that our doctor, being a doctor, being a doctor of the same faith as the other doctors in England, being a doctor of the same nationality as some of the other doctors in England, being blood related to some of the other doctors in England, is what could be characterized as "closely linked" to these people. This close linking, this profile, along with other information gained in a "fast moving investigation" is what was used to justify surveiling, incriminating, incarcerating and interrogating this man.

Now back to the "if you've got nothing to hide, you shouldn't care if the government wholesale violates your privacy" argument. This argument, in the hypothetical perfect world of rhetorical questions, sorta holds water. It's kind of true that we need to forfeit a certain amount of privacy in the name of social stability. But I think the Haneef case shows just how pernicious these powers of investigation can be, when unchecked by tested judicial barriers.

Let me touch on a few of the logical disconnects that have been brought to bear on Dr Haneef:

  • Did he provide his SIM card to terrorists? I have seen no evidence to show that he did. However, somebody who was linked to the doctors in England had his SIM card. So, when they were searched, it was confiscated, and linked back to Dr. Haneef.
  • Was the SIM card found in the burning car? No
  • Was it found in the same city? No
  • Did the immigration minister clarify his original statements? No, in fact he tried to suggest again, after everyone knew that the SIM card was found in Liverpool, England not Scotland, that it was somehow linked to the site/people on the day. The Aust. Fed. police quickly offered a clarification to correct the lies being spread by the Fed Govt.
  • Did Dr. Haneef have an incriminating chat with a relative back home? Maybe, but offering cherry-picked tid-bits to the media does not explain why the minister claimed this information was secret secret when it had already been admitted before the courts and deemed immaterial.

    Haneef himself doesn't think he has anything to hide here. In his own words:
    "It's a few lines from the chat," Mohammed Haneef said.
    "It's not a full chat.... you will understand it better (when you see the full text)," said Dr Haneef...

  • Is there an incriminating dossier on Dr. Haneef from his home country? Well there is now. This "incriminating dossier" is being pointed to as proof positive that he does have a link with a terrorist organization. What the wording of the document intended to communicate was that any link Dr. Haneef did have, would have been created after he left his home country (which is to say, Indian intelligence clarifying to India that "we don't have terrorists here, they're over there"). And what's more, this document was written after the events in England AND after Dr. Haneef's arrest in Brisbane. So, they're not establishing that he has any "links", only that somebody has claimed this about him, and if it's true he got his links somewheres else.

This is a man with nothing to hide who has had all of that nothing brought out in a hostile light and dragged around in the mud. His statements have been ignored, modified and amplified in order to suit the conclusion we're being led to make. Had the government been held to the normal constraints in their invasion of his privacy, and in the making public of his privates, it's probable that he would look exactly as guilty as you or I. And had you or my privates been forcibly manipulated by the government we could look as guilty as he. So it's not so much a matter of the initial invasion of privacy, as it is of the potential for that information to then be (mis)used.

Another quick example. Anti-piracy lawyers in a recent music copyright violation case using an image of files the defendant had downloaded to demonstrate that the music files in question were indeed found on his hard drive. But they used an image that also included other files. Included in these were porn. The image was being used to publicly humiliate the defendant. The defendant's lawyer objected, the judge ordered the image be removed from evidence. Now you might say that the defendant had "something to hide". But in this case we're talking about "something to hide" relevant to the case brought before the court. The porn had nothing to do with the case brought before the court, but the dirty scumbag lawyers abused their license on his privacy for political gain. It's actually strikingly similar to the Haneef case.

One more point about the "if you've got nothing to hide, you shouldn't care if the government wholesale violates your privacy" argument. "Nothing to hide" assumes that you know a priori what the rules are. It assumes that you know what might be considered incriminating tomorrow, next week, in ten years. After all, there are photos of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Sadam Hussein, the Taliban was financed by the US during the USSR's incursion into Afghanistan. How were we/they to know these scenarios would later bite back?

Another example here is that there is, right now, in the US a list of buildings and sites that it is illegal to photograph. Would you like to know which buildings and sites these are? Well, that list is secret. So right now, in the free country that is/was the United States of America there is a secret list of buildings that, should you take a picture of them, you're breaking the law.

  • a.that's sad.
  • b.it's not right
  • c.it's ironic how the culture of secrecy/privacy thrives in our governments but erodes in public life
  • d.It begs the questions; at what point did it become illegal? is it retroactive? (i.e. which pictures are contraband? the ones I took last week, last year, ten years ago?) Being as we weren't told about this law in the first place, it's difficult to know how far ranging it is.

Dr. Haneef, terrorist or tourist, is now back home. If he was a sleeper terrorist, the legal system crapped all over itself in trying to get him imprisoned. If he is 100% innocent, the legal system remains soiled. It's easy to claim that the normal laws are not up to these "extraordinary times", it's difficult to put measures in place that handle extraordinary times any better. And that's assuming these are "extraordinary times". I don't share that assumption, yet. For the time being, we're better off keeping the executive branch checked and balanced against a legislature and the legislature balanced against the judiciary. It's worked for a long time, through thick and thin. It will continue to work if we don't muck it up.

When we start fast-tracking/bypassing due process of law, we stop having rule of law. Rule of law is really all we have. Rule of law is what makes a democratic multi-cultural market economy not resemble Zimbabwe. It allows for interest rates to be low, property values high, inflation low, and standard of living to remain high. If we start to erode rule of law in the name of a political or ideological flavor of the month (i.e. The War on /insert_buzz_word_here/ ) we tend towards losing more than just the war.

It's definitely not about whether you think Haneef is guilty or not. It's about the process we use to formally make that determination. "He sinks he's innocent, he floats he's guilty" is no longer an acceptable "process". With regards to the Haneef case, the PM John Howard recently said; "it's better to be safe than sorry". Indeed, Mr. Howard never seems to be sorry. Sorry seems to be something he's unreasonably afraid of being. That aside, by his very comment he's suggesting that we can't consider ourselves "safe" under the rules and laws the people have democratically evolved, that he is elected to uphold.

We should all be offended by the paternalism embedded in this comment. It tends towards the extra-legal executive we're watching evolve in the US. It's just not on. I don't accept that the "changed world" theory post Sept. 11 justifies any legal measures that violate the basic tenants of due process or sidesteps any of the checks and balances put in place by founders who knew all too well about tyranny and terror. Nope, not on.

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