A few days ago, I was on a work zoom call. My boss asked casually if we were all “vaccinated’. I was shocked at his question, I didn’t respond (even though I’d received my first AZ jab) because it’s nobody’s business. I’m sure my workplace hasn’t yet mandated vaccines for its workers, so I don’t see any reason to divulge such private information to my colleagues. However the exchange rattled me and it got me thinking about privacy and how important it is, given the encroachment of big government and big corporations into our lives, the sinister alliance that now exists between many governments and big tech and how, in this Covid age, we’re being coerced to use QR tracking codes, we’re being pressured to get vaccinated despite many people’s doubts and the likelihood is that soon we’ll be forced to carry vaccine passports…even within Australia. Those who bravely resist these measures will be subjected to governmental and corporate social, political and economic censure and isolation.
In 2021 the notion of privacy, like good manners and modesty, seems quaint and old-fashioned. Once upon a time people guarded (or at least tried to guard) their privacy yet over the last twenty-five years, since the onset of the internet, privacy has become compromised and eroded because of our incessant desire for technology and what ensues from this …instant knowledge, instant pleasure and instant gratification. We’re now at a stage in 2021 where technology not only dominates our lives it actively intrudes and preys on us. Far too many of us are nonchalant about this and far too many of us actively invite this daily intrusion into our lives with the use of smartphones, apps and social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, Youtube, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. We’re now slaves to technology and every minute, every hour and every day this technology is monitoring and harvesting our personal data, even as we sleep.
Many might say, so what? It’s clear to me that such indifference goes hand in hand with our increasing dependency on corporations and governments as well as our blind trust in these corporations and governments. Too many assume corporations and governments will always act in our best interests. Such faith is dangerous. I too am guilty of this “blind faith”. I never think twice when Coles sends me emails of specials I might like. Why do they do this? Because Coles knows what I like to buy every week, it tracks my shopping data through my flybuys card. Too many of us naively assume personal data is only harvested for good intentions, such as grocery shopping. It isn’t. Our privacy is compromised by this collection of intimate data. Too many of us are ignorant as to how our personal data can be used against us, probably because too many of us neglect or are ignorant of history. State collection of personal information is not a new practice, in fact it dates back thousands of years. It was and still is called a census. The ancient Egyptians conducted censuses to collect labour data for pyramid building, the Romans conducted censuses every five years to keep track of populations. History is replete with further examples. And history also shows us that that personal data collection has been used to conduct genocide.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, he immediately began targeting German Jews. However, there was a snag. Identifying who was and who wasn’t Jewish was not easy for the Nazis because German Jews were very assimilated. There were no ghettoes in 1930’s Germany. So, what did the Nazis do? They enlisted the assistance of a large corporation called IBM. IBM then employed thousands of information collectors across Germany to physically go from door to door to collect critical personal information. All this information was assembled and collated in a Berlin warehouse. The data was then manually inserted into special IBM coding machines. What did this personal information comprise of? Every individual’s native language, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, nationality, profession, and city and suburbs where they resided. The Nazis were then quickly able to identify the location of all the Jews in Germany…with the help of a corporation called IBM. This information allowed the Nazis to begin the persecution of Germany’s Jewish population. It’s a story we all know, it began with exclusion then confiscation then ghettoization then deportation and then finally…mass murder on an industrial scale.
During World War II, when the Nazis invaded a country, they immediately used the country’s collected data to methodically hunt down the occupied country’s Jewish and Roma populations. This happened all over Nazi Europe, in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgian, Hungary, France, even the Channel Islands. After occupying a country one of the first things the Germans did was to seize a country’s data collections in order to find and target Jews. In some countries the Nazis were able to quickly find out the names of Jews, the suburbs and the regions where Jews lived, the occupations of Jews and so on. But it wasn’t always so easy for the Germans because different countries had different criteria as to what personal information they collected and stored and so here we arrive at the examples of the Netherlands and France. Both countries in 1939 had large Jewish populations however these two countries were very different in what criteria they collected from their citizens. Before the war, the Netherlands meticulously collected personal data on all its citizens, information about religion, ethnicity, occupations, suburbs, regions and so on whereas the French only collected limited information and most certainly and critically not ethnicity (France still doesn’t ask for ethnicity on its census). Before invasion and occupation, the Netherlands had amassed a vast collection of personal information for administrative and statistical purposes. It was originally designed to monitor people from birth to death however during the occupation these records were used to create registration rolls that targeted the Jewish and Roma populations, and these rolls played a critical role in the tracking down, the rounding up, the transportation and the subsequent murder of Jews and Roma. It was catastrophic. Seventy percent of Dutch Jews did not survive the war. The Netherlands had the highest death rate among all occupied western European countries. Of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands in 1941, only about 38,000 survived by the time the war ended in 1945. In contrast the survival rate of French Jews was much higher, seventy-five percent of French Jews survived, and more than half of Belgian’s Jews survived. Why? One theory is because France and Belgian had not collected and stored such personal information as ethnicity and so the Nazis had to use other methods.
Let me state that there were many Dutch who were heroic in their efforts to try to protect and save Jews but the occupying Nazis were gifted a cache of intimate personal data that enabled them to quickly intimidate, isolate and then annihilate Dutch Jewry and Roma.
And whilst I don’t compare our current situation to what happened in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied Europe, we need to be mindful of the past and we need to learn from it. We must always guard our privacy. We cannot assume governments and corporations will always act benevolently…in fact I would argue that even here in Australia our right to privacy is in serious peril and our federal and state governments are NOT acting in our best interests. Always remember that privacy is one of our fundamental human rights. Even the Australian government acknowledges this as follows:
“Privacy is a fundamental human right that underpins freedom of association, thought and expression, as well as freedom from discrimination.
Generally, privacy includes the right:
· to be free from interference and intrusion;
· to associate freely with whom you want;
· to be able to control who can see or use information about you.
Remember this because our fight is just beginning.