Saturday, 10 November 2012

Righteous address by a young tyro at a community consultation session involving the secret services

I don't really know why we love those scenes in movies where counsel addresses a jury passionately, employing all of the rhetorical resources he or she possesses in an attempt to divert the course of justice in favour of his or her client. There's something essentially theatrical about a court room. It has drama. Things are at stake. There is an audience - because justice must be seen to be done - in the public gallery. Anyway, what follows is a righteous tirade from a young student at a community consultation involving the secret services. It is purely imaginary.

I beg your pardon, sir, but democracy is not pie-in-the-sky. Elections are not unfortunate formalities that must be tolerated every few years so that organisations such as yours can continue to operate unmolested by the political apparatus. Elections are the end goal, inasmuch as they enable regular, law-abiding people to enjoy their privacy in peace. Those laws were made by the representatives of the people, chosen by the people, in order to preserve the right of the people to their property, their dignity and their privacy. And in order to effectively choose who represents them in the nation's legislatures the people have a right to information about the operation of the state. In this way, your organisation comes second to the media in the national respectability stakes, I'm sorry to say. The media stands between the state and the people it serves, and informs the people about the workings of the state. Without this mechanism democracy is simply not possible. So your organisation has an obligation to be as transparent as possible, and to inform the media of your activities in as complete a manner as is humanly practicable.

Indeed, your organisation is absolutely the glaring aberration in a just democracy. The state has an obligation to operate transparently, otherwise it cannot be judged by those it serves, who are the people. Every woman and man aged 18 years and over has a right to the national franchise and in order to effectively exercise that right he or she has an equal right to information about the state's operation. As far as is possible, your organisation should work toward a reality where it ceases to exist because your organisation does not rightly meet the criteria for the just functioning of the state. As soon as it can be managed your organisation should make itself redundant so that the proper balance of transparency and justice can exist in the nation. For this reason, your organisation must content itself with always coming among the last, and not among the first. It must be happy with accepting whatever the people choose to give it, and must never engage in bureaucratic empire building with an eye to furthering its own, anomalous interests.

Because the people are not allowed to possess any information about the operations of your organisation, your staff have a moral obligation to act ethically. This obligation places a superhuman burden on your employees, and those who are not content with both accepting this burden and with always coming among the last should pack their bags and find employment elsewhere. Noone is forcing them to work in your organisation and they can leave at any time. The ethical burden that weighs upon each and every employee in your organisation is a professional matter, and your organisation should constantly work to ensure that its employees are able to function effectively under such constraints. The people tolerate your organisation's existence because their representatives judge it to be a necessary evil. Do not make the mistake of believing that your organisation or any employee inside it is above the law. Do not imagine for an instant that there is any priority of greater moment than the citizen's peaceful enjoyment of his or her privacy. To do so would be to pervert the very structure of society, and to forever damage the standing or your organisation and of the politicians who support it.

In fact, it is largely too late for such warnings because the people even now barely tolerate you. Their justified curiosity, acting via the media, is not something that you should consider to be an unnecessary intrusion into your privacy, because you should be entitled to none. In a just democracy, the right of the people to know essentially outweighs any consideration that your organisation might deem proper to arrogate to itself. It is, as it should be, that you exist on borrowed time. Use it wisely.

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