I couldn’t help but think about this phrase as I was reading news about deteriorating relationships between USA and Russia. The two superpowers (or at least that’s what they like to think of themselves) hit yet another low point in their relationships after Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama even had a hissy fit and cancelled his meeting with Putin. Reminded me about observing kids in kindergarten – “I’m not gonna be friends with Johnny no more, he’s playing with my toy, and he doesn’t even want to share!”
I understand why the US government is upset and screams “traitor” – I would be upset too, if I were caught red-handed stealing from my friends. One can argue, that giving out state secrets is in fact a treason, and should be punished as such. But at the same time, a government – any government should be accountable for its actions and for the actions of its branches and institutions.
Whenever a government installs more CCTV cameras, or attempts to introduce a National Identity Card, or introduces laws that allow Police to listen in on people’s communications without a warrant, all these attempts are met with an outcry of civil libertarians.
The government’s standard response? If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. Makes perfect sense, right? Right, but only if the government is prepared to live and be governed by the same rules.
Another important aspect here is the freedom of information. We are lucky enough to live in a democratic society, and whether we are talking about Australia or America, the basic principles are the same. One of those principles is that public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society.
These days even the Chinese government has a Regulation on Open Government Information, so unless we want one day to find ourselves being dragged across the coals by Chinese, we better stop pretending that we are a democracy and start acting like one.
Now, I am not a whinger, but…. the question remains – who will watch the watchmen?