2011-08-14 Orwell’s Big Brother Coming to Roost in the Land of Free Speech #OpBart

ImageToday, the force of censorship is increasing. In response to the recent riots in London, the British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that social media should be controlled by the police.

This order came from the man who in his February Kuwait speech acknowledged the crucial role of social media in the Middle East revolutions, saying how the freedom of speech and access to the Internet are “the entitlement of people everywhere; of people in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square”.

Welcome to Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is watching. The threat against the free flow of communication is the start of a slippery slope toward a police state. We have seen the same thing happening in Egypt under Mubarak and this seems to be occurring now in the Western world.

Armchair observers in the US who saw the revolts against censorship overseas are apparently not immune. Electronic Frontier Foundation's Eva Galperin’s article titled “BART Pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco” reported that this virus is spreading to the self professed home base of freedom of speech, the United States.

It was a bright sunny day in August, and the clocks were striking five. An agency in San Francisco called the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shut down cell phone services in the central part of the system to prevent a planned protest of a fatal shooting by the BART police.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson told a KTVU reporter that the public relations department had suggested the phone service be shut down. This was unprecedented in the US. The social media was immediately buzzing to notify the world of the incident. One noted activist shouted out the last words of Galperin’s article:

@ioerror Jacob Appelbaum "Censorship is not okay in Tahrir Square or Trafalgar Square, and it’s still not okay in Powell Street Station." eff.org/deeplinks/2011…

Another tweeted:

@pkstatic Pkstatic "Congratulations, #BART By grossly disrespecting the 1st amendment, you've turned a local issue into a national one." #muBARTek

How is this different than Tahrir Square? How is it different than China? or those corporations who are trying to block donations to WikiLeaks and the Obama administration’s all out war on whistle-blowers?

It is fundamentally no different.

These acts of censorship are always conveniently justified as necessary for ‘security’. The Bart decision was no exception. BART Deputy Police Chief Benson Fairrow on Friday told KTVU-TV that "It all boils down to the safety of the public," Fairow said. "It wasn't a decision made lightly. This wasn't about free speech. It was about safety."

But, let us always recall the words of a certain founding father of the US:

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve either one." - Thomas Jefferson

The fact that the public sector in the US is using power in a way that violates the US First Amendment reveals that something is fundamentally ill in society. This incident is an example of bureaucracy gone too far. Public transportation is meant to serve the people. Instead BART is acting as if they are an arm of an authoritarian State rather than part of democratic society.


Now "Security Is Freedom."

George Orwell saw this coming. His prophecy of a future controlled society hit Britain and now is coming to roost in the US.

Is this inevitable?

Nothing is truly inevitable. Whenever force of censorship is found, there is its counter force. The global online collective Anonymous responded quickly as they consistently have done on many recent occasions of censorship and made the following declaration to BART:

We will not tolerate censorship. We will do everything in our power (we are legion) to parallel the actions of censorship that you have chosen to engage in. We will be free to speak out against you when you try to cover up crimes, namely on behalf of those who have engaged in violence against a mostly unarmed public. We will set those who have been censored free from their silence. That’s a promise.

The group is calling for a peaceful protest at Civic Center Station on August 15th at 5pm to stand up for the rights of people for free speech.

This choice that BART officials made on August 12 is all the more poignant considering that the Bay Area is the birthplace of the free speech movement back in the 60’s. The assault on the Constitution that free speech activists faced during those years has apparently not abated.

As the force of censorship and authoritarian government expands around the globe, so does this fight. Now people of China and Iran are not alone because those in the West are being called to fight against their own government’s suppression of dissent.

Freedom of speech is more and more recognized as a universal human right, not just for a particular nation. The new movement toward unfiltered open communication and transparency of governments has brought this issue forward on a global scale.

The BART incident revealed how the actions of those who prevent people's communication are based on the same fear that dictators in the Middle East have shown for people rising up against them.

Now people have a choice to go beyond the paranoia of control and unite for shared universal human rights instead of allowing irrational fear to prevail. Those who choose to fight are not alone and in the end it will be clear who is on the right side of history.

Image Credit - @exiledsurfer

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