Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

So, with the breaking news that the U.S. has been extensively logging an unimaginable gamut of personal information from Internet users around the globe with their PRISM program, I’m sure I’m not the only person to immediately think back on Dark Knight‘s cell phone surveillance system.

In Christopher Nolan’s film, Batman resorts to such an extreme form of surveillance to combat the Joker, a relentless psychopath. The device is designed to monitor the citizens of Gotham by constructing composite images based on snatched cell phone signals. Lucious Fox finds this tool inherently abhorrent, and Batman partially acknowledges this by allowing Fox to destroy the device once it has served its singular purpose. Unlike in the real world, Batman’s cell phone surveillance is kept a secret from the population; only Batman, Fox, and the privileged audience are aware of its existence and use. Of course, all of this is very Orwellian, reeking of Big Brother all over, but engaging that would be another essay, so I’ll stick to Dark Knight for now.

Audiences should see this trope in Dark Knight as an allegory for authorities dealing with terrorism. The film reflects the dichotomy of security and civil liberty, a theme that has become more common in post-9/11 North American popular culture.

The Dark Knight's Big Brother?

In light of the news that governments have been actively conducting widespread surveillance of Internet and cell phone communications, it is most crucial that we understand why people are enraged by this invasion of privacy. So, let’s consider how fiction may contrast with reality.

When you think of President Obama do you instantly think “He’s just like Batman?” Perhaps, but I think that may be a bit of a stretch.

How about Prime Minister Harper? Does he inspire associations with Batman? Doubtful.

I make this silly contrast for a reason. Just follow me for a moment along this train of thought. As fans of Batman, audiences tend to think of him as the ultimate zenith of human intelligence and performance. That’s fine. Fans also tend to have a tremendous amount of blind faith in Batman’s judgement. So, when we watch Dark Knight and see that Batman must resort to this type of widespread surveillance to catch the Joker, we feel this is an acceptable measure because HE’S BATMAN. There is no other reassurance made. He’s Batman. Trust him. That’s it. And, many of us will likely accept that reasoning and simply enjoy the story.

It must be OK; he's Batman.

However, events in the real world are strikingly different. Consider the following points:

Firstly, PRISM has been around for years now, trawling the Internet for personal information on everyone who is online. That may be an exaggeration, but I feel entitled to it. When Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others are allegedly cooperating in full with the PRSIM program, then I feel safe saying everyone online is being monitored. In contrast to Dark Knight, the real application of such surveillance is conducted on a much larger scale. Instead of monitoring a few million fictional citizens in Gotham, PRSIM monitors the communications and activities of billions of real, regular people around the world.

Secondly, Batman wanted to stop the Joker. That is a specific task with a definite endpoint. The so-called War On Terror is not like that at all. The War On Terror is ill-defined, vague, and without any foreseeable endpoint. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; war is terror. With a perpetual state of war, there is no indication that governments would ever cease to avail of such a rich source of intel. So, unlike the faith we hold that Batman will use his device only to apprehend the Joker, it strikes me as entirely unlikely that any military or enforcement agency would relinquish their power in the same way.

Thirdly, neither Obama nor Harper are like Batman. As an idealized fictional superhero with a canon ranging from dark and gritty to bright and farcical, Batman sets an impossible standard to meet. That is a given. He is like a mythical hero, idolized by many. Leaders of state do not often achieve such unconditional approval ratings. Political scandals prevent the population from having a similar sense of faith in our leaders. Just look at the IRS’s alleged bias in targeting Republicans for financial scrutiny. Just look at the slew of scandals in Canada that mar Harper’s reign, especially the election fraud (a.k.a. the robocalls) and the Wright-Duffy expense scandal. The Harper Government already equates environmental activism with extremism, regarding it as a threat to national interests (read as “oil interests”). With such a wealth of personal data at their fingertips, we are supposed to believe that they won’t use it to gain political advantages? It seems fair to me to suspect such powerful figures would misuse the collected data. Since past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, one can reasonably assume that our governments aren’t as trustworthy as Batman.

Following this rationale, concern about how governments will use this information is not merely some paranoid conspiracy theory; on the contrary, it seems a rather prudent line of thought. If world leaders were all as noble as Batman and terrorists were all as psychotic as the Joker, then this would be a simpler issue. But, it is not like that. The reality is far more complex. Leaders are often not saints, and “terrorists” are often seen as freedom fighters (you have seen Star Wars, right?). The real world is not as black and white as Gotham (nor Star Wars).

Now, discussing this very real issue in terms of how it relates to a Batman movie may be seen as diminishing the real importance of the issue. That is not what I intend to accomplish here. Instead, I hope to inspire audiences to consider real world events as they relate to the stories that are told. Not every tale is purely for entertainment; many storytellers communicate valuable lessons through metaphor, symbolism, and allegory.

For further material on why online spying conducted by governments should be a concern to everyday law-abiding folks please read Ian Brown’s piece in The Guardian or view this segment on DemocracyNow.org.

By David Reynolds

Well, can you think of any reason that would hold up to a moment’s common sense why Elections Canada wouldn’t implement an online voting system? I seriously doubt it. You might think that there could be a serious threat of hackers interfering with election results. Granted, that is a possibility. But, the risk of hackers rigging elections is no more threatening than someone manipulating mail-in votes. Considering the current methods which Canadian citizens have to vote, such as voting by mail, an online voting system would be at least equally secure and it would reach out to the elusive youth vote.

Canadians have a lot of democratic privileges that are too commonly neglected. Citizens have a variety of methods to cast their ballot. Sure, you could go vote in your riding on election day, but you could just as easily vote at your local Elections Canada office or during an advance poll. You can even arrange to vote by mail. And mail poses the best comparison to what we can imagine an online voting system might be like.

So, lets take a closer look at how voting by mail works. According to “Ways to Vote” on Elections Canada’s website, if you opt to vote by mail (or if circumstances, like working away from home, demand you vote by mail), then you must register early. Elections Canada assures us that your application to vote by mail will be processed quickly (“Ways to Vote”), but they cannot account for the duration your application is in the mail, and you can imagine that’s what really slows down the process the most. In order to counteract the length of time it takes for the voter to receive their ballot, they suggest you fax your application to them (“Ways to Vote”), which I think sounds like more of a hassle than dropping it off in the mail box. I mean, it’s not like I own a fax machine. I imagine that’s the same for most Canadians. And how secure is my vote as it is in transit? Elections Canada instructs voters to seal their ballot inside three envelopes and hope you posted it in time to reach them before polling closes on election day (“Ways to Vote”). Three envelopes, hunh? That’s impressive.

However, many Canadians have access to a computer and the internet. As indicated by Statistics Canada’s “Canadian Internet Use Survey,” 98% of Canadians aged 16 to 24 had internet access in 2009. This indicates that the internet could be a ridiculously accessible means for youth voters, yet somehow our government has overlooked this clear opportunity. Additionally, the speed of processing voter registration applications could be significantly improved by bypassing the postal system. That should go without saying. It should also go without saying that if voters submit ballots from their own computers which might be protected with even the shoddiest anti-virus software, then that exceeds the level of protection that three envelopes might provide. Even when I consider the threat of real, experienced, black hat hackers attempting to interfere with elections, I cannot help but think that if Canada can’t provide the security to protect an online voting system, then we have got some serious problems here. The government already offers online submission that is secure enough when you file your taxes, claim your EI, or apply for student loans, so it’s more than a bit ludicrous that they haven’t already provided an online form that list less than half a dozen candidates and asks you to CHOOSE ONE.

The ease of accessibility that an online voting system would provide could also be invaluable in getting Canadian youth to vote. By no means do I think the youth in Canada are all lazy, apathetic, and ignorant, but even if you (or our current government) hold this belief, it’s still hard to deny that youth wouldn’t take 20 minutes to register and vote online. Just look at how the internet has helped spread democratic ideals through the Middle East through something as unsuspecting as social networking. The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian youth are already using the internet to rally support. Steven Chase reported just yesterday (April 4) that university students in Guelph surprised Prime Minister Harper at a campaign event, carrying banners exclaiming “Surprise! We are voting.” Students who organized the protest also posted a video to YouTube, calling for the youth to vote (Chase). We know Canadian youth both have access to the internet and they are quite proficient in its use. I have no doubt that youth voter turnout would increase if Canada were to implement an online voting system. I’m sure it would increase voter turnout in more mature voters as well. Statistics Canada also reports that 66% of Canadians over 45 were online in 2009, up from just 56% two years prior (“Canadian Internet Use Survey”). All the numbers suggest that the internet is the most accessible medium to Canadians, and accessibility is highest amongst Canadian youth. Simply by providing an online voting option, it’s difficult to imagine how it could be any worse than the present electoral process.

After taking a moment to consider the current methods for casting our ballots, it ought to be clear that an online voting system would be a tremendous tool for democracy in Canada. So why hasn’t Elections Canada acted on this clear reality? It boggles my mind.

WORKS CITED

“Canadian Internet Use Survey.” Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada. 10 May 2010. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100510/dq100510a-eng.htm

Chase, Steven. “Harper gets an earful from students: Surprise. ‘We are voting.’” The Globe and Mail. Phillip Crawley. 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/harper-gets-an-earful-from-students-surprise-we-are-voting/article1970607/

“Ways to Vote.” Elections Canada. Elections Canada. Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=bkg&document=ec90541&lang=e