My Take

The hypocrisy of Big Brother parents

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:21am

I have an ongoing debate over pervasive American electronic surveillance with an American-Israeli friend who is also a Hong Kong permanent resident. He is all gung-ho over the absolute need - indeed, complete legitimacy - of such surveillance, which we now know not only targets foreign terrorist suspects, but random US citizens, US allies and their own citizens as well.

My friend is in a unique position to understand these things because he was in the Israeli military in his younger days, and was trained in, of all things, signals intelligence and interception. Despite denial, I have often wondered if he wasn't a Mossad agent, a tantalising mystery to our acquaintance. He has lived a long time in all three places of which he is a citizen or resident - and also the mainland - so he understands their domestic politics as well.

Given his background, I completely dismissed his arguments. However, I am having second thoughts after reading how parents spy on their children's online activities. If you can do it to your kids, why can't Big Brother do it to you?

Yes you can, even if you are an IT moron. For just US$99, you can download a fully automatic spyware programme from a US website that can monitor your kids down to single keystrokes and send instant reports to your computer. But, should you do it as a parent? My wife and I high-fived each other when I told her about the spyware; no second thoughts or hesitation there! If you spy on your kids for their own good, how can you condemn a government for spying on its citizens and others - for their own protection? Would it not be morally inconsistent?

Of course, a parent may be less abusive of his monitoring power than a government. But that's an argument for restraint and responsibility, not against surveillance per se.

I don't think there is a definitive answer for or against state surveillance. But you can at least take a stand that is morally consistent - as parent and citizen. If you think your children deserve their own space and privacy, then you would probably be inclined to oppose obtrusive and pervasive government surveillance.

But if you spy on your kids without hesitation, you probably have no moral ground to condemn governments for doing it either.