As a young man, I visited beautiful Greece in 1972. Arriving at the border on a slow train from Skopje (now Macedonia, then Yugoslavia) I was met by a wave of 20-30 blue uniformed border police wielding machine guns, swarming into the train. Every cabin, every back-pack was checked and everyone got an intimidating question session. I had no contraband, but it was still a frightening, eery and chocking experience.
It was the time of the Greek military junta, the ‘Regime of the Colonels’ (1967–74). Long-standing political freedoms and civil liberties, that had been taken for granted and enjoyed by the Greek people for decades, were instantly taken away after the coup d’état. There was persecution, internal exile and torture was commonplace . I had taken part in demonstrations against the junta in Oslo, but carried noting in writing. It was an important journey - I learned a lot and got to admire Greeks for the rest of my life.
In 2017, I would not have dared to go under the same circumstances. At that time they could not read my mind, they could not research my political network nor my social life. Only if I physically carried ‘subversive’ materials on me, would I have been questioned or arrested.
US Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly has, in many different contexts, pressed for the complete disclosure of all online activities of people that want to enter the US, and even said: “we want to get on their social media with passwords.”. By demanding passwords from visa applicants, he wants to use social media to track potential terrorists. “If they don’t want to give us that information,” Mr. Kelly says bluntly, “then they don’t come.”
Now, you may think that it is Ok for a country to protect itself like that, but you have think one layer deeper. If this kind of measures are introduced by a major world power, thereby legitimizing the practice, others will follow. Erdogan might want to do it in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary, Netanyahu in Israel, Castro in Cuba, Putin in Russia; and who knows, Marin Le Pen in France next year. And maybe it becomes standard practice for all countries?
The consequences are grave. Any form of right to privacy will effectively be gone – all over the planet. Because, if you cross a border one time in your life, it is not enough to ensure that you don’t carry a political pamphlet in your backpack, you have to ensure that you have never ‘befriended’ system critic on FB, criticized the regime in a chat, or even ‘liked’ the statement of dissident, lest you may find yourself in serious trouble.
Do something about it. Protest! Protect yourself, so that you can express yourself freely without fear of future consequences. There are alternative social media platforms. Head over to idka.com and check it out.
Bjørn, Co-founder of Idka AB, Stockholm