They’re Watching

Just when you think it is safe to board, out comes SSSS.

Journalists, bloggers, friends don’t forget Big Brother is watching. That’s the message behind the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply. Focusing on the United States this film examines the impact of the terms and conditions we obligatorily sign every time we access any Internet service.

Looking at the fine print it highlights the windows of interrogation we open ourselves up to every time we tick that little box. Written in a font and caps that make it hard to read we all tick it because really we have no choice. If we want the service or goods we do it, well it’s not like they give us a choice to negotiate any of it.

But by ticking that box we have opened up our once private world to monitoring not only by one service or goods supplier but also to all sorts of overt and covert securities from well, all over the world. However the film also shows how key words you type in to search engines or thoughts you express on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin open you up to all sorts of interrogation.

Now by simply putting ‘United States’ in this blog I may have already opened myself up to further scrutiny – so a big hello to my Northern American friends. Of course, ordinarily this would not seem unusual that was until I chose to transit through the US on my way to Hot Docs.

On landing in Toronto I discovered my suitcase was no longer locked in fact the lock had been broken and on opening the case I discovered a letter from Transportation Security Administration stating it was their right, without my consent to break open my case and inspect my bag. OK, they need to do what they need to do. I kind of get that, until I discovered that in inspecting my bag they had broken possessions of mine.



Now I come from a country where when you bag is inspected, you are present.

While I find the idea of someone rifling through my possessions without me being present more than a little disconcerting I did not think anything of it until I went to leave Toronto after the conference. It was then, with the thanks of Terms and Conditions May Apply that I started to realise my views on twitter and on this blog may have brought on some unnecessary attention.

It began just after Toronto check in when I found myself being segregated for special security clearance. On my boarding pass was SSSS and according to Wikipedia, this means Secondary Security Screening Selection.

In real terms I was taken through an extensive bag and body search. My boarding pass was also taken from me until this process was over. I have travelled for many years and mostly post-September 11, so ethnic looking woman travelling alone does make me stand out. But this time felt stranger than normal.

It was far too coincidental that my bag is being chosen for random inspections, and then my person is too. On talking to other Australian travelers, who are also on their own this did seem unusual as it did not happen to them.

After seeing Terms and Conditions Apply I became more acutely aware that as a journalist who engages with social media I might just be up for extra scrutiny. Do I exist on some sort of US government list? What about other journalists or bloggers who question a government’s politics or motives? Once we are on, do we ever get off?

Arriving home I found my bag had a busted lock again. Coincidence? Conspiracy? Regardless, it is the reality of the world I/we live in.

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