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Privacy Secrecy and Coverups

Privacy, Secrecy and Coverups

“Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of: no watchman to check the door, no accountant to check the books, no judge to check the law. The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up.”
Bill Moyers

What is privacy?
secrets eye peering D19aAccording to Collins English Dictionary, the main components of the definition of privacy are: 
  • The condition of being private or withdrawn; seclusion
  • The condition of being secret; secrecy
(Ooops! Did that say secrecy??)
OK. Let's look at Secrecy.
According to the Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, it is:
  • The state of being secret or concealed
  • Privacy, retirement, seclusion
  • Ability to keep a secret
  • The habit or characteristic of being secretive; reticence
Privacy D19a

So there you have it - circular definitions. Secrecy is used to define privacy; and privacy to define secrecy. So, the definitions of these important concepts are not helpful in themselves.

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Privacy vs Secrecy

We all know that privacy and secrecy are both about hiding information. In effect, both involve secrets. But privacy and secrecy are fundamentally different. Here's how they're  different:

    privacy D19b
  • Is (usually fairly intimate and personal) information that is withheld from others about individuals, that the individuals do not want to reveal to others; and,
  • There is no cause for fear or shame regarding the withheld information; and,
  • The nature of the information is unlikely to significantly impact on others; and,
  • The information is not of a damaging nature either personally or to others; and,
  • Withholding the information does not result in a disadvantage to others
    Government secrecy D19
  • Is information that is withheld from others that may be personal; or it may relate to others (or involve both personal data and data related to others) of various kinds, and
  • There is a tendency towards fear or shame regarding the withheld information
  • Another critical difference is that secret information is usually potentially damaging to the person who holds the secret and/or others and the secretive person wants to avoid being "out"-ed over the secret because it could cause embarrassment or punitive action. In addition
  • Secrecy may serve to provide a benefit to the secret-holder or prevent others from receiving a benefit from the withheld knowledge.
Private domain D19As you can see, the critical difference between secrets associated with privacy vs secrecy is that: with privacy the secrets are harmless and personal; but with secrecy, the secrets impact on others and are not necessarily harmless.

Private vs Public Domains and Secrecy

The private domain involves information that is intimate to one individual. Each person has a private domain. Each person can willingly share their personal information with another individual. (Their private domains can partially overlap.) The more intimate the relationship between individuals, the more their private domains overlap and the more private information they tend to share with each other. 

Private domains can also overlap in an unwanted and negative way. People may say or do things that adversely affect one or more other people. They may do this in an overt (outright) fashion) or they may do this in secret. It is this transition from what is harmless and personal (therefore private) vs harmful and affects others - where the right to exclusive ownership of information changes.
Connections in the public domain D19

Shhh Be quiet D19The public domain includes information related to multiple individuals. It includes information held by health organizations, educational organizations, financial organizations, governments, businesses, online media etc.  Each individual can willingly share some of their private information with the public domain (eg to obtain medical treatment, to buy things, to pay taxes etc). Once that information involves others (which it inevitably does when it enters the public domain because other people handle data) then it is expected that those in receipt of that information  will ordinarily respect the privacy of the person that information relates to and not cause that person harm. But even that information is not guaranteed to be kept secret to that individual if that information is related to matters that: could, is or did cause harm to others; unfairly prevents others from having something that is their legitimate right or in any other way interferes with natural justice. 

When Privacy and Secrecy are looked at in this manner, it becomes easier to tell when information that is hidden or secret transitions from privacy to secrecy and the loss of exclusive ownership of information occurs.

Effectively, while each of us might prefer that the world spin around our wants and needs; others have equal rights - and as individuals we do not have the right to cause others harm in any way - either outright or in secret. 

Release of Personal Information to the Person
Right to information under OIA D19
This is one of the reasons why privacy legislation requires holders of information in the public domain to release copies of all of the information they hold related in any way to the person it relates to - to that person on request. Any holders of such information have the capacity to do harm. To hide activities of the holders of other person's personal information in the public domain that relates to the other person is inherently wrong.

Clearly individuals have different ideas about what part of their private information they want to keep hidden. Most people allow selected other people know certain things about their private matters, but wish to hide those matters from others. 
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As discussed above, once secrets involve other people; there are practical matters that need to be considered when tackling the matter of what secrets should legitimately be kept in the private domain. 

Outing Secret Information

When I refer to "out"-ing information in the following discussion, I am referring to information being "out-ed" from the private domain, involving issues related to secrets that impact on the good of one or more other people. 

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The "out"-ing may be to another person who should by rights also know the secret information; and/or to people in authority; and/or to the public if the matter is sufficiently important to warrant this. Matters that one or more individuals may wish to keep secret, should not necessarily be allowed to be kept exclusively in the private domain of that individual or individuals vs accessible in the public domain if the circumstances indicate that it: could, is, or did cause harm; or that hiding the information unjustly prevents some other person or persons from obtaining something owed to them; or if it is likely to obstruct natural justice in any other way. 

For example, it is generally accepted that normally what goes on in the bedroom of an
Deep Dark Secrets D19
individual should be kept in the private domain. But, if this includes for example, incest or pedophilia - then, by applying the criteria above, the matter has transitioned from privacy to secrecy - and there is justification for the secret to be "out"-ed from the private domain. It would be fundamentally unjust to use the Privacy Act to hide such behavior as "private".

Normally personal financial matters are kept in the private domain. But if an individual or individuals have acquired money illegally, or are involved in fraudulent activities, or are acting to prevent someone else from obtaining something they have a legitimate right to - then the issue transitions from privacy to secrecy; and there is likely to be justification for the details to be "out"-ed. 

Personal health D19
Under usual circumstances, a person's health is a matter of privacy. Practically speaking an individual gives up some of their privacy when they seek medical care. (But even in that case, they should be able to decide what information to disclose. This is what informed consent or informed authorization is about.) But if the individual has a disease or disorder that may endanger the public, then this information transitions from privacy to secrecy. This means that certain others may need to be informed to prevent the spread of disease or the cause of harm - whether or not the person at issue agrees to anyone else knowing this secret. This is the reason for obligatory reporting of communicable diseases. It is also important in instances where it is suspected that one person is likely to physically harm another in any way. It would be fundamentally unjust to hide this information under the cloak of secrecy afforded by the Privacy Act - because other people who may be put at risk deserve equal consideration. (This does not mean that personal details in such matters should be publicly broadcast, but others who might be at risk should not be left in the dark for the benefit of the privacy of a person who could cause them harm.) 

Fake degree mill D19Fraudulent Credentials & Secrecy

While personal details such as where they live and family details should be kept private - in the interest of insuring the public trust is appropriately served - it is important that the training and experience of individuals who may have regular or significant or intimate contact with members of the public; or are responsible for processes that can cause harm; or deal in large amounts of money should not be kept secret. Fake credentials and frauds are much more common than you may think.

We think that there should be public registers containing the claimed training (places and dates), credentials and a work history outline for: doctors, nurses, aides who work with the elderly or disabled, bankers, professors, teachers, teachers aids, lawyers, engineers and any other group dealing with vulnerable people, potentially hazardous works or handling significant amounts of funds. 

Frauds Cat with meerkats D19
Registrars of organizations register the information they are given by their members. But, most of these organizations do not have resources in terms of staff, time or money (or even motivation) to investigate whether or not what they have been told is true. Concerned individuals or the press are more likely to bring to light significant discrepancies and thereby disclose relevant secrets than the organization in which an individual is registered. 

There should be no shame or embarrassment on the part of individuals in providing these details in a public register - unless the training, qualifications or experience the individuals have been claiming are false. We also think that there should be publicly accessible registers of the results of disciplinary hearings where individuals have been found guilty of wrong-doing (but not those who may have been accused, but were not found guilty of wrong-doing).

There have been a number of interesting fraud cases of late in the medical field which illustrate why this is important. Here are a few examples.

Bogus Cardiologist William Hammon is a case in point. 
Hammon was a (genuinely qualified) pilot with United Airlines who apparently went to
Fake Diploma Mills D19
medical school but never graduated. Just why a career pilot would decide to fool hospitals and a university into believing that he was a qualified Cardiologist with years of experience and a fake PhD in addition to his fake medical degrees is a mystery. He shared millions in grants, had university and hospital posts, and worked for prestigious medical groups. He got away with it for 15 years. Apparently he was charming and popular; and somehow, for 15 years no one had adequately vetted his alleged medical qualifications.

Sarajevo-born Vitomir Zepinic (Bogus Psychiatrist apparently trained as a psychologist at the University of Sarajevo and was the security chief for the break-away Serbian state headed by Radovan Karadzic. He fled to Australia. He managed
Bogus Psychiatrist D19
to get a job at Toowoomba Hospital in Queensland working as a Psychiatrist as a consequence of fraudulently claiming he had medical qualifications. He worked there for 2 years before the penny dropped and the Queensland Medical Board discovered he had no medical training. The Psychologists Tribunal of NSW looked into the case. They found that Zepinic routinely lied, used forged documents, faked the signatures of other medical practitioners and made false declarations about his qualifications. They deemed ''improper and unethical'' conduct, and banned him from practicing as a psychologist, saying that he posed ''a significant risk to public safety''. A Sydney court found him guilty of falsely claiming to be a doctor; but he was spared a jail term and was freed on a 24 month good behavior bond. But Zepinic did not stop there. He breached the order by successfully passing himself off as a doctor again; and obtained a job as a senior lecturer at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. In addition, when he  appeared at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to testify in the trials of his former colleagues, he told the tribunal he had finished his master's degree in medicine in Belgrade, obtaining a PhD in 1985. (However the Dean of Medicine in Belgrade said he had never been enrolled in medicine).
Bogus expert D19

South Africa unfortunately has quite a problem with medical fraud. Dr Nyunyi Wambuyi Katumba, a GP (Bogus Neurosurgeon) arrived in South Africa, apparently  after being fired from Botswana and Zimbabwe for shoddy work and poor performance. He managed to get jobs at Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital and Mediclinic Medforum, and at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Joburg working as a NeurosurgeonHe got away with this for 4 years. The mind boggles not just at the cheek of anyone (even someone with basic medical qualifications) to do this - but the potential for serious harm was huge. Luckily it seems he did not do major surgery.

These are just a few examples of bogus doctors. These are just the tip of the iceberg,
Buy a degree D19
because there are all kinds of bogus professionals on the loose - proffering services for which they have neither the training or qualifications - to the unknowing and vulnerable general public. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into further details on this. But if you check out the sites that discuss Fake Diploma Mills, you will get an idea of how huge this problem is.

Back to more mundane, but no less important matters.

Governments & Secrets

There are extremely few areas where government employees or anyone working in the public trust should be entitled to hold their actions secret, or hide their involvement in activities. In all cases supposed legitimate government or public trust "secrets" should
Faceless bureaucrat D19receive oversight by a designated body that has sufficient authority and power to deem whether the grounds for which matters are hidden are sufficient to warrant the information remaining hidden, or whether it should be made publicly available on request. Otherwise, actions and activities of government employees or anyone working in the public trust should not be made secret. The names of the people involved should not be kept secret either - because hiding actions and names allows the people involved to operate effectively invisibly - which encourages and facilitates covering up wrong-doing. 

But just the opposite is happening in New Zealand at present. Government employees are redacting (withholding) names and data left right and center. They claim that they are entitled to hide the names of staff and the opinions and actions of staff because of the Privacy Act. This is nonsense. Actions don't occur spontaneously. Decisions are made and actions are taken by people; and people have names. 

“When the state constitution grants each citizen an “inalienable right” to “privacy,” it’s talking about individuals seeking safety from an overreaching government, not an elected official trying to evade the oversight of constituents. It’s the difference between seeking protection from tyranny and seeking protection from democracy.”
Jon Mendelson

If an individual requests it, they should be given copies of all data that relates to them in any way as per the Privacy Act. Full disclosure is necessary to determine 
whether or not there has been wrong information or misleading information entered regarding an individual, or whether the individual has been the subject of wrong-doing by the person or persons who have had access to their
Government Secrecy 19c
information. As a consequence, the individual should be able to follow the chain of action, and be able to determine who has been involved and what has happened. Staff should be accountable for their actions. Decisions to withhold information related to staff actions that involves another person means that secrecy, not privacy is involved. Staff decisions and actions that impact on others should not be hidden from those who may be adversely affected by those secrets. Because of the potential for their actions to have an adverse impact on others, by rights staff should not have the right to exclusive ownership of that information. 

“A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know." Judge Murray Gurfein, Pentagon Papers case, June 17, 1971
The same excuse (privacy of government bureaucrats which is being extended over to include material these bureaucrats have written) is being used to do large scale censoring and redaction of documents requested under the Official Information Act. 
Government censorship D19a

The back-up excuse for massive censoring and redaction under the Official Information Act is that the disclosure of the hidden information  "would disclose trade secrets" or "would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or is the subject of the information." Whoa! This is being used as an excuse by government employees handling billions of dollars of public funds. 

We 3 Monkeys think this interpretation of the Privacy Act facilitates unwarranted secrecy and
Government Secrecy D19e
monkey business of all sorts. Its something the public should be very alarmed about. I refer you back to my piece on the Cyprus. No country has the fall of a banking system in one year without a lot of monkey business occurring at both business and government levels. The excuse of trade secrets and commercial positions should have to pass the privacy vs secrecy test. If others could, should, or have been adversely affected by the actions of persons acting in any position of the public trust - then We 3 think they lose their exclusive right to hide what they have been up to.

At the present time bureaucrats are acting in secrecy under a cloak of invisibility attributed to the Privacy Act. The inherent danger of these "Secret Squirrel" processes hiding wrong-doing on a large scale is substantial.

government cloak of secrecy D19f

Non-Personal Official Information and the Public's Right to Know

The Public's Right to Know - Article 19
and is also part of the UNESCO Report on Freedom of Information: 
"Information is the oxygen of democracy. If people do not know what is happening in their society, if the actions of those who rule them are hidden, then they cannot take a meaningful part in the affairs of that society. But information is not just a necessity for people – it is an essential part of good government. Bad government needs secrecy to survive. It allows inefficiency, wastefulness and corruption to thrive."   
"All individual requests for information from public bodies should be met unless the public body can show that the information falls within the scope of the limited regime of exceptions. A refusal to disclose information is not justified unless the public authority can show that the information meets a strict three-part test. 
The three-part test: 
  • the information must relate to a legitimate aim listed in the law; 
  • disclosure must threaten to cause substantial harm to that aim; and 
  • the harm to the aim must be greater than the public interest in having theinformation."   
"Restrictions whose aim is to protect governments from embarrassment or the exposure of wrongdoing can never be justified."


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If you are interested in reading more on 
surveillance and privacy,
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Coffee Q5: Would you vote for, or respect any politician - who votes in favor of the GCSB Spy Bill?

Peeping Toms - Seventy years of government led domestic surveillance and repression through Spy Agencies

States of Surveillance: New - Mandatory blood testing of all Americans age 15-65 

States of Paranoia - Evolution of a Police State and Constitution Free Zones

Coffee Q4 - Who are the good guys vs the bad guys?

Julian Assange, Robin Hood of the Information Age - and Pandora's Box

Lies disguised as truth P3

Some politicians and bureaucrats think the general public are dumb. They want to keep us that way by controlling what information we are given. 

The information we are provided may be "truthiness" (which is not the truth, and involves all manner of deception), not truth. Lies and deception are often used to put a positive spin on matters  we would not agree to, or would disgust us if we knew the truth. Secrecy is another tool of "impression management" to cover up wrong-doing, or shameful or corrupt acts.

Freedom of information is a cornerstone of democracy and justice. Without it, the risk of a decline into an authoritarian form of government is virtually inevitable.

Are we "sheep-les" or mere puppets who can be led to believe and do whatever our masters say; or are we thinking people who want to be truthfully informed? 

Are we willing to speak up and insist on the truth? Are we prepared to take action to guard our democratic rights and our rights to justice and fair treatment?

The people generally trust their government, law-makers and the publicly funded bureaucrats who are responsible for representing their interests. But the "people" are being deceived in many instances. We feel this is wrong.  The "people" - ordinary folk like you and me have great power in democratic countries. We can and should do something about this.

Lies, deception, cover-ups and corrupt practices must be "out"-ed if they are to end. This is necessary for democracy and justice to survive.

Tiger sleeping D19

The "people" are like a sleeping tiger.

Tiger jumping D19

If you pull the tail of the tiger; it is to be expected that the tiger will wake up, take notice of it's tormenters and give chase.

In the interests of democracy, justice, world peace and a stable economy for ordinary people - the tiger must run wrong-doers to the ground.

Tiger running wrong do-ers to ground D19

Separator D19c
Original 3 Monkeys D19
Original 3 Monkeys

All that is required for evil to take hold and grow is to: close your eyes, block your ears, shut your mouth - and do nothing.
If we do nothing - then nothing will improve.
Spreading the Word D19

Spread the Word!
One person can achieve little or nothing. 
Many can move mountains.

3 Freedom Monkeys D19
3 Freedom of Information Monkeys

Thank you from
3 Monkeys & me

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