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Acting on suspicions

Posted Oct 25 2013 12:00am
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Spying seems to be the topic of the year since the Snowden affair came to light, which helped to uncover a number of other spying activities. Just yesterday, we read about  Angela Merkel's phone being hacked by the US
Germany's chancellor says it is "really not on" for friends to spy on each other, as an EU summit is overshadowed by a row over US surveillance.
Spying on a formal basis is regarded as immoral and in many cases illegal, as we've seen lately from the news headlines. It also feels horrible because we feel we have been betrayed. The whole issue is based on a perceived belief that there is some kind of trust between the parties which was broken by one of them. Spying is so easy these days with the use of advanced technology, so most people/organisations are probably aware of this. We all try to cover our tracks in some way to maintain some privacy. It really isn't possible to be completely private: just clicking a 'like' on facebook or commenting on a blog can easily target you - you leave some kind of trace as you pass by, and people can use that information to spy on you.

Spying is not really a Greek trait. Generally speaking, Greeks don't spy. Neither are they a tattle-tale race. In fact, Greeks do things so openly - eg try to evade taxes, drive without a seatbelt/helmet, shout when they talk, etc - that they don't see any reason why someone would need to spy on them to catch them out. They do (or shoudl I say 'did') everything right under your nose, so to speak. One way to illustrate this is with something that happened to me in New Zealand when I was visiting in 2004. A Greek-Kiwi friend wanted to give us a lift somewhere in her car. When she came to pick us up, she noticed that we had our children with us. "Sorry," she said, "I can't put you all in my car. I don't have any child seats, and if someone notices this while we're on the road, you never know how they might react. They may even call the police and give them my licence plate number." No one in Greece who sees kids jumping up and down unrestrained in the back seat of a car (or sitting in their mother's lap in the front passenger seat while their mother isn't wearing a seatbelt) would put this in their heads. But in my Greek-Kiwi friend's mind, her fear was a real one.

That's partly what was behind the Irish cases of suspected child abduction . The interconnected world of Europe and the fast relay of news raised suspicions in the mind of the EU's northernmost extremity after a related incident that happened in the EU's southernmost extremity. (Before that, the only thing Ireland had in common with Greece was bad money management; even though Ryanair flies in and out of a number of Greek towns, there's no direct connection between Greece and Ireland - it's a bloody long way to Tipperary from here). But how did the Irish decide to 'pounce'? It wasn't the same as the Greek case at all. For a start, the Greek police were conducting a search for criminal activity, when they noticed something else that didn't look right. So the decision to remove the child from her parents in the Greek case came from the police officers directly involved in the incident, not from a tip-off from the public, a good number of whom will have seen the very white child surrounded by people much darker than herself on a number of occasions. Greeks don't call the police to resolve other people's problems for a number of reasons, possibly because they feel that the incident is none of their business, and they don't want to be incriminated themselves. Not trusting the police may also be another reason why they don't bother to report such incidents, but this has more to do with the attitude they might (once have) expect(ed) from the police if they were to report an incident that has nothing to do with them and the police were not investigating it in the first place. Greece is not a police state in the sense that other more developed countries are. Γύρευε την δουλειά σου, might have been the police's initial reaction in the past.

The Irish cases of suspected child abductions (which have since turned out to be false accusations) were similar to cases of spying - they were based on tipoffs from the public
An Irish police inquiry that led to a girl (7) with blonde hair and blue eyes being removed from Roma family in Dublin was prompted when a member of the public, who had seen a news report on the Maria case in Greece, left a message with an Irish news programme.  
It happened just like my Greek-Kiwi friend explained to me in New Zealand - someone saw something that s/he judged to be illegal, so they decided to tell. In other words, they acted on their own preconceived ideas of what looks good and what looks bad. In the Irish cases, the member of the public sounded a little racist (if you ask me). And (if you ask me again), the police reacted on the basis of a racist assumption. This is not to say that the Greek police did not act on a similar basis - but they did not get tipped off by any member of the public. They had to make a decision on the spot about how to react. Whether their assumptions were deemed racist or not, they uncovered a hot of unacceptable criminal activity: not registering a birth, informal adoptions, lying about the number of children you have, and very significantly, given the way benefit fraud is now viewed in Greece, claiming money from the state that you are not entitled to are all deemed criminal activities, regardless of your culture or race; there are no exceptions on this one. One thing led to another, and now authorities in birth registration offices have been suspended (because they were regarded as not doing their jobs properly), and yet another case of Roma informal adoption (of a 2.5 month old boy) was discovered, this time on the island of Mitilini (and in this case, the 'parents' admitted that they were not the real parents, rather than go through the ridicule that their compatriots did).

Greeks generally don't spy on each other, and they generally don't get involved in other people's business. But there is a visible change here too, all crisis-related once again, which to my mind is so obviously going on, that people are blind if they can't see it (but not blind enough to claim a benefit). It seems that these days, when the authorities detect suspicious activity, they investigate/report it, whereas in the past, they turned a blind eye to it. This started mainly with the cases of benefit fraud. When the government first started seriously investigating the degree of benefit fraud (something everyone 'knew' was going on), it was discovered that certain areas in Greece seemed to show signs of high rates of the same disability among the population, which could not be explained, eg blindness in Zakinthos , which often suggested that a particular specialist doctor was involved, possibly signing people up for a benefit, no doubt taking his/her share too. A woman working in the benefits office realised that someone who was claiming a blindness benefit was actually able to see very well; I can't remember the story exactly, but the man claiming the disability allowance pointed to the exact place on a document which the woman had to stamp so he could continue to get the benefit. She reported this to her superiors, who acted on this information, so one thing led to another, and the fraudster was caught. In the past, either the clerk would not have bothered to report it or the superior would not have acted on anyone's claims. More of the same Γύρευε την δουλειά σου, as mentioned above. Back in those days, people in positions of authority were picking up a comfortable paypacket in a secure job environment: these days, acting on your suspicions when you have a job that involves authority and state funds is one way to show that you are doing your job appropriately and deserve your job, by showing others that you are being worth your salary.

At the moment in Greece, this new idea - acting on your suspicions - is being led by the top: people in authority, like the police and state workers. In the past, it was more common to hear: "The top is corrupt/lazy/dishonest, so why should I be clean/hard-working/honest?" This leads to the question: Will that have a rub-off effect onto the other layers that make up society? I don't see why not; Greece is just catching up with the 'real' world here, and Greeks had a bit of a rude awakening when they were forced to do it overnight. Before the crisis, they were simply procrastinating. Now, it looks like Greece is turning into a Big Brother state . But that was inevitable, if the country wanted to maintain the little dignity it had left. Even in the case of bringing down Golden Dawn, the state had to resort to breaking down the very strict privacy laws of the country. Could Greece remain an exception in these dire times we live in? Acting on suspicions is not a sign of racism or discrimination - it's a sign of the times.

Generally speaking, we don't see ourselves as having something to hide and because of the times we live in, we are aware that our movements are traceable. In other words, you have to be a little stupid to get caught out, or very naive not to realise that this is going on. But there are people among us who do have something to hide... and the person doing the actual spying knows this
"The first rule of spying is: you never talk about it. Second, you only plant surveillance equipment to confirm what you already know."
And apparently, "there's nothing wrong with spying as long as you suspect foul play" ( Little Fockers was playing tonight on ANT1 - I heard that line in the movie). Even my blog has a way to spy on readers too, through statistics counters. Without even trying very hard to discover this information, I have some idea about who is reading what on my blog, as you can see from the table below. (I've removed server names and IP numbers for security reasons, and changed times and dates.) I don't actually know the people personally, but if ever I need to act on suspicions (eg by way of odd/anonymous comments), I know how to track them. (There are also ways to ensure that your computer is not tracked here.) It's the wondrous way the interlinked world works. Being a technology buff, I love it. If it weren't for the internet, my stories would still be unwritten. I've never felt I was living in the wrong era.

  Multiline URLs
Big brother is watching you...

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