The Travel Document – introduction

Since the WSI magazine started publishing The Dairy of Madness, coincidentally, my trouble with the bank unfolded. Like in a parallel universe of the finest literature, the Bank resembles Kafka's Castle, and somehow my ordeal with The Bank became The Trail.

I have no debts, no loans, no car nor insurance for it... I have only one thing, that of all my earthly possessions, I value the most – my Travel Document - issued by the highest institution in this country, the UK Home Office. It is a kind of a UN passport (UN Convention of 28 July 1951) issued by the authorities of the individual country to the people who don't have a citizenship, not here, not anywhere else in the world. Their predicament is a result of political persecutions the holders of this passport suffered in the past.

This (blue) travel document is given to the people who are in exile.

The said travel document looks like any other document of that kind: it has all the features of a passport, along with an electronic chip, an ugly photo and it is valid until 2018. I travelled four continents with it and I have been using this document regularly since 1998 as the only ID document in all my affairs where an ID is required, banking included.

But I no longer can use it in my bank as a valid ID when making a withdrawal! Does this mean the human rights are diminishing in the UK? My only viable parameter is my travel document. As time goes by, it seems I am ever able to achieve less with it. Could it be?

Human Rights Act

If the conservatives win upcoming elections in the UK, they pledge to “curb” Human Rights Act.

The new measures will be targeted at people and groups who "stay just within the law but spread poisonous hatred", said Home Secretary Theresa May in her Birmingham speech at the party conference.

When retorted by a BBC correspondent that in the details of her proposals

“you also suggest that the people who argue for the abolition of democracy, who are antidemocratic, could face these powers too, but isn't there a danger you could therefore end up in a situation where communists, anarchists, monarchists, people who are in no sense a threat to society could face the same sort of curbs which are designed, presumably, for those much closer to terrorism?”

The Home Secretary answered in general terms …

“… We need to take powers necessary to be able to deal with those people who are preaching hatred in our streets...” adding; “... of course, not all extremists are violent and not all violence comes out of that extremism... ”

Former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve thinks the new measures “could simply fuel resentment.” In a BBC Radio 4 interview he said;

“The devil lies in the detail. When we are dealing with organisations it seems to me that the point she (Theresa May) is raising has considerable merit. When it comes to the rights of individuals, I think we have to be much more careful. It is difficult to see how in practice some of these restrictions would operate without leading to a consequence that a person would end up being prosecuted for expressing a point of view.”

Mrs May (UK Home Secretary) said that getting access to communications data - “details of who called who and when, but not the content of the calls - was vital.” The same rule applies to our emails and any other activity on the internet.

Consequently, Edward Snowden's shocking revelations of NSA's illegal monitoring of US citizens resulted in British ruling party moving towards legalisation of such practices.

The German Typewriter

A few months ago news agencies across the globe published a surreal report that the German government is considering to “revert to typewriters to counter hi – tech espionage” (Guardian, 15th of July 2014).

It's appalling to think that the most sophisticated typewriter in use today - apart from being an excellent editing device with an instant access to the entire world of circulating ideas, vast area of art, fantasy and science, menacing deceptions and accurate, efficient management of time and life has another, invisible purpose: to spy on you!

The Castle

It has been two weeks since I reported my bank card was lost. Two weeks since I cannot access my means within The Castle. To make it more confusing, I was allowed to withdraw once, after complaining to the ombudsman and my local MP, whose case worker from the Labour party spoke to me from the heights of his office, informing me with boredom that he had no knowledge of the document in question or if it, indeed, exists but what he does know for a fact is that banks can do whatever they want to do as they are private organisations.

What a magic word: private …

I live on a loan and by the kindness of my friends as I cannot get my money from The Castle.

Who is pulling the strings? What if my reality is just a reflection of somebody's fiction?!

The Thought Police

In the 1984, which Orwell wrote 4o years prior to 1984, the writer envisioned a future in which citizens of Oceania are subjected to omnipresent surveillance by the Thought Police. Monitored by telescreens, the citizens’ movements and words are analysed so that any independent, intelligent, dissident thinking can be spotted and instantly eliminated.

It is 2014. We live inside the 1984! Eric Arthur Blair turns in his grave. He cannot hide behind his real name engraved on his tombstone. Has Orwell only foreseen or did he script this siege? Any thought, any purchase, any unintended love letter... It is far too late to retreat. Our life is scrutinised: it could be observed, analysed, reconstructed, manipulated completely - if we are lucky, we will never find out.

The result is always the same: We cannot hide even if we have nothing to hide. Neither can the Germans.

Nothing to Hide – Nothing to Fear

Nothing to hide - nothing to fear, a frequently used argument in the U.S. endorsed by the former British foreign minister William Hague, described by Bruce Schneier[1], a data security expert and a cryptographer, as the "most common retort against privacy advocates”.

This sort of transparency becomes a paradox in a society in which the fundamental value of freedom to privacy is an asset.

In “The Lives of Others”, an Oscar winning German film, the real reason behind the surveillance of one of the main protagonists, a writer by the name of Dreyman is not his disloyalty to the communist state but an uncouth jealousy of the Minister of Culture who is in love with writer's girlfriend - an actress. The minister eventually manipulates the actress into having sex with him.

Moral of this tale, I guess, is that you have nothing to fear - as long as you have no girlfriend, no children, no friends nor a dog, no job nor prospect of getting one – nobody is jealous.

In the communist East Germany there was no such a thing as unemployment, but here and now it is quite different. Because of the costs of social policies and its services for the economy with a shaking foundation, the unemployed and the vulnerable have become a public inconvenience. They have become a burden, a cancer to the new, Darwinian society (if there is such a thing as a society, Margaret). In a time when some sectors of political elite pride themselves with the Machiavellian ideas of a strong, controlling government that is protecting “national interests”, which are just another way of distracting public attention from the acute problem of inadequate redistribution of newly produced wealth. The new – old Tory lobby turns against the victims of society, those who did not find a way to integrate - for one reason or another - into its productive system. There is not enough money for the unemployed and other socially aggravated groups. Unemployed in Britain were recently asked to work for free while on benefits, or they would lose the benefits. (Isn't that hideous way to underpay Les Miserables?). As far as social policies are concerned, Great Britain is losing its battle, along with its greatness.

What about the freedom of speech?

If conservatives are elected next year, it seems they will impose one of the most powerful, and at the same time, one of the most confusing manuals of censorship. If that happens, any criticism coming from repressed groups or individuals - even this very dairy of madness may become an act of terror.

“ … In the end, as they have done before, these values, our British values, will win the day and we will prevail.”
said Theresa May.

Again, are not these values a freedom of speech and a right to privacy?

Let me rephrase the question: What could happen to those who try to oppose, or even worse, to those who try to expose the true nature of these “measures”?

Crime and Punishment

There are two dissidents known worldwide who managed to submit the governments to the pain of their own “surveillance methods”.

Julian Assange is a hacker and an alleged rapist. He, allegedly, sexually abused a person with whom he had consensual sex before and after the alleged abuse took place. After the alleged victim Miss A complained about “the worst sex ever”, (referring to her intercourse with Assange) to Miss W - her friend – Miss W invited Assange for a dinner. They had a consensual relation. In both cases Assange allegedly tried to avoid the use of condom.

In 2010 Assange published the US military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst who, as a result, serves 35 years sentence in confinement. Since 2010 Assange is under investigation in the United States. In the same year, the Swedish Director of Public Prosecution opened a preliminary investigation into sexual offences that Assange is alleged to have committed. If Assange comes back to Sweden to answer the Public Prosecutor's questions, according to Swedish law, he can be extradited to the United States.

Americans argue that Assange's revelations endangered lives of their soldiers and collaborators in the battlefield of Iraq. In reality, it embarrassed the American administration, exposing irregularities in waging the war. As it happened, Assange's revelations criminalised Big Brother and Big Brother did not take it well.

Years later, and Big Brother is stuck in a desert, trying to control an endless war which has since escalated - it could be argued from the US officials’ point of view - as a result of Assange's revelations helping the enemies of the super state.

Years later, and Julian Assange is stuck in a tiny building of Ecuadorian embassy in London, abandoned by international media, tired from physical isolation, emotionally broken.

It's a stalemate position for him, just like it is stalemate position for Big Brother in Iraq and Syria. It is the same for all of us. We are seated in front of our blinking screens, wondering who, on that other, invisible side, keeps our company tonight.

Some marketing agency conducting research for the eco-friendly mint retailers monitoring our breathing patterns? The Thought Police collecting data, using complicated formulas to predict our rebellion even before we thought of it?

Final Proof of the Invisible

When Edward Snowden, a computer professional formerly employed by the CIA (where he worked as a system administrator), came to the attention of global media a year ago, he brought with him “the book of revelation”. The content of the book astonished the world. The documents leaked revealed a number of massive global surveillance programs run by the NSA, with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments, against its own and the citizens of other countries.

The revelation was first received with a shock which then turned into loud debates about massive surveillance, government secrecy and the balance between national security and information privacy. As the time passes, we have to live with the consequences of the Snowden and Assange's revelations. One of them is constant make up of excuses for introducing new national and European laws empowering government agencies, allowing them to collect and investigate data of our activities and movements while resolving national security issues.

Another, much more serious consequence is the effect of the frog thrown into boiling water - If thrown into boiling water, a frog will jump out of the pot. If put into a cold water which is gradually heated, the frog will die in agony.- That is how we are getting used to the new reality, slowly but steadily accepting shrinking freedoms as an inevitable outcome of the recent technological revolution.

And the temperature is rising …

The Decision

After long phone calls to the complaints department and an unpleasant conversation with a bank manager, I was allowed to withdraw my money once. That day I received a phone call from The Castle in which a voice informed me that The Castle regrets the incident that occurred, it offers me a £135 compensation for my troubles. The voice promised the trouble was over for me, my travel document is indeed a valid ID document so I can go whenever I want and withdraw my money until my plastic card arrives.

Good, because my plastic card will never arrive.

Then this morning the same voice called back. This time the voice has a name. The name is Tory. (First time she introduced herself I thought somebody was joking). She regretfully informed me that the decision was overturned so, once again, I cannot use my Travel Document when banking with The Castle.

My MP case worker does not respond to my emails.

He has never heard of my travel document...

”They are private organisations, they can do whatever they want...”– the voice of the Labour Party case worker echoes in my mind.

My fridge is ominously empty.

[1] Bruce Schneier on Wikipedia