Public First Program


Shane Elson


email Shane

+61-3-5134 8556

+61-4-1349 7828

August 2007 # 1

(Right Click here to download Audio - MP3)

Back to Editorials 2007

SIM Cards and Generosity

I wonder how long it will be before you or I or someone we know is given the Haneef treatment? Judging by the hyperbole emanating from Canberra and the willingness for politicians and police to ignore fundamental rights, it should not be too long. 

Within many cultures the idea of collective ownership, or at the least a willingness to share goods, means that little thought is given to the potential ramifications of a good deed. In many cultures the focus of ownership is not necessarily on individual ownership but on collective access to something that one person may take responsibility for managing. In some places around the globe an entire village might be served by one mobile phone. In other places a ‘family’ may ‘own’ a phone that a senior member looks after and ensures is shared equitably among the clan. This clan may well include ‘relatives’ whose familial ties are very loose. Just like here many families try and improve their lot and as the economic circumstances arise another mobile handset may become available for use. Even though the handsets are relatively cheap to purchase in local markets they don’t come with a SIM card. These, should they be needed and of course they always are, are purchased separately. 

Another issue related to mobile phones is their ‘stealability’. Being small and easily misplaced they make for easy targets for the thief, pickpocket and opportunistic ‘business person’ who can turn your misfortune into a few pesos at the market. The handsets are quite traceable due to their unique identity and when matched to a SIM card can be traced to the original owner or SIM card purchaser if needed. They also double as quite good location beacons for those wanting to find you. 

One of the beauties of global travel these days is that in many reasonably developed places it is quite easy to purchase a SIM card that can be fitted into your own phone. These prepaid cards allow the international traveller the ability to manage their costs and provide an affordable alternative to the global roaming most networks allow. 

When I travelled in the Middle East last year I took my own phone and purchased pre-paid SIM cards in Jordan and the West Bank. Unfortunately for my hosts I used all my credit before I left. However, if there had of been any credit left I was more than willing to leave the SIM cards behind for them to use as they would be of no use to me once I left the region. If I had left a SIM card, let’s try this for a possible scenario. 

I bid my hosts farewell and get on the bus. They leave for their homes and when they arrive home place my SIM card in their phone. A couple of days later a ‘cousin’ comes to visit. This ‘cousin’ is part of the extended family of well over 200 who live in the town. He sits, drinks coffee and after an acceptable time asks if he can borrow my host’s mobile to make a call or two. 

Eventually some breathtaking calamity takes place and the intelligence and security agencies gear up for the investigation. Scouring the electronic signatures of thousands of people ‘of interest’ they come across the family name of my host’s ‘cousin’. They then link that with the name of my host and a number of calls made from a particular mobile. Having made the, at best, tenuous link, they decide to detain my host and his ‘cousin’ as suspects and begin to interrogate them. My host says he has nothing to hide. The security forces ask him to hand over the mobile he has. They examine the SIM and ask where he got it. He tells them that his Australian friend left it for him when he went home. They interrogate the phone and SIM and find out that it was used by my host’s ‘cousin’ to contact a fringe player in a known ‘terrorist’ group. 

My host’s ‘cousin’ is subject to further questioning and denies any links to the suspect group saying that he knows the man he rang as an old school friend who he keeps in touch with. However, the security forces don’t believe him. Their next calls are to Mick Keelty and Philip Ruddock, the Attorney General. 

Well, I don’t think I need to go on here. The links are so tenuous and ridiculous that they really are Keystone cop type antics. One act of generosity, reinforced by another leads to all involved, no matter how far removed, as being branded as ‘suspects’ or as having “associated” with “persons of interest” or in the case of Mohammed Haneef, being found guilty before trial or evidence is produced. 

As each passing day reveals we find desperation, lies, unfounded innuendo, defamatory comments, deception and now scapegoating. Howard says his minister told him. Andrews says the AFP told him. Keelty says Scotland Yard told him. I suppose we’ll soon find out Scotland yard found out via a note in a fortune cookie. Who knows? And that is the question. Who knows? 

I agree with all those who say we need to be vigilant and aware of the potential risks to our safety and way of life. That is not up for negotiation. However, as a so called “advanced”, “democratic” society should we not expect more of those we entrust to ensure our safety and way of life is maintained? The basis of this expectation is trust. 

Our mainstream media allows politicians, senior bureaucrats and other officials to hide behind a rhetoric that invokes the vague notion of ‘national security’. At the rate we’re going I suggest it won’t be long before we hear ‘national security’ invoked to deny access to even more so called ‘official sources’. The so called ‘background’ briefings that journalists are privy too are used to inveigle them into the ‘inner sanctum’ as if the role of the press is to collude with power rather than stand up and challenge it. 

I cannot say for certain that Mohammed Haneef is a cleanskin in this matter. However, based on the freely available press reports and the emerging fog of obfuscation produced by the government and the federal police one thing is clear. Haneef’s involvement, at the very least and assuming he did know something was afoot, was as far removed from the plot and subsequent acts - acts in which we must remember no one other than the perpetrators were injured – as to render him innocent as the court as rightly done so. 

In the age of international travel, ease of communication and the traveller’s willingness to become involved in the things going on around them, it is only a matter of time before one of our nearest and dearest is at the receiving end of the type of treatment Dr. Haneef received under our government. Or perhaps worse. 

While we continue to allow those who hold power over us to rule according to their own rules and continue to allow them to ignore the rights we, collectively, have fought to develop to protect us from abuses of power, the more likely it will be that we will find ourselves or our loved ones caught up in the Star Chamber like environment facilitated by those who would rather rule over us than serve us.

Recent Editorials

Repackaging Cigarettes and Politicians (MP3)

Body of Evidence (MP3)

Oceans of Money (MP3)

Cold Racism (MP3)

Unspoken Words Among Friends (MP3)

All Along the Watchtower (MP3)


The Bridge Keeper's Son (Feb '06)



Aquaman Meets Pell (MP3)


The Reigning Rein(MP3)


Johnny GM Seed (MP3)


When Generals Talk (MP3)


Madam Economy (MP3)


Hitchin' a Ride



ANZAC for Whom?



Jones, Race and Class Interests (MP3)


Bombay Nights



The Politics of Convenience and Liability (MP3)


Tears, Perks and People (MP3)


Technically Speaking(MP3)


Hicks, Burke and Howard (MP3)


The Free Market on a Lazy Sunday (MP3)


You Lose Power (MP3)


Rearranging the Deckchairs (MP3)


Educated Ignorance (MP3)


Young Liberals

go to Town (MP3)


In a Funk - A 2006 Reflection (MP3)


Our Legacy (MP3)


Away in a Manger (MP3)


The Devil and the Peso (MP3)


Charades (MP3)


Sands (MP3)


Hillbilly Dreams (MP3)

Rumsfeld's Henny Penny Excuse (MP3)

The Mufti and the Dog Whistle (MP3)

Colonialism, Palm Oil & the Solomons (MP3)

On A Mission from God (MP3)

Howard's Quadrant Memory Hole (MP3)

Greenwashing, Astroturfing and Gippsland's A-Team (MP3)

Wag The Dog (MP3)

Aussie Values the Howard Nelson Way (MP3)

Nothing Changes (MP3)

Howard's Brutal Language (MP3)