What would you do if you found out the work you are doing is helping Lybian and Syrian dictatorships to spy, arrest, torture and kill opponents?

Below, James Dunne shares his story of what occurred over the last 2 years and how his life changed.

Civil Disobedience of James Dunne

In December 2012 I was fired by my employer, a hi-tech company working with the French government. I was fired for denouncing surveillance contracts with dictatorships. In particular, a contract with the Syrian regime of Bachar El-Assad, signed in November 2009 and still active in November 2011. For legal reasons I will not go beyond this date.

As a subcontractor, we had also been involved in a surveillance contract with the Libyan regime of Colonel Kadhafi, from April 2007 to October 2008.

When I learned the identities of these clients through leaks in the press, I knew my professional life as I knew it was over.

ania volovoque photographer
When faced with a situation of this sort, the decision is actually quite easy – even automatic. It’s about who you are and what values are important to you.
What is more difficult, is seeing through the decision and assuming the consequences.
From having an interesting job and colleagues we appreciate, we find ourselves in difficulty: legally, financially & humanly.

The most important thing at the beginning of such an adventure is to surround yourself with professional help.

Rapidly, I had the support of a psychologist who helped me structure and live, well, what seemed at first like a formless mess. I was also defended by a well known & respected lawyer.
The next stages are about getting everything as clear as possible. This was perhaps the most difficult period. When at our lowest, when our health is challenged, and  when our world is turned upside-down, we have to somehow find the strength to see things from other viewpoints and angles and from a legal perspective.
What are the most important issues? What do you want this story to be about?
You suddenly realize that while the underlying ethical questions are not about you, and the story is not about you, your personal experience has become a catalyst for these things. And you feel a responsibility to get it right.
The real issues are human rights issues, the exportation of surveillance equipment to dictatorships & police states, and the consequences for dissidents or opponents of these regimes, for militants & activists, and for freedom of expression in general. And these are the real victims.

It’s important therefore not to consider oneself the victim, and to believe in what you’re doing.

Of course you become a target in such a situation. There are vested interests, and powerful adversaries, who would prefer that all this go under the rug. You need to grow a thick skin quite quickly.

What was important for me was to avoid making the issues personal ones:

I have never denigrated those who try to sully my reputation;

I’ve tried instead to remain targeted on the real issues.

This all began in a pre-Snowden era, when mass surveillance was not a central issue like it is today. I was fired in December 2012, and auditioned as a witness at the French Court’s Crimes against Humanity division on May 25, 2013. A few days later, the world discovered Edward Snowden and suddenly these issues became central to all of us.
Snowden has been an inspiration ever since, even if the adventure was already well underway for me at that stage. His case, reflective & ethical stance helped my own.

I’m very thankful to him for that, and for being the kind of whistle-blower he is.

My bedside book through all of this is Thoreau’s Journal. And perhaps my education counted for something in my decision: unlike my colleagues, who were all computer engineers, my education is literary & philosophical.
Thank you James for sharing your story.
There is a chapter about James Dunne’s case in the book by his lawyer William Bourdon, A Brief Guide to Civil Disobedience, Petit Manuel de Désobéissance Citoyenne, JCLattès, published in February 2014 (Paris), entitled Une histoire exemplaire.
Photographed by Ania Volovique for Discovering Wings.

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