Time and again, the security and intelligence agencies, and GCHQ in particular, have used national security as a means of stifling information and debate. It later transpired that their claims were spurious. Here are some examples.
The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual.
Maybe some mid-level bureaucrat felt that such misuse of power was the best way to draw attention to the whole fiasco and encourage others to stop it. The alternative – that the UK was blindly responding to US pressure – is surely inconceivable.
Jay Rosen poses the fundamental question:
Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver?
Good article by Robert Zubrin proposing that the United States should give former NSA contractor Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in exchange for congressional testimony:
Pleading, whining, screaming, or demanding that Russia extradite him is simply absurd. Russia never has extradited any defector, and never will, because if it ever did, that would be the last defector it would ever get.
One must therefore ask the conductors of the chorus chanting “Death to Snowden” why they prefer to have the analyst talking to Russia, Iran, and North Korea rather than to Congress. Is it because the NSA regards the holders of America’s purse strings as the greater threat? If so, it would appear that the agency’s leadership has misplaced its priorities.
On the other hand, Snowden may be lying, or grossly exaggerating, in his accusations of deeply subversive anti-constitutional actions by the NSA. If so, he has done real harm to American freedom by chilling the public with unnecessary fear of a nonexistent panopticon state. Such falsehoods therefore need to be refuted. The NSA has issued denials. Unfortunately, however, because the agency previously lied to Congress and the public about the very existence of the domestic-spying program, those denials have no credibility. If the NSA is now being truthful, it needs to establish that by taking Snowden on in open confrontation.
As The New York Times reports:
The National Security Agency’s dominant role as the nation’s spy warehouse has spurred frequent tensions and turf fights with other federal intelligence agencies that want to use its surveillance tools for their own investigations, officials say.
Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.
Intelligence officials say they have been careful to limit the use of the security agency’s troves of data and eavesdropping spyware for fear they could be misused in ways that violate Americans’ privacy rights.
Of course it will spread, just like before. For example, The Guardian reported how Lady Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5 was “astonished” when she found out in 2008 how many organisations were getting access to the powers authorised eight years earlier under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
When RIPA was introduced … I assumed wrongly that the activities authorised by that legislation would be confined to the intelligence and security agencies, the police, and Customs and Excise. The legislation was drafted at the urgent request of the intelligence and security community so that its techniques would be compatible with the Human Rights Act when it came into force in 2000. I can remember being astonished to read that organisations such as the Milk Marketing Board, and whatever the equivalent is for eggs, would have access to some of the techniques. On the principle governing the use of intrusive techniques which invade people’s privacy, there should be clarity in the law as to what is permitted and they should be used only in cases where the threat justified them and their use was proportionate.
In the late 90s I was a great fan of Meet The Press. Like the US, it’s changed a lot since then. A new low was last week’s questioning of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald about Edward Snowden.
When asked by Erik Wemple of The Washington Post for his thoughts on how the rest of the media has greeted his stuff, Greenwald responded:
They’re just courtiers doing what courtiers have always done: defending the royal court and attacking anyone who challenges or dissents from it. That’s how they maintain their status and access within it. That’s what courtiers to power, by definition, do.
Courtiers. Exactly right, I’d say.
Roy Greenslade in The Guardian asks:
“Why did the majority of the British press ignore a story regarded as hugely important by newspapers in the United States and Europe and, for the matter, the rest of the world?”
Is it a collective belief among a largely right-of-centre press that The Guardian is beyond the pale? This view emerged in a Daily Mail piece by Stephen Glover in which he spoke of the paper being so “driven by its own obsessions” as to “carelessly reveal the important secrets of the British government.
The Mail holds aloft the banner of press freedom when citing the public’s right to know about Hugh Grant’s private life, but it appears to find it unacceptable for a paper to inform the people that their privacy has been compromised by their own government.”
Fair point about the Daily Mail’s prejudices but the Government D notice might have affected coverage as well.