I first mentioned the NSA surveillance as part of my piece on balancing privacy and security. For those that haven’t followed the story, heres a quick summary. An NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, stole a number of classified documents that detailed widespread government surveillance in the US. He flew to Hong Kong before the story was broken. The US was unable to have him extradited and he then flew to Russia at which point the US revoked his passport, leaving him stuck at the airport for a number of weeks. Russia, and a few South American countries, refused to bow to US demands and eventually granted him asylum. He’s hidden in Russia and the US has to deal with the fallout of their secrets being exposed.
As an aside, the piece on privacy and security was partly to outline some of the potential concerns with a DNA database. Despite there being potential for abuse, I do think a DNA database is a useful tool for fighting crime and I did link to a petition to pass legislation to regulate it in South Africa. I can announce now that the DNA bill has been passed and now we just need to hope it is correctly implemented and the information secured.
With the NSA’s spying revealed it’s quite interesting to listen to the stories that come out now; about the way the US and UK are treating the journalists involved and the twisted defences of the spying. For example, the US reassured it’s citizens that they were not spying on people in the US (not so reassuring for anyone else) and that everything was legal (which, considering what they were doing, should be concerning all on its own). Needless to say, they lied. In 2012 there were 2776 incidents where the NSA violated their own rules. So the number of people who’s privacy they violated is even higher. Here’s my favourite part:
But to call those violations frequent, according to the agency, would be to misunderstand the scale of its operations: “You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” a senior N.S.A. official told the paper. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.” We spy so much that the math gets hard; even thousands of privacy and legal violations can’t really be held against us.
Perhaps this will come to be known as the NSA defence. “Yes, three break-ins, two attempted murders and arson looks bad. But, if you look at the percentage of laws, I’ve followed the vast majority of them.” It doesn’t quite work that way.
So, where does the UK come into all of this? Well, they’re doing their part to help the US by resorting to intimidating journalists. Not only have UK authorities literally smashed computers at the Guardian newspaper but they detained Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, for nine hours under a section of the law written for counter-terrorism. Glenn Greenwald is the journalist who received the leak from Edward Snowden. In addition, on Miranda’s release, they confiscated all his electronics. Again, he was never charged with anything.
If there is any silver lining to this it is that it’s allowing people to see the decline of the Western Hemisphere. Now we just need to do something about it.
In this respect, I can say this to David Cameron. Thank you for clearing the air on these matters of surveillance. You have now demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that these anti-terror provisions are capable of rank abuse. Unless some other facts emerge, there is really no difference in kind between you and Vladimir Putin. You have used police powers granted for anti-terrorism and deployed them to target and intimidate journalists deemed enemies of the state.
You have proven that these laws can be hideously abused. Which means they must be repealed. You have broken the trust that enables any such legislation to survive in a democracy. By so doing, you have attacked British democracy itself. What on earth do you have to say for yourself? And were you, in any way, encouraged by the US administration to do such a thing?