Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

The response to the Snowden revelations must be more government, not less

11/07/2013, 02:13:30 PM

by Sam Fowles

I wasn’t that bothered when I read that GCHQ could basically have seen everything I do on the internet. Unless they’re concerned that I might be receiving secret messages from Ayman al-Zawahiri encoded in cat videos or decide to prosecute me for using a friend’s username on Lexis Nexus at law school, I can’t think of much that would interest them.

But I was wrong. Edward Snowden’s revelations should terrify. They should terrify because, with more crimes in statute and case law than even the most eminent criminal lawyer can learn (and this is before one even gets into torts), most of us would probably be guilty of something if someone was prepared to keep us under surveillance for long enough.

But they should also terrify because they will contribute to a growing distrust in “government”. Not “the government” as in the one which we have at any one time, but “government” as a concept. They should terrify because losing faith in “government” translates all too easily into losing faith in democracy.

More and more people don’t trust government whoever is running it. Apparently all politicians are liars, all public institutions are corrupt, the state is only ever out to get you.

The irony is that the left, traditionally the side of the political divide most associated with “big government” has most reason to fear it. For the last two years the Guardian has painstakingly revealed the scale to which the British state has spied on left wing political groups. The focus has been on the impact on individuals, the affairs between undercover officers and the activists they betrayed, the children conceived in relationships based on lies, the dead infants whose identities were stolen.

What hasn’t been mentioned nearly enough is that the state used undercover agents to spy on activists who were simply exercising their democratic right to disagree with those in power. These operations didn’t result in high profile prosecutions and they had absolutely nothing to do with protecting us from dangerous criminals.

This wasn’t Al Qaeda or the IRA or even the National Front. The worst that groups of this type have ever been convicted of is occupying a big chimney for a bit.

For this, five received conditional discharges and the rest got 18 months community. Hardly the stuff to threaten the peace of the kingdom. Yet someone in government felt it was necessary to embed multiple agents for up to twenty years. We’ve all agreed this is bad. Someone needs to ask why it was done.

These weren’t isolated incidents either. Along with Snowden’s revelations came the news that the police embedded undercover agents in order to smear the Lawrences.

That bears repeating: the Metropolitan police went to the expense of a full undercover operation. the target: an aging black couple who’s son had just been murdered. Their crime: criticising the Metropolitan Police. It was just a few years earlier that South Yorkshire police had mounted a campaign of defamation (including 95 prosecutions, all of which failed) after they brutally attacked picketing minors at Orgreave.

What unites these victims of the unfettered aggression of a shadow state? They expressed left wing views. Where were the infiltrations of the National Front, the BNP the EDL or even the fox hunting lobby?

All of these groups actively expressed plans to break the law. Some still do. It turns out that dissent is permitted in this country, even violent dissent. So long as it’s dissent of the right kind.


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