22 August, 2013

Brave New World

The Snowden affair has been more interesting in the whereabouts of the leaker (who has now successfully sought asylum in Russia, a country which will have giggled at America's peccadilloes) and the more recent story of the Guardian journalist and his partner than in the actual details of the case.

It's probably worth remembering that Edward Snowden, a former operative for the American security services, revealed a comprehensive network of surveillance by the Americans and British (and others) covering private conversations over the phone, email and text.

I can't say I was very surprised about this. We knew years ago that GCHQ  would trawl the airwaves for key words. A computer technician used to send me emails finishing 'bomb, guns, explosion' and so on just to waste their time.

And I can't see that we can get along under the present islamist threat without doing something of this nature. It's not easy to put a limit on one's own rights but I believe I am entitled to know what they are looking at, but not entitled to know how they do it. As regards Mr Snowden, of course, he just released gobs of information without filtering it in accordance with these criteria (perhaps without being able to).

I have tremendous respect for the likes of Mr Snowden, and of course Bradley Manning who has been sentenced to 35 years for releasing fairly low-level information. I have no respect, however, for Mr Snowden's seeking asylum in Russia, as if it were some bastion of openness (glasnost, meaning openness, went out with Yeltsin, and there hadn't been much of it then). I rather think that these people should follow their consciousness if they believe this sort of stuff should be broadcast, but that they should accept the consequences of their actions, as Manning has done.

Then came the affair of the journalist and his partner. It emerged that the partner of a Guardian journalist who had released the Snowden stuff (the Guardian being the organ de choix for this sort of thing) was stopped at Heathrow en route from Berlin to Rio. The partner's name is Miranda, a nice name, although in this case it is the second name of a man rather than the first name of a woman.

Mr Miranda was questioned for nine hours under the Terrorism legislation and the Guardian screamed that this was attacking the innocent partner of a journalist in order to warn him off. If you had gone on holiday at that moment - to Russia, say - that is what you would have believed. However it then emerged that Mr Miranda was travelling on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, which insisted he wasn't a journalist. So what, then, was he? The Security Services thought that he might be in possession of classified information which he had couriered to a film maker in Berlin. It would be illegal to be in possession of such stuff, so they confiscated his laptop. Seems fair.

Then two things came to light. Firstly Miranda was not suspected of terrorism so they say he shouldn't be questioned under the terrorism legislation. There is espionage legislation, which wouldn't have allowed him to be questioned for quite so long. The second is that the police told senior figures in government they were doing this and the government told the CIA.

Funny name Miranda, although I repeat it is the man's surname. 'To be wondered at'.

I don't know if it is relevant, but Bradley Manning has decided to live as a woman, which presumably means he will be getting his own way all the time.

What do I think?

I want our security services intercepting things in order to protect me.

I want to know what they are allowed to intercept, what the rules are and I want to be satisfied that there is some oversight to make sure they don't overstep the mark.

I want whistle blowers to tell me things I don't know in respect of the above, and I want them subsequently to defend themselves in the Court of Public Opinion. I shall be on their side.

I don't want British Police automatically to reach for the terrorist legislation because that is the law which gives them most freedom of movement. Some 140,000 cases have existed over the last two years and without any detailed knowledge that seems excessive. And I want the police disciplined if they misuse these laws.

The Guardian, which also put up a smokescreen about laptops being destroyed by Security Services (also untrue, in that they were destroyed by Guardian staff in order to avoid an expensive legal case) has gone down in my estimation.

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it
                                      Miranda, The Tempest

No comments: