Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett comments below on the response in Britain to the leaks by NSA Whistleblower, Edward Snowden, published by the Guardian.
Snowden revealed an abuse of state power. So why are we criticising the Guardian?
It’s been nearly six months since the initial revelations by Edward Snowden that have gradually led to the unveiling of a vast, intensely secret programme of digital surveillance by the US and UK governments on their own people, citizens of many other countries, and on ‘friendly’ states, much of it of dubious legality.
The value of his bravery in revealing, at considerable personal cost, the spread of digital spying has led to his nomination for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Around the world the debate about the revelations goes on. In the US, there are moves by a bipartisan Senate group to rein in what they see as an out-of-control National Security Agency (NSA). Heads have rolled at the top of the NSA.
In the European Union, in member states, and in many other states around the world, there’s grave concern about what’s seen as a grave betrayal of trust. The EU is set to agree newly-tightened data protection rules, with the aim summed up by the MEP leading it, Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green. “As parliamentarians, as politicians, as governments we have lost control over our intelligence services,” he said. “We have to get it back again.”
Argentina and Brazil have agreed on a defence alliance. It’s being taken very seriously indeed. Unfortunately, that seems to be almost everywhere except Britain. There’s much we could be debating…;
We might want to be debating the sovereignty implications of the £100 million payments from the Americans to GCHQ for use of our more lenient legal framework, with performance indicators to be met – that’s US performance indicators for the UK agency. The term ‘puppet’ comes to mind).
We might be debating a digital bill of rights (something also mooted in the US), to fill the gaping lacuna between the world for which our current legislation was written and the one we live in today. That could ensure that the hard-fought rules agreed for physical and telephonic surveillance – primarily that individuals must be selected for targeting rather than mass collection of data – are brought into the digital world.
We might be debating how we could improve the supervision of GCHQ. That’s currently done by senior judges – but it clearly hasn’t worked. We need to add in some senior, respected, truly independent figures, known for their advocacy of human rights and human dignity, to provide some confidence that the establishment isn’t simply rubberstamping decisions.
We might be asking how we got to this point, and who let it happen, since we now know the Cabinet didn’t know.
Instead, we’ve seen a concerted attack from other press on the Guardian (no, I’m not going to give them the traffic by linking to them, but you know who they are). This week we’ll see a debate in the Commons called by backbench Tory MP Julian Smith on The Guardian newspaper and its impact on national security. It seems the Commons home affairs committee (supposed to scrutinise the government) is, on the suggestion of the prime minister, also going to investigate a similar topic.
Shooting the messenger has a very long history. Plutarch tells us about Tigranes, who on being told bad news chopped off the messenger’s head and subsequently knew nothing of future threats.
Since we’ve already got cause for grave concerns about the behaviour of our security services, we need to encourage revelations of wrongdoing – encourage, indeed force, openness into some very dark corners indeed. We should not be attempting to stamp on the messengers.
What we now know about actions of the NSA and GCHQ leaves our democracy, our societies, in a better place than when we didn’t know. We have, broadly, free, democratic societies. We want to keep them that way.
There are individuals around the world who’d like to attack that, certainly, and we need to defend ourselves from them, but that defence must not destroy the very freedom and liberty we’re trying to protect.