Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Brief incomplete stocktake on Snowden leaks issues

Whatever stance you take on Edward Snowden's actions and motives, the Guardian's dogged reporting of his leaks has revealed -
  • government security services with the aid of large commercial organisations engage in mass surveillance - collecting, processing and storing the personal data - of that large proportion of the population using and/or visible to communications networks
  • UK government - with echoes of the Spanish Inquisition's, Nazi Germany's and Mao Zedong's book burning - is prepared to be responsible for the physical destruction of mainstream press equipment 
  • UK government is prepared to threaten the press with D notices and prior restraint through the courts
  • the fourth estate - mainstream broadcasters and press - in the UK has largely been content to ignore or marginalise Guardian revelations, allowing that publication to plow an isolated furrow on the Snowden affair until a journalist's partner, David Miranda (what an appropriate name), got detained for 9 hours at Heathrow and relieved of his electronic kit under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000
  • US government via NSA reportedly route significant funds ($100 million) to UK government intelligence service GCHQ 
  • UK's GCHQ appreciate their "light oversight regime compared to the US"  
  • UK spied on G20 London summit attendees in 2009
  • US intelligence chief James Clapper lied (responded in the "least untruthful manner") to Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance
  • the secret US FISA Court's ability to oversee US spy agencies is very limited
  • the NSA have rules for circumventing democratic oversight
  • politicians who have long since lost sight of the boundaries between right and wrong, are all too willing to demonise the messengers and trot out poisonous soundbites - the innocent have nothing to fear; our critics comfort/support our enemies/terrorists; government's first duty is to protect the public; be afraid but give us the power and we'll protect you; move on there's nothing to see; ...national security...; trust us we're acting within the law - to defend the indefensible and sate their ambitions
  • the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, was sufficiently concerned to write to the UK Home Secretary about Mr Miranda's detention and the destruction of the Guardian's computers
  • the information consuming public take an essentially soporific attitude to all this 
The stories have raised fundamental questions of public interest (even if, in our world of short attention spans, the public is only superficially and transitionally interested, if at all) about -
  • security (no top secret can be secure if a million or more people have access to it as a routine part of their jobs)
  • privacy (you have none on the internet)
  • anonymity (again you have none on the internet)
  • free speech (when does a whistleblower become a traitor?; why and how is is ok to smash up a computer in the offices of the Guardian in the UK in 2013?)
  • management and oversight of the police, intelligence and security services (what are the political, legal, environmental, societal, economic, technical and architectural checks and balances, if any and are they fit for purpose?)
  • the size, power and reach of the security/intelligence/surveillance/anti-terror industrial complex
  • secret courts (FISA, FISAAA 2008; the UK now has its own secret courts courtesy of the Justice and Security Act 2013 which came into force in June)
  • circumvention of human rights laws and constitutional protections (Prism, Tempora, XKeyscore, GCHQ-NSA data sharing?)
  • dangerous normalisation of activities that would have horrified earlier generations and been condemned as the actions & infrastructure of a despotic police state if connected with the Soviet Union, East Germany, China et al