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Yes, Mrs May, it looks like I support terrorism

I, like many others, have been following the revelations of Edward Snowden over the past weeks. Yet it’s taken me quite a long time to get my thoughts in order and my head cleared enough to write a blogpost because, like many others, I have been astounded and outraged. Yet even more surprising than the revelations themselves (they just bring confirmation to what many have been saying for years) has been the Government’s response to them.

Just last week David Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport by the Metropolitan Police for almost 9 hours in a part Government-sanctioned fishing trip for his electronic devices and the journalistic material he was transporting on them and part journalist intimidation exercise.

Hilariously, this has all completely backfired on the Government.

Even more hilariously, the Home Office doesn’t seem to realise this. What follows is a statement from the Home Office released at the end of last week:

The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.

Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning. This is an ongoing police inquiry so will not comment on the specifics.

Ooooooh boy! Where do we start? Shall we take it sentence by sentence?

The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.

Yes, they do. Well done for recognising that. I should say that things have improved since the last time a Brazilian had a run in with British anti-terrorism law. Congratulations on not shooting this one dead.

If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.

A number of things here:

  1. The Home Office seems to be as incapable of using a dictionary as the Copyright Industry. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “stolen” as “obtained by theft” and “theft” as “the felonious taking away of the personal goods of another”. Snowden didn’t take any information away from the NSA. The NSA still has it. And so does Snowden. And the Guardian. And the public. The adjective the Home Office was looking for was “copied”. But, alas, it doesn’t hold as much power.

  2. Even if it was “stolen”, why should we care less? It’s firmly in the public interest to know how the Government is snooping on our activity, and we have a right to know.

  3. Maps. Bus timetables. Chemistry textbooks. While not quite “highly sensitive” information (which as far as I can tell is just a replacement for “highly embarrassing” information), the argument still stands: there are very many pieces of information which can be useful to terrorists but which are also hugely useful and informative to the general public. These leaks are not excluded.

  4. “The law provides them with a framework to do that.” Yes it does. Just not the one you used. Oops.

Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning.

Oh seriously! This is the sort of logical argument and reasoning one expects from a primary schooler, not a Government spokesperson. However, it’s obvious whoever wrote this has their head stuck so firmly their own arse that they wouldn’t be able to see this. Yet, if the Home Office is seriously suggesting that supporting the freedom of individuals (journalists or not) to not be harassed (either based on racial profiling, or as part of an effort to limit informed public debate) by police officers where all the rights which they would have if they were in Britain proper are removed from them, then yes, Mrs May, it looks like I support terrorism.

This is an ongoing police inquiry so will not comment on the specifics.

This seems to be the only sentence in the statement which doesn’t contain any factual, logical or grammatical errors. Well, apart from that missing pronoun. Oh, were so close!

On a slightly more serious level, the Government just doesn’t get it, either wilfully, or through sheer idiocy. People risk their lives to leak us this information not to become heroes, not to aid terrorists, but to inform and promote public debate.

Whether one supports this surveillance or not doesn’t matter. We can only have proper debate if we know what is going on, and that isn’t limited to this topic. Because of that, you should support the actions of Edward Snowden, of the Guardian, of Chelsea Manning and of any and all whistleblowers and journalists who put their lives and careers on the line to inform us of the atrocities our Governments commit and the things they hide from us.

Furthermore, there is no reason for the Government to withhold this information from us if we demand to know it (which we do), because its purpose (at least in theory) is to protect us. We, the people, should be the ones deciding how best to strike the balance between civil liberties and chilling Government surveillance.

The only reasons for the Government to restrict this information is if they are embarrassed (which Theresa May adamantly denied on Radio 4 a few days ago) or if they have sinister, ulterior, totalitarian motives. There is no other reason to deny us this information when we demand it.

Later this week I should be finishing off a letter to my MP about the detention of David Miranda, and the leaks of Edward Snowden more widely. It should be a bit more serious than the above, and I’ll be sure to post it here.

In the meantime I strongly suggest you give ”International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance” a read. It’s rather long, but contains a huge amount of useful and very true information and suggestions around Human Rights and the snooping of our communications.