If you’ve been keeping up with this blog the last couple of months (and I hope you have, dear readers), then you’re probably well aware that when it comes to the quite complicated question of whether it is apt and justified for governments to relinquish privacy in order to combat Jihadist terrorism, I’ve been a little more hawkish than I’m usually comfortable with. Knowing what little I know about the way governments and terrorist organizations operate, i’ve expressed — through a great many posts — my skepticism towards the NSA leaks broken by journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman. I read all the articles, looked at all the available evidence, and concluded that as long as the program(s) in question relied on meta-data, were transparent — meaning had Congressional oversight — and accountable, were checked by a FISA court that actually did its job, and most importantly, did not — accidentally or otherwise — cause innocent Americans to lose their rights to privacy, I would continue to support them.
But it seems that as time goes on, truth will out. Every single one of the “as long as” parameters I noted have been totally shattered. The sheer amount of actual spying going on is so mind-numbingly huge that I don’t think anyone, even the most ardent supporters of Ed Snowden, could comprehend the magnitude; the supposed check against it all, the FISA court, has been shown to be a front for the operation, full stop; and innocent Americans have been victims of privacy loss — accidental or otherwise — over 3000 times. Do I think competent intelligence operations, if transparant and controlled, are valuable and indeed necessary in the times we live in? Of course. So do Greenwald, Snowden, Poitras, Gellman, and every other anti-surveillance state observer. But the exposed programs have been shown to be so absolutely dangerous to basic civil liberties, and so totally out of control of the people that rank abuse has become a certainty, rather than a possibility.
I still don’t know if any of these out-of-control programs have been effective in preventing terrorist attacks. Intelligence officials affirm that they have, but without proof we’ll never really know. What I do know, though, is that by detaining his partner for 9 hours under a stop-and-frisk like anti-terrorism statute, the British Government more or less vindicated everything Glenn Greenwald has been saying and writing:
The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
David was eventually released, of course, but all of his digital possessions were confiscated — including his “mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles”. One of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers, Michael Mansfield, had this to say to Reuters in response to the insanesly stupid act by British authorities:
“The detention of David Miranda is a disgrace and reinforces the undoubted complicity of the UK in U.S. indiscriminate surveillance of law-abiding citizens. The fact that Snowden, and now anyone remotely associated with him, are being harassed as potential spies and terrorists is sheer unadulterated state oppression.”
Greenwald — justifiably incensed, but still controlled — was a little more direct in his reponse:
“They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism,” he wrote in a column in the Guardian, adding that Miranda was given no access to a lawyer.
“If the UK and U.S. governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively … they are beyond deluded.”
Glenn’s partner flew to Berlin to meet with Laura Poitras on the Guardian’s dime, but that hardly makes a difference here. He was acting, then, as a journalist — not a fucking terrorist. The New York Times reported that Miranda was helping Greenwald and Poitras exchange documents, later confirmed by Glenn:
Mr. Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Mr. Greenwald’s investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald said. Ms. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Mr. Greenwald. Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Mr. Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden.
“I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England too. I have many documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did.”
- Glenn Greenwald
As well he should.
(Photo: Flickr user Inf-Lite Teacher)