The saga of Edward Snowden’s extra-legal whistleblowing continues.
The British government detained David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow airport. He is the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and the British government has been pretty unhappy about the Guardian reporting on Edward Snowden’s leaks — documents which they have access to. (Recently, the British government pointlessly destroyed hard-drives belonging to the Guardian despite knowing there were copies of all the leaked documents and the newspaper could easily continue its reporting without the hardware.)
To put it plainly, the British government used an anti-terror law that gives it extraordinary powers in order to detain a man for knowing someone they don’t like. The common-sense complaint that such laws could be abused has been heard since 9/11 while those in power insisted that the innocent have nothing to fear. As Simon Jenkins points out, the detention of David Miranda proves this to be absolutely false.
For me, the most interesting and terrifying thing about the NSA story has to be the inevitable corruption of anyone who has the boundless ability to spy on citizens’ communications. The temptation to spy on people for personal reasons, to commit blackmail, extortion, and generally wield the threat of ruining the lives of others must be overpowering. Similarly, the power to detain innocent civilians without cause clearly offers temptations of its own.
Simon Jenkins has very good article in the Guardian about the ongoing story and what it he thinks means. An excerpt:
…the modern state is gathering, storing and processing for its own ends electronic communication from around the world; far more serious, it reveals that this power has so corrupted those wielding it as to put them beyond effective democratic control. It was not the scope of NSA surveillance that led to Snowden’s defection. It was hearing his boss lie to Congress about it for hours on end.
Last week in Washington, Congressional investigators discovered that the America’s foreign intelligence surveillance court, a body set up specifically to oversee the NSA, had itself been defied by the agency “thousands of times”. It was victim to “a culture of misinformation” as orders to destroy intercepts, emails and files were simply disregarded; an intelligence community that seems neither intelligent nor a community commanding a global empire that could suborn the world’s largest corporations, draw up targets for drone assassination, blackmail US Muslims into becoming spies and haul passengers off planes.
The United States and its British allies continue to use their post-9/11 powers in order to protect those same powers while citizens continue to lose faith in (and grow scared of) their governments. Whether all of this comes to a climax or slowly loses the public’s interest remains to be seen.