Ssshhh! We’ll have to talk quietly – they’re listening, you know. Not just listening, but watching, too. Listening to our every word and watching our every move. Online, at least. It seems those conspiracy crackpots were right all along – there really is a massive international conspiracy by secret agencies to monitor us all, just in case we’re doing anything wrong. Once again, I’d expect people to be out on the streets protesting at the revelations made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Whilst a lot of European governments seem pretty upset about it all, here in the UK everyone is as complacent as usual about being spied on by the NSA and our own GCHQ for no good reason. Really, what does it take to get people incensed these days? Well, proposing to build a supermarket on a park in Turkey or, in the case of Brazil, a failure to lower bus fares. I don’t think that here in the UK even those outrages would provoke action – you’d just get a couple of petition and a letter to the local newspaper.
But don’t worry, we have nothing to fear from our own intelligence services snooping on us – unless we’ve got something to hide. So says our illustrious Foreign Secretary, (and failed Tory Party leader who was so crap he couldn’t win an election, yet still holds high office), William Hague. Yes folks, we’re back to that age old piece of idiocy – If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear from surveillance. In which case, can we expect Mr Hague to allow us to view a live video feed from his bedroom? After all, if he has nothing to hide, he has no reason to hide what he gets up to in bed with his wife. Unless, of course, there’s some secret there – maybe they don’t share a bed, perhaps they have separate beds like Fred and Wilma in The Flintstones? Could that be what Hague’s defence of GCHQ for allegedly circumventing the UK’s legal restrictions on snooping on the electronic communications of UK citizens by simply using intelligence gathered by its US counterpart the NSA is really about – he wants to know who is speculating about his sexual orientation in e-mails, texts and phone calls? Is he really that fearful that somewhere on Facebook there’s a ‘Is William Hague a Bender?’ group that he finds it necessary to launch mass electronic surveillance of the UK’s population?
Getting back to the point, the situation isn’t any better in the US. It was dismaying to see Obama defending the indiscriminate secret surveillance of perfectly innocent US citizens by trotting out all the tired old clichés about the need for security sometimes having to outweigh the need for privacy and civil liberties. It’s all bollocks. If you have to start invading people’s privacy on this scale in the name of fighting terrorism, then the terrorists have quite clearly won. The most depressing aspect of this whole story is the number of morons out there who buy Obama and co’s schtick and happily collude in their own repression by the state. I seem to recall that back in the dark days of the Cold War, this was exactly the sort of thing we in the West used to condemn the Soviets for. We smugly crowed about how free from state surveillance and monitoring our citizens were in contrast to those of the Soviet bloc. Or perhaps I just imagined that – they’re probably busy re-writing that bit of history to better reflect current policies as I type this.
But hey, people keep saying to me, these spooks are welcome to read mye-mails and texts – they’ll be bored to death! Ha, ha! Yeah, big joke, I get it. Except, I thought that both here and in the US there was a presumption of innocence? Surely it is fundamental principal of our justice systems that the authorities don’t start rummaging through my life unless there is some evidence I might be implicated in criminal activity? Indeed, Hague seems to be saying this still is the case as only the ‘guilty’ are targeted by secret surveillance. Except that they can’t be ‘guilty’. Only a court of law can determine ‘guilt’ or innocence after hearing all the relevant evidence in a legal trial. In which case there’d be no point in watching them, as they would already have been tried and sentenced. The problem, of course, is that in reality the intelligence and security services, whether here or in the US, have little idea of who they should suspect. So, instead they just monitor everyone, indiscriminately, just in case any of us commit a crime. In which case, conveniently, they’ll already have all the information they need. The next logical step, I suppose, would be a lurch into Minority Report territory, where they use the information they glean from your communications to predict whether you are even thinking about committing a crime or doing something anti-social, and intervene to prevent you from doing it.
The bottom line here is that we seem to be slipping back into medieval notions of justice. You know, ducking suspected witches, then declaring that if they survive it is the work of the Devil and they are therefore guilty, but if they drown they’re innocent. Except nowadays it isn’t witchcraft it is ‘terrorism’ and the argument is that if you aren’t a terrorist you have to give up all your civil liberties in order that the state can prove you aren’t by snooping on you, but if you protest and invoke the very civil liberties the state is professing to protect, you must be guilty. Welcome to the ‘free’ world!
Then again, maybe we should look upon the existence of the ‘Prism’ programme as an opportunity. If ‘they’ really are monitoring our internet activity and, presumably, analysing it algorithmically, searching for particular keywords and surfing patterns, then perhaps we should give them a helping hand. Start gratuitously inserting terms like ‘jihad’ and ‘fatwah’ and names like Abu Qatada into your e-mails, texts and tweets. Just for good measure, visit a few extremist websites, join a few Facebook groups dedicated to world revolution or the like. Obviously, you’d be risking having your door kicked in by heavily armed security types and incarcerated and tortured in a third world jail, but if you alternate visiting those types of sites and making those kinds of communications with visits to sites about fluffy animals or cookery, and tweets about flower arranging, then we’ll be able to confuse their algorithms no end and render their efforts pointless. So, get surfing and tweeting! Until the next time, keep it sleazy!