The last few weeks have surely been a nadir for the right in this country.
The Daily Mail’s attack on Ralph Miliband was both maladroit and atavistic; a shameful of recrudescence of Cold War anti-communist hysteria and casual conspiracy theorising.
And it’s still at it. On last week the Daily Mail editorialised that the Guardian was the “paper that helps Britain’s enemies” for its part in the exposure of GCHQ’s until then covert program of mass surveillance.
Such crude schematics – left hate Britain, Tories love it –are not the sole province of lunatics like Paul Dacre, but find endorsement in the speeches of David Cameron. His gratuitous, grating extolling of his love of “our country” at the Conservative party conference served no other purpose than to imply that the left did not.
And on Wednesday last week Cameron glibly parroted the baseless accusations of Andrew Parkes that the Guardian had damaged British security and called for a Commons select committee to investigate its activities. This is despite that he, Parkes and the Daily Mail cannot adduce a single instance where this has occurred.
It is clear then that the right have abrogated for themselves the authority to decide what Britain and its interests are. Implicit in this belief is that they can never truly be against Britain and that its traditions are by definition those that it chooses to uphold.
This is a mythology of the Tories as the preservers of Britishness is quite untenable though given the its severely one sided relationship with the United States which has done much to compromise the national interest.
If you read any article on the Western programs of mass surveillance – aside from this author’s – make sure it is John Lanchester’s fantastic take in the Guardian after having been granted special access to the Snowden leaks. He makes one revelation which really bring home how implicated GCHQ is in the story – and how far they have betrayed their mission to the Britain.
“an SRA, whatever it is, “authorises receipt of 2P intelligence [2P meaning second party, ie other countries in the “five eyes” alliance of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand] on UK based targets where GCHQ has no authorisation”.
Since GCHQ can spy on any foreign national it wants, this can only mean the surveillance of people on whom it isn’t legal for GCHQ to spy. That looks to me an awful lot like a means of obtaining permission to spy on people – British citizens? – outside the law.”
Lanchester is being too tactful when he says that it “looks to me an awful lot like” for it can mean nothing else.
Former Coalition minister Chris Huhne thinks that this relationship between the Americans and GCHQ is also likely in light of the security services careful misleading of the National Security Council on which he sat.
“Under this long-suspected arrangement, GCHQ would bug people that the NSA wants to bug, but is not allowed to do so because they are Americans. And the NSA would return the favour. Both could then protest their lawfulness.”
This warrantless surveillance – and let us remember that we are talking about actual content and not merely meta-data here – is a gross circumnavigation of the law. The burden of proof is on the authorities to make a case for a warrant if it wants to make surveillance on a target. If this cannot be established than the law protects the subject in question from unnecessary intrusion. The whole system is a fundamental safeguard on the power of state to harass and stifle legitimate opposition.
Furthermore one is quite entitled to be suspicious of the state when we realise how it easy it is for it to gain a warrant when it wants anyway. Under section six, paragraph four of the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000) GCHQ has recourse to “external warrants”. These are effectively generalised certificates for surveillance from the Home Secretary which allows surveillance without an individual warrant having to be sought. In practise all one has to do to commence with surveillance of a target is tick off one of a series of pre-selected legal justifications covered by a certificate – and voila. That easy. Suspicion of the individual in question does not have to be established at all for it is its own justification.
One has to wonder what kind of people can’t already be accessed in this way?
Thus the Conservatives thumb their nose the country’s tradition of common law. The Daily Mail continues to defame Ralph Miliband for wanting to “overturn everything from the monarchy to parliament, property rights and the common law” and yet have absolutely nothing to say about GCHQ’s excesses. The Daily Mail will not even deign to admit the need for debate for fear of acknowledging the unquestionable contribution of the leaks to public discourse.
That such a relationship between exists makes a lot of sense over the lack of protest our government has shown as it becomes increasingly clear how the NSA – GCHQ’s “partners” – have been spying on British citizens wholesale.
The rest of Europe and Brazil is up in arms defending their citizen’s privacy not to be spied on. Yesterday the French government made their justifiable displeasure evident by inviting the US ambassador to answer for their massive surveillance of French society – and particularly its economic interests.
And yet on the other side of the Channel the Conservatives are pathetically acquiescent. What makes us think that the Americans are not doing the same to us as they are to the French? Le Monde reported open Monday that the NSA are intercepting and storing more data in Britain than in France.
It is an interesting and unavoidable paradox: the right feel as though the British public do not have the right to be aware of the general laws that govern how much it is spied on – that in fact such awareness is, in typically Orwellian nomenclature, “undemocratic” and against the “national interest” (whose?) – and yet those outside the country have the right to know not just this, but the specificities, the actual private data of British subjects.
The Conservatives evidently think we “subjects” are not worthy of the same protection from foreign spies – in fact that said spying should be condoned through an active partnership with them.
It is so that they can circumnavigate the already lax British laws protecting our privacy from them. And also the small matter of a £100 million a year subsidy from the NSA.
WAKE UP. We have no privacy. Our government has bargained it off outside of the country as though it were some other undervalued public asset. This is not Royal Mail. It is much dearer. Once this goes it is going to be a lot harder to win back.
There was once a saying in British intelligence: “for British eyes only”. How incredibly quaint that now seems.