2007 - 2021

The End of Privacy


Theresa May, warning Scotland

The idea that a post-Britain Scotland would be less secure than one associated with British foreign policy misadventure has been derided. Douglas Stuart Wilson explores what we mean by ‘the national interest’.

Many of us must have suspected that the State was engaged in surveillance activities and spying, and some of us might have wondered whether some prurient public servant was monitoring our phone-calls and wading through our email, having availed himself of the excuse that the “national interest” required it. The question, in terms of spying, was always about the degree. That some spying was done was obvious; that everybody was being spied on, was not so.

But since the revelations by the valiant Edward Snowden, and the equally brave work of the excellent Glenn Greenwald, to whom Snowden leaked the classified NSA documents, now we know that we live in a surveillance state, and knowing something is completely different to merely suspecting it.

The difference between knowing and suspecting is the difference between giving the State the benefit of the doubt, and believing, henceforth, as most of us will, that the State will have at its disposal everything you write or say over a fibre optic cable or via the airwaves when it feels like it.

How, after the Snowden revelations, can anybody trust the State and a single word about things done in the name of “national security”? That expression must surely be the misnomer of our time: national insecurity is what has been running like wildfire throughout Western society over the last few months.

I, myself, simply don’t buy this idea expressed on various occasions in the mainstream press that the public is not really bothered about mass surveillance. On the contrary, I think many people are bothered and even angered by it, but don’t really know what to do about it. And that unease is not misplaced.

Contrary to what our government would have us believe, in the tragic, bloody and nightmarish affairs of twentieth century Europe, it was the State, and not any terrorist group, which always posed the greatest danger to democracy, to civilization, and to human dignity. Whether in the extreme form of Stalin’s murderous reign of totalitarian terror, or Hitler’s psychopathic plan to conquer Europe and exterminate the European Jews, it was the State and State officials who carried out mass atrocities against the people.

The United States of America, “the leader of the free world” has also chosen on too many occasions to completely abandon the democratic principles of its Founding Fathers; its involvement in the notorious Operation Condor saw a full-scale assault on democracy in South America launched in the 1970’s, leading, among others, to the fascist dictatorial regimes of Pinochet’s Chile and the Argentinean military junta – which would later go on to invade the Falkland Islands – and lead to the murder, torture, disappearance and rendition of thousands of innocent people. John Pilger’s The War on Democracy should leave nobody in any doubt about how little democratic scruples seem to bother some CIA operatives.

To offer reasonable safeguards against the illegal and immoral actions of the State, we need a written Constitution in an independent, democratic Scottish Republic to safeguard the rights of Scottish citizens. This need has been starkly borne out by the response to the Snowden revelations on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the United States of America, whose Declaration of Independence was the most progressive and liberal document of its day, and a third of whose signatories were either Scottish or of Scottish descent, they have the First Amendment, which provides a Constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of speech.

In Britain, on the other hand, with our ramshackle collection of laws instead of a Constitution, and rights which can be amended or abandoned at the drop of a Lord’s hat, we have the offices of The Guardian being raided by M15 and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, being ordered to destroy the files containing the details of the Snowden revelations. And having no choice but to comply with that bullying. The Guardian and Rusbridger deserve great credit for the part they have played in the Snowden revelations. They have done their job and proved the point that “national interest” is not something which should be left to just governments to decide.

The British State has form in this. It banned Spycatcher the memoirs of the spy Peter Wright back in the 1980’s, and placed a gagging order on The Guardian and The Observer then too. Nor should it be forgotten that the European Court of Human Rights subsequently found that the Britain had breached the European Convention of Human Rights in restricting freedom of the press, at some cost to the tax-payer.

If all of this were not enough, we have the irony of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, coming up to Edinburgh yesterday, to deliver the latest chapter of one the most tedious serialisations in the history of television, Project Fear, warning us that we might be shut out of the illegal, immoral arrangements of British intelligence gathering. Maybe somebody ought to have reminded Theresa May that James Bond’s father was a Scotsman, and his greatest incarnation on the screen was played by Sean Connery.

As for the Unites States of America, where so many Scots have friends, family or descendants, it has for a long time now been betraying the admirable principles on which its Constitution was founded. The US may still be the world’s number one in terms of “hard power” – military, economic and diplomatic power – but its star has long since been on the wane in terms of “soft power”, which is to say, its appeal and its powers of seduction. America is no longer the Promised Land, the land of freedom and the bastion of human rights; it has further degenerated with the “War on Terror” into a centre of a mass surveillance which Stalin would have been proud of, with a gulag in Guantanamo to match.

What, at a personal level, can we do about the end of privacy? Perhaps treat the State in the same way that the State has been treating us all this time: which is to say, with suspicion, mistrust and a fair degree of contempt, and to guard the little privacy left to us as jealously as we can. There always was something much more elegant about the world when people wrote letters to each other rather than emails, and maybe we have to go back to that, even those of us “who have nothing to hide” to quote one of the glibbest utterances ever delivered by a Cabinet Minister in a Parliamentary chamber in the Western World.

Almost everybody has something to hide, or better said, something they would rather not reveal, something personal and almost invariably innocuous. That is what privacy is. And that is why it is considered a fundamental human right protected under Article 8 of the European Charter of Human Rights. Which just happens to be the very same Charter Theresa May talked about withdrawing the UK from at the last Conservative Party Conference.

Finally, a thought for Edward Snowden, a man who has risked so much for our liberty and freedom and who deserves our deepest gratitude. With Europe’s leaders engaged in the farcical charade of shock and outrage at NSA surveillance activities across the continent, an independent Scotland should do justice to Snowden and offer him asylum here.

Snowden has sacrificed a great deal to guard our freedom and defend the founding principles of democracy and the United States of America which are being trampled on by an elite who fail to see that they are engaged in activities which radically undermine the same ideas they claim to believe in.

By offering Snowden asylum, we would also do justice to Scotland’s own democratic tradition. And since the USA is an ally, how could Washington complain?

Finally, in terms of the referendum, the Snowden affairs illuminates yet again just what we are voting for next year. Do we want to be citizens of an independent Scotland which safeguards basic human rights like the right to privacy and freedom of speech in a written Constitution? Or would we rather carry on at the mercy of what GCHQ, Downing Street and the British State consider the “national interest”, even when that amounts to a systematic mass violation of the very same rights which democracy is founded upon, and relies upon to work properly?


Comments (13)

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  1. picpac67 says:

    Indeed, the state as enemy of the people – the mirror image of their view of the people as the enemies of the state. It’s not just Big Brother surveillance we should be concerned about. Orwell got something else right – state-sponsored false flag terrorism. Winston’s friend Julia suspects that the bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. The “war on terror” is pure propaganda based on the cleverly concocted myth of large-scale Islamic terrorism for which there is not an iota of proof. But the lies have been swallowed and repeated until they have the appearance of truth. An independent Scotland certainly needs a written constitution with effective citizen powers to prevent the corruption of the state by vested interests, be they political, military, commercial or other. It would also need effective oversight and control of any equivalents of MI5 and MI6. “National security’ must not be used as the smokescreen for state-sponsored terrorism.

  2. Jim says:

    It really is a well known fact, sadly it would appear only among some, that the British state has not only been listening into our ‘phonecalls for decades (a friend and I would always throw in the word “semtex” when talking on the ‘phone during political campaigning just for the hell of it and had our homes watched), but all of our emails have obviously been screened as well.

    They even clear viruses on your PC in order to continue knowing what you are up to!

    They simply collect the information of most people but are unable to scrutinise it.

    Let’s give them the message that they have absolutely no right to spy on people that campaign peacefully and democratically for the basic human right of self-determination,, that they have no right to spy on people for being republican, that they have no right to spy on people for being environmentalists.

    Semtex, Semtex, Semtex. Mention it in every ‘phonecall to keep them busy!

    1. jdmank says:

      so all you have to do is say the word SEMTEX
      and you get a free security sweep?

      so what happens if you use the word JIHAD?
      do they give you a free virus protection?

      SO McAfee, Norton and the like are no longer necessary, you just have to keep saying SEMTEX AND JIHAD and jobs a good un wow

      btw I could do with you setting a system restore point for me guys, and maybe do a wee bit o housekeeping as well,
      dont want you sitting for hours waiting to see what I’m going to say cos my computers slow as shit

  3. zedeeyen says:

    Can you imagine the howls of protest both from the Great British public as well as the establishment, had Snowden’s leak uncovered the EU rather than the UK spying on its own citizens on such a scale?

  4. Notice she is wearing Black Watch. Unionist government tartan.

  5. Wullie says:

    A white van should have been hired here, with suitable posters telling this silly woman to go home!

    1. jdmank says:

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha
      maybe a wee sign saying 6 Westminster MP’S have been sent packing in the last week?

  6. jdman says:

    I have a question
    that sign
    “for hard working people ”
    does that include Gordon Brown
    late of her majesties government retired

  7. I like the idea of Scotland offering Snowden asylum, but since Salmond has been breaking ties with Westminster, we’ve also seen him trying to form new bonds with America, so I can’t see the current administration doing something like this . . . the US administartion is obsessed with catching Snowden and Assange, and Snowden wouldn’t be in Scotland for long . . .

    Also note that as ever the US are one step ahead of the rest of the world, and aside from persecution of Glenn Greenwald, they have had a former Guardian journalist Barrett Brown locked up in Texas for over 400 days with no trial and no bail, because he was reporting on what Snowden was talking about, for years before we’d ever heard of Snowden

    See more at http://freebarrettbrown.org/

    This is very good article, DSW, thanks, concise comment on privacy and its necessity, thank you.

    1. Peter,

      Many thanks.

      I don’t think anybody has fully realized the possible consequences of the illegal intelligence gathering activities of the UK and the USA, along with their European allies.

      Snowden is the good “rogue” information NSA contractor, the guy who risks everything so that the truth gets out. A brave man, a principled man.

      But what about the bad rogue NSA contractor, which is statistically much more likely? If Snowden has made copies of all of this information, who might else have done so as well? And copies of those copies?

      How much is that information worth on the black market? Just think, to be able to call up the whole internet history of this aspiring politicians, that bothersome journalist, an intellectual who gets in the way, and artists who stands out, a celebrity with something to hide, the list is endless.. And – why not? – Angela Merkel herself.

      Blackmail, collusion with international mafias, possibly even with international terrorists, anything is possible.

      The US supported the overthrow of democracy in Argentina in the 70;s and we ended up not much later with the Falklands War. Not much later, they financed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to fight the Russians and that led, indirectly, Bin Laden and 9/11.If you pick and choose when to be democratic, you can expect undemocratic outcomes which can be disastrous.

      The incompetent people who run the NSA and GCHQ have created a situation which is not reminiscent so much of Orwell, as Kafka. An internal security apparatus which has created a potentially a downloadable file on everybody on the internet, a power structure which is all-powerful but which nobody is really in control of, and has probably been copied many times over.

      Orwell is for the conspiracy theorists. Kafka, who was so far ahead of his time, knew that it was bureaucracy, stupidity, ignorance and power which, mixed together, makes up the real threat.

      Heads should roll at the very highest level, the political level, the heads of short-sighted, immoral and delinquent bunglers.

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