Ignorance Is Strength?

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“Privacy has never been an absolute right,” he said, “and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions. 

– Robert Hannigan, the newly appointed director of GCHQ

I agree with Mr Hannigan, if we all believed privacy to be an absolute right we would not have applauded the actions of Wiki-Leaks. If we were obsessed with privacy and unreservedly condemned those who breached it, we could never have learned about the illegal activities of the US and other great powers. As Mr Hannigan knows, knowledge is power and the Machiavellian behaviour of the secret services, as sanctioned by the government, becomes intolerable once you know what they’ve been up to. Hence Mr Hannigan’s criticism of Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden whose ‘revelations’ triggered off an ACLU lawsuit against the NSA and led to a UN Inquiry, into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies. Without Mr Snowden’s invasions of GCHQ & the NSA’s privacy, we would never have known that the right to privacy was barely considered a right at all, by the security services. Most of us at grass roots level were grateful for that revelation, not so, many Conservative politicians.

Hannigan, alleges that young foreign jihadis in Syria and Iraq have benefited from leaks by the former American intelligence contractor. His words are not dissimilar to what was said when the Guardian Newspaper published Snowden’s revelations. The response of the UN? That these allegations needed to be made subject to closer scrutiny (doesn’t sound as though that has happened).

‘Isis is the first terrorist group whose members have grown up on the internet. They are exploiting the power of the web to create a jihadi threat with near-global reach. The challenge to governments and their intelligence agencies is huge’ (Hannigan,GCHQ).

ISIS uses the internet and because of its simplistic and idealistic creed ISIS is popular and how is this popularity expressed? The way most popularity is, through copious interactions with social media. So how about shutting down ISIS social media presence? Would that require technology companies giving a rubber stamp to government agencies to snoop on everybody and nobody? Hardly. They would only be focussing on the terrorist groups that mattered, as opposed to creating terrorists out of thin air.

‘Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard. These are supplemented by freely available programs and apps adding extra layers of security, many of them proudly advertising that they are “Snowden approved” (Hannigan).

GCHQ and its new boss are gutted because it’s suddenly so much harder to track and eavesdrop on the communications of terrorist groups? A UN Special Rapporteur tasked with the job of investigating illicit GCHQ & NSA surveillance activities. A civil liberties union incensed enough to sue the NSA. A Home Affairs Select Committee querying whether GCHQ had been made subject to insufficient oversight. All are these are clear markers indicating that in their surveillancing the NSA & GCHQ went too far. They can hardly blame technology companies therefore for being wary of aiding them in their ‘war on terror’.