Vague ramblings

Shouting angrily at trees, shooting the messenger

Posted in Irritants, Musing by Ian Cundell on 14 June, 2013

George III had an excuse: whether through Porphyria or excessive inbreeding he was, one way or another, bonkers. This also meant, of course, that whether there was a forest around or not was largely academic.

A certain breed of writer has no such excuse. Across Twitter they can be found almost obsessed with picking holes in the revelations about the activities of the NSA and its PRISM programme. The determined and unrelenting nitpicking alas, does more to expose a manifest and deep seated jealously of Glenn Greenwald’s scoop than shed any real light on affairs. Although the avowed target is whistleblower Edward Snowden – how can someone so young, in the private sector know such stuff –  the real target is the journalist (or “blogger” as critics prefer).

I do not for one second doubt that the story that has unfolded has had errors, misinterpretations and a liberal dose of sexing-up. Apple, Microsoft and Google would be pretty crap tech companies if they couldn’t spot an illegal back door in their systems, even if the first such case was uncovered by luck and almost trivial carelessness by the hacker.

But all this is shouting at the tree while the forest is ignored.

Now, before I go on I should state that I am not the sort who is paranoid about the activities of the security services. The only person I know who works for MI5 warned friends and family against going tot he Olympics. I ignored this and had a wonderful day. Sceptical, yes: paranoid, no.

But the thing is, by fussing a flustering about the informant and the scribe the forest – intelligence agencies seeking to hoover up data without warrant or probable cause – is being ignored. You can see the danger with William Hague’s utterly stupid comment about law-abiding citizens having nothing to fear. Seriously? Ask any of the perfectly law-abiding citizens whose experience with the police forced even Margaret Thatcher to accept the need for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Ask the directors of Matrix Churchill.

Whether it is the NSA, GCHQ or  – for that matter – Google and Facebook,  there is a very real debate that needs having about who can access our personal information, why and under what conditions to which Haquespeak, or its private sector cousin Schmidtspeak, is no response. Google’s sense of entitlement and “steal first, then pay” approach is bad enough, but an overweening government apparatus is ripe for abuse and urgently in need of judicial oversight, not the political oversight Hague brags about. That is the story, not whether Snowden is a job-hopper or Greenwald an egotist.

By all means adopt a stance of intelligent scepticism to big claims, but  that is not the same as cynicism and certainly not the same as jealously of a scoop.

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