Since the first reporting on documents disclosed by Edward Snowden in June 2013, a number of legal challenges to GCHQ’s surveillance practices have been initiated in the UK. Today, in response to one of those applications, from Liberty and several other organisations, the court that oversees the GCHQ ruled against the UK intelligence services for the first time in its controversial 15 year history.
Originally published in the Guardian, 21 February 2014
Today, an ordinary person can’t pick up the phone, email a friend or order a book without comprehensive records of their activities being created, archived, and analysed by people with the authority to put you in jail or worse. I know: I sat at that desk. I typed in the names.
When we know we’re being watched, we impose restraints on our behaviour – even clearly innocent activities – just as surely as if we were ordered to do so. The mass surveillance systems of today, systems that pre-emptively automate the indiscriminate seizure of private records, constitute a sort of surveillance time-machine – a machine that simply cannot operate without violating our liberty on the broadest scale. And it permits governments to go back and scrutinise every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever spoken to, and derive suspicion from an innocent life. Even a well-intentioned mistake can turn a life upside down.
To preserve our free societies, we have to defend not just against distant enemies, but against dangerous policies at home. If we allow scarce resources to be squandered on surveillance programmes that violate the very rights they purport to defend, we haven’t protected our liberty at all: we have paid to lose it.
Originally published 18/3/14 in the Guardian
I am humbled by and grateful to the students of Glasgow University for this historic statement in defence of our shared values.
In a world where so many of our developing thoughts and queries and plans must be entrusted to the open internet, mass surveillance is not simply a matter of privacy, but of academic freedom and human liberty.