Andy Worthington Talks to Voice of Russia About the Perils of Blanket Surveillance

2.10.13

Please sign and share the petition, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which, shamefully, has just under 5,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Last week, as the European Parliament’s Office of Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs released what Index on Censorship described as “a notably pointed briefing paper arguing for Europe to stop trusting American Internet services,” and Index on Censorship launched a petition on Change.org, entitled, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which was also sponsored by numerous other organizations including Amnesty International, English PEN, Article 19, Privacy International, Open Rights Group and Liberty UK, I was called by Nima Green for the radio station Voice of Russia, and asked my thoughts.

Nima’s four and half minute broadcast is available here, and below is a transcript of the broadcast, in which I was pleased to be able to get my point across that blanket surveillance is unacceptable, and that our governments should only be allowed to specifically target those they regard as suspicious in a carefully managed manner with a clear command responsibility and legislation to back it up. I don’t agree with the other speaker in the broadcast, Margaret Gilmore of the Royal United Services Institute, who tries to play down the extent to which surveillance is used.

To quote the petition, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance:”

Thanks to recent revelations we know that governments are using digital technology to monitor our emails, phone calls and the websites we visit. This is an attack on our freedom of speech and an invasion of our privacy. [We] call on our Heads of Government to clearly and unambiguously state their opposition to all systems of mass surveillance including the US’s NSA PRISM system and similar systems in several countries in Europe. Europe’s leaders have not yet taken any action to stop this abuse of our right to privacy and freedom of expression.

We call on Europe’s leaders to place this issue firmly on the agenda for the next European Council Summit in October. They need to make it clear that they will do so.

They must take action to stop this abuse of our human rights.

Below is the transcript of the Voice of Russia show:

‘People need to be clear what is being infringed’ – expert on mass spying programmes
By Nima Green, Voice of Russia, September 25, 2013

Forty human rights groups, along with public figures like Stephen Fry and author A.L. Kennedy, have called for an end to what they term industrial-scale spying by the US and the UK. Human rights groups launched a petition on Tuesday which has urged EU leaders to do more to prevent mass surveillance by agencies like the NSA and GCHQ. VoR’s Nima Green reports.

‘There are no privacy rights for non-Americans under Prism’ and the US probably places ‘no limitations on exploiting or intruding on a non-US person’s privacy.’ That is according to a damning new report commissioned by the EU, which has investigated the consequences that mass spying programmes by the US are having on EU citizens.

Mounting criticism against the activities of security agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have led to the London-based group Index on Censorship demanding an end to mass surveillance programs. Their petition has received the high profile support of many, including actor Stephen Fry, Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and activist Bianca Jagger.

Andy Worthington is an investigative journalist and historian who has written about civil liberties abuses. He says that blanket surveillance cannot continue: “I really do have a problem accepting that, because the technology facilitates it, the government should be allowed to engage in a very widespread surveillance of its own citizens and it appears to me to put the citizens of a country in the same position as people facing stop and search in the street. It is a blunt and ineffective weapon against actual crime.”

Classified files released by former CIA employee Edward Snowden have revealed that America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s electronic listening post GCHQ are spying on the public’s web and mobile phone networks. The revelations reignited the debate on the trade-off between privacy and security, leading the British Government to defend the intelligence programs as “necessary” in order to prevent terrorist threats. However, civil liberties groups have accused the US and UK of employing fearmongering to justify Orwellian snooping.

Margaret Gilmore is a counter-terrorism expert and a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank. She argues that the public need to be more realistic: “The truth is, when you put something on your e-mail, all sorts of people are accessing the fact that you are using your e-mail. It is being used for marketing, for businesses, trying to find out a bit more about your lifestyle so that they can target you to sell their goods all the time. Now what happens with GCHQ is they do have quite a bit of access to the fact e-mails are used. What they cannot do is access the content of that e-mail. In order to access content they have to get a warrant. So I think people need to be clear about what is being infringed.”

Today’s EU report on the implications of NSA activities has found that PRISM has been allowed to gather intelligence on an unprecedented scale. Yet Index on Censorship says that the public have not yet understood how far their privacy is being invaded.

Andy Worthington again: “I think there is a lot of resignation amongst people. I think there is also a group of people that says: I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid? which isn’t really what the issue is about, it’s about should they be doing this. I don’t think anyone should be complacently accepting that governments are harvesting vast amounts of data on their citizens without there being any cause for it.”

Despite heavy criticism by privacy campaigners, security experts point to the ever present challenge that police and intelligence agencies face in fighting serious organized crime and terrorism. Margaret Gilmore argues that security agencies desperately need to have access to large amounts of communications data: “The criminals — whether we’re talking about organised crime or terrorism — are using new technologies. They’re using the Internet, cyberspace more and more and more. We’ve seen it this week even in the dreadful Kenyan situation. It’s much more difficult to track even what country a terrorist or crime gang is operating out of. So it is absolutely vital they stay ahead of the game and I believe actually in many cases the intelligence agencies have not been on top of the game when it comes to new technologies.”

The just launched Index on Censorship petition has already been signed by over 3,000 people. The civil liberties group say that the public have the right to know, just how much their governments are spying on them.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I signed the Change.org petition, I wrote:

    In our courts we expect people to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. The same rules should apply to how all of us, as citizens, are treated by our governments when it comes to emails and the internet.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner wrote:

    done!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sandrine. Good to hear from you. I know I only just took notice of this petition myself, but I was rather sad to note that a petition with 40 human rights organisations behind it has not even secured 5,000 signatures yet.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Giacomella Jackie Milesi Ferretti wrote:

    Andy I guess it is because the internet is full of petitions for an enormous variety of reasons… many good ones…

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Giacomella Jackie Milesi Ferretti wrote:

    signed…

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, I was surprised that all the organisations involved hadn’t been able to count on their supporters, Giacomella. In general, I understand that we’re besieged by calls for our attention all the time – it’s the perils of being awake, when so many of our fellow citizens are glued to the TV watching some celebrity nonsense …!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Dessie Harris wrote:

    Andy hi thanks for this, absolutely wonderful, true and to the point. I have been told that employers are looking at the social websites of would be employees to ascertain what kind of activities they are engaged in before employing them. Because of this a high number of employees (in employment) are losing their jobs. We are being watched on all social networks and especially on Facebook….does not make sense to me…..next thing that will happen they would be able to tell what we are thinking about. Frightening….

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think a lot of young people aren’t aware that they should be careful what they post, Dessie, as potential employers can check them out – and not employ them, or sack them if they’re already employed. They won;t be able to tell what we’re thinking about, but they want to change our behavior, essentially. It’s another attempt to turn everyone into mindless drones.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Signed and sharing, Andy.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. That’s good to hear.

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