"The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power."
—W. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
When the scale of global surveillance carried out by the NSA (USA) and by the GCHQ (UK) was exposed by Edward Snowden through The Guardian, people around the world were shocked to discover how two established democracies routinely resort to methods that they have long deplored — and rightly so — in dictatorships, theocracies and other single-party arrangements. In a previous article, I lamented the fact that by carrying out this surveillance on an unprecedented scale, the US and the UK are, in fact, converging with the very regimes they criticize. All this constitutes what I have termed "the global rape of privacy". One could have expected a huge outcry, but so far reactions have been restricted to just a few media outlets. Some Internet experts have questioned this meekness, e.g. Byron Holland on his "Public Domain" blog, under the title "Where is the outrage?”.
Things are turning out to be even worse than we thought. On the 5th of September 2013, three media outlets, in close coordination, published a further installment of Snowden's findings, this time about the illegal action by NSA and GCHQ to circumvent or corrupt most of the encryption methods currently available for the protection of business data and user privacy. In these articles, The Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica describe and analyse the incriminated methods. They reveal the unprecedented extent to which the NSA and the GCHQ have been allowed, or have allowed themselves, to record and scrutinize individuals' lives and society at large, and not only military or terrorist activities. These most recent articles reveal, among other things, "project Bullrun" (operated by NSA) and "project Edgehill" (run by GCHQ). Here are a few questions and observations.
1) THE "GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR" IS NO LONGER PUT FORWARD AS THE OVERRIDING PRETEXT FOR GLOBAL SURVEILLANCE. In itself, this is a terrifying discovery, which implies that the methods now in use have acquired a logic, even a justification of their own, beyond the "forces of evil" battle-cry of the Cheney Administration, or Blair's choices in that same period. We don't know, but some have suggested that Airbus plans may thus have been discretely passed on to Boeing, or EU talking points covertly siphoned before some important multi-lateral meeting on world trade, none of these having even the faintest connection with "fighting against terrorism". By going way beyond the requirements of national security, the proponents of universal surveillance have placed their actions further than sovereignty, thus undermining the very foundations of democracy. This is a most dangerous development; all concerned citizens and netizens should give vent to their indignation.
2) THE LACK OF PROPER JUDICIAL OVERSIGHT AND PARLIAMENTARY CONTROL HAS GIVEN THE PROPONENTS OF GLOBAL SURVEILLANCE A HIGH SENSE OF IMPUNITY. There is no need to replicate here the details provided in the articles of The Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica. But we can draw a couple of lessons. First, the loopholes of democracy have been exploited with the utmost cynicism, for instance when analysts at CGHQ were instructed to ask no questions, with this warning: "knowledge that GCHQ exploits these products and the scale of our capability would raise public awareness, generating unwelcome publicity for us and our political masters." That's one clear way of stating that the Executive Branch can in fact be held hostage by these agencies. Second, the fact that, in the judgment of those who operate these surveillance systems, proper oversight and control can only be viewed as hindrances to the open-ended expansion of their covert activities.
3) IN THE FACE OF THIS MASSIVE ABUSE OF POWERS BY THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH, IT IS TIME FOR CITIZENS AND NETIZENS ALL OVER THE WORLD TO GIVE VENT TO THEIR INDIGNATION. The late Stéphane Hessel, in his little book entitled "Indignez-vous!" (Time for outrage!), called upon citizens to reject the root causes of mass poverty, growing social inequality, deprivation of rights, and attacks on human dignity. In the same spirit, the recent disclosure of unauthorized, poorly controlled, opaque dealings in the name of sovereignty now warrants a large-scale inquiry, as well as corrective measures aimed at protecting the rights of Internet users across the world. It is time to let our elected representatives know that they must legislate on, and enforce, stringent controls: that's what it takes to rid our democracies of the widespread impunity exposed by Snowden. The coterie of cynics would have us believe that, in this early twenty-first century, even the "global rape of privacy" is perfectly normal and acceptable, in the name of efficiency.
This article is also posted on my personal blog.
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