The destructive power of state snooping is on display for all to see. The press must not yield to this intimidation.
You’ve had your fun: now we want the stuff back. With these words the British government embarked on the most bizarre act of state censorship of the internet age. In a Guardian basement, officials from GCHQ gazed with satisfaction on a pile of mangled hard drives like so many book burners sent by the Spanish Inquisition. They were unmoved by the fact that copies of the drives were lodged round the globe. They wanted their symbolic auto-da-fe. Had the Guardian refused this ritual they said they would have obtained a search and destroy order from a compliant British court.
Two great forces are now in fierce but unresolved contention. Thematerial revealed by Edward Snowden through the Guardian and the Washington Post is of a wholly different order from WikiLeaks and other recent whistle-blowing incidents. It indicates not just that the modern state is gathering, storing and processing for its own ends electronic communication from around the world; far more serious, it reveals that this power has so corrupted those wielding it as to put them beyond effective democratic control. It was not the scope of NSA surveillance that led to Snowden’s defection. It was hearing his boss lie to Congress about it for hours on end.
Last week in Washington, Congressional investigators discovered that the America’s foreign intelligence surveillance court, a body set up specifically to oversee the NSA, had itself been defied by the agency“thousands of times”. It was victim to “a culture of misinformation” as orders to destroy intercepts, emails and files were simply disregarded; an intelligence community that seems neither intelligent nor a community commanding a global empire that could suborn the world’s largest corporations, draw up targets for drone assassination, blackmail US Muslims into becoming spies and haul passengers off planes.