Friday, October 11, 2013
The Guardian has been busy today congratulating itself on having been the vehicle chosen by Edward Snowden to make his revelations about the scale of NSA and GCHQ surveillance on the web. It's understandable that journalists in particular would be concerned about the extent that the security services could track electronic communications, since of course it compromises their ability to use sources. Similarly, that, on the back of trying to cast Ed Miliband as a rootless cosmopolitan whose interest in controlling energy prices is obviously just like expropriating the kulaks, The Daily Mail turns itself into the mouthpiece of shroud-waving securocrats is only to be expected. This just shows it's not really interested in journalism, except when it consists in misrepresenting matters of public record to smear people. I wonder, though, whether the Snowden revelations are what civil libertarians ought to be really concerned about at the moment. Democratic governments have been tapping peoples' phones and opening their post, both significantly more serious violations of privacy than tracking but not reading emails, since they've existed. Investigative journalism is still done, politicians are still held to account, and when these things don't happen, it's not obviously because MI5 knows whom you've sent emails to. More, Google and the like already have much of this information and more. Are huge multinational private companies somehow more innocent than imperfect but at least democratically accountable national governments? Rather than worrying about Prism and Tempora, it seems to me that the UK Government's plans to make it impossible to rent accommodation, open a bank account, or legally drive a car if you can't prove you have the right to remain in the UK are a direct and serious threat to the ability of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK to live minimally decent lives. What if your landlord wants to evict you while your visa's being renewed, which can take months? Britons used to regard the idea that without proof of who you were, you could be picked up by the police as the hallmark of absolutist or totalitarian regimes, central to their control over their populations. If Theresa May's plans are passed, although you still won't be able to be picked up off the streets, you may be condemned to live on them.