That such a programme exists is not surprising; just ask the Muslims
“I had an authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal email.
“You don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to have eventually fall under suspicion … and then they can use this system to go back in time and … derive suspicion from an innocent life”
This is a quote from Edward Snowden, the former contractor turned whistleblower, exposing PRISM, a secret surveillance programme conducted by America’s National Security Agency.
That such a programme exists is not surprising, but the allegation that anyone is fair game for surveillance has been alarming – so much so the Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, made a statement in the House of Commons reassuring the British public about the workings of GCHQ, Britain’s spy agency, and America’s NSA.
The US Patriot Act gave state agencies cart blanch to spy on terrorist suspects – read Muslims – because after 9/11 being Muslim was suspicion enough. But many thought that that’s where it stopped. From the admission of Mr Snowden, who was at the coal face of the snooping, it appears Muslims were just the thin edge of the wedge.
Portrayed as an existential treat to the American way of life, the unjust targeting of a whole world-wide community was thought justified, and so even among Muslims, few raised concerns.
PRISM is spying on an industrial scale. It involves trolling millions of emails and the personal content of social media.
For a secret intelligence agency spying on the opinions and views of people will enable the profiling of dissenting communities; their demographic, social and cultural characteristics. Characterisations such as Islamists, extremists, conservative or traditionalists will lump the millions of records of people together based on their views, thoughts and ideas. Communities falling within these labels will then be targeted for surveillance.
Surveillance on this scale is aimed less at targeting the individual [because that would be ineffective in trying to find a needle in a haystack] and more at profiling and targeting communities.
Thus for William Hague to argue law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from GCHQ is completely disingenuous. An individual and his or her guilt is fundamentally not at stake here but the wholesale criminalisation of communities.
Indeed, this is exactly how the Muslim community has been dealt with since 9/11. Labels such as extremists and Islamists are thrown about not based on any individual alleged guilt but general opinions which are then used to incriminate people. Governments have enacted laws lowering the burden of proof for people caught up in even “potential wrongdoing” implying that being Muslim is itself grounds for criminalisation in such activity. The judicial system has worked in tandem with governments and secret agencies to heavily convict such individuals to set an example to the rest of that community.
To the ordinary person this mattered much less when this system [as described by Edwards Snowden] of surveillance was just aimed at Muslims – after all some argued there’s no smoke without fire.
But now that it is clear that this type of surveillance is business as normal in the intelligence services and any and all types of dissention – from anti-war movements to local groups opposed to the closure of the city hospital – are subject to profiling and targeting, the public silence against state injustice towards a minority is today coming to haunt the majority.