why the surveillance state is a bad idea (it has nothing to do with privacy)

The Guardian publishes another of those stories which knocks you sideways and forces you to re-evaluate your civilisation:

Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.


The communications, which were sometimes simple mass-PR emails sent to dozens of journalists but also included correspondence between reporters and editors discussing stories, were retained by GCHQ and were available to all cleared staff on the agency intranet. There is nothing to indicate whether or not the journalists were intentionally targeted.

Look.  The issues of public freedom of speech, private freedom to speech and privacy are bound to be key in a liberal society – that is, if we wish to remain liberal.

Quite another matter if we’re deciding not to be, of course.

But let’s assume we do wish to remain liberal.

Far more important, however, than the matters already mentioned – and mainly because it’s something we can all understand, whatever our political complexions – is the fact that whilst the surveillance state corrupts, the absolute surveillance state corrupts absolutely.

So where did we hear that before?

Long-term, a police state leads to the kind of regimes that developed in the 1930s in Nazi Germany, through the middle of the century in the Soviet Union, in East Germany, in Cuba – and, quite possibly, to a lesser degree, as an inevitable though clearly not happy antithesis – in many of our dearly beloved Western countries too.

What did all of those countries and regimes have in common?  An ultimately destructive moral compass, obviously; but far more significantly, a core-destroying economic infrastructure.

Yep.  A surveillance state isn’t just bad for your soul; it’s bad for your technological brawn too.  Bad for the future; bad for material progress; bad for almost any measure of standard of living.

That the West is having similar problems right now – that, indeed, the austerity programmes which now characterise us are leading us to a similar Decay of Civilisations – surely supports my argument here; sadly supports my suppositions.

Those who propose the surveillance state may believe, in all good faith, that journalists are on an information-security par with terrorists.  Whether they do or not, and whether their faith is good or bad, I’m really not in a position to say.

But whilst the short- and medium-term prospects for our national security may or may not tremble in the face of concerted terrorist threats, what’s manifestly certain is that our long-term economic health depends very largely on us managing to properly reconstruct and maintain, again, a liberal free-market economy.  Without such an environment, the future is bald.

And, personally, knowing bald very well, I can tell you: we really don’t want to be going there at all!


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