Journalistic Integrity and the Surveillance State

It’s been over four months since the first in an ongoing series of revelations by The Guardian. These disclosures confirmed what many so called “conspiracy theorists” had suspected, and in some cases known – a massive, covert illegal collection of almost all electronic communications by various state sanctioned entities across the globe.

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I’ve followed the story, Snowden’s “leaks”, as they call them, Glenn Greenwald’s courageous reporting and defence of his actions when challenged by line-towing journalists such as the BBC’s Kirsty Wark (BBC – you’ve lost so much credibility in my eyes since June it’s unreal), and the various half-arsed, and untrue, defences of these operations to come from the governments involved. I was particularly dumbstruck when the Director of National Intelligence in the US, James Clapper, lied under oath to Congress, and received no punishment whatsoever. Some rules don’t apply to those in powerful positions, it would seem – but that’s hardly unique to this issue.

While it appears to be a sad decline to Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, what shocks me even further is the lack of interest shown by the general public.

Being Irish, and living in Ireland, my instinct may be to dismiss the whole affair as something which doesn’t really concern me. This is what I’ve found from almost all my peers, colleagues, friends and family. After all, why would the NSA or GCHQ (the UK equivalent) be interested in my communications?

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The above position is a dangerous one to take, and had it not been for the bravery, morality and integrity of Edward Snowden, these issues may have remained exactly where the governments wanted them to – in the realm of sci-fi, conspiracy theories, lizard people and Jim Corr (sorry Jim). Plant a seed of doubt, watch it grow to a level where it’s accepted as fact, and the easiest way to debunk an unwanted theory, disclosure or fact is to allude to this already set-in-stone idea – hippies, stoners, weirdos living in their parents spare room well into their 40s (see above) – take your pick. It all serves to discredit an idea before it’s even listened to properly.

I could spend hours and hours lamenting the evils of drifting into a surveillance state, where everything you do, think, say or believe in is on a central register, ready to be analysed should you show signs of dissent, or should a combination of pre-defined keywords (defined by whom?) flag you as worthy of further investigation.

guardianlogo

But I won’t – there’s already days worth of material on The Guardian and other similar news sites who have managed to retain their dignity and stand for what true journalism should be – a tool for transparency and protection against government propaganda, commercial conflicts of interest, corporate/political blurry lines shit and anything the public may deem “not in our name”.

Before I mourn the death of journalistic integrity and freedom, here’s how Wikipedia defines journalism;

Journalism is a method of inquiry and literary style used in social and cultural representation. It serves the purpose of playing the role of a public service machinery in the dissemination and analysis of news and information. Journalistic integrity is based on the principles of truth, accuracy and factual knowledge. Journalistic mediums can vary diversely, from print publishing to electronic broadcasting, and from newspaper to television channels, as well as to the web, and to digital technology.

In modern society, the news media is the chief purveyor of information and opinion about public affairs. Journalism, however, is not always confined to the news media or to news itself, as journalistic communication may find its way into broader forms of expression, including literature and cinema. In some nations, the news media is still controlled by government intervention, and is not fully an independent body.

In a democratic society, however, access to free information plays a central role in creating a system of checks and balance, and in distributing power equally between governments, businesses, individuals, and other social entities. Access to verifiable information gathered by independent media sources, which adhere to journalistic standards, can also be of service to ordinary citizens, by empowering them with the tools they need in order to participate in the political process.

The lines above in bold strike a chord considering the current state of mainstream media – it would appear the role in the UK and the US is precisely the opposite; to prevent citizens participating in the political process.

As of 4.50pm, October 14th 2013, only one major UK newspaper is reporting, to any representative degree, on the hugely important debates concerning the struggle between national security and privacy.

And while you might be thinking “but you don’t live in the UK!”, you’re right, I don’t. But it affects everyone on the planet, not only because we’re all being spied upon, but also, in the English speaking world, we rely way too heavily on the US and UK for the overwhelming majority of our news, entertainment and online activity. If they become (more) toxic, so will all our domestic media too, and what then?

So, here’s what The Guardian have on the front page of their website;

TheGuardian

“Andrew Parker, the new director general of MI5, should be slower to employ this foolish, self-serving rhetoric, which naively begs a perfectly legitimate question: how should we ensure that those privileged to be granted special powers to intrude into everything that is private, serve a real public interest, rather than the dangerously false god of securitisation for its own sake?”

See? It’s not too hard to report the actual news, it’s a pretty important event when a former DPP launches an attack on the head of MI5, no? The article criticises the language used, and the almost zombie-like homage paid to the threat of “terrorism” and the golden goose that is national security.

Who doesn’t like Stephen Fry;

Privacy and freedom from state intrusion is important for everyone. You can’t just scream “terrorism” and use it as an excuse for Orwellian snooping

As I said, pretty big story. So let’s look at some more of the UK’s famous and free press websites……

The Sun
the sun
Should I have expected anything else? Not really, it’s a rag of the highest order, and a quick glance at the glossy celeb-based articles splashed across the homepage like a model on a Mercedes shouldn’t get your hopes up. Only one relevant and worthwhile story there as far as I can see, and there’s no mention of anything else of worth on the entire homepage. Click here for a full screengrab, if you can stomach bright colours and fake tan…….

The same pattern is visible on the main UK websites, sites the majority of the public trust to let them know what is going on in the world, in the UK, or wherever. It’s a slightly different story in the US, where there’s no such thing as a truly objective news source anymore thanks to the bipartisan circus, but it’s unnerving wherever it shows itself to be.

The Daily Mail’s “Top Stories”

daily mail top stories

Again, no mention of the current debates. There are some relatively interesting articles in there, but it’s clear that there’s either;

A) Top down pressure to avoid these topics which may be “unsavoury” to those in control of the newspaper itself
or
B) Little to no interest in covering a topic which affects the newspaper and their journalists directly.

I have a hard time believing it’s option B.

Now that’s the tabloids out of the way, let’s take a look at the great bastion of British reporting, the beautifully named Independent;

And this just confounds my suspicion that freedom of speech, and independent media and openness of communication is in danger of dying completely.

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Who are you to disbelieve them? YOU’RE A FUCKING JOURNALIST!!!

Not addressing the question of why Chris Blackhurst felt the need to publish this article, the reasons a professional journalist would so easily and openly whore himself to his masters call are somewhat more nefarious.

Blackmail (or the subtle yet clear allusion to) – as GCHQ, and thus the government and their various acronym titled agencies, know an awful lot about every single person who uses the internet, the possibilities for blackmail are enormous, and to those who say “I have nothing to hide”, I highly recommend you think a little further about that position. Do you have curtains in your house? You do? Why? I thought you’d nothing to hide……

And if you literally have nothing to hide, nothing you wouldn’t want your parents to see or know, then you’re not living life properly, and I pity you. But I don’t think that anyone is genuinely in that position.

Privacy is a right, not a privilege, and the fact all online activity is monitored by agencies who do not have your best interests at heart should worry you. Privacy has been turned into a valuable commodity, and to enjoy it, you must, in Chris Blackhurst’s case, agree not to question that which goes on behind the green curtain, and furthermore must proclaim to be against the implementation of a truly free press which can report on all issues of public interest. And should you tick all these boxes, they still have that leverage, indefinitely.

There are so many potential evils relating to this, in terms of what could happen, what is happening and what has already come to be.

The CIA recently admitted their role in the 1953 Iran Coup. Is this the first of many disclosures of similar dodgy dealings? What’s next? The assassination of JFK? 11/9? Are the CIA/NSA involved in everything we “crazy conspiracy loonies” may suspect they are?

Ingsoc

George Orwell – pretty damn accurate dude

Why would these people put so much effort into chasing Snowden half way across the globe, harassing Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda just to show some force, ordered the destruction of the hard drives in the Guardian HQ (pointlessly, but again it was an attempt at intimidation) – what are they afraid is in those files? They claim they’ve broken no laws, that everything done is in our interests and protection from the dreaded “T” word, so what’s the issue? If it’s all been above board, then we should know. Arguing it may help terrorists, and then claiming there’s nothing in there we didn’t know already is classic double-think, and you can be sure social media sites and comments sections are full of this misinformation and overused clichés at the request of the NSA/GCHQ and their various mutations. This is called astroturfing.

To quote Joseph Goebbels (nasty, I know);

Joseph-Goebbels

Dapper, but bat-shit mental

It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.

Shall we have another?

Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.

So it seems the majority of the press, all ruling classes and their corporate interests are following the guidelines set down by one of the most effective, yet destructive, PR/propaganda men of the 20th century.

Classy.

So what will happen?

If nobody stands up to the new tyranny, if we’re too busy watching our HD TVs or recording 4 channels while watching another, then the world is fucked, and we won’t realise just how subservient we are until the grip of power is so strong and pervasive that our children’s children won’t even consider it to be an issue.

Where will people discuss politics if every discussion they have is logged, analysed and archived? Today, most discussion takes place online, and the iPhone’s Geo Location looks after the rest.

To any Americans who may stumble upon my humble opinions, and who still don’t realise just how wrong and dangerous their overlords are (I understand there’s momentum building in the US now, so best of luck), how do you think George Washington, Ben Franklin and friends would have got on today? Would the revolution have been possible at all?

The US wouldn’t exist. That big land mass off the coast of Galway would still be under British rule.

These dudes would be so pissed off with all ya'll

These dudes would be so pissed off with all ya’ll

Long before any revolutionary ideas were acted upon, Washington and his mates would have been tagged as worthy of further investigation. All their friends and relations would also be tagged.
They would be monitored, and if nothing illegal cropped up, a smear campaign or a false flag would look after those pesky dissenters.

You’d still be at her majesty’s pleasure.

To quote Big Ben Franklin;

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Total surveillance guarantees no revolutions, and the system can remain indefinitely. They can nip dissent in the bud before it gets wings, before the wider public get whiff of it, and long before the majority of people start looking outside their facebook feed for their daily news.

communists

To cry “national security” is the latest boogeyman created to keep people from looking outside their windows. Before “those damn Arabs”, we had Communists. Before that, I don’t know, the Devil maybe? To keep the population under control, and to ensure not too many questions are asked or lights shone, we need to be scared enough to accept total rule.

There is no boogeyman. There is only a struggle to maintain absolute power – and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It’s my understanding that very few people in the US (openly) dislike JFK, his ideals and visions for American and the wider world. In 1961, he said this;

The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

Some claim this speech was anti-communist, but I’d like to give JFK more credit than that. The words simply don’t fit into that narrative for me, and simply panders to the very things he was speaking out against.
You can hear the full speech here. Well worth a listen. And it’s funny how time goes by and nothing changes but the wrapping – it’s entirely relevant to today’s situation.

And two years later he was assassinated.

But what can we do?

Well, whatever you do, don’t simply ignore it because you think it makes no difference. Because it does. We’ve become desensitised to having our online data stored, and this is a handy by-product of mass communications for those shady folk hell bent on knowing what you’re up to.

Don’t vote for any politicians who seem unconcerned with the erosion of your rights to privacy and freedom of thought and information. Ask them what they’re going to do to restore your rights, and if they don’t have a plan, they’re either too stupid to be worthy of your vote, or one of the bad guys.

threat level

Don’t get all your news from one location – an unbiased source is rare these days, and as we’ve seen above, you simply can’t rely on any single news entity to remain neutral, untouched and out of reach of the shady folk.

Don’t believe the hype – the threat level is not elevated. It’s the same as it’s always been – shit happens occasionally; see the Ben Franklin quote above. And the nice handy scale to the left – did nobody ask why the safest possible state of being is still “low risk of terrorist attacks” (plural!!)? Surely “no risk at all, normal – nothing to see here” is what it should read.

Excellent propaganda, Goebbels would be proud.

By all means, keep doing what you’re doing online, but be aware that if things don’t change dramatically, the only possible outcome to all that data being stored in Utah or wherever, cannot be positive for you. There is no possible benefit to you in having everything you’ve ever done online stored forever. If you can think of one, let me know. Data recovery perhaps? Maybe when the NSA are shut down, that’ll be their next venture.

Love your iPhone? Check out these slides, thanks to Der Spiegel which may, or may not, scare the shit out of you.

And finally, some slides which Edward Snowden gave to The Guardian for our benefit – they’re real, despite the apparent Powerpoint skills of an 8 year old.

What they mean is that everything you do on Facebook, Apple products, Google-Gmail-Youtube, Microsoft, Skype – basically, most of your online activity, is directly fed to the NSA. The companies involved have released various unconvincing statements to deny knowledge, but of course they would. And even if they’re telling the truth, this is still happening, so the concern is still valid.

Prism

PRISM slide crop

You may remember that Google bought Youtube, Microsoft bought Skype, and the pattern continues with Microsoft recently acquiring Nokia. What happens if all the tech companies in the world are hoovered up by this group? Will any device or software be protected from the all seeing eye?

So, despite not really wanting to, I’ve strayed into waters murkier than press freedoms alone. All these events are related however, and even Boris Johnson, who I’d certainly have a man-crush on if it were physically possible, has come out to defend free speech and against proposed press regulation.

Governments work for us, but rarely do those in power display a genuine desire to improve things for their country or their employers – us, the citizens.
The cognitive dissonance on display by most people I know is what scares me most; they all complain about the government, a lot of it justified, yet trust them innately with their most sensitive information. How can they reconcile the two? I just don’t get it. Is it just too much hassle? Something too nasty to think about? Is it just another conspiracy theory?

It’s real, very real indeed. And thank The Guardian, Ed Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and everyone else involved in forcing this story into the spotlight, and skillfully maintaining the focus in a world of throwaway news and 140-character attention spans.

They’ve done their part, and will no doubt suffer greatly for it, unless we keep momentum going. Otherwise, these stories will be buried beneath the glittering weight of celebrity, sport, budget deficits and, above all, National Security.

One Comment:

  1. Pingback: Creeping State Surveillance – Ireland Meekly Follows the Leaders | This Bloody Country

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