The Spies Who Hate Us

Britain and America's Orwellian spy agencies seem to think they know what's best for their respective, snooped-upon citizens, even if it means apparent side-stepping of democratic institutions designed to keep them in check.

The latest allegations come from Nick Brown, a former British cabinet minister who was part of a parliamentary committee examining a communications data bill that was scrubbed earlier this year -- the so-called "snoopers' charter" -- who said British intelligence agencies were working beyond the law.

If the bill had passed scrutiny and become law, it would have given spies at GHCQ, MI5 and MI6 the ability to monitor what the public does on the internet. Critics said it went too far in trampling on people's privacy. But, claims Brown, the spies are doing it regardless.

He said that it "looks very much like this is what is happening anyway, with or without parliament's consent," according to an account in The Guardian.

Are spies immune from probing because they use fear-words like "terror" to justify their actions, lawful or not? Is this another unwanted legacy of George W. Bush's bombastic "war on terror"? Who will spy on the spies?

If there is one thing that the release of NSA surveillance files by Edward Snowden has taught us is is that given an inch of authority and permission, the spy agencies will run with it, far beyond a mile. The NSA's motto -- Defending Our Nation. Securing The Future. -- purports to buttress its global communications snooping in the hope of enabling a better tomorrow.

Across the Atlantic, its counterpart whom it has financed to the amount of £100 million, according to Snowden documents, says it "provides intelligence, protects information and informs relevant UK policy to keep our society safe and successful in the internet age." This pair of lofty assertions is now in self-serving doubt, when agents undertaking this surreptitious work ostensibly do so without politicians' knowledge.

Meanwhile, the campaign underway to undermine the leakers and those news outlets that publish their snatched files is thankfully being undermined itself. It is being eroded by the undeniable right of the public to know what is going on.

Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight program, the executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, rightly said when questioned if newspapers such as hers and the Guardian should publish leaked files that they had a duty to do so.

"I think," she said, "that those articles are very much in the public interest and inform the public."

"A vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the web," says Dennis Berman of the Wall Street Journal in a review of The Circle, the newly published work of fiction that is clearly based on reality and that a worried Google tried to get its hands on prior to release but was told a firm "no" by the publisher.

It's a deeply symbiotic relationship between the internet companies and the spy agencies; one lot goads us into putting our lives on their servers and drives and clouds while the other gleefully dips in and harvests and stores what we're saying and up to.

Of the Circle's protagonist, the book's blurb says: "Mae can't believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world -- even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman's ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge."

Perhaps there is going to be a backlash. Perhaps people will increasingly withdraw from the internet, at least the so-called "social" aspects of it and the companies that record what we type and where we go on the web in order to serve us benign ads but may be passing that information on to others -- or at least enabling their scooping up of it by virtue of their platforms and services. Who can live (online) with the chilling words of Google chief Eric Schmidt: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Maybe they shouldn't be, either.

Google's maxim, Don't Be Evil, should, conversely and ironically, serve as an admonition not only to itself but the NSA, GCHQ and all the other "intelligence"-gathering agencies that are corroding ordinary people's intrinsic right to privacy.