The Snowden files continue to dominate the news today. Vince Cable has said that the Guardian newspaper had provided a ‘considerable public service’ by publishing Edward Snowden’s leaked material. This contrasted with Nick Clegg’s effort on LBC Radio yesterday (above).
Clegg said that it was important to have a debate about technology and privacy, before condemning the Guardian for releasing ‘technical’ material that would have interested 'those who want to harm us'. Rarely have the tensions running through the Liberal Democrats (a protest movement and an aspiring party of government) sounded more clearly in my ear.
Our own Douglas Murray is rather more clear-minded than either of these august gentlemen. He writes in this week’s issue of the magazine: ‘Spies spy: get over it’. He argues that the privacy argument is fatuous:
‘The intelligence services don’t read emails at random, they focus their attention only on those who are of interest to them. Sometimes it seems as if we actually want to believe we’re all being spied on, to make us feel more important. But the truth is that unless you spend your vacations fighting jihad abroad, no one’s watching you.’
I suppose that one might add ‘people who intend to betray national secrets’ to the list of surveillance targets, but the broad point stands. The intelligence services’ interests are necessarily general; but their focus is specific. I’d be amazed if spooks weren’t snooping on our emails and so forth from time to time. I’d be genuinely worried for the security of the nation if they did so often.
There is, unquestionably, an abiding concern that the law provides the citizen with inadequate protection from the state, especially in the digital arena. Yet a quick glance at, for example, this tag page on 'The Snooper's Charter' proves that this concern predates the Guardian's adventures with Edward Snowden; a point that seems to have escaped dear old Vince.