Lift the lid on the secret state

Submitted by Matthew on 12 June, 2013 - 10:25

The state snooping scandal continues to grow.

Since 6 June the Guardian and the Washington Post have revealed a court order making telecom giant Verizon give the US National Security Agency details of phone calls for millions of customers, and an NSA system for collecting vast amounts of data from internet communications.

Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who blew the whistle, is in hiding. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Apple and others are trying to reassure internet users.

David Cameron swears everything is fine, but other government leaders are bothered about the US spooks dredging data from their citizens’ internet communications routed via the USA. German chancellor Angela Merkel says she will press US president Barack Obama on the issue.

In the USA itself there are twinges of protest at the huge surveillance machine set up since the World Trade Centre bombing in 2001.

1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies are doing surveillance for “counterterrorism”, “homeland security”, and “intelligence”.

854,000 people work sufficiently inside the surveillance machine to hold top-secret security clearances. That makes state surveillance a bigger industry in the USA than bus-driving, or food processing.

Some of the surveillance may help limit Islamist and similar attacks. But only some, only a little.
Anyone can encrypt email well enough to fool the spooks. Even the most ruthless state monitoring of large numbers of people thought to show leanings towards Islamist terrorism can no more detect and stop the individual who will go out with a meat cleaver than similar state monitoring of large numbers with far-right views would stop murders like the 6 June killing of anti-fascist activist Clément Méric on the streets of Paris.

Those who say that the state surveillance is necessary to stop the Islamists do not suggest similar blanket surveillance of the far right. Or of disturbed people with no discernible political agenda, like John Zawahri, who on 7 June went on a shooting spree at Santa Monica College in California, killing five people, after a domestic dispute.

Equally, left activists should not panic in the belief that the state has tabs on everything we do and is thus too mighty to overthrow. The great bulk of what we do is as public as we can make it, because it is about helping people to criticise, organise, and mobilise on the largest scale.

Once that mobilisation gets going, the spooks cannot stop it by monitoring emails. And more of the spooks will follow Snowden’s example and cut loose.

The surveillance machine can do harm by increasing the state’s ability to harass both chosen targets and whole communities, like Arab Americans. We should welcome every move to lift the lid.

• More on the US state surveillance machine

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