Privacy SOS

British spy agency sees investigative journalists akin to dangerous terrorists

GCHQ. Photo credit.

In case anyone isn't convinced that spy agencies manipulate their powers to exert antidemocratic power in the dark, check out the latest Snowden story in the Guardian. The report reveals that the British equivalent of the NSA, the GCHQ, sucked up the private communications of journalists, a population the spies consider nearly as dangerous as terrorists.

New evidence from other UK intelligence documents revealed by Snowden also shows that a GCHQ information security assessment listed “investigative journalists” as a threat in a hierarchy alongside terrorists or hackers.

Senior editors and lawyers in the UK have called for the urgent introduction of a freedom of expression law amid growing concern over safeguards proposed by ministers to meet concerns over the police use of surveillance powers linked to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa).

More than 100 editors, including those from all the national newspapers, have signed a letter, coordinated by the Society of Editors and Press Gazette, to the UK prime minister, David Cameron, protesting at snooping on journalists’ communications.

In the wake of terror attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish grocer in Paris, Cameron has renewed calls for further bulk-surveillance powers, such as those which netted these journalistic communications.

After the Paris shootings, David Cameron said Britain would "never give up" free speech. But there is no such thing as free speech in the UK—or any other society in which the government possesses the ability to secretly hoover up the communications of journalists or other members of the public suspected of no crime.

Which is it, Cameron? Do you care about free speech, as you claim, or do you want to wiretap the internet and ban secure communications? You cannot in good faith answer 'both'.

That the GCHQ considers investigative reporters as threatening as terrorists doesn't come as a huge surprise. Agencies like GCHQ, NSA, and FBI hate public scrutiny; they breathe secrecy like oxygen. Without it they would perish.

Keeping that in mind, let this accidental admission about how the government's spies truly view a free press serve as an antidote to security state apologias about how limitless, shadowy surveillance serves the interests of democracy by protecting public safety. The surveillance is about power, pure and simple.

Dragnet surveillance doesn't keep anyone safe. But it does keep people in line.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.