“Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. Why object to increasing state surveillance powers?”
I speak regularly at international events about basic freedoms, civil liberties and encroaching police states, and this is one of the most frequently asked questions.
This question is usually posed in the context of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that infest the streets of Britain, where it is estimated that you can be photographed hundreds of times a day going about your daily business in London.
Not to mention the talking CCTV cameras in the North of England, nor the increasing use of spy drones (as yet, reportedly, unweaponised — at least lethally) over the skies of Britain. Nor the fact that the police officers in charge of CCTV units admit that the technology is only useful as evidence in 3% of cases, and that violent crime has actually gone up since the spread of CCTV, so we’re certainly no safer on our streets.
Nor do the well-meaning people asking this question (who, one presumes, have never-ever done anything wrong in their lives, even to the extent of not dropping litter) seem to grasp the historical evidence: they retain an optimistic faith in the long-term benign intentions of our governments.
Yet as we’ve seen time and time again in history, more dubious, totalitarian and malignant governments can indeed gain power, and will abuse and extend the surveillance laws and available technology against their own peoples. And I’m not just talking about Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s or the East German Stasi, although I’m in agreement with UK Education Secretary Michael Gove at the moment in saying that history lessons are never a waste.…
But we also need to learn more recent lessons: the UK in the 1970s-1990s, where the Irish community as a whole was targeted because of fringe Republican terrorism; or the Muslim community post‑9/11, which lives with the real fear of of being arrested, extraordinarily rendered, tortured, or even assassinated on the say-so of unaccountable intelligence agencies; or even peaceful protest groups in the USA and UK who are infiltrated and aggressively investigated by Stasi-like police officers.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was put in place for a very good reason in 1948: to prevent the horrors of state terrorism, violence and genocide from ever happening again. Amongst the essential, internationally-agreed core principles are the right to life, the right not to be tortured, freedom of expression, and the right to individual privacy.
Which brings me neatly back to the start of this article. This is precisely why increasing state surveillance is a problem. Because of the post‑9/11, over-inflated, hyped-up threat from soi-disant terrorist groups, we are all being penalised. The balance of power is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of the Big Brother state.
Well, almost. The Wikileaks model is helping to level the playing field, and whatever happens to this trail-blazing organisation, the principles and technology are out there and will be replicated. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.
So, why not pose the very question in the title of this piece back on those who want to turn back the clock and eradicate Wikileaks — the governments, mega-corporations, and intelligence agencies which have been outed, shamed and embarrassed, and which are now trying to suppress its work?
If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.….