If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.…

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. 

DroneNot 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.…

Big_Brother_posterBut 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.….