038_G18 Arena

Global_18

Arena Big Interview tried to switch the focus from documented actual harm to tens of thousands of people, to a discussion about completely speculative harm to a small number. But speculative harm is not actual harm. In reality, the US government admitted in Chelsea Manning’s trial that this speculation was just hype: there were never any reprisals provoked by our publications. NATO told CNN that it couldn’t see anybody who needed to be protected. Nobody came to harm. It was an artificial controversy that fooled many. None of this is even comparable to the NSA. The NSA – a sprawling mass surveillance apparatus with a budget of tens of billions of dollars per year – spies on billions of genuinely private interactions between civilians every day and records them all in a central database which it feeds to its customers: the most powerful groups in the United States and its allies. In contrast, the US military interacted with local officials in Afghanistan and kept a record of those interactions, they were leaked to us and we published them and placed them into the historical record, so that Afghans and others might know their own history. It is important not to confuse privacy and secrecy. A private interaction would be your interactions with your doctor or with your children. Interactions between an occupying military force and local officials are difficult to categorise as private interactions. They are, perhaps, quasi-secret interactions. But are they private? No. US government officials have in the past labelled you a ‘high-tech terrorist’. How do you respond to this accusation? It is simply an abuse of language. We are a publishing organisation. We take the freedom of expression seriously. It is absurd to call what we do ‘terrorism’. It is infantile. It shouldn’t be taken seriously. This infantilisation of language is beginning to have real consequences. We’ve seen the effective legalisation of torture under the euphemistic phrase ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. And only last autumn, we saw the targeting of national security journalists using British terrorism legislation, on the basis that terrorism is in part defined as an action “designed to influence the government”, and several of the journalists involved have said that they hoped the publications would help reform government surveillance policies. This is how power distorts and corrupts the language we use to serve its interests, affecting how we think. The way to resist this is to call it out as language abuse and to insist that we call things by their true names. Journalism is not terrorism. You recently publicly criticised President Obama’s proposed surveillance reforms as being too “small”. Realistically, what sort of reforms would you want put in place? What are the most important and immediate changes that must take place? Global mass surveillance should be discontinued immediately. It is an extreme development, comparable to the development of atomic weapons. It is fundamentally destabilising to democratic structures and civil society. It is an unacceptable practice, a criminal infringement of everyone’s basic human right to privacy. Of course the government should be permitted to try to monitor particular individuals for the purposes of law enforcement. But there should not be surveillance of everyone. The first thing that should happen is a moratorium on this practice, until international norms have been established and international instruments put in Supporters of Assange protest outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London. If he leaves the embassy he will be arrested and extradited to Sweden 38 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global  Cancillería Ecuador Creative Commons by SA 2.0


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