Sunday, 9 June 2013

Spying, the privatised state and the abdication of government

Politicians in headlong retreat are unappealing.  Little William Hague has been leading the chorus of unconvincing denial that GCHQ has been involved in the unravelling American-led snooping, which should reassure anyone whose gullibility threshold has been set somewhere in the stratosphere.  The Guardian should be commended for running with the Prism story, whereby Internet giants and others are being trawled for intelligence without either accountability or clarity as to what is being achieved.

Panic makes bad legislators.  Obama has clearly surrendered to the spook-industrial complex in his defence of the actions of his agencies.  The rule of law and the right to privacy are fundamental human rights - as indeed is the right to go about one's business unmolested and unthreatened by others, providing of course that one returns the favour.

Yet the privatisation of what should be the public domain makes personal data and information into nothing more than a tradable commodity.  Google, host of this blog, Facebook, Apple and others all rely on the level of information their clients are prepared to trade both to earn revenue and to increase their grip on the market place.  When consumers and citizens are able to make informed choices, this should not be a problem.

Where the assault on the liberty of the citizen occurs is where the blurring of boundaries between civic participation and economic agent becomes so impossible to discern that there is no real difference between information available to the state and that which can be traded for marketing purposes.  Even having to exclude one's information, as an active choice, from being the target of marketing through the electoral register, is a prime example of this arrogation of corporate and state power into the trading of individual identities.

Yet those who excoriate the state with the most hypocritical gusto, right-wing hysterics who pretend to be libertarian, are quite happy for blatant infringements of individual liberty in the name of national security, and to shut up those whose dissent or non-conformity is perceived to cause a threat.  This means that they are compromised where it comes to intelligence agencies using corporate data without the safeguards that would exist through disclosure and freedom of information laws.

The state's boundaries are opaque and being made less clear - outsourcing of core services and functions is designed, inter alia, to reduce accountability of both politicians and service providers - making it easy to shift the blame.  From service provision to civil liberties is a very small step, but we need politicians prepared to spell this out.  If Clegg wants further clear water between him and the imploding Tories, he should be challenging Miliband and other opposition politicians to come to a consensus on liberty and the right of the citizen to a life where his or her data is accessible, open to challenge and is not infringed by the state or corporations for the easy narrative that we are currently being peddled.

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