In his latest book, No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald gives a brief summary of the events since Edwards Snowden first contacted him 1 December 2012, up until UK government’s harassment of David Miranda at London Heathrow airport on 18 August 2014. He gives an overview of some of the released NSA documents, showing the scope and detail of the illegal surveillance.
It is however the last two chapters of the book which makes this a must-read. Here, Greenwald examines why ubiquitous surveillance is so dangerous and damaging to all of society, and why the “nothing to hide – nothing to fear” argument is misguided and naive.
In the final chapter, Greenwald describes the toxic climate of modern journalisms, and how challenging state power is the exception rather than the norm in many newspapers.
Besieged by state surveillance
Glenn Greenwald’s examination of the harms of mass state surveillance is an indispensable read for anybody debating the topic. He explains why privacy is essential to all humans, on an individual level, as well as for society as a whole. Without privacy, we automatically conform to written and unwritten rules and expectations of behaviour and and thought.
Surveillance stifles self-expression, creativity and experimentation. On a state level, its very purpose is to hinder deviant and radical thought and action. As such, surveillance and lack of privacy is an obstacle to political and cultural progress. The goal is to freeze the status quo with its current power structure and current authority.
Herein lies the rebut of the “nothing to hide – nothing to fear” argument. Rather than grasping for fringe groups and special circumstances, Greenwald shows that this argument is narrow minded, egoistical and hypocritical. Given that mass state surveillance harms us all, our individual relation with the state authority is nonessential to the debate. It is irrelevant if you yourself is involved in politics, opposition groups, and protests. In many ways, surveillance harms everybody, depriving us of freedom, and hindering political, cultural, and human progress. It makes us complacent, unable or unwilling to question authority.
Furthermore, Greenwald points out that state surveillance is masked in secrecy, often with little oversight. It makes the surveillance a one-way mirror: They can see you, but you cannot see them. This is by design, and Greenwald examines multiple examples of why this works so well in controlling the population. He shows why it is important to break this one-way mirror; to shine light on government activities so its power cannot be used for harassment and control.
News as state propaganda
In the last chapter, Greenwald gives an introspective look into the failures of US media. Journalists and newspapers are nicknamed the Fourth Estate, because they were supposed to challenge the other three branches of government. However, many have become mere propaganda outlets for those in power.
What’s worse, Greenwald was attached by fellow journalists across the political spectrum for publishing his stories based on the NSA documents. UK in particular has gone very far in attacking anybody working with these documents. There is no Forth Amendment or similar law protecting free speech in the UK. As a result, the Guardian was threatened with lawsuits and shutdown by GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) agents. Through an ultimatum, they destroyed the computers belonging to the newspaper which they believed contained copies the NSA documents.
Later, Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained using an anti-terrorist law while in transit through London Heathrow airport. As Greenwald put it, UK agents grabbed him out of non-British neutral territory. Lacking anything to charge him with, the UK police later acknowledged that this was an harassment tactic, to send a message to anybody working with Snowden or Greenwald.
Read it now!
If you haven’t kept and eye the Snowden and NSA story, Gleen Greenwald’s latest book is an excellent and brief overview of the important events and facts. Still, even if you have followed the details of the NSA documents, the last half of the book is refreshing and worth the read.
State propaganda with its excuses to justify surveillance is as prevalent as ever. It is essential that we all know how to refute those arguments. Also, putting an end to the “nothing to hide & fear” argument will be important if we want to repel mass state surveillance.