Jimmy Wales and Stephen Fry speak out against ‘squalid’ government surveillance

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

June 13, 2014

Last Saturday the Guardian and the Don’t Spy on Us Campaign (a UK based coalition of privacy, free expression and digital rights organizations) hosted the ‘Don’t Spy On Us: Day of Action’ event at Shoreditch Town Hall in the historic East End of London. The event was held in honor of the one year anniversary of the Guardian (in partnership with The New York Times and ProPublica) publishing the first Edward Snowden revelations.

The event was kick-started by a video address by actor, TV host, and celebrated Twitter technology commentator Stephen Fry, who told an audience of around 500 privacy activists that,

The idea of having your letters read by somebody, your telegrams, your faxes, your postcards intercepted, was always considered one of the meanest, most beastly things a human being could do, and for a government to do, without good cause. Using the fear of terrorism that we all have, the fear of the unknown that we all share, the fear of enemies that hate us, is a duplicitous and deeply wrong means of excusing something as base as spying on the citizens of your own country.

It’s enough that corporations know so much about us and our spending habits, our eating habits, our sexual preferences, everything else. But that a government, something that we elect, something that should be looking out for our best interests, should presume without asking to take information that we swap, we hope privately, between ourselves is frankly disgraceful.

Attending the event was Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales, who argued that Britain needed a written constitution which enshrined the rights of free speech, so that whisteblowers acting for the public good could come forward without fear,

‘One of the big differences between the US and the UK is the first amendment, so the idea of smashing computers in the basement of the New York Times is basically inconceivable. One of the important things about the US is that something like the first amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is very difficult to change – whereas here, it’s not so easy to construct something that’s difficult to change. Parliament can ultimately change anything with a majority vote and that’s that.

White was referring to the disgraceful incident last year when the Guardian was forced to destroy hard drives and memory cards under the supervision of intelligence agents (despite the fact that everyone knew the data existed elsewhere, making the entire episode a rather bizarre pantomime).

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief who was ordered to destroy the hard-drives by the government under threat of legal action, agreed,

We need to embody some of those rights here, we don’t have rights in Britain. We tend to wait until things go wrong, so there is no really established right to privacy because there is no constitutional protection of free speech.

He added that the destroying the hard drives probably had consequences opposite to what was intended in the government,

By forcing the reporting out of the UK to the US, the British government lost any handle on this story at all. So, I hope the British government will think about that in the future.

The Don’t Spy on Us Campaign wants a public inquiry (held before the next general election) into the extent to which the law has failed to protect the privacy of UK citizens, and calls for new laws that place oversight of when spying is justified in the hands of judges, not the home secretary.

Freedom from surveillance is essential to freedom itself. The freedom to think, to speak and to have discourse without fear of reprisal or even judgment is at the core of democracy itself,’ explained campaign supporter Cory Doctorow.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

One response to “Jimmy Wales and Stephen Fry speak out against ‘squalid’ government surveillance

  1. Freedom must not be in the hands of judge ; in fact , as soon as it is not a cityzen fact that every body do admit as a genuine human being behavior ; the war is finished before it becomes real.
    So, it is something about a philosophical idea : is it possible to be free whithout laws or society or at least a communauty ? oh , yes , in a military country everyone is free but not for a long time.
    But are we not leaving in a military state since 50 years under a mysterious captain voice who takes & decides whithout us ?
    Let’s begin to shut down the war putting all this old and obsolete idea of freedom = army _ laws = judge _ goverment = society : whitout these hands of terror ; how should be your country ? free ? rich ? open ?
    There are not rights in uk _ because somewhere else there are ?_funny idea …
    Do not never believe in a constitution _ there are done for and whith war weapons ; never for you , only for the richer (paradox : every one can ask destroying your hard drive even your friend ; a compaign ? a opinion ? someone criminal comes and takes all then you will do pay twice).

    This article is propagandia written by douglas crawford misinformed and on the bad side.

    Protecting its own privacy cannot be done with activist or in a politic way ; without soldiers ; you will be free in the usa like in eu … Even with the best laws they will do the same because it is a military action which the purpose is to be traited as a king killing his slaves … old barbary latin mind where german people (uk&us) found their eden .. and the first step , since a long time , is to take the destiny of someone else violating its privacy.

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