Ever since Julian Assange first made an appearance on the social-political stage establishing the world-renowned organisation WikiLeaks in the image of a civil liberties superhero, public distrust of government-sanctioned surveillance departments has skyrocketed.
Following the Guardian’s reports on US and British intelligence gathering operations, and the subsequent annihilation of mounds of hard drives containing potentially threatening information concerning the NSA and Britain’s very own GCHQ, large media conglomerates are in the uncomfortable position between its obligations to authority and safekeeping the very integrity of journalism – to inform the public and freely express the truth, barring the consequences.
It was in June this very year when the Guardian published the first article based on top secret leaked information by Edward Snowden, the former CIA and NSA tech specialist, yet it seems like the scorching hot topic of foreign and domestic surveillance has been smouldering for years with no one to put it out: neither the civil rights organisations, whose bite is as meagre as its bark, nor the pro-government folks whose arguments simply don’t hold water.
However, unlike any other, the report caused an international scandal on an immense scale – it made shocking revelations of the amount of power intelligence organisations hold, uncovered the underlying mistrust between supposed allies, and shed new light on a not so distant history of similar practices.
What made this particular situation explode could be traced all the way back to Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, the infamous whistle-blower and former US army soldier, who made her country’s government blow a fuse when hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and war logs were illicitly passed onto WikiLeaks. The same media outlets that exposed the States’ questionable military actions and foreign policies were now again meddling in their shady affairs. Yet another informant was humiliating them, and the fact that he was smart enough to seek Putin’s loving embrace for shelter did not alleviate the frustration.
Quite the opposite, public outcry against intrusion of privacy is increasing in size and intensity. Countries with close ties to the US and the UK are seeking an explanation for this blatant breach of mutual trust and confidence, and those who don’t find the snooping tag team trustworthy have even less incentive to do so now.
Private communication corporations have also been unable to evade the bad publicity sledgehammer, which took a full swing at multinational corporations in the likes of Google, Verizon, Microsoft, and others.
To make things even spicier, both the NSA and the GCHQ have begun pressuring the news companies involved by holding them liable for their alleged transgressions, even going so far as to detain and interrogate your average citizen. This was the case for David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald (lead Guardian journalist for the NSA investigations), who relates in his own words: “They said I would be put in jail if I didn’t co-operate.”
To some this may seem a legitimate concern for the efficacy of national security agencies, for others, this is crossing the line. The question of whether or not there is a line to be crossed here, and who exactly draws that line, is open to a sorely needed debate.