Politics, Rights, Technology

The corrosive effect of surveillance secrecy

When surveillance and national security supporters look back on the last three years at some remove, one of the lessons they may learn is that the reflexive obsession with secrecy cruelled the capacity of security institutions and governments to obtain any sort of social licence for surveillance, or even of basic trust.

The obsession of the United States government with secrecy has long since reached Kafkaesque proportions — but if you’re the victim of one of its campaigns, it is nightmarish.

Two weeks ago the US Department of Justice sought and obtained a gag order to prevent American journalist and sometime Crikey contributor Barrett Brown and his legal team from discussing his prosecution. Brown, who revealed many connections between the US government and the growing cyber military-industrial complex in the US, faces an array of charges with sentences totalling over 100 years in prison, including for sharing a link online.

At the point where even the US mainstream media had worked out that the prosecution of Brown was another example of the Obama administration’s war on investigative journalism, the administration decided enough was enough and secured a gag order to undermine the growing profile of Brown’s case. The prosecution argued the gag order was necessary because Brown was manipulating the public. This is Barack Obama’s America, where telling the world about your Kafkaesque prosecution for sharing a link is manipulating the public.

The gag order is symptomatic of the way this administration does business: it imposes secrecy requirements on others, while of course retaining the right to reveal whatever secret information it feels is in its own interests. An Obama administration gag order is routine in cases where it has pursued journalists and whistle-blowers, or its agencies have demanded the co-operation of IT and communications companies to spy on Americans, or provide back doors into their products to allow spying.

One of the genuinely amusing moments in the Obama administration’s hysterical overreaction to Edward Snowden was when Obama claimed in all seriousness that he had been planning to initiate a debate about the extensive powers that enabled the National Security Agency to spy on both Americans and the rest of us, but Edward Snowden came along and ruined his plans by revealing the true extent of surveillance — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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