I have been railing at the way that the US has used the war on terror to undermine basic civil liberties. In its efforts to hide its misdeeds, the war it has waged on whistleblowers and the reporters who convey their revelations has been nothing short of disgraceful.
But incredibly, it seems to be even worse in the UK which does not even have the First Amendment to provide some sort of shield as becomes clear from the way that Sarah Harrison writes about her situation. This lawyer and journalist who works for WikiLeaks and helped Edward Snowden make the transition from Hong Kong to get asylum in Russia, is now in self-imposed exile in Germany because she says that she will be arrested if she steps foot in the UK.
She says that the word terrorism is now defined so expansively that it can cover almost anything and that journalists are now considered terrorists, something we saw demonstrated David Miranda was detained and harassed when he was merely transiting through Heathrow airport.
I cannot return to England, my country, because of my journalistic work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and at WikiLeaks. There are things I feel I cannot even write. For instance, if I were to say that I hoped my work at WikiLeaks would change government behaviour, this journalistic work could be considered a crime under the UK Terrorism Act of 2000.
The act gives a definition of terrorism as an act or threat “designed to influence the government”, that “is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” and that would pose a “serious risk” to the health or safety of a section of the public. UK government officials have continually asserted that this risk is present with the disclosure of any “classified” document.
Elsewhere the act says “the government” means the government of any country – including the US. Britain has used this act to open a terrorism investigation relating to Snowden and the journalists who worked with him, and as a pretext to enter the Guardian’s offices and demand the destruction of their Snowden-related hard drives. Britain is turning into a country that can’t tell its terrorists from its journalists.
The war on terror is turning into a monster with countries that once prided themselves on being the source of landmark advances in freedoms such as the Magna Carta and that nurtured great civil libertarian thinkers like John Stuart Mill now becoming enemies of the very liberties that they once were proud to uphold. As Harrison says:
I have thought about the extent to which British history would have been the poorer had the governments of the day had such an abusive instrument at their disposal. What would have happened to all the public campaigns carried out in an attempt to “influence the government”? I can see the suffragettes fighting for their right to vote being threatened into inaction, Jarrow marchers being labelled terrorists, and Dickens being locked up in Newgate prison.
Is it any surprise that the organization Reporters Without Borders has the UK at #33 in its rankings of 180 nations on press freedom, down 3 places from last the previous rankings? As their report says:
The United Kingdom (33rd, -3) distinguished itself in the war on terror by the disgraceful pressure it put on The Guardian newspaper and by its detention of David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner and assistant, for nine hours. Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries.
In another RSF report titled the Enemies of the Internet, they describe the massive global surveillance programs run by the GCHQ that entitles the UK to the title of ‘World champions of surveillance’. Edward Snowden says that the UK is even worse than the US.
The UK is turning its back on its legacy and is very much the poorer for it.