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William Hague to address Commons as internet spying scandal explodes

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At what point is raising the spectre of terrorism – an Orwellian state of perpetual fear and perpetual war - going to stop being a power grab for governments and an excuse for the state to encroach upon our human rights?

As the revelations continued to pour out from Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who is now on the run, knowing he is unlikely ever to be able to go home, politicians on this side of the Atlantic are scrambling to fortify their positions before William Hague’s statement to the House of Commons this afternoon. Snowden revealed the extent of wholesale state monitoring of all our communications and internet activity, giving governments and unaccountable agencies unprecedented windows into our existence and unprecedented power to paint pictures, real or skewed of our lives. By not cashing in and selling his information to foreign governments, by taking the course of conscience, he thereby guaranteed himself a lifetime of hardship and looking over his shoulder. Has any politician behaved in quite so noble a fashion?

Accusations that British intelligence had illegally eluded British privacy laws by using a US proxy were denied by Mr Hague yesterday.

"The idea that in GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense."

And yet somehow it seems an entirely reasonable assumption. Mr Hague then trotted out the most odious old chestnut of all – that you have nothing to fear if you are a law abiding citizen. This has been the rationale for every civil liberties grab ever – and was of course the justification for ID cards before they were scrapped.

He said - "If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear – nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that. Indeed you will never be aware of all the things those agencies are doing to stop your identify being stolen and to stop a terrorist blowing you up tomorrow.”

The total number of people in the US and UK killed by terrorism in the last decade is in the low hundreds. The tiniest fraction of those dying in car crashes, of obesity, HIV, allergic reactions and pretty much any other means of death. Let alone gun violence in the United States or even knife crime in the UK. Must we really fundamentally change our relationship with the state over something far more grounded in hysteria than fact?

Once systems are put in place, they are very difficult to take down. That is why forcing a debate on these issues before they become part of the fabric of society is so critical and why we all owe a debt to Mr Snowden. Even if we decide as a society to accept these measures – surely we need that to be informed consent rather than a back door power heist.

The state is capable of the most Kafkaesque interpretations and the most surreal twists on basic logic. As Mr Snowden says about Mr Hague assertion that law abiders have nothing to fear.

"Even if you're not doing anything wrong you're being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it's getting to the point where you don't have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer."

Over to you Mr Hague

Written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr - Google+ Profile - More articles by Cyrus Bozorgmehr

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