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‘We are giving all of our privacy for just the possibility of a little bit of safety’

Published time: July 14, 2014 13:40
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.(Reuters /Andy Rain)

Intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ seek to scoop up literally every single form of digital and non-digital communication and data in the world all the time, political cartoonist and author Ted Rall told RT.

RT: Why do you think it's now that David Cameron is pushing for police and security agencies to have access to people's private data?

Ted Rall: It is very clear that the general mood in Europe as well as in the UK and in the USA is in favor of more privacy in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. So clearly what is going on both in the UK and in the US is a move by the establishment which represents the espionage community in trying to mitigate the damage from the leaks, they are trying to protect the prerogatives, they want to continue business as usual, they would like to continue to read emails and listen to our phone calls, watch our videos, and they would like to continue to do this like as if Edward Snowed never lived. So what you are going to see is a lot more of this and this is in fact a reflection of the same kind of moves that you see in the US, with the reforms that the Obama Administration is proposing in the wake of the NSA leaks.

RT: Snowden's leaks about NSA snooping on citizens sparked huge public anger. Why would Cameron try to follow in the NSA's footsteps?

TR: The US NSA and the UK GCHQ are very closely hand-in-hand; they are the two closest partners for each other. So certainly they talk and certainly they cooperate. What is going on here though is less about pressure and more about common interest and a shared way of doing business. Both governments believe that the best way to maintain control of their citizens and, to give them some credit, try to prevent future terrorist attacks, is to watch everything. As the NSA has said in the past the idea is to collect the entire haystack when you are looking for a needle in a haystack. We can argue whether or not it is a good idea, but most security experts say it’s better to look for the tiniest part of the haystack and not worry about the rest where the needle most likely isn’t. But that’s the way they look at it. They are just continuing to do things the way they always have, and if there is any pressure, there is probably more coming from the intelligence community within Britain, which itself is closely aligned with the NSA and the US.

RT: Cameron says the new laws will keep people safe. Is this a reason to give up privacy?

TR: In my view, not at all. We have already seen, especially since 9/11, how the NSA has failed to keep the US safe. That’s not really a balance here; we are not talking about giving up a little bit of privacy for a lot of safety. We are talking about giving all of our privacy for the possibility of the smidge of a little bit of safety. It’s not a good trade-off. I think even someone who trusts the state really will buy into this. With the GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in the US and their allied agencies in Europe you are talking about an effort to scoop up literally every single form of digital and non-digital communication and data in the world all the time. I mean we are not talking about "We are looking at this, we are looking at that” - they want to collect everything and store it. In terms of terrorism, here in the US someone did a study that determined that on average 16 Americans die globally from terrorism every year. Obviously, if you are friend or relative of these 16 people here, it’s a tragedy, no question about that. But just should a country of 320 million people give up all of its privacy rights in order to save 16 lives? Let’s put this into prospective, tens of thousands of people die from second-hand smoke every year, yet cigarettes are still legal. Every year tens of thousands of people die in car accidents but we don’t ban cars. I think that those 16 lives are a relatively modest price to pay for the ability to be able to keep out communications private.

RT: Do you think the US could have pressured Cameron to try and pass this law?

TR: It’s possible, but I think in Britain what is to weigh on Cameron is a political pressure, if anything at all. Currently there hasn’t really been a kind of global outrage and certainly not in the US and even in England, there hasn’t been a kind of outrage that is really necessary to put the brakes on an intelligence system that is quite frankly not only out of control but represent a major segment of the economic activity with a lot of well-connected political interests that are involved in this activity. So if you want to put the brakes on it, you need a lot of pressure to bear. Right now there isn’t really enough pressure from ordinary citizens and if there is really going to be pressure, it is going to come from the telecom industry, the internet industry which is suffering of loss of business to their competitors in China and elsewhere as they see that clients do not want to have their data be unsecured. It comes down to money more often than not, and I do not think that the court ruling going to play a bigger role as a pure rank financial inducement.

RT: Do you think these actions are steps to revive the so-called "snooper's charter"?

TR: This is absolutely enough to get back to business as usual. Let’s face it, neither David Cameron, nor Barack Obama have expressed any real interest in changing the way they are doing things. They are sad that they got caught; they wish that they hadn’t, but they have been. Now they are trying to soft-pedal what’s going on and pretend to make some modest reforms, do a little bit of window dressing, and that is supposed to satisfy us, and for all I know maybe it will. I’m hoping it won’t, because the size of the scandal is just so massive. But yes, they want to get back to the old snoopers' law.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.