Source: The Guardian Unlimited
We should not fear some Orwellian future state where we’re subjected to total electronic scrutiny – it’s our present reality
‘If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country, going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear.” That’s how William Hague, the foreign secretary, responded to the revelations of mass surveillance in the US and the UK. Try telling that to Stephen Lawrence’s family.
Four police officers were deployed to spy on the family and friends of the black teenager murdered by white racists. The Lawrences and the people who supported their fight for justice were law-abiding citizens going about their business. Yet undercover police were used, one of the spies now tells us, to hunt for “disinformation” and “dirt”. Their purpose? “We were trying to stop the campaign in its tracks.”
The two unfolding spy stories resonate powerfully with each other. One, gathered by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, shows how police surveillance has been comprehensively perverted. Instead of defending citizens and the public realm, it has been used to protect the police from democratic scrutiny and stifle attempts to engage in politics.
The other, arising from the documents exposed by Edward Snowden, shows that the US and the UK have been involved in the mass interception of our phone calls and use of the internet. William Hague insists that we should “have confidence in the work of our intelligence agencies, and in their adherence to the law and democratic values”. Why?
Here are a few of the things we have learned about undercover policing in Britain. A unit led by a policeman called Bob Lambert deployed officers to spy on peaceful activists. They adopted the identities of dead children and then infiltrated protest groups. Nine of the 11 known spies formed long-term relationships with women in the groups, in some cases (including Lambert’s) fathering children with them. Then they made excuses and vanished.
They left a trail of ruined lives, fatherless children and women whose confidence and trust have been wrecked beyond repair. They have also walked away from other kinds of mayhem. On Friday we discovered that Lambert co-wrote the leaflet for which two penniless activists spent three years in the high court defending a libel action brought by McDonald’s. The police never saw fit to inform the court that one of their own had been one of the authors.