By Jonathan Brown
The Home Office have warned airlines that they will be penalised if they transport the whistle blower Edward Snowden onto British soil. It appears to be a move to safeguard against a situation emerging similar to that of Julian Assange, who has been living in Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June of last year, in fear of potential extradition to the United States. The government letter to airlines, obtained by the Associated Press, shows that Snowden would be refused entry to the UK. Currently in Hong Kong, Snowden will no doubt face relentless attempts from the US to extradite him after his damaging leaks regarding the activities of the NSA. The morally reprehensible punitive and degrading treatment of the military whistle blower Bradley Manning may partially mitigate his suffering pre-trial if he was indeed extradited, and may elicit caution in the US attempts to detain him.
The PRISM program epitomized the universal nature of US intelligence which shocked many, with data allegedly obtained frequently by the NSA from large companies holding personal and sensitive information such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook. This generated anger due to the intelligence apparatus of the state being Orwellian in nature and parallels being drawn between it and the East-German secret police the Stasi whose motto was “to know everything”. Nonetheless the importance of intelligence cannot be understated in averting atrocities, but a delicate balance must be drawn between security and privacy, with many feeling that the leaks showing that the NSA had indiscriminately crossed the line to the detriment of privacy.
One implication of the intelligence leaks was to draw the British eavesdropping group GCHQ into the controversy surrounding the NSA’s perceived illegal and intrusive surveillance operations. The documents suggested that GCHQ was complicit in the PRISM program, and used it to circumvent the legal rules surrounding personal data in the UK. The foreign secretary William Hague was quick to distance GCHQ from any wrongdoing, saying that all of its operations were within legal parameters. Whether this special relationship contravened the law is still up for debate, although of the benefits of the two agencies working together are understandable in terms of it being in their best interests to cooperate. It is also a question of how information is acted upon and the degree to which the state can actually prevent the actions of individuals – at what point can people be detained in a democratic society? The perpetrators of the Woolwhich attack were known to the secret service in Britain but was it a case of negligence in the information not being properly acted upon or is there a certain impotence regarding what can be done to mitigate acts of brutality and terrorism?
By going public and avoiding anonymity, Edward Snowden has placed himself at a great deal of risk, so what next for him? He has said that he wants to face trial in Hong Kong and the events have and will continue to, ask serious questions of Sino-American questions. Snowden seeks to attempt to avoid extradition by seeking asylum through fear of political persecution or torture at home. The US Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments revealing the Obama administration’s position on Snowden saying: “The national security of the United States has been damaged as a result of these leaks. The safety of the American people, the safety of the people who reside in allied nations have been put at risk as a result of these leaks.”
With Manning and now Snowden the most famous so called whistle blowers in recent years, it remains to be seen if this will pave the way for more leaks which would damage further the integrity of the United States and its operations.
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