Comment by Claire Robinson:
For some years, several journalists, notably Duncan Campbell, have published stories accusing the UK government of illegally snooping on the communications of innocent citizens via the US-built "listening station" at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire.
Listening stations like Menwith Hill were set up in the midst of the Cold War to root out Reds from under their beds. Now, after the demise of the Red Peril, the snoops have turned their attention to ordinary citizens and what Maggie Thatcher called "the enemy within". That means us activists who don't like all the government's policies, and any organisation which is acting in opposition to the interests of the mega-corporations who buy and own our governments.
The crusading journalists have said that they have uncovered information links between the intelligence services doing the listening and corporations. The corporations may like to know, for example, which activists are targeting them in what way.
The journalists also claim to have uncovered the relaying of information to favoured corporations on deals mooted by rival companies or companies based in "rival" nations. This has, for example, caused much chagrin to the French, who claim that the treacherous Brits in Menwith Hill have relayed details of confidential French business proposals to their American masters and their pet corporations, effectively allowing the US-based corporations enough inside info to bag the deal. Many European corporations now take the precaution of not revealing any confidential information over the phone/fax/email.
Those of you who are familiar with these Menwith Hill stories will be as surprised as I was by the hysterical reaction of our government to a journalist's accusations of spying in the following story. The story was published by an American news service but "blacked out"in the UK. The journalist has been arrested for revealing (surprise!!!) that the British government has for years been spying on innocent citizens' communications (emails, faxes, phone calls).
Spying by governments on their own citizens' communications has traditionally been illegal in most democracies, including the UK. It is this illegal spying that the journalist has revealed.
But anti-terrorist legislation was passed in the UK some years ago which allowed government spying following the issue of a warrant. This system gave some protection to citizens' rights, demanding that the spied-upon person was at least suspected of a crime.
However, "Regulation of Investigatory Powers" legislation has recently been passed by Blair's government to make all government snooping on innocent citizens legal--and to force citizens to give up any email encryption "keys" on demand by the government.
In addition, recent legislation passed by Home Secretary Jack "Boot" Straw redefines terrorism (traditional dictionary definition is "using terror-inspiring methods of coercing government or community"; popular British definition is planting bombs which kill people) as ***"idealogically motivated damage and disruption"***.
The new redefined terrorism now takes in much activist business, for example, the recent "cyber-occupation" by anti-globalisation activists of the World Trade Organisation's website during the Seattle round of talks. It also takes in such activities as pulling up GM crops from trial sites or sending emails to encourage people to attend a blockade of GM imports. It could also cover union marches or strikes.
Looking at the treatment of the journalist in the following story, one is tempted to ask: If the journalist is wrong and the government did not spy illegally on innocent citizens, why hide behind the Official Secrets Act? Ordinary libel law would ensure that justice is done. If he is right, then the government should be the one to be put on trial, not the journalist. In this situation, who are the real terrorists?
A number of factors are especially chilling:
* the journalist who accuses the government of spying on ordinary citizens was charged not with libel (writing lies about the government's activities which could be validated or disproven in open court) but with violating the Official Secrets Act. Thus evidence that could either convict or acquit him will likely not be allowed to be heard and he may never know the full story of the nature of the charges against him.
* because charges involving the Official Secrets Act are themselves surrounded by secrecy, the government may get away with claiming that "lives" or "military security" are put at risk when there is little or no evidence to back up the claim. Too often, as with the government's persecution of former British intelligence agent David Shayler, all these so-called violators of Official Secrets have done is to reveal incompetent and possibly criminal actions of the intelligence services.
* the journalist was arrested in time-honoured KGB fashion--the knock on the door in the night, the ransacking, the confiscation of data and computers--which betrays less of an interest in achieving justice and protecting the public than in silencing/disabling the victim.
Did British author violate secrets law?
US News and World Report
US News Online
World Report 12/20/99
LONDON It was a year ago this month that respected British journalist Tony Geraghty was awakened before dawn one morning by five Defense Ministry agents. They ransacked his rural England home and confiscated his files and computer. Then they arrested Geraghty, charging him with violation of the Official Secrets Act. Geraghty, 67, is the first journalist in 20 years to be charged with this crime.
What has upset the Labor government of Tony Blair is Geraghty's book The Irish War, an account of the 300-year-old Northern Ireland conflict. A few pages describe how the government's computer-run surveillance techniques, ostensibly used to keep tabs on republican terrorists, also track innocent people--a revelation more embarrassing for defense officials than disruptive. After 12 months of legal preoccupations, Geraghty has seen his income plummet by 90 percent, while the British media have largely ignored his plight. The hardcover edition of his book was never banned, but publisher HarperCollins bowed to ministry advice and put publication of a paperback edition on indefinite hold. "I am satisfied that the evidence will show that I did not damage military security or put lives at risk," Geraghty says.
Unfortunately for him, the law doesn't allow for a public-interest defense. A trial could be six months away. Until then, he has gotten some satisfaction that Johns Hopkins University Press publishes a U.S. edition in April. Adds Geraghty: "God bless America!"