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  (Source: Warner Bros.)
The press isn't quite so free in the Queen's country

With the 250th anniversary of the United States of America's war to win its freedom from the oppressive British monarchy but a little more than a decade away, the recent developments in the case of U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) secrets leaker Edward Snowden remind us how far the U.S.'s freedoms are, even after decades of efforts by some Americans to erode the Constitution.

I. For Now Media is Ahead of Gov't Oppression, Thanks to Digital Tech

A recent piece in one of England's top newspapers, The Guardian, reveals that the publication -- which was the primary recipient of Mr. Snowden's trove of documents on classified spying efforts on law-abiding citizens -- has suffered numerous cases of harassment at the hands of UK secret police in recent months, following the initial publication of a partial analysis NSA files.

The report describes how UK authorities threatened to take the publication to court, and eventually settled with a forced destruction of the hard drives with the Snowden documents on them (of course The Guardian implies it had ample backup thumb drive and paper copies):

And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age.

The publication points out that such seizures would likely be far too embarrassing -- and likely not allowed in the first place due to their illegality in the U.S.  In the U.S., reporters -- including those who do whistleblowing reporting related to the government -- are protected by the Constitution, which enshrines freedom of the press (for example the Obama administration received heavy pushback over its decision to spy on the Associated Press). In the UK there are some laws that protect the press, but overall if the government badly wants something, there's no such prime directive for members of the media to shield themselves with.

Destroying hard drives
UK agents destroyed The Guardian's hard drives after the Snowden files were published.
[Image Source: Corbis]

In the past, this would make the UK media much more weak and vulnerable from a exposé reporting perspective, however The Guardian raises an interesting point. In a digital era industrial country that allows free press, strong legal protects are no longer as crucial.  As long as the government stops short of charging reporters involved in such publications or forcing the shuttering of the publications themselves, they are stuck in a losing game of cat and mouse with the media.

II. Ubiquitous Surveillance Could Spell an End to the Free Press in the U.S., UK

Most recently UK agents -- likely with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's NSA counterpart -- detained a Guardian employee, David Miranda, at an airport for 8+ hours under the pretense that they were investigating a "terrorism" incident.  

Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda
Glenn Greenwald (left) and David Miranda [Image Source: Reuters]

Mr. Miranda, the boyfriend of Glenn Greenwald -- the primary reporter on the NSA story -- had been serving as a research on the Snowden documents and the public's reaction to them.  During the detention he had his laptop, smartphone, DVDs, and USB sticks seized and was forced to surrender his passwords to the devices.  However, The Guardian writes that the seizures were the failings of a weak and panicked government, unable to keep up with the empowerment of the digital era.  It remarks:

We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work.

The GCHQ and NSA's common goal of ubiquitous surveillance threatens to be the high tech poison to this newfound digital freedom.  The Guardian reporter, Alan Rusbridger, writes:

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like "when".

We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack.

That's a pretty powerful message.  And even in the U.S. -- where the press is safer -- it rings true, given the ongoing efforts of some judges and politicians to erode the protections of the Constitution.

Source: The Guardian

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By Ammohunt on 8/21/2013 2:38:55 PM , Rating: -1
Nice paranoid schizophrenic piece their Jason.

Possessing state secrets with the intent to make them not secret is a crime in nearly any country. My guess is the UK has a interest in protecting the NSA's methods since they are our greatest ally and would benefit from the program as well. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to commit crime(s).

RE: Hello!
By tigz1218 on 8/21/2013 3:01:15 PM , Rating: 2
So Ammohunt, let me throw a scenario at you.

Lets say you are working for a top secret agency in the government. You know through your high level clearance rights that your agency is illegally detaining citizens and/or physically harming them. You would not say anything about it because it is illegal. Is my understanding correct?

If so, congratulations, your attitude is the reason people like Hitler were allowed to come to power and murder millions upon millions of people throughout human history and you are a disgrace to what America stands for.

RE: Hello!
By chris2618 on 8/21/2013 3:14:51 PM , Rating: 2
Reductio ad Hitlerum

RE: Hello!
By superstition on 8/21/2013 3:35:51 PM , Rating: 2
Lets say you are working for a top secret agency in the government. You know through your high level clearance rights that your agency is illegally detaining citizens and/or physically harming them. You would not say anything about it because it is illegal. Is my understanding correct?

argumentum ad baculum ("argument from the stick")

The broken logic: "Because something is illegal, it must never be done without punishment. Why? Because an authority says so (i.e. because it's illegal)."

RE: Hello!
By superstition on 8/21/2013 3:45:06 PM , Rating: 3
There are two types of logical error that may be involved in appeals to force:

Some appeals to force may be appeals to the consequences of a belief. What sets the appeal to force apart from other appeals to consequences is that the bad consequences appealed to?that is, the use of force?will be caused by the arguer. Attempts to change people's minds by threats of punishment are appeals to consequences, since the bad consequences appealed to are not consequences of what is believed, but of the belief itself. As such, they are irrelevant to the truth-value of the belief.

However, because it is impossible to read a person's mind, the attempt to use force or threats to change minds is usually ineffective. Instead, threats are more commonly reasons to act, and as such can be good reasons to do so if the threat is plausible. People are sometimes intimidated into pretending to believe things that they don't, but this is not coming to believe something because of the fear of force. So, appeals to force which are appeals to consequence may fail one criterion of a logical fallacy, namely, that it be a common type of bad argument.

When force or the threat of force is used to suppress the arguments of one side in a debate, that is a type of one-sidedness. Governments are always tempted to use police powers to prevent criticism of their policies, and totalitarian governments are frequently successful in doing so. Extremists use threats or actual violence to silence those who argue against them. Audience members "shout down" a debater whom they disagree with in order to prevent a case from being heard. This is, unfortunately, common enough to qualify as a logical fallacy.

However, force or the threat of it is not an argument, which means that appealing to force is not a logical fallacy. Since hitting someone over the head with a stick is not an argument at all, a fortiori it is not a fallacious one. However, withholding relevant information can lead people into drawing false conclusions.

For these reasons, calling the appeal to force a "logical fallacy" is misleading. More accurately, it is a logical boobytrap, that is, a way of tricking someone else into reasoning incorrectly .

Hiding (via downrating) and deleting comments can actually qualify, by the way. I've been banned from a number of forums, not for breaking stated rules, but for challenging the comfortable (and erroneous) beliefs of people who have moderator power. I've found that, no matter what beliefs people espouse, they will always resort to silencing critical voices rather than rebutting them -- provided the usual routine of mockery and fallacies (ad hominem, bandwagon) fail to do the trick.

The most recent ban was for telling John Aravosis that his attitude toward beauty pageants is fascist in nature. He argued that women are "degraded" by them, which suggests that they should be banned. I replied with a photo of women in burkas. The notion he expressed is that people should not be allowed to judge others by their appearance, which is ironic given that he posted a video of a commercial from Wendy's in the 1980s which criticized the "communist" idea of not keeping oneself up by showing a fat woman in a factory outfit as a beauty pageant contestant. Plus, the way he publicly lusts after "hot" young men in posts makes his attitude certainly hypocritical. (Aravosis had previously banned me for challenging him on Obamacare, saying that I was insane, heartless, and political idiotic for arguing that it should have a public option.)

RE: Hello!
By Ammohunt on 8/21/2013 5:26:53 PM , Rating: 2
I am not a lawyer so legality is best left to those who are experts in the law. If something is un-ethical i would just find another job. This idea that anyone say at Snowdens level would have all the information in order to interpret the legality of the NSA's actions is laughable at best not to mention he isn't a lawyer either.

I am sure you find yourself in the company of people using illegal drugs all the time. What stops you from calling the police to report such illegal behavior?

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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