Security or Liberty

A bit of a ramble ahead.

After Edward Snowden released information regarding NSA listening on and recording millions of conversations and emails worldwide, I thought “Inconceivable!”, and then of course realised it was many things, but definitely not inconceivable.

I think we all knew, to certain extent, that governments are ‘spying’ on everyone, including their own citizens. After all, the war on terror screaming from front pages of newspapers and poking us in the gut  from every possible angle made us almost used to the idea that to keep us safe They have to know stuff.

Few were ever clear on what stuff do They need to know, about whom exactly and what should be done with that information when they already have it…

We mostly accept that CCTV cameras are on every corner of  any bigger city

The City of London [borough] has 619 cameras, but a population of only 9,000. This represents 68.7 cameras per 1,000 people.

and that police has a right to request access to our email/facebook/twitter account details if there is a reasonable suspicion we are up to no good. I think most of us never thinks about it twice until something out of the ordinary happens that touches us personally..

Probably 2011 riots really brought it home for some that whatever happens in the public can be traced back to people involved in it. I am a bit torn over the severity of some punishments, considering that there are so many more important issues to deal with (forced marriages of under-aged girls, sex-rings, millions of pounds spend on inefficient gargantuan service industries – yes, I am talking about NHS! – and not enough attention given to developing sustainable, clean energy just to name a few) but at the same time I’m quite glad that vandalism on a grand scale had consequences.

There of course remains the problem of the actual cause of the riots and the death of Mark Duggan, which to me seems like a case of trigger happy finger on the side of police, but my scientific side wishes for more evidence before deciding either way.

The most recent wake up call is the case of 9 hour detention at Heathrow Airport of David Miranda, partner of a Guardian’s journalist Glenn Greenwald. Miranda, as probably everyone already knows, was on his way from Berlin to Rio, carrying  electronic equipment on which encrypted files received from Edward Snowden were stored.

The discussion, or rather outrage, caused by this detention is in full swing. Depending on who you ask, people say it was legal (note: does not mean called for), necessary, disproportionate or plain outrageous.

Don’t know about you, but I find it deeply disturbing that under the Terrorism Act 2006 police at the airport can detain someone for up to 9 hours without the need for suspicion of wrongdoing or terrorism connections! What an opening for abuse of power it is. How often do people coming only from few specific countries are being suspected of being terrorists only on that basis?

As a person brought up in the previous Eastern Block I am quite used to the idea that police and state have significant privileges over citizens. I am also very conscious that those privileges and rights are very vulnerable to abuse. Police are just people, with their own stereotypes, troubled pasts and previous experiences weighing heavily on their decisions, but I think it is very dangerous indeed when they start to think that they are above us, in law, morality and right. They are here for us, not the other way around. Our safety should not come before our right to privacy and liberty. And I think, especially now, we should make sure everyone is on the same page regarding that.


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