THE BLOG

Decoding the New Security System

23/08/2013 14:31 BST | Updated 22/10/2013 10:12 BST

Last Sunday, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist behind a series of stories about mass online surveillance by the US National Security Agency, was detained by authorities in the UK under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Officials at London's Heathrow airport confiscated David Miranda's mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. Is this another sad example of the vindictive reaction by intelligence communities against Edward Snowden? Or a sinister indication of the future trajectory of our human rights?

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Madrid attacks in 2004 and London bombings in 2005, reactive anti-terrorism legislation sprang up around the globe. Numerous common elements in these laws suggested their recycling across national jurisdictions. They were deployed alongside torture, extraordinary rendition and attacks on free speech. Human rights organisations warned that a 'war on terror' pursued outside of human rights frameworks, was disingenuous, dangerous and would see an abdication from, rather than a defence for universal values.

The election of President Obama was welcomed by many as the beginning of a new era. America looked to be turning from the warpath and bellicose discourse of President Bush. Initially there seemed evidence of this much needed change, including in President Obama's Cairo speech and Secretary Hilary Clinton's repeated affirmation of human rights and commitment to protecting human rights defenders. We thought a dark page had been turned and a new approach would emerge, placing human rights protection at the centre of responses to terrorism.

But behind well-rehearsed and possibly well-meaning speeches; behind claims about the defence of Internet freedom and civil society space; behind support for the Arab Spring and the Burmese transformation, there lurked a far darker doctrine hidden from public scrutiny.

Security, rather than human rights, has emerged as the algorithm de rigueur. Insidious and powerful, this has taken hold of policies and institutions and captured the minds and hearts of many in the process.

The appalling treatment of Private Bradley Manning, the attacks against WikiLeaks, the charges against Barrett Brown and the manhunt for Edward Snowden, are all born of the war on terror and its related erosion of civil liberties.

This algorithm is embedded within the NSA's technological penetration of the daily lives of millions of ordinary people. It drives the relentless witch-hunt for whistleblowers. It lifts up a canopy of laws allowing for their fullest application, each to the broadest possible extent. It is expressed in distasteful political statements inciting violence against the "leakers".

This security algorithm has its own language. It speaks of "traitors" and acts of "treachery", it speaks of resorting to measures necessary for the "national interest" and against "legitimate foreign targets".

Institutions that should protect us against the abuse of state power have so far failed to take effective action to do just that. Instead they have sought to justify, and at times strengthen, these intrusions. Within the US administration, Congress, the Senate, and of course, in the military and NSA itself, the security algorithm has taken over.

And it is not only in the US. Remember the European complicity in the Snowden manhunt. This points to the existence of a community of political, intelligence and security actors that transcends national allegiance and that works together to support a common front. That common front is not against "terrorists" but against those who dare to denounce the all-encompassing security response to terrorism and the human rights violations that result from it.

I wonder what it will take to defeat the security algorithm. After all, we have not remained silent or been inactive. Lawsuits have been brought questioning the constitutionality of it ; international civil society has advocated strongly against it , public letters have called on President Obama to intervene ; the US congress narrowly defeated a call for strengthening of it ; renewed calls can be heard on Capitol Hill for serious reform ; judicial investigation in France has denounced it and repeated criticism has been made of Angela Merkel's handling of it.

Seemingly nothing will shift those in power to review the rampant use of technology to violate privacy, free speech and other human rights.

There is no apparent cause for the UK authorities to take action against David Miranda beyond what must be an attempt to intimidate his partner. Miranda's detention must be seen as the latest piece of evidence that the security algorithm is now pervasive throughout the public system and is feeding a systematic crackdown against all those who would condemn it.

Harassment of journalists is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression, which is protected by the UK's domestic law and international law. Extending such harassment to members of a journalist's family is utterly appalling.

Events of recent months confirm what human rights activists have feared, that we are witnessing the by-products of a malodorous transformation that began with 9/11. Many hoped that President Obama's administration would reverse this trend but in fact it has become even more insidious and wide reaching.

This trend must now clearly be seen as a descent into a reconstructed cold war politic. It may have new forms, new methods and new manifestations but the pervasive, intrusive hand of the state - unaccountable and intransigent - is now all too evident, even to the point of scrutiny of our emails.