Straw Men

‘Fight for your laws as you would for the city ramparts’ – Anaximenes of Croton.

The words of a sixth century BC philosopher, but still pretty apposite. In the days of Anaximenes the threat to democracy was not only from enemies without, but also from dictatorship and oligarchy within. Recent comments about the Edward Snowden affair brought this comment to my mind. It seems to me that those who have criticised Snowden (and the newspapers which have published his information) have tried to win the argument about the future shape of the intelligence world by using the “straw man” defence i.e. put up a proposition which your opponents have not in fact used, then knock it down and claim to have won.

Politicians, intelligence chiefs and espionage fan-boys (I’m looking at you RUSI) repeatedly stress that the intelligence services do not operate outside the law and that those who claim this to be so are either misguided or malevolent. But in fact that is not their position. Rather, the critics are arguing that the intelligence services operate under legislation which was drawn up without considering the overwhelming power of the services to infiltrate and monitor the world of social networking and communication as they do today. You cannot, as another wise man once said, put new wine into old wine skins. The demand is for a review of the current legislation and a new democratic mandate before this sort of power is to be handed over permanently to the intelligence services.

They have it at the moment, but that does not mean that it is right.


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