Yesterday’s Guardian carried this story:
Privacy rights of innocent people will have to be sacrificed to give the security services access to a sweeping range of personal data, one of the architects of the government’s national security strategy has warned.
Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, sets out a blueprint for the way the state will mine data – including travel information, phone records and emails – held by public and private bodies and admits: “Finding out other people’s secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules.”
Omand’s frankly terrifying report has been published by the ippr’s Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. What is not reported by the Guardian is who is funding this work (is the maxim ‘follow the money’ really forgotten in journalstic circles 35 years on from Watergate?). Fortunately, the ippr do at least acknowledge this:
ippr would like to thank EDS, Raytheon Systems Ltd, De La Rue and Booz Allen Hamilton for their generous support of the Commission’s activities
Let’s run through all those funders.
- EDS is one of the government’s main suppliers of ICT services
- Raytheon Systems Ltd is another technology company with major contracts with the Ministry of Defence
- De La Rue specialises in security printing, papermaking and cash handling systems
- Booz Allen Hamilton is a leading strategy and technology consulting firm with numerous US government contracts.
In short, this report has been paid for by the very sector which has a business stake in delivering the databse state which Omand insists must be implemented.
There are serious issues at stake here: firstly, what is it about the state of our media that prevents a journalist from even looking at the inside front cover of a pamphlet he is reporting on to see who is funding the research? The incuriosity of Alan Travis is frankly gobsmacking. I’m not suggesting it invalidates the research, but just as we expect politicians to declare an interest, we should expect it of think tanks as well. This is one of the things that the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency has been seeking to highlight.
But the other issue is a problem for Liberal Democrats, and Lord Ashdown in particular. As co-chair of Commission on National Security his reputation and gravitas clearly opens doors for this report and grants it a respectability it would otherwise not enjoy. Lord Ashdown may disagree with every word of this paper; he has declined the opportunity to clarify this in the report.
In my view this is a pretty untenable position to be in. When it comes to debating security, and in particular its implications for privacy and human rights, it is crucial that any pecuniary interests are made clear from the outset. Otherwise, you risk being a party to the sort of lazy, whitewash journalism that the Guardian article above exemplifies. I am sure that Lord Ashdown is not profiting from this personally, but it does seem extraordinarily naive to allow his name to be used this way on behalf of the industry.
Ultimately, it is hard to reconcile this concept of a 360-degree surveillance state with anything even vaguely resembling liberalism. If Lord Ashdown is at all concerned about the direction we are headed in terms of the erosion of our civil liberties and privacy, he needs to be more scrupulous in making that clear.
Declared interest: James Graham is the Campaigns and Communications Manager of Unlock Democracy, which is a member of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency. He writes in a personal capacity.
Editor’s note: Paddy Ashdown has refuted James Graham’s article in the comments thread here.