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by Frank Morley,
The debate was meant to go by the book. Two distinguished experts, Anthony Glees, an academic from the University of Buckingham, and Harmit Kambo, Director of Campaigns at Privacy International, would slug it out for two hours in what promised to be a lively and impassioned discussion. Except, that evening, the very foundations of debate, the very thing LSE stands for, was foolishly compromised.
The evening started normally enough. Harmit gave an excellent critique on the state of mass surveillance in the UK, bringing in his expertise to highlight the moral and legal precariousness of programmes of government surveillance, such as the monitoring and storage of 1.8 million British webcam files, with thousands of those of people undressed in their bedrooms.
Anthony’s rebuttal was neither sincere nor accurate. He blamed Google and Amazon for taking and storing our data, but not the governments who steal that data off them. He talked about justice, but whose definition of justice doesn’t include a judiciary, instead a government acting in secret and above the law? He mentioned that we should simply trust the intelligence services without any over- sight, even though the very principles of our democracy are based on accountability and transparency. And finally, he said that the surveillance was merely to catch terrorists and criminals. But when millions of people are monitored, isn’t he then implying that governments view their own populations, the people who elect them, as criminals or terrorists?
He stated that security is an absolute for governments to provide, while privacy isn’t, citing the example that the police don’t let domestic abuse happen, while forgetting to mention that neither would the police put a CCTV camera in every home to stop it. While monitoring someone’s webcam over the internet is fine apparently, as long as the millions of people who are being spied on don’t know about it.
This brings me onto the main point. We wouldn’t actually know about this mass surveillance without the whistleblower, and in my humble opinion hero, Edward Snowden. They wouldn’t be having this debate, I wouldn’t be writing this article and no one would be any wiser without his bravery. To give up his job and his life to light a candle for the public to know, a light shining into the darkest recesses of government power.
This man, during an academic debate at a supposed prestigious institution, was shouted down as a traitor, by no less than a student of the academic who was trying to destroy him. Even if she wasn’t his student and there wasn’t a clear conflict of interests here, even if there wasn’t the reasonable suspicion that she was encouraged by her teacher to come along and express those views. Her shouting, and using inflammatory words like ‘traitor’, was more fitting for a segment in Fox News than an LSE debate.
If Anthony Glees thinks the kind of BS he tried to pull that evening is going to sit with students at LSE, he has another thing coming. I am not advocating that he be banned from speaking on campus, as students should be given the opportunity to see through his facile tactics. But I do think the LSE Students’ Union should begin an investigation immediately into why it seems that a debate at this university was fixed from the start.