Saturday, July 4, 2015

Seminar 3 Position Statement: Jonathan Cable, DCSS Project, Cardiff Univ.

The Press, Snowden and Mass Surveillance

The spectre of terrorism casts a shadow over press debates around privacy, and where the red line lies between security and privacy really depends on what newspaper you read. The press coverage of the Snowden revelations and surveillance is vastly different from newspaper to newspaper. The Guardian is not alone in covering the story but they are the loudest and the most critical voice, other newspapers such as the Daily Mail are much more supportive of the government and security services. There have been four emerging themes in the press coverage, and these are based on findings from the content analysis conducted as part of the DCSS Project:

1)     Social media companies should do more to fight terror

In November 2014 parliament published a report into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby in an attempt to answer the question as to whether or not his death could have been prevented. Both of the killers being known to MI5 and there was a failure of the intelligence services to act on the data they had. But David Cameron called for technology companies to face up to their “social responsibility” and help in the fight against terror because the killers communicated via Facebook. Both of these aspects were echoed in the press coverage where the majority of reporting revolved around calls for the intelligence services to act more on surveillance information, and that social media companies should do more to fight terror.

2)     Surveillance should be increased

Similarly, following the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris at the beginning of this year prompted David Cameron to make a speech which pointed towards a curtailing of encrypted communication and increased surveillance. He said: In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremis with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary, that we cannot read? No, we must not." This prompted press debates around whether or not we should have to make a choice between security and privacy.

3)     Surveillance is damaging to international relations

There is a sense that surveillance of the public is acceptable and necessary, but doing so on elites is much more problematic. This can be seen in the stories surrounding the revelations about US spying on diplomatic embassies of its friends and allies. As well as the disclosure in October 2013 that the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being tapped by the NSA, along with 34 other world leaders. The press coverage of these incidents was much more focussed on what surveillance should be use for, and what this meant for international relations. The press was openly more critical because of the political damage caused.

4)     Politicians are driving the debates

These key opinions in the press are unsurprising when you consider the most frequent sources in news articles. The loudest and by far the most frequently occurring voice are political sources who seek to justify, defend and only very rarely criticise the actions of the security services. The way the coverage is shaped lies in who is driving debates around surveillance in the press.

What About Us?

The debates and opinions lacking in the press coverage surround the consequences of mass surveillance to the public. There has also been a lack of discussion around particular rights implications because of surveillance (including human rights and privacy), and the regulation of surveillance. The differences in what is and what is not covered leaves the public confused and under informed about the major issues stemming from Snowden leaks, and by extension what this means for their own privacy.

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