- Alan Rusbridger, *The Guardian*
- I will try and cover three areas. One is about the nature of the debate. One is to try and inform you about our reporting and how we've gone about it. The other is to touch on what I think the role of lawmakers and parliaments should be.
- I'll return to this but the overall scope of what we've been writing about and why it matters is the subject matter that you're exploring, which is about this new thing in intelligence which is placing entire populations under a form of surveillance. That seems to me something that is new, hasn't been debated properly. It's something that everyone from the President of the United States down says has to be properly debated and yet there hasn't been the information on which to base that debate.
- That is why the question of reporting -- and whether countries encourage that reporting or try to suppress it -- is such an important one.
- So perhaps I can just tell you a little bit about how the story came into being and about how we've been attempting to report it and how the challenges and responsibilities of doing so have worked.
- In mid-May as I think is known we were approached by Edward Snowden. I think it's important to understand that he approached two entities by coming to us. He approached the individual journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who if you like is part of the Guardian but is also part of what we might call the Fifth Estate, the new digital sphere of information which is not just traditional journalists.
- Glenn Greenwald is a lawyer, he's a blogger and he's a journalist. He was approached by Edward Snowden because he wrote so knowledgeably and responsibly and in such an informed way about this subject. I think Snowden recognised him as someone who would write about this knowledgeably. And he also writes for the Guardian which is a paper which has a monthly worldwide audience of something like 80 million unique browsers. It's a highly important vehicle for debate. But Glenn Greenwald is both part of this new world and part of the Guardian.
- The writing of the story has been a complex one, partially because of the subject matter. The story is about the penetration of communications and the ability of agencies and states to be inside emails, phone calls, text messages... and this presents a problem for journalists. One of the themes we have been exploring is whether journalism itself and having confidential sources is possible in this new age.
- A world in which Greenwald, an American citizen living in Rio, an editing team in New York and at various times a story taking place in Hong Kong and Russia and trying to edit it in London is one that engages many problems, including legal ones. You have a different set of legal rules in America from those that exist in London for instance.
- Examining the material involved problems of security and how you would securely handle this material. It involved fine editorial judgements about the responsibility of what was involved and I would just like to say a few words about that. That we were clear from the outset that we were not going to do anything that would identify agents, that would compromise operations -- we were not going to treat this material as a kind of [?] tub to search for stories.
- We have behaved responsibly and in some of our conversations with the British government this has been acknowledged. We have been in 90% of the stories we have gone to the governments and companies in advance and listened to their response. I think we have behaved responsibly throughout in our reporting.
- At some point we have run across the laws I mentioned earlier. The laws in different countries make this kind of reporting either difficult or impossible or allowable. It will be obvious to the lawmakers who are sitting there listening to this that there have been at least two instances where we violently disagree with the way the law has tried to interfere with our reporting.
- One was the use of terror legislation to intercept and detain David Miranda, who was part of the team of people at the Guardian, and the other was the direct threat from the British Government that they would use the law to seek either the return or the destruction of the material that we were looking at. That is why we are now in collaboration with American partners, because the American laws, the first amendment in particular, offer a more robust legal protection for this kind of reporting than exists certainly in Britain but I would guess in much of Europe.
- It seems to me that Article 10 [of the ECHR] is not like the first amendment and working in a country where prior restraint of publishing - stopping things from being published in advance - is not possible in America. Therefore we're in this new journalistic environment in which we take advantage of the best legal regime in which to publish in situations where states move against and try to prevent reporting within Europe.
- That is how the story came about, that is how we've been trying to work on this material. There have been issues of security of communications, security of the material. As I've tried to emphasise it's been an exercise in teamwork. There are several reporters and editors who have worked alongside Glenn Greenwald and used his expertise and his knowledge combined with our editing skills, our legal and IT background... the kind of thing that a proper, well resourced newspaper that wants to do journalism in the public interest is still able to do.
- We will have at the end of it, I think, enormous legal bills in having had to defend our reporting but that to my mind is something that a newspaper has to be able to do. And we have entered partnerships with the New York Times and ProPublica to enable reporting which, it turns out, is impossible to do in the UK.
- I just want to end by talking about why it seems to be this story is worth going to this effort. Why, with all these challenges and difficulties, it is important that a newspaper does this kind of reporting in a responsible way. And it comes back to where I started.
- In the old world, espionage was about state on state. It was a target activity in which people used highly targeted techniques in order to spy on others. What has happened in the last period of 10 or 15 years is that this has moved into a world where there has been a partnership between states and corporations that we are beginning to glimpse through the Snowden documents that has involved the mass harvesting of entire populations that uses digital equipment to put people under surveillance. That, it seems to me, is not something that can happen without consent. It cannot happen without consent of populations and that consent cannot be given without information. You cannot have the kind of debate that you are having today in your Parliament without information on which you can base that debate.
- You can't simultaneously have governments trying to stop newspapers from publishing this and have that debate. So I welcome the fact that President Obama even yesterday said that this was a debate that was necessary, that just because you can do things doesn't mean that you should do things. He acknowledged that things had gone wrong and that these were necessary matters of discussion: but you can't have the discussion without information. I acknowledge there has to be a balance - I think there has to be a balance between security and privacy and freedom of speech and freedom of association and the freedom to report - but these are all things that have to be placed in the balance. What tends to happen is that the security bit of the argument is the only one that gets heard.
- So in the discussions we have with government of course the security side of the argument says you shouldn't be publishing any of this. I've had senior officials within the British Government saying "You've had your debate, now stop." To me, it is not for the state to be telling journalists when to stop.That debate has to start now and that debate which is necessary to have the consent of people with which to employ these mass and new ways of surveillance that affect everything they do in their digital lives, can't be had without journalism.
- I welcome the fact that you are having this debate, I think it is important that you should. I think it is for all lawmakers of all countries in the free world which are going to be subject to these increasingly intrusive methods of surveillance -- because the engineers who are building this stuff will always be ahead of the laws. It is an important role of Parliament to be considering these balances and be considering how open oversight is done and whether oversight is meaningful. Whether oversight can exist through secret courts and through the committees of Parliament and Congress, whether these oversight powers have been sufficiently exercised in the past and whether they will be meaningful in the future.
a guest Sep 8th, 2013 122 Never
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