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The defence of Privacy

Privacy is something intimate. To violate it even in the slightest terms is, without over-stating the matter, an encroachment by a government upon the rights of the individual, not to mention the community. At this stage, a distinction may prove to be important. A clutch of rights such as privacy, freedom of speech, etc., are fundamental. The rest (such as property rights) are derivatives from these basic few. The government is charged to ensure that the proper maintenance of the former is conducted via the administering of the latter. When an authority violates this principle, for example conducting intrusive internet surveillance on a grand scale, it is obvious to anyone thinking clearly that the ends do not justify the means, regardless of what they may know about the persuasions of power. Organisations have no more rights than their members, and any attempt by them to overstep their limitations can be seen as an offence against the populace they are meant to serve.

In light of this perspective, it would seem then that the recent venting of frustrations by the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ are a distraction from the original point of the hearing, namely to ascertain details and justifications about spying on the civilian populations of numerous countries. But they are more than that. By overstepping the boundaries of individual privacy, an unquestionably fundamental right, an organisation such as PRISM forfeits its rights to exist in its current form. Of course, it goes without mentioning that all associated rights, e.g. self-defence of criminal acts, are null. The defence of the conduct of GCHQ can therefore be seen as a further proliferation of wrongdoing. At the very least the supine attitude of the inquiry should be made drastically more acute in ambition, the first stage to long-lasting and effective legislation against cyber spying. But as ever, where we go from here is up to us.

Thomas Mutton

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