Undermining privacy creates self-censorship, eliminates democracy

Annie Machon
Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer for MI5, the UK Secur­ity Ser­vice, who resigned in the late 1990s to blow the whistle on the spies’ incom­pet­ence and crimes with her ex-partner, David Shayler. Draw­ing on her var­ied exper­i­ences, she is now a pub­lic speaker, writer, media pun­dit, inter­na­tional tour and event organ­iser, polit­ical cam­paigner, and PR con­sult­ant. She has a rare per­spect­ive both on the inner work­ings of gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and the media, as well as the wider implic­a­tions for the need for increased open­ness and account­ab­il­ity in both pub­lic and private sectors.
“Overwhelming” data mining by NSA would lead to self-censorship, which goes against the principles of democracy, Annie Machon, a former MI-5 intelligence officer, told RT, praising Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff for her criticism of US spy activities.

Speaking at the opening day of the UN General Assembly, Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, has slammed the US for “violating human rights” and “international law” in view of the global cyber surveillance scandal and revelations the NSA tapped into her personal communications.  

Rousseff proposed an international framework for governing the internet, promising that Brazil would adopt its own legislation and technology to protect it from illegal interception of communications.

The US president, who appeared on stage immediately after Rousseff, chose not to address the Brazilian criticism at all, only saying that America has now begun to review the way it gathers  intelligence “so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.”  

Brazil’s push for independent internet infrastructure will offer an opportunity for online privacy by allowing its users to avoid US tech giants, Annie Machon, a former MI-5 intelligence officer turned whistleblower, told RT.  

RT:Rousseff attacked the spying activities, calling them a breach of international law. As someone who's no stranger to intelligence work, what's your take on that comment?

Annie Machon: I’m really happy to see a national leader make such robust attack against the illegal activities of the NSA. And also such robust defense about what constitutes democracy where we do need privacy in order to have freedom of thought and freedom of expression – in order to freely communicate. And as long as we can no longer trust the media, by which we make those communications or read that information, then we start to self-sensor. It’s a very dangerous path for democracy to go down. I thought she [Rousseff] incorporated a lot of very useful points in her talk. And the fact that Brazil is now looking at potentially building a new sort of internet infrastructure, which bypasses the bugged and the spied-on American infrastructure -- I think it’s a very positive step forward.   

RT:Brazil's president stressed that the rights and security of some can't be ensured by violating the rights of others. Can a balance between the two ever be found?

AM: I thought Obama’s response to her speech, which was quite a dismissive one-liner about the fact that you’ve got to balance America’s security with the rest of the peoples of the world was quite equivocating. It would be nice to have seen him put up a more robust defense for democracy too. Sure there had to be a balance, but it has to be proportionate in any democratic society. And overwhelming and endemic data mining of all our information, all our communications isn’t proportional. That doesn’t go with the basic principles of human rights.  

RT:Rousseff also urged the UNGA to protect cyberspace from spying activities and sabotage, and said Brazil will equip itself with legislation and technology to protect its online users. Do you think it's possible for Brazil to fully isolate its cyberspace?

AM: We’ve all become globally so dependent on the US infrastructure, the US systems and also the US corporate internet services – such as Google and what have you – so that could be more difficult. However, many internet pioneers, many internet activists have for years now been talking about moving away, the need to move away from proprietary American-owned software companies. So if you move to things like open-source codes, open-source software where people can see what’s actually in that code and can see if there’s any nasty NSA backdoors put in in that code – then you can protect your national sovereignty and you individual privacy much more effectively.

And, in fact, Brazil has been a bit of a trailblazer on this run already. Over the last decade it moved many of its crucial national infrastructures to open-source software. So, they’re already thinking on the right lines and I think that the revelations from the Snowden papers about the sheer scale of invasive spying that’s been going on against Brazil by the US and its allies will heighten that. And I think it’s a very good thing, because it’ll prove an alternative infrastructure that concerned citizens, who want to ensure their privacy around the world, can potentially use. Rather than having to assume they have to use US or UK-based software type services, which of course are then mainlining into the NSA and GCHQ.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.