A short while ago, Apple announced that their new operating system is going to be called OS Mavericks. They are naming it after a California landmark and it sounds lovely – a bit rebellious, but still cool with really trendy sunglasses. Just right for the Apple image, in fact. But! Apple has also been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week, along with Google, Facebook et al, in the great Prism leak.
Prism – another wonderful word. A beacon of reflective light of all colours of the rainbow, something utterly beautiful and compelling and now utterly sinister. Since The Guardian first broke the news a few days ago that the US government appears to have a backdoor into the entire global communications network and is happily monitoring all our private correspondence, the British government has been falling over itself to assure people that it only avails itself of the opportunity to use the resources under strictly controlled legal conditions. That is not the point. No one seems to be asking the right questions.
1) Who gave the Americans the right to monitor my private correspondence in the first place? I am not a US citizen. If they are going to have such control over my affairs, I want some control over what they do about it. Perhaps it is time the rest of the world got a vote in the US political system.
2) According to William Hague, they would only use the information under a strict legal framework. What is that strict legal framework? In the UK, at present, a court order is required before an individual’s correspondence can be monitored. This is patently not happening in the USA, so how will the material be treated? And who will decide? It is useless saying that the UK courts will decide if the material is still freely available to the rest of the world. Who will protect my rights as a UK citizen against potential abuses of that material?
3) Most importantly, perhaps, we need to think about the repercussions of this on those who are citizens not of friendly, open Western democracies such as our own beloved country, where we can stand up and shout the odds if we don’t agree, but of citizens of some of the US’s dodgier allies. What happens to them?
I write a great deal about Turkey. I’ve written several books on the country and I’m actually halfway through a sequence of seven features about the country at the moment. It’s a place that I love dearly. At the moment, all hell has broken out and it all started because some protesters exercised their democratic right to stop the bulldozers moving in and destroying a park in Taksim Square. It has turned into a nationwide showdown about democracy.
As I am writing this, between 50 and 70 lawyers, acting on behalf of the demonstrators, have themselves been arrested within the Istanbul courthouse. Hundreds of journalists have been arrested and tried over the last few years in freedom of speech trials. Yet Turkey is a relatively moderate country, a major Western ally and a member of NATO. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is denouncing the protestors as terrorists and blaming Facebook and Twitter for all the ills facing his country. What happens if he asks his most powerful ally, the US, for aid in tracing the social networking of the protestors? With neighbours such as Iraq, Iran and Syria, Turkey is vital to the defence of Europe and the Middle East. Is the US going to trade off the rights of a few middle class liberals? And there are many other countries far more extreme than Turkey with whom the US does a great deal of very useful business.
My heart bleeds as I write this. America claims to be the home of democracy, Britain to be the mother of democracy – and Turkey, much of it part of the ancient Greek empire, has some claim to being the birthplace of democracy. It’s time to remember what democracy really means. Of course we need to stop terrorists but not at the expense of freedom.