“The News of the World didn’t go far enough. […]
Now in Britain, we see similar sanctimonious hand-wringing over the “privacy rights” of the British elite. These individuals, through active scheming and quiet acceptance, have turned the UK into what Privacy International now bills as an “Endemic Surveillance Society”. Barely a month goes by without the government and its supporters pushing another Orwellian state surveillance scheme. But now, like Berlusconi, these elites purport a sudden interest in protecting the privacy rights of the people, not by rolling back such schemes, but by gagging the press. […]
The News of the World should have released the tapes made by its private investigators. The elite exposed are the usual paymasters of such private intelligence firms. The democratic process should not be denied the same high quality information that businessmen, celebrities and oligarchs acquire on a daily basis. […]
The actions of major newspapers are “voted on” every day by their readers. Whatever their faults, popular newspapers remain the most visible and the most democratically accountable institutions in the country. Their mandate to inform the public vastly exceeds that granted to the unelected and the rarely elected at Westminister, who are nonetheless quick to grant themselves a blanket exemption from all censorship.”
I think Julian Assanges furious demands touch on a very difficult topic. For those who have, during the recent years, committed themselves to campaign for the right to privacy as well as against intransparent politics, two major moral concepts collide here.
First of all, there is nothing to say against the demand for less obscure politics. “Transparent politicians not transparent citizens”, has become the activists’ motto at this front.
But it is not everything as simple as this slogan may suggest. The “News of the World” has intruded the privacy of several thousand people. Without requirement of a judicial decree. Without informing the persons concerned in the aftermath. With nothing but the suspicion that their private talk will be worth a headline or two.
It is easy to demand all personal telecommunication of, let’s say, Germany’s hardly popular minister of the interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, ought to be made public. It is much harder to call for the publication of your neighbor’s calls to his wife, only because you have elected him to the city council. And there is certainly no way to argue for the wire-tapping of Gwyneth Paltrow and George Michael without giving up the whole concept of privacy.
I am not the only one to have taken to the streets over much less dangerous intents of our government. And I see no reason why a newspaper, Murdoch-owned or not, should be granted more rights than our elected representatives. Is is indeed important that more journalists do investigative research. It is true that politics, big and small, become more transparent. But it would be the worst mistake to give up our most basic rights over this.
(this is an altered translation of my article for gulli:news on the same subject).