UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Defends Hard Drive Destruction, But Not Miranda Detention

from the i-don't-think-you're-getting-this dept

With the uproar last week over both the detention of David Miranda under anti-terrorism laws and the destruction of hard drives at The Guardian’s offices, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has decided to step forward to opine on both topics in the Guardian himself. As we’d pointed out already, Clegg was very involved in the decision to force the Guardian to destroy the hard drives, and he defends that position in his writeup:

I believed at the time, and still do, that it was entirely reasonable for the government to seek to get leaked documents back from the Guardian or have them destroyed. Along with the information the newspaper had published, it had information that put national security and lives at risk. It was right for us to want that information destroyed. The Guardian had decided not to publish this information: not a single sentence was censored from the newspaper as a result of the information being destroyed.

This makes almost no sense at all. It is not a reality-based argument, but a fantasy-based one. As already discussed, there are copies of the documents in multiple places. Destroying a computer does nothing at all to protect anyone. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that the documents in question actually “put national security and lives at risk.” But, even if they did, destroying the computers / hard drives does absolutely nothing to mitigate that risk. It just looks foolish and aggressive.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my politicians to recognize when they do something that has no actual impact, other than to symbolically demonstrate that they don’t understand the nature of the digital era. It suggests that they are governing from a position of ignorance, and that’s not a good thing.

The claim that “not a single sentence was censored from the newspaper” is also ridiculous. Yes, The Guardian already wasn’t going to publish anything potentially damaging, and yes, the reporting is continuing from elsewhere, but having the government come into the offices of a major media property and demand the destruction of hard drives is a form of censorship. It’s intimidation and it creates massive chilling effects for others (which, of course, was part of the point). To argue that it has no effect because the Guardian wasn’t going to publish the info anyway is both ridiculous and wrong.

Of course, it’s interesting to see that while Clegg is defending the indefensible above, he is not so supportive of the Miranda detention:

I was not consulted on the plans to detain him before it happened, and I acknowledge the many concerns raised about the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for these purposes. There is obviously a material difference between agreeing by mutual consent that files will be destroyed, and forcibly detaining someone. Terrorism powers should be used proportionately. That is why it is immensely important that the independent reviewer of terrorism powers, David Anderson QC, reports rapidly on whether this was a legitimate use of the Terrorism Act, and whether that legislation should be adjusted. Already, we are planning to limit the schedule 7 powers. We consulted last year on a wide set of improvements – such as reducing the maximum period of detention to six hours and allowing anyone detained for more than 60 minutes access to a lawyer. This autumn we will be taking a bill through parliament to implement these changes. In my view, if Anderson provides a clearly justified recommendation to restrict these powers even further, we should seek to do so in this bill.

Of course, that’s a bit of a political punt there. He doesn’t come out against it, but certainly suggests he doesn’t support the detention. And he does support changes to the law, but only fairly moderate ones at this point. Indeed, Clegg has been — at times — good on civil liberties issues, such as (as he reminds us) when he effectively stopped the UK’s Snooper’s Charter. But, it seems like he raises a totally false dichotomy in closing out his piece:

Criminals and terrorists now have access to a dizzying array of information, with devastating implications, while the security authorities have new tools with which to track them down. Data-mining techniques have the capacity to make government much more efficient but pose a real risk to personal privacy if taken too far. Social media can create new communities that would never have been possible before, but can also be the source of tragedy, as we have seen in a series of recent young suicides.

So a balance must be struck between a libertarian “anything goes” approach, which sees new technology as a way to escape from the reach of the law, and an authoritarian view that sees technology as a new opportunity to intrude into our lives. Technology will continue to evolve and governments worldwide will try to evolve with it. As long as Liberal Democrats are in government, I will ensure that our individual rights are not cast aside in the name of collective security.

That sounds like the all-too-typical refrain about how there needs to be a “balance” between security and liberty. But that’s false. There is little evidence that taking away basic liberties actually improves security (in fact, it can harm it). And the people who are upset about the destruction of hard drives and the detention of Miranda aren’t arguing for “anything goes,” but rather for a basic respect for civil liberties. That’s quite different, and it’s unfortunate, if not tragic, that Clegg doesn’t seem to understand the difference.

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Comments on “UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Defends Hard Drive Destruction, But Not Miranda Detention”

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Duke (profile) says:

Again failing to check with the lawyers before talking to the press...

This article was amended on 23 August 2013 after a request from the deputy prime minister’s office based on legal reasons. The footnote was amended on 25 August 2013 to give greater clarity.

For anyone interested, before it was amended the article contained an extra sentence:

The intent behind detaining Miranda was the same: to retrieve or destroy classified information. I was not consulted on the plans to detain him before it happened…

This was the justification originally given by the Government for the detention, and mostly accepted by the public and press. Except if that was the actual purpose for the detention, it would have been illegal, and the Government are currently being taken to court over it.

So either Nick Clegg admitted the UK police broke the law, or he fell for his government’s own misinformation campaign.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Again failing to check with the lawyers before talking to the press...

Also, if the information in question was indeed documents that came from Snowden, what right does the UK government have to “retrieve” such information. Last I heard that documentation originally came from the US government not the UK government. So I am curious on what grounds the UK government figures that they have a right to demand that it be “returned” to them or destroyed?

Anonymous Coward says:

The explanation is simple

Clegg is a moron AND a liar.

There’s really no need to go any further than that. Yes, yes, I know that the temptation to engage in further analysis is there, and I’ll probably fall for it myself, but often times the simplest explanation is the best — and this is one of those cases.

out_of_the_blue says:

Successfully shifted from routine to 'how far is too far?'

As I’ve been writing here from start of Snowden flap, one goal of a limited hangout is to acquaint and accustom people to current level of surveillance in order to roll out an increase. And this item yet again supports my prediction, as Clegg has successfully gotten even Laser-beam Mike off the everyday spying and onto deliberately done excesses. There’s no one talking of reducing the current level; that’s now a given baseline that you’ll exist under for rest of your life.

The confusion has become so complete that it’s beyond correction.

NoahVail (profile) says:

“Criminals and terrorists now have access to a dizzying array of information, with devastating implications”

Most people on the planet have access to “a dizzying array of information” and yes, a few of them are criminals and terrorists. However, the devastating implications that worries power brokers isn’t really tied to the safety of citizens.

I’ll rehash the ‘Internet = Wild West’ analogy and remind Mr. Clegg that new frontiers are always a bit uncivilized. In America’s Wild West, the higher risks were eventually mitigated by building safer institutions, not by intimidating the civilian population with government thuggery and a layer of constant surveillance.

I will grant that there were times when 19th Century American Government did over-flex it’s muscles. Usually it involved sending the Military in to slaughter and relocate inconvenient Native Americans, often in response to deep-pocketed campaign donors who wanted the land for their own purposes.

Mr. Clegg can easily find parallels in Britain’s own colonial history. (Assuming his look at history consists of more than cherry picked details from a rewritten past.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Btw: Large newspapers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland came together in writing an amicus article for the Guardian where they condemned the demand for destruction of Guardians property. It is not a widely supported view that this kind of measure is a “reasonable” response when Brazil and USA can keep on churning out the articles with no reprieve. This is a pointless reaction or plain damaging for the Guardians respect for the british authorities. It might even make the Guardian or others want to publish more of the information, which is not exactly the response they were hoping for.

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall between Cameron and the United Kingdoms people.

Anonymous Coward says:

the only purpose the destruction of the HDD had was to show that, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, the government can and will do whatever they want! Clegg is being a total chump to even say that there was (or he believed there was or was led to believe there was) information on those HDD that was of National Importance. the information on those HDD has not been destroyed, only one back up was but the information is of National Embarrassment to the UK government, exactly the same as it is a total National Embarrassment to the USG! had the government not done anything wrong and had nothing to hide, it would have kept quiet and let the incident blow over. behaving as they have done shows that the saying of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ is far more related to government than to anyone else! the really sad thing is that because of it’s complete paranoia over not having total control of all the citizens in the USA and the rest of the world, the USG is forcing/convincing other governments to follow them down a path that can lead only to destruction in one form or another. i hope i am wrong but the way things look at the moment, with spying being committed on citizens everywhere, it isn’t good

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Who's information, anyway?

“Along with the information the newspaper had published, it had information that put national security and lives at risk.”

I’ve been asking this question: what the hell does the British government have to do with the NSA that it claims that their national security and lives of their people are at risk?

The files and information that they’re so very interested in are from American government sources, not British.

Funny, thought they were two separate countries, unless there’s been an consolidation of our and their security services.

But I haven’t seen the news on that yet.

Guess it must have happened in secret: the NSA and MI5 have been surgically attached at the hip. Might as well have done it because it’s pretty obvious they’re already lapdogs for us.

Modplan (profile) says:

Re: Who's information, anyway?

I’ve been asking this question: what the hell does the British government have to do with the NSA that it claims that their national security and lives of their people are at risk?

The files and information that they’re so very interested in are from American government sources, not British.

Some leaks have so far have been about GCHQ, not the NSA, which is sort of a UK equivalent to the NSA.

It’s also important to point out that the UK Government gave the choice of destroying the hard drives, or being litigated by the government and essentially stopping the ability for the Guardian to publish anything. For Clegg to argue that nothing was censored to ignore what was demanded of the Guardian, as well as the fact that destroying the hard drives is obviously intended to stop or deter the Guardian from publishing further.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Civil Liberties ARE Security!

Something that always baffles me when people talk about the need to balance “security” with civil liberties is that they don’t seem to realize that those civil liberties are what secures us (the people) against the government! Or at least, should do that.

Basically they are arguing for a “balance” between real security for the people (from the government) and security against an imaginary foe (terrorist, piracy or whatever it is this week) that have never had the power to do actual long-lasting harm against us.

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