Remember when you were a kid, and you found a snail, and as you went to lick it one of your (nicer) brothers might’ve shouted: “Don’t do that! It’ll make you sick!”
And so you put it down and carried on eating grass instead.
This is what the Government are doing right now, only the snail is not really a snail; it’s the hard drives from the Guardian. And your big brother? GCHQ.
In both cases, the subjects are doing what we’re all taught to do; listen to your elders, respect experience, acknowledge you are not the expert on everything.
Throw words like ‘terror’, ‘threat’ and ‘national security’ at any Govt and they will immediately be on high alert, ready to defer to anyone who knows more about the particular threat of the day.
That doesn’t mean we should support, excuse or condone the destruction of data, more we should understand that the sole reliance on ‘experts’ is not always a good thing.
“Destroy the hard drives but keep reporting” seems like a logical compromise from the likes of Clegg when you remember he is both tech-illiterate and listening to the advice of the security services.
The Cabinet is mostly made up of 40-something white men who think having an iPad means they are in-the-know about technological advances. In the last 10 years, technology has advanced quicker than it probably did throughout the rest of their lifetime, and they are ill-equipped to dealing with the adaptations – you need only look at the responses to social media issues to see it’s an all-encompassing illiteracy.
There would be difficulties in having ‘independent’ advisers on these sorts of instances, of course, but someone within the Govt (and independent of the security services) who understands even the basics of data transfers, hard drives, encryption etc really wouldn’t go amiss.
I’ll admit, there is a part of me that agrees data in the wrong hands should be destroyed – would you want the deaths of people on your conscience if it landed in the laps of the ‘bad guys’ because you forgot to turn WiFi off before writing up your story?
It has to be said, though, I can’t really imagine the Guardian would be stupid enough to hook up hard drives containing sensitive data to an internet connection, never mind an unsecure one. Journalists have been doing this longer than most have been MPs.
But as Rusbridger said, it was not the only copy – so it still exists elsewhere. And if it still exists, then what was the point? My guess would be GCHQ showing some muscle and trying to limit the amount of leaks that could happen. But mostly muscle.
And it’s that, rather than the actual destruction, that should worry us most.