And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.
David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face. Two comments to make here.
First, I’m fascinated to see how nakedly the UK government is attempting to intimidate Greenwald. There is no even remotely plausible alternative explanation for their behavior, which suggests a couple of possibilities: they may be supremely confident that they cannot be touched or restrained in any way from their violations of civil liberties; or they may feel desperately helpless to stop the ongoing leakage of knowledge. Possibly both.
Second, as Alan Rusbridger points out here, their actions are utterly pointless, unable to achieve any of their desired goals. I’m reminded of how, in the 1530s, the Bishop of London gathered up copies of William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and had them burned in public places. He thought that by so doing he had eliminated his problem, but only because he failed to understand that he was creating more sympathy for Tyndale, and that the reformer’s sympathizers would soon send much more money to Amsterdam where more and more and more copies of the English Bible would roll off the presses. The bishop was assuming that book-burning would have the same effect in the age of print that it had had in the manuscript age. He completely failed to grasp that new technologies were changing the rules; and today’s London laptop-smashers aren’t getting that message either.