To the fifth anniversary of Big Brother Watch, where Mr S joined David Davis and Alan Rusbridger in an apartment opposite Thames House to raise a glass to the campaign group’s victories against the surveillance state.
Matthew Elliot, the organisation’s founder, told attendees that Big Brother Watch’s biggest role ‘is to make sure that the arguments for civil liberties for privacy and against surveillance are properly heard,’ in what has at times become a tense debate between the government and civil liberties campaigners.
The guest of honour Alan Rusbridger certainly made sure such arguments were aired when he took to the mic. In his speech, the Guardian editor-in-chief swiftly turned his attention to the former Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings, for a column he wrote arguing that civil liberties groups should not get in the way of government security.
‘There was quite a remarkable piece in the Daily Mail by Max Hastings. He wrote this incredible sentence where he said: “I cannot for the life of me imagine what harm can result from MI5 accessing the phone calls, bank accounts, emails of you, me or any other law-abiding citizen.” I thought that in a sentence encapsulates the muddle that we’re in because Max has at least four reasons why he ought to be able to imagine that.’
Rusbridger then went on to offer his four point guide as to why he thinks Hastings is wrong.
1. He’s a journalist. He understands why confidential sources are important. He reads the Daily Mail, the Daily Mail’s very good on these subjects.
2. He’s a conservative, and he would normally have extreme scepticism about the size of the state and the behaviour of the state.
3. He’s read George Orwell. He can’t read George Orwell and say that he can’t imagine why this technology might be bad
4. He’s a historian of the 20th century, he’s written fantastic books. It’s no accident that the Germans do get this.
Mr S hesitates a guess that Hastings will exercise his right of reply.