Caught in the trap

This morning’s Observer column.

Watching William Hague doing his avuncular routine in the Commons on Monday, I was reminded of the way establishment figures in the 1950s used to reassure hoi polloi that they had nothing to worry about. Everything was in order. The Right Chaps were in charge. Citizens who had done nothing wrong, declared Uncle Hague, had nothing to fear from comprehensive surveillance.

Oh yeah? As Stephen Fry observed in an exasperated tweet: “William Hague’s view seems to be ‘we can hide a camera & bug in your room & if you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the worry?’ Hell’s teeth!”

Hell’s teeth indeed. I can think of thousands of people who have nothing to hide, but who would have good reasons to worry about intrusive surveillance. Journalists seeking to protect their sources, for example; NHS whistleblowers; people seeking online help for personal psychological torments; frightened teenagers seeking advice on contraception or abortion; estranged wives of abusive husbands; asylum seekers and dissident refugees; and so on.

In a way, Hague’s smug, patronising tone was the least troubling aspect of the NSA/GCHQ story…