“Send me something in a brown envelope.”
This is Luke Harding’s advice for those with information of interest. With a plethora of digital tools available, reverting to paper and pen may now be the safest way of keeping documents for your eyes only.
If opting for email, he advocated for the use of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), an encryption program to increase communications security: “If you do that, then any message you send is relatively secure.”
To some people, this may sound like paranoia. For those who have read his book, The Snowden Files, it is merely good sense.
Luke Harding took a seat on the Record & Book Nook stage at the Lush Summit, an event where charities, speakers and grassroots organisations from around the world met to discuss their work. The Guardian journalist and author has penned books covering topics as wide ranging as Wikileaks, his own expulsion from Russia, and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
Joined by Jo Glanville, director of freedom of speech organisation English PEN, he told tales worthy of a spy thriller, but which were the work of reality alone.
His book The Snowden Files follows the publication of secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, revealing the extent of mass surveillance by the US and UK, in what Jo Glanville referred to as “the biggest leak in history.” Oliver Stone recently took the story to the big screen.
Taking out his iPhone, Luke Harding said: “Who would want to un-know that this is the greatest spying machine ever invented?”
He went on to describe how the microphone can be turned on remotely, and the owner of the phone spied upon.
With the world’s eyes now wide open, he was damning of the current state of surveillance in the UK: “The Investigatory Powers Act made legal what intelligence agencies in this country were already doing, which is the bulk collection of everything you do online.”
Describing UK surveillance laws as the most regressive in the world, he attributed this partly to a lack of public resistance: “I think we’re fantastically complacent.”
He jokingly blamed the British romanticisation of spies and the love affair with James Bond. He did not put the entire blame on Ian Fleming though, and suggested the British are very trusting of the state, compared with countries which have a more turbulent history with authorities and consequently: “really care about this stuff.”
He said that both major political parties in the UK are complicit in mass surveillance. While the Conservative party has put through the Investigatory Powers Act, much of what Snowden revealed happened under the watch of a Labour government. This lack of opposition could help shed light on how the Investigatory Powers Act (or Snooper’s Charter) has so easily taken hold in a post-Snowden Britain.
Turning to issues in the US, he said: “The problem is that Obama, who had a chance to reign in the security state, didn’t do so, and now of course we have Trump in the White House.”
The award-winning journalist’s experiences in Russia inevitably led to discussions of the relationship between Putin and Trump: “If there’s any proof he’s been funded by Russia, that’s potentially fatal.”
He went on to ask: “Is Trump in some informal or not so informal way a Russian asset?”
US politics, Russian assassinations and mass indiscriminate surveillance are all subjects that Luke Harding knows well. It carried weight, therefore, when he said that this is “the most troubling political period of my life.”
Watch Luke Harding and Jo Glanville in the Record & Book Nook