Thursday, 9 April 2009

Police operation floored

Some years ago, if top secret documents concerning active anti-terrorist operations had inadvertently been revealed to agents of the MSM, the news organisation concerned would contact Scotland Yard or the Home Office, a meeting would be arranged and the information effectively returned.

Whether or not the incident would be reported might depend on negotiations. If reported, the senior officer involved might or might not be named. Undoubtedly, the detailed nature of the documents would be protected to ensure police operations were not disturbed.

Today, digital cameras and computer enhancement leave sensitive documents vulnerable. More relevant still is the loss of monopoly of print and broadcast news organisations, thanks to the Internet, with both contracted and freelance journalists also active participants in online blogs.

The consequences are at least twofold: a) establishment forces find it increasingly hard to hide their activities from the wider media. b) those establishment forces seeking to protect us can no longer trust the wider media to maintain secrecy over sensitive operations.

This last consequence seems to have been the cause of the hurried police operations yesterday to arrest potential terrorists under surveillance before details of the policing activities might be revealed. Their investigations were undoubtedly compromised as a result.

All of this may or may not have a message for libertarians. While I sympathise considerably with many libertarian objectives, I always fail to accept it as a 'true' philosophy because it delivers up so many 'exceptions'.

In this case, of course, harm to others could undoubtedly have been caused if full details of the police operation had immediately been revealed and the terrorist suspects escaped.

Nevertheless, the consequences of unmediated media, while desirable as a whole, raise challenging issues about our collective security.

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