In 1966 we flocked to the cinema to watch the daring Truffaut’s science fiction film Fahrenheit 451 based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury, about an oppressive future in a totalitarian regime in which firemen’s duty is to destroy all books.

Although Bradbury had written the novel to warn about repeating the censorship imposed by Stalin and Hitler as well as his own experience of McCarthyism, ironically the novel was denounced by various individuals who demanded parts of it should be subjected to censorship. At the time it seemed preposterous for us to even imagine the State in our ‘civilised’ and ‘democratic’ countries to engage in any of the practices allegorised in the book and film.

Not so sure now

The Guardian, British newspaper whose correspondent Glenn Greenwald first published some of the secret files leaked by Edward Snowden, was forced to destroy computer hard drives containing copies of the documents that revealed the high level of, and often illegal, surveillance on their citizens by American and British governments.

Supervised by GCHQ officials the Guardian’s editor and a computer expert physically destroyed the offending hard drives, a largely symbolic action since copies of the material in question exist in other countries.

More or less at the same time Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours and interrogated at Heathrow Airport, London, under a Law intended to be used with those suspected of terrorist involvement, although at no point he was accused of anything to do with such activities. His computer and memory sticks were confiscated, as he on occasions collaborates with his partner in his journalistic work.

Middle class Nimbys, ecowarriors and a Green MP can also get arrested

A strange alliance of affluent residents on the English village of Balcombe in West Sussex, seasoned environmental protesters and the Green Party Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas, has congregated to protest against exploratory oil and gas drilling by energy company Cuadrilla in order to initiate extraction by fracking, the controversial system that could lead to water contamination and trigger small earthquakes (National Geographic environmental report). Many protesters and the MP have been arrested in spite of using strictly nonviolent methods and are due to appear in court. Pressenza has already reported on the mysterious disappearance of a Twitter account also related to the Balcome anti-fracking protest, reported in detail at the Occupy London website.

Prince Charles letters to politicians will not be made public

Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy and the Royal Family is not supposed to interfere in the political process. But the heir to the throne has written numerous letters to politicians and has met in many occasions with elected officials. Attempts to have such letters published under the Freedom of Information Act of 2005, as they may provide evidence of the Prince’s lobby of ministers with his personal views, have been blocked by the Attorney General.

From dystopian sci-fi to scary technology

Bradbury has been credited with predicting flat screen TV and the massification of, and addiction to, entertainment. Orwell’s 1984 left us with the classic “Big Brother is watching you”, closer to the progress in technology that would allow the present capacity by governments to obtain minute details about the life of citizens, even if “Big Brother” at present would probably remind people more of the cruel “reality” show than its original meaning.

The worrying erosion of civil liberties

Freedom to be informed, the right to privacy, freedom of expression and protest, are all civil liberties we have come to take for granted in our so-called democracies whilst we look in horror at less ‘civilised’ countries with their much blunter restrictions and repression.

Things are changing, though, and those who raise their voices against an increasingly controlling powerful minority which has appropriated the mechanisms of the State are not treated compassionately. Bradley Manning’s verdict is due today. Curiously, the Spartacus-inspired slogan used by his supporters is also a stark allegory of the process we are involved in, as we are, all, literally, Bradley Manning, at the (lack of) mercy of the State.

Manning Update

Bradley Manning has been given a 35 year prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge from the Army. This is the most severe sentence given to a whistleblower and no doubt a warning to anybody considering releasing unauthorised information.