As things stand today, the Fourth Estate is a state of mind. Some in the press have it, some do not. Some who have it are part of the institutional press. Some, like Ladar Levison and Edward Snowden, are not.
“I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore.”
Those are the poignant words of Ladar Levison, founder of Lavabit, a secure email service that he voluntarily shut down when faced with some sort of demand from the U.S. government to reveal user information. The precise nature of that demand he cannot talk about for fear of being thrown in jail, perhaps the best example we now have for how the surveillance state undoes the First Amendment. But we know that Lavabit was used by Edward Snowden to communicate with the outside world when he was stuck in the Moscow airport. So use your imagination!
If the public knew what the government was doing, the government wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore… is a perfect description of a “Fourth Estate situation.” That’s when we need a journalist to put hidden facts to light and bring public opinion into play, which then changes the equation for people in power operating behind the veil. If it doesn’t happen, an illegitimate state action will persist. “My hope is that, you know, the media can uncover what’s going on, without my assistance,” Levison said. He’s like a whistleblower who will go to jail if he actually uses his whistle. All he can do is give truncated interviews that stop short of describing the pressure he is under.
The Feds threatened to take a man to court because he shut down his company. He is not allowed to talk about this but can give hints for enterprising journalists to investigate. He had accepted warrants for information before when the person was specifically named in the warrant – that is what the 4th Amendment requires.
He shut down the company because of something much worse, something he felt violated the 4th Amendment. But, because of our Catch-22 state of mind, he is not allowed to tell anyone the event causing him to shut the company down. Even telling people he shut down the company because of a request might send him to prison.
From the Pressthink article:
The precise nature of that demand he cannot talk about for fear of being thrown in jail, perhaps the best example we now have for how the surveillance state undoes the First Amendment. But we know that Lavabit was used by Edward Snowden to communicate with the outside world when he was stuck in the Moscow airport. So use your imagination!
Interesting indeed! “If the public knew what the government was doing, the government wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore” is the explicit cry of people for the media – the Fourth Estate – to do its job. It refuses to because of factors controlling the media that work against its proper role – corporate control, money, etc.
Could this be how technology disrupts the media? These maters can be searched out and disseminated without having to be controlled by a large media corporation. They can be done by dedicated, interested individuals outside the control of centralized corporations.
For good or ill, Greenwald represents a totally novel approach to reporting and, because of that, is able to report on Fourth Estate situations with few restrictions. He lives in Brazil, has a position at the Guardian that is only partly controlled by them – he maintains an independent source of income from his readers. He provides eyeballs to the Guardian and they provide him a platform.
But Greenwald is in control and can go elsewhere with his news – as he has, giving out information to other media outlets. What gets reported in the Guardian, der Spiegel, the NYT , the Washington Post can be read from anywhere, no longer from just a local view, but from a global one. The reach of this news goes beyond national borders so it cannot easily be controlled.
If Britain shut down the Guardian, the news would be reported in Germany. If Germany, then France. The pure disruptive ability of the Internet to spread information makes it impossible to really stop. And shutting down the Internet is no longer a possibility. Egypt tried and failed. It is simply too easy to route around the damage.
This has spurred other reporters to begin doing what they should have been doing. This is the real fear of a security state – the loss of control, the loss of authority. It responds by trying to maintain control even harder but it simply cannot when the state is also a liberal democracy.
Something has to give and I think it will be the security state, no matter how hard authoritarians try to stop the process.
Yes, the government can spy on us more than before. But they can also be tremendously disrupted in their efforts. There are ways to fight back and, naturally, humans are finding them.
It is not a one-way battle between authoritarians and those fighting for civil liberties. Since the Age of Enlightenment, authoritarians eventually lose.