Edward Snowden Made Me Sick

“It’s the police, let us in.”

I didn’t expect that when I answered the buzzer. I’ve rarely attracted the attention of the police. They had never been to my door before. At first, I imagined from the plain clothes of the two officers that they must be CID. They were both men with London accents, and both wearing trenchcoats. One was middle aged, and clearly used to getting his way. The other was younger, black with crew cut hair, and surprisingly nervous.

Rather than coming to their point, they asked me several roundabout questions about plans for protests against the G8, which was to be held at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland later that year. Slowly, it dawned on me that they were not from CID, that these police officers were interested in my politics. As an activist who was brought up in the Gleneagles area, I had tried to arrange a meeting between protesters and locals.

I asked “Is this about the email I sent to Blackford community council, asking for a public meeting?” The older police officer turned to his colleague and said, theatrically, “Oh, is it that Alistair Davidson?”, as though he had no idea whose door he had come to. They asked me to inform on my friends and fellow protesters. I refused. They left.

I now know that at least one of the protesters I had met, Mark Stone, was a police officer himself.

I’m relating this story now because that was the day that I learned that as a result of peaceful political activity, I was on a government list. Somewhere in the security service’s database there is a file with my name. Five years ago, it would be very small and very boring, the story of a young man who had been to a few protests, sat on a few committees, and occasionally wrote articles.

I’m sickened by what my file might contain today. The sickness came upon me last night, as I spoke to a friend on Facebook. I realised that our conversation, and every similar conversation, was being recorded. How notorious would I have to be for it to be kept forever, just in case? Hard drives are very cheap. I expect not that notorious at all.

Then I started to consider all the emails in my inbox. Love letters. Breakup letters. Chats with my sister about our childhoods and futures. Medical information about my family. I realised that if men in trenchcoats ever come to my door again, they will first rummage through all of that, looking for a lever, something to tempt or threaten me. Maybe, I realised, that has already happened.

I’ve felt ill ever since.

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    • anon
    • August 23rd, 2013

    Some advice from an anonymous stranger, if I may. Never ever again say anything to a police officer unless under caution in a recorded interview with a solicitor present and under their advice, even if it is an innocuous remark. Crush your reactions, fear, anxiety and all of the normal human emotions you experience in that situation and say something along the lines of: “Am I under arrest? If so, I will answer your questions in your interview with a solicitor, if not, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

    Police detectives are trained to use surprise and a suspect’s emotions to their advantage, they have much experience in doing this and it often works- the natural reaction is to start talking. Keep calm, If they arrest you then so be it (an arrest alone means nothing), say nothing, be polite, compliant and wait for a solicitor. Please trust me on this.

      • mohkohn
      • August 23rd, 2013

      Thanks, you’re quite right of course. I was a lot younger and not having the best day – my wits were not about me!

        • notreallyanonymous
        • August 24th, 2013

        Unless, of course, you’re being questioned under something like Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000, where you’re not under arrest but have to answer all their questions and they don’t always have to provide you with a solicitor…

        It’s probably helpful to have a complete copy of UK legislation with you at all times, just in case.

  1. I commend you for publishing your thoughts, however may I ask why you direct the blame of your privacy invasion towards Snowden?

      • Alistair Davidson
      • August 24th, 2013

      I don’t blame him for my privacy invasion. I am glad he made these revelations. Learning the truth has made me feel ill!

    • Quirk
    • October 29th, 2013

    I miss talking with you, Ali. Maybe you understand why I stopped.

      • Alistair Davidson
      • October 29th, 2013

      I miss you too. I can certainly make a few guesses.

  1. August 25th, 2013

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