by Dominic Rushe
in New York
23 September 2013
'All sorts of people
around the world are questioning what America is doing,'
Alan Rusbridger told an
audience in New York.
Photograph: Sarah Lee
Guardian editor says
depth of NSA surveillance programs
greatly exceed anything the
could have imagined
The potential of the surveillance state goes way beyond anything in
George Orwell's 1984, Alan Rusbridger, the
Guardian's editor-in-chief, told an
audience in New York on Monday.
Speaking in the wake of a series of revelations in the Guardian about the
extent of the National Security Agency's surveillance operations, Rusbridger
"Orwell could never have imagined anything
as complete as this, this concept of scooping up everything all the
"This is something potentially astonishing about how life could be lived
and the limitations on human freedom," he said.
Rusbridger said the NSA stories were "clearly"
not a story about totalitarianism, but that an infrastructure had been
created that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
"Obama is a nice guy. David Cameron is a
nice social Democrat. About three hours from London in Greece there are
some very nasty political parties.
What there is is the infrastructure for
total surveillance. In history, all the precedents are unhappy," said
Rusbridger, speaking at the Advertising Week conference.
He said that whistleblower
Edward Snowden, who leaked the
documents, had been saying:
"Look, wake up. You are building something
that is potentially quite alarming."
Rusbridger said that people bring their own
perspectives to the NSA revelations.
People who have read Kafka or Orwell found the
level of surveillance scary, he said, and that those who had lived or worked
in the communist eastern bloc were also concerned.
"If you are Mark Zuckerberg and you are
trying to build an international business, this is dismaying to you,"
Zuckerberg recently criticized the Obama
administration's surveillance apparatus.
"Frankly I think the government blew it," he
told TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
The Facebook founder was particularly
damning of government claims that they were only spying on "foreigners".
"Oh, wonderful: that's really helpful to
companies trying to serve people around the world, and that's really
going to inspire confidence in American internet companies," said
"All sorts of people around the world are questioning what America is
doing," said Rusbridger. "The president keeps saying: well we don't spy
on our people. [But] that's not much comfort if you are German."
Rusbridger said the world of spying had changed
incomparably in the last 15 years.
"The ability of these big agencies, on an
international basis, to keep entire populations under some form of
surveillance, and their ability to use engineering and algorithms to
erect a system of monitoring and surveillance, is astonishing," he said.
He said that as the NSA revelations had gone on,
the "integrity of the internet" had been questioned.
"These are big, big issues about balancing
various rights in society. About how business is done. And about how
safe individuals are, living their digital lives."
The Guardian editor rebuffed criticism from
Obama administration that the newspaper was drip-feeding the
stories in order to get the most from them.
"Well, the president has never worked in a
newsroom," he said.
"If there are people out there who think we have digested all this
material, and [that] we have all these stories that we are going to feed
out in dribs and drabs, then I think that misunderstands the nature of
news. What is happening is there is a lot of material. It's very complex
"These are not stories that sit up and beg
to be told."
Rusbridger said the Guardian and its partners at
the New York Times and ProPublica were working through the material.
"It's a slow and patient business. If I were
the president, I would welcome that."