The practices of GCHQ and the NSA are fundamentally at odds with an open, free and democratic society. This is why we, as Glasgow University students, chose to nominate and campaign for the whistleblower Edward Snowden: to show our support for his actions and our disgust with the perverse desire of the security services to monitor our every keystroke.
Once every three years we have a powerful opportunity to have our say on an issue of our choosing and Glasgow University students have a long and proud tradition of electing student rectors to reflect their political views – from ANC leader Albert Lutuli to, in 2005, the Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. The campaign to elect Edward Snowden sits firmly in that tradition.
Snowden’s chilling revelations are well known, and their scope far too wide reaching to reiterate here, but what is clear is that all of our personal communications are now subject to invasive scrutiny by state security. This is not acceptable. Nor is the treatment of Edward Snowden, particularly now threats to his life have emerged.
The UK government’s response to this scandal has been woeful, as has the coverage in certain sections of the press. The rectorial contest has given us an invaluable platform from which to have a public debate, one that has been all too absent in government and media circles, about our right as citizens to lead our lives away from the gaze of spies and spooks. We have had an overwhelming response to the nomination and will continue to build the campaign against state surveillance.
We are optimistic that the energy and enthusiasm of our supporters will see Snowden elected to this centuries-old position, but the work will not stop there. If elected, we will continue to campaign for Snowden’s courage to be recognised and for the citizens of this country and beyond to have a democratic say on their right to privacy.
Student representation takes many forms: from the Hetherington Occupation and mass protests of 2011 to our elected representatives on the SRC.
We do not pretend that Snowden will be a working rector. He may never be able to even set foot on campus. But we have been here before with no ill effect on student representation. And when else will we be able to speak clearly on our opposition to pervasive state surveillance?
I have no doubt that each of the other rectorial candidates would carry out the role with commitment and diligence but we cannot, and should not, rely on those outside the student body to fight our battles for us.
From Ross Kemp to Charles Kennedy’s inauspicious second term, we have been let down time and time again by working rectors whose tenure is characterised by absenteeism and complacency.
By electing Edward Snowden we will speak clearly to a global audience and live up to our institution’s motto: Via, Veritas, Vita. We will reaffirm our reputation as students with concerns reaching far beyond campus and as students committed to the freedoms and liberties which are essential to our studies and lives beyond.
Throughout our campaign we have not only highlighted NSA and GCHQ’s appalling incursion into our private and personal lives but have celebrated all whistleblowers who risk their lives and livelihoods to expose corrupt and immoral practices by the state and other powerful groups.
From Mordechai Vanunu, to Chelsey Manning and Edward Snowden himself, there are a pantheon of whistleblowers still suffering as a result of their actions. By standing in solidarity with Edward Snowden we stand in solidarity with all those who have sacrificed everything to bring the truth to light. And over the coming years it looks all too likely that we will become more dependent on the courage of individual whistleblowers.
With the seemingly wholesale outsourcing of our remaining public services, well beyond the reach of democratic oversight, the job of standing up to corruption and injustice is all too often going to fall to brave men and women like Edward Snowden.
Fundamentally, our concerns about state surveillance affect everyone who has ever logged on, picked up a smartphone or engaged with any kind of digital communications technology. The question is simple: do you want your every email, tweet, Facebook message to be viewed and stored by state security?
We hope that on 18 February the answer will be a resounding no. But win or lose, we can proud of our campaign and we join an increasing number of institutions seeking to honour and protect Snowden and stand up for the whistleblowers who do us all a valiant service.
Chris Cassells is a member of Left Unity and the Edward Snowden for Rector campaign.