One Nation Under Surveillance: A New Social Contract to Defend Freedom Without Sacrificing Liberty, Simon Chesterman, Oxford University Press, £20.00
According to leading legal scholar Simon Chesterman, we are now living in a ‘post‑privacy world’. Democratic governments enjoy access to more information about their constituents than at any point in human history. Traditional distinctions between ‘unseemly’ but necessary foreign spying, and domestic surveillance, have been irrevocably eroded through a combination of ‘forward-leaning’ counter-terrorism strategies, a revolution in communications technology, and an increasing public acquiescence to the sharing of personal data as daily routine. While battles continue to be waged over privacy, the war, we are told, will be lost.
In One Nation Under Surveillance, Chesterman turns instead to what he views as the more fundamental questions that we as a society must face. Namely, if data mining, biometric identification and the like are here to stay, should we not focus on how personal information is used, rather than distract ourselves with the minutiae of what is collected? More precisely, how can citizens ensure the public accountability of clandestine and insular intelligence services whose operations (and abuses) have traditionally been cloaked in secrecy? Unlike the production line of journalistic tomes contributing to a burgeoning post‑9/11 ‘brave new world’ literature, One Nation Under Surveillance is rich in theory and crafted with a scholarly eye. Chesterman concisely surveys the political history and jurisprudential treatment of intelligence activities, before providing an engaging comparative perspective on the flawed approaches pursued by the United States, United Kingdom and United Nations in recent times. The final section, however, is at once the book’s most compelling, but brief, one. While the subtitle of One Nation Under Surveillance promises a ‘new social contract’ to navigate the inherent and enduring tensions between security and liberty, Chesterman ultimately offers less a concrete proposal, and more a nuanced – yet realist – vision of the appropriate limits and role of government surveillance.