“We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
The UK government was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just will not do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly not affect Greenwald’s work.
The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance that it will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that, but I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes — and, increasingly, it looks like “when.”
We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting — and most people — leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack, but at least reporters now know to stay away from airport transit lounges.
Alan Rusbridger is editor of the Guardian.