What I’ve learned in five years of publishing the Privacy Surgeon

What I’ve learned in five years of publishing the Privacy Surgeon
By Simon Davies

By Simon Davies

It has been just over five years since the Privacy Surgeon began. Since then, the experience has been a rollercoaster. I wanted to share with readers the things I have learned from taking on this challenge.

I pledged back then: “These pages are devoted to promoting such tests of evidence and contrasting that body of knowledge against the hypocrisy, doublespeak, secrecy, unfairness, deception and betrayal that time and time again emerge globally as lightning rods to provoke deep anger”. I hope I have lived up to that challenge.

335 blogs and ten million site visits. I know that doesn’t sound impressive over an entire five years, but it is sort of impressive – for me at least. You can’t get away these days with publishing a credible blog unless you meet the highest standards of research and journalism – and that takes much time and effort. Like all writers, I sometimes failed at achieving that standard but I hope the vast majority of my work has been solid. 330,000 words. Gosh, I could have written five books with all that output. At least then I’d possess hard-copy birthday presents for my friends.

A few colleagues have asked me whether there were any spectacular moments throughout the site’s history. Oh yes! There have been quite a few.

The episode that springs immediately to mind unfurled in June 2013. Following the revelations of Edward Snowden, an old friend and former NSA contractor, Wayne Madsen, contacted me with news that the NSA’s activities in Europe were far more complex and widespread than we had been led to believe. He spoke in some detail about secret NSA arrangements with Germany and other countries.

I took this story to the Observer, one of Britain’s most influential and respected newspapers. The editors agreed that Madsen’s disclosure was critically important. The paper decided to run the story as its front page splash, and would give the Privacy Surgeon two hours’ publication leeway so we got onto the wires first.

For a blog site in its infancy, this deal was pure gold. Or, at least, that’s what I had foolishly imagined.

True to its word, the Observer led the paper with the Madsen story. Then everything went to pieces. The US Liberal media went into overdrive. The left hated Wayne Madsen, and within an hour of the article’s release, it made sure its condemnation of him – and the story – went viral.

Rusbridger called the Observer and demanded that it pulp the first edition and replace the splash. This act was unprecedented and caused the Observer to go into meltdown. Editors agreed that they had been hoodwinked by the Privacy Surgeon.

The Editor-in-Chief of the Observer/Guardian Newspaper Group was in the US at the time, trying to sell his financially distraught company to an American audience. Alan Rusbridger was only fresh off the plane when his phone went berserk. “This Madsen guy is a loon. He’s a conspiracy nut”. “He’s insane – always has been”.

Rusbridger called the Observer and demanded that it pulp the first edition and replace the splash. This act was unprecedented and caused the Observer to go into meltdown. Editors agreed that they had been hoodwinked by the Privacy Surgeon.

This fear was far from the truth. A week later, the respected German paper Der Spiegel, ran almost exactly the same article. It turned out that the Guardian had already cut a deal with Spiegel for the rights. I got a private apology from the newspaper, but nothing public.

Messing around with national security is a murky business, but it has to be done. Angered by the Observer debacle, I then offered a $1,000 bounty for the capture of the DNA of any spy chief. There have been precedents for such actions, including a successful 2008 bounty I ran through Privacy International for the capture of the UK Home Secretary’s fingerprints.

There were repercussions. The following month, I was speaking at a conference in Berlin and was approached by a suave guy in a three-piece suit who made small talk before adding “I would strongly advise you to remove that bounty. It’s in your best interest”. His parting shot was “None of us want anther ID card incident” (I assume he was referring to my infamous feud with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair over my campaign against the UK ID card and the subsequent media flurry over my imagined suicide because of the horrific persecution by Ministers).

No-one had a clue about this man’s identity. We did learn that he was educated at Cambridge – alma mater to the spies. I never did bother to remove the blog. Nor – despite threatening phone calls – did I remove the blog which showed UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in a rubber gimp suit. Haven’t these people heard of satire?

Actually, satire can work really well as a device. Some of the most popular blogs on here have been satirical. Sometimes, however, satire fails. In this blog I chronicled the many media enquiries and hate mail I received after publishing satirical articles. In 2013, I therefore declared, all satire became believable. I mean, seriously, things have gone bad when journalists believe a piece about a diabetic Spanish grandmother destabilising Trans-Atlantic Geopolitics.

Bloggers take heart. Powerful institutions do read what you have to say. When I ran a piece condemning Santander Bank for dumping liability onto their customers, the corporation spent a lot of time persuading me to print their meaningless response (which, in the end, I did). British Airways, likewise, went nuts over a partly satirical piece on here. I never bothered to print their reply because, in short, it was even more banal than Santander’s. However, Microsoft’s heated exchange with me over a blog critical of its terms of service warranted a full response because it was substantive in nature.

No-one had a clue about this man’s identity. We did learn that he was educated at Cambridge – alma mater to the spies. I never did bother to remove the blog. Nor – despite threatening phone calls – did I remove the blog which showed UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in a rubber gimp suit. Haven’t these people heard of satire?

Institutions sometimes take notice of what you write. When my friend Edward was detained and strip searched at Canadian border control for possession of illicit and undeclared chocolates, the resulting blog here caused much controversy and heat in that fair country. And rightly so. Other times, government agencies totally ignore exposure, such as when my colleague James was denied entry to the UK. You win some, you lose some.

Many people have asked why the Privacy Surgeon doesn’t enable readers comments. In short, it’s because the task of managing a comment facility is even greater than the task of writing the blogs. There are haters out there, and idiots. People routinely slander and defame. Yes, there are many instances where commentary is helpful, but there are many more where commentators are simply out to cause hurt or disruption. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to manage such episodes.

All bloggers know the struggle to attract readers. You work your heart out but when you discover the global site traffic ranking you can easily become dismayed. Privacy Surgeon hovers between the top two million to three million sites in the world (out of around 1.5 billion sites). When I look at the Hunton & Williams blog, it beats us hands-down, coming in at below a million. The global law form Field Fisher does even better at 300,000. Most privacy blogs sit at around 6-12 million on the scale. There are no magic bullets to increase the ranking. To do so you’d need to spend most of your time marketing rather than writing. Still, if any blogger can achieve a few thousand dedicated readers, the effort is well worthwhile.

A huge thank you to all those people who have helped make this site possible, especially the developers Jim and Pete, dear and trusted friends who have supported me in the most creative and nurturing way that anyone could have hoped for.

September 14, 2017 at 03:55PM
via The Privacy Surgeon http://ift.tt/2juAjuv

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