The Guardian

How online surveillance is killing private conversations

The Kim Darroch leaks highlight how hard it is to keep any communication confidential. How can we regain our privacy?
Holding our tongues … Composite: Guardian Design Team

“Dance like no one is watching,” the American journalist Olivia Nuzzi wrote in 2014. “Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”

Nuzzi’s advice could have saved Kim Darroch an awful lot of trouble. The UK ambassador to the US has just been forced to resign after describing Donald Trump and his administration as “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional” in diplomatic memos that were subsequently leaked to the Mail on Sunday.

Darroch’s crime is hardly one of inaccuracy. The only person in the world who seems to disagree with the ambassador’s assessment is Trump himself, who called the civil servant “wacky” and “very stupid” in a dysfunctional series of tweets on Tuesday.

But there is no denying that the memos were, well, not particularly diplomatic. An important skill of an ambassador to the US is to balance two competing requirements: to honestly report to your superiors the fact that the president is inept, while remaining chummy with the inept president.

Darroch is not the first person to face trouble over seemingly private thoughts becoming public. Emails get hacked and published (); microphones thought to be turned off are actually broadcasting (); documents get released under freedom of information or data protection laws (); old blogposts are rediscovered) … the list seems never-ending.

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