I thought I’d cover some points relating to the NSA files scandal. Let’s start at the top:
Submarine Communication Cables, Internet & Telecoms Wiretapping
The Five Eyes security agencies have been monitoring global communications for more than 20 years
Before the rise of underground cable, there was ECHELON. Designed for interception of military/Soviet traffic it’s almost inevitable that it listened to anything the government of the day was interested in. Collectively they covered the world. Before that we listened in on radio and broke radio encryption (ENIGMA). Raw computing power has been used to break and intercept encrypted communication since the beginning.
Obviously once you’ve gained an asset you don’t just drop it once the world moves on. The US at minimum has tapped Soviet communication cables since the 1970s. There’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t continue. After all, the Internet is the growth project of the military and physicists networks.
When it goes on land, you have to switch from secret interception to lawful interception – agencies can’t just break into people’s server rooms after all. Hence Room 641A.
Of course this is all a great argument but for several issues:
1. The Cold War is over
2. Transmitting military communications over a public internet isn’t standard practice
3. Any perceived enemies are no longer states or organisation or necessarily even in communication. They are mostly linked by ideology.
4. Given it’s now a public space there is as much justification as putting listening devices in public spaces.
PRISM and Lawful Access
I think it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Either you believe Google is so deep under court orders its lawyer must openly lie about knowledge of the program, or PRISM is merely a tool for aggregating, managing and directing lawful access requests.
Lawful access isn’t limited to PRISM. The telecommunications industry hands over data to the police given sufficient information (like a warrant). The security agencies standards are just a lot more lax. There’s an open question here about whether they ought to be. Given you can charge un-named people, is it actually necessary for such lax standards.
The actual problem isn’t the lawful access. It’s the realisation that when you sign up for a service in another country you do so under it’s laws and regulations EVEN if you don’t know which country the service operates from. In the case of Facebook, it might have data centers in a dozen different countries. Are we subject to all of them? Or is it based on where the head office is? Or the sales team?
Fundamentally, this is actually very close to the problems with taxation. The world and it’s citizens don’t know how to deal with multinationals. We left it far too late. The growth of the internet was the growth of the multinational, but the issues existed far before that.
This is compounded by laws which govern citizens of a country as benefiting more and better protection than non-citizens. Most obviously, the rights of the US citizen guaranteed by their Constitution are fairly tough. But none of these exist for customers of the multinational whose data flows into the US’s borders.
Politics and Power
David Davis today says that the laws protecting us are too weak. Well I’m sorry sir, but you voted for them.
Voting Record of David Davis (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/)
|Commons||8 May 2000||Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill – Persons entitled to grant authorisations under||minority||aye||Loyal|
|Commons||8 May 2000||Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill – Technical Approval Board||minority||aye||Loyal|
|Commons||8 May 2000||Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill – Offences||minority||aye||Loyal|
No abstains, no nay votes. Agreement with all the sections.
Leaks and Morales
I want to only touch briefly on this. It does not appear, that GCHQ has broken the law. Nor might the NSA. However this is not the purpose of leaking this information. If the problem was that they had broken the law, it would be a big deal, but not a huge deal.
The problem, is that it is legal. Through the introduction of bad legislation and the use of surveillance designed to capture enemy troop movements, the politicians that are supposed to serve the people have turned their intelligence agencies on the general population.
We know why they did it. We know they were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, crime. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt their reason and rob them of their common sense. Fear got the best of them, and in your panic their panic they turned to the intelligence agencies. The agencies promised them order, they promised them peace and all they demanded was silent invisible access to everything.
Snowden sought to end that silence. Snowden leaked the information to remind the world of what it has forgotten. More than 50 years ago a great person wished to embed the problem forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that truth, privacy and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you’ve seen nothing, if the malpractice of our governments are unnoticed to you then I would suggest that you carry on, with idea that people like Snowden are a threat, that the world is safer when we are like an open book .
But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then you should consider carefully who to believe in this struggle.
Part of the problem, is that the ‘War on Terror’ never ends, terrorism is a constant threat and a justification for torture, rendition, surveillance and loss of justice. The great truth is that terrorism is a war we can not and will not win. There is no victory, no battle, no triumph.
National security is another watch-word. Invariably it means the security of the establishment, the protection from embarrasment or legal proceedings. The US government continues to use it as a sledgehammer to prevent the uphelding of it’s highest laws – blocking trials and delaying judgement.
In the UK we’ve started to use another strand. The crime of paedophilia, is being used as weapon to censor content. It is invoked to elicit a fear and a reaction to override logical views and to allow disproportionate responses – including further interception of traffic.
Piracy is the final weapon. Copyright law, civil cases which are the result of media channels inability to realise they are a stone cutter in the age of the printing press, a horse trainer following the introduction of the combustion engine. These dwindling media conglomerates who are able to project their thoughts and desires into the minds of the population have decided their control over content is more important that freedom and liberty of the public. Thwarted by the fact that they can’t just sue whomever they like without evidence or proof of loss, they instead demand legal changes to block access to information and content.
This triple threat is the sustained assault on Western civilisation. It is a corrosive and diverse set of problems that is reconditioning the psyche of the people. We have accepted lack of privacy in exchange for negligible security, we have accepted nanny-state to ‘protect the children’ and we have accepted restrictions to protect the wealthy.