RT Breaking the Set — interview about spies with Abby Martin

Here’s my inter­view from yes­ter­day on RT’s excel­lent Break­ing the Set show with host, Abby Mar­tin.  We dis­cussed all things spy, sur­veil­lance, Snowden, over­sight, and pri­vacy.  A fun and lively inter­view!  Thanks, Abby.

Brit­ish Spies Con­trolling the Past, Present and Future — Inter­view with Annie Machon from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

German politician wants return to typewriters to evade US surveillance

A com­ment piece from last week on RT about Ger­man politi­cians want­ing to go back to paper-based com­mu­nic­a­tions to evade the US spy pan­op­ticon:

Hit Return — Ger­man gov’t touts type­writers for NSA-proof com­mu­nic­a­tions from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

And here is the full text of the inter­view I gave on RT Op Edge:

Both type­writer and strong encryp­tion is going to slow down com­mu­nic­a­tion, but uphold­ing a basic demo­cratic right of pri­vacy seems to be more import­ant, former MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.

Amid the American-German espi­on­age scan­dal, Ger­man politi­cians are con­sid­er­ing going back to old-fashioned manual type­writers for con­fid­en­tial doc­u­ments in order to pro­tect national secrets from Amer­ican NSA surveillance.

RT: Why would Ger­many think of using type­writers as a secur­ity measure?

Annie Machon: What I find inter­est­ing is that we have a situ­ation where even our demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives have to think deeply and ser­i­ously about how to pro­tect the pri­vacy of their com­mu­nic­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly when the invest­ig­a­tion of the very sub­ject of inva­sion of the pri­vacy of the cit­izens, which is what the Bundestag at the moment is doing in Ger­many, try­ing to hold hear­ings to work out what exactly the NSA has been doing, which might be con­tra­ven­ing the con­sti­tu­tion of Ger­many. It is very dif­fi­cult now but it is still pos­sible to pro­tect your elec­tronic com­mu­nic­a­tions, but I think this announce­ment, this sort of state­ment by the Bundestag rep­res­ent­at­ive about going back to type­writers is inter­est­ing. It just makes a very strong point that we all need to be aware of the fact that we can be spied on at any time.

RT: Do you think every­one would fol­low Germany’s example?

AM: I think more and more people are con­cerned about their pri­vacy because of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures. He has done the world a huge ser­vice with great per­sonal cost, expos­ing the pred­a­tions of the US Intel­li­gence agen­cies and the NSA par­tic­u­larly, as well as a num­ber of European agen­cies. In the past all coun­tries spied on each other because they wanted to gain advant­age over other coun­tries, not neces­sar­ily their enemies, just an advant­age eco­nom­ic­ally or polit­ic­ally. How­ever, what we are see­ing at the moment is the res­ult of what was the per­fect storm for the USA in the 1990s, it was a per­fect oppor­tun­ity for them, because at that point the Cold War had ended, they were the sole remain­ing super­power on the planet, and pre­cisely at that moment we had the evol­u­tion of the inter­net, a huge tech explo­sion of com­mu­nic­a­tions. They saw the oppor­tun­ity and they went for it. Of course they did because that meant that they could embed whatever they wanted into the infra­struc­ture that the whole world now uses for com­mu­nic­a­tion. Of course they were not going to turn this oppor­tun­ity down, and they haven’t. That is what Edward Snowden disclosed.

So we have the situ­ation now when everything can con­ceiv­ably be hoovered up by the NSA and its vas­sal states in Europe, everything can con­ceiv­ably be stored for ever and be used against cit­izens in the future if the laws change. And everything can con­ceiv­ably be known amongst the private delib­er­a­tions of our parliament’s demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives. It’s worse than Orwellian.

It would be naïve to think that the US would not take up this oppor­tun­ity, but of course they did, and these are the res­ults we are liv­ing in. It would be lovely to think that we could go back to the era of hav­ing pri­vacy in our lives that our gov­ern­ments would have power to ensure we had it, but in this glob­al­ized world it is very dif­fi­cult to ensure that. One of the things that is little known out of all Snowden’s dis­clos­ures is the fact that it is not just what we send over the inter­net, it is also hard­ware, the com­puters, the tech­no­logy we actu­ally use that can already be com­prom­ised by the NSA. This is one of the things that came out just after Christ­mas last year. So we are liv­ing in a very com­plex world but there are very simple steps we can take, both the gov­ern­ments and the cit­izens, to pro­tect our demo­cratic and our basic right to privacy.

RT:Wouldn’t using type­writers slow things down in terms of com­mu­nic­a­tion? Why not use other, more mod­ern ways of pro­tect­ing communication?

AM: Either going back to using pen paper or type­writer or using very strong encryp­tion is going to slow down one’s com­mu­nic­a­tion, there is no doubt about it. The point is though, what is more import­ant, is it access to the latest celebrity gos­sip on the inter­net or is it actu­ally uphold­ing a basic demo­cratic right of pri­vacy. Because if we don’t have pri­vacy, then we lose our free­dom to com­mu­nic­ate eas­ily and in private, we lose our free­dom to ingest inform­a­tion via video, audio or from read­ing, we can­not plan, we can­not con­duct private per­sonal rela­tion­ships over the inter­net. So what is the price of a little bit of incon­veni­ence when it comes to pro­tect­ing our basic rights? I think that how­ever light-heartedly the Ger­man politi­cian men­tioned using type­writers, when it comes to proper secur­ity issues within gov­ern­ment, he is prob­ably abso­lutely right. Last year there was a report as well, say­ing that some of the Rus­sian secur­ity oper­at­ors were now using type­writers too. We will all have to think about that, and it’s just a jolt­ing wake up call to make us all think about that by stat­ing that the Ger­man gov­ern­ment is now going back to type­writers for cer­tain things.

RT: What kind of solu­tion do you see? Should people rely on their gov­ern­ments for pro­tec­tion of their privacy?

AM: There is a danger that people and the gov­ern­ment will become very para­noid about try­ing to pro­tect against the pred­a­tions of the NSA and its vas­sals in Europe. How­ever, I’m not sure as we as cit­izens can rely on gov­ern­ments to pro­tect our pri­vacy because all gov­ern­ments would want to know what is going on on the inter­net for legit­im­ate reas­ons as well, to try to track down the ille­git­im­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists. But it can be easy for them to hoover up all the per­sonal inform­a­tion and we, as cit­izens, need that have that guar­an­tee of pri­vacy. So one of the things we can do as cit­izens is to take respons­ib­il­ity in our own hands. We can indeed source all tech­no­lo­gies, source com­puters pre-2008 that have not built-in hard­ware back­doors. We can use decent PGP encryp­tion, we can use Tor to hide what we are look­ing at in the inter­net, we can use other encryp­tion meth­od­o­lo­gies to pro­tect our pri­vacy, and we need to. I think it’s a very inter­est­ing cross­roads in our his­tory, both as civil­iz­a­tions, as demo­cracy and as indi­vidu­als, but also how we view the tech­no­logy, how we use it, how we can bet­ter use it to pro­tect our life, so that is going it be an ongo­ing debate. I’m very pleased to see this in Ger­many par­tic­u­larly. The politi­cians seem to be wak­ing up around these issues and want­ing debate these issues because the USA has got away with it for long enough across the West.

New German spy scandal — RT interview

As a second Ger­man intel­li­gence officer was arres­ted for spy­ing for the Amer­ic­ans, here’s my recent RT inter­view on the sub­ject, plus much more:

The US is out of con­trol and will con­tinue to infringe the rights of pri­vacy from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

RT Interview — the anniversary of Edward Snowden

Here is an inter­view I did on 5th June, the anniversary of the start of Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures about the global sur­veil­lance infra­struc­ture that is being built.

rt_int_snowden

RT inter­view on Snowden & digital pri­vacy from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

RT interview about new EU data protection measures

Here is a quick inter­view I did about the EU’s new data pro­tec­tion meas­ures, laws that will have to be imple­men­ted in the wake of Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures about endemic NSA surveillance:

This is an excel­lent example of how whis­tleblowers con­tinue to make a pos­it­ive con­tri­bu­tion to soci­ety.

Interview on London Real TV

Here’s my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing, tech, intel­li­gence, and the war on drugs.  Thanks Brian and Colin for a fun hour!

European Parliament LIBE Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens

Below is some back­ground mater­ial from my sub­mis­sion to the European Parliament’s LIBE Com­mit­tee on the implic­a­tions of the NSA scandal.

Here is a video link to the hear­ing.

LIBE Com­mit­tee Inquiry on Elec­tronic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU Cit­izens, European Par­lia­ment, 30th Septem­ber 2013

Bio­graphy:

Annie Machon was an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leav­ing to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the Brit­ish spy agen­cies.  As a res­ult she and her former part­ner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and impris­on­ment, and watch as friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists were arrested.

She is now a writer, media com­ment­ator, polit­ical cam­paigner, and inter­na­tional pub­lic speaker on a vari­ety of related issues: the war on ter­ror­ism, the war on drugs, the war on whis­tleblowers, and the war on the inter­net.  In 2012 she star­ted as a Dir­ector of LEAP in Europe (www​.leap​.cc).

Annie has an MA (Hons) Clas­sics from Cam­bridge University.

Back­ground material:

Recom­mend­a­tions:

  • Mean­ing­ful par­lia­ment­ary over­sight of intel­li­gence agen­cies, with full powers of invest­ig­a­tion, at both national and European levels.
  • These same demo­cratic bod­ies to provide a legit­im­ate chan­nel for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers to give their evid­ence of mal­feas­ance, with the clear and real­istic expect­a­tion that a full inquiry will be con­duc­ted, reforms applied and crimes punished.
  • Insti­tute a dis­cus­sion about the legal defin­i­tion of national secur­ity, what the real threats are to the integ­rity of nation states and the EU, and estab­lish agen­cies to work within the law to defend just that. This will halt inter­na­tional intel­li­gence mis­sion creep.
  • EU-wide imple­ment­a­tion of the recom­mend­a­tions in the Ech­elon Report (2001):
  1. to develop and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­mental and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance; and
  2. Ger­many and the United King­dom are called upon to make the author­isa­tion of fur­ther com­mu­nic­a­tions inter­cep­tion oper­a­tions by US intel­li­gence ser­vices on their ter­rit­ory con­di­tional on their com­pli­ance with the ECHR (European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights).”
  • The duty of the European par­lia­ment is to the cit­izens of the EU.  As such it should act­ively pur­sue tech­no­logy policies to pro­tect the pri­vacy and basic rights of the cit­izens from the sur­veil­lance of the NSA and its vas­sals; and if it can­not, it should warn its cit­izens abut this act­ively and edu­cate them to take their own steps to pro­tect their pri­vacy (such as no longer using cer­tain Inter­net ser­vices or learn­ing to use pri­vacy enhan­cing tech­no­lo­gies). Con­cerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e-commerce’ or ‘e-government’ as men­tioned by the European Com­mis­sion should be sec­ond­ary to this con­cern at all times.
  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two decades.
  • The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my inter­view tonight on UK Anonym­ous Radio — I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ranging, and stim­u­lat­ing hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonymous.

And also thank you to Kim Dot­com set­ting up the new file-sharing site, Mega, which replaces his illegally-taken-down global site, MegaUp­load.  I have some­where safe, I think, to store my interviews!

What a sham­bolic dis­grace that MegaUp­load raid was, and what a clas­sic example of the global cor­por­at­ist agenda that I dis­cuss in the interview.

I do love geeks.

The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep packet inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the internet.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” ethos and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the internet”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) within the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­atus? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cover cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-censor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-censor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbian Pro­fessor of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at another event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

Why the new website?

I have great pleas­ure in launch­ing my new, bespoke web­site — made for me by Sander Venema, the founder of Aster­oid Inter­act­ive in the Netherlands.

This is a new com­pany that really listens to what you want, both in terms of design and the back-end sys­tem, and I can­not recom­mend them enough.

So what did I want and why?

First of all, I wanted to get out of the USA domain-name hege­mony. Recently the US has been increas­ingly flex­ing its legal muscles inter­na­tion­ally.  It is now claim­ing global domin­ion over all the old domains ori­gin­ally set up in its ter­rit­ory: .com, .org, .net, .info, you name it.

And it does not mat­ter if you are are a cit­izen of another coun­try, liv­ing in another coun­try, your web­site is hos­ted on another country’s serv­ers, and you have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with the good ol’ US of A: if you use one of these domain names, the US gov­ern­ment can pull the plug on your site, with no warn­ing and no redress.  This has already star­ted to hap­pen.

So I am now safely ensconced in Switzer­land — not­ably the only coun­try not to take down the Wikileaks web­site in 2010, des­pite massive global push-back from the US et al.  Switzer­land still seems to be tak­ing basic human rights seriously.

The US con­tinu­ally bleats on about the “free mar­ket”, so let’s vote with our wal­lets and remove our cus­tom bey­ond its per­ni­cious reach.

Secondly, I also wanted to walk the walk and move on to an open source plat­form and CMS (the soft­ware that makes it easy to pub­lish without typ­ing a lot of HTML by hand). This is the only way to ensure that you are not depend­ent on closed, pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware com­pan­ies, which can be leg­ally pres­sur­ised by nas­ties like the NSA or GCHQ into implant­ing con­veni­ent little “back doors” to spy on or manip­u­late your data. I made this move on my laptop years ago and have since enjoyed at least a rel­at­ive sense of security.

Also, as you can see, I value both my pri­vacy and respect yours when it comes to the usual “share” but­tons.  But I’m also very happy for you to use my mater­ial under the Cre­at­ive Com­mons Licence.

And finally, my old site was look­ing messy — so much inform­a­tion, so little time.……

It needed a revamp, and I hope you find this site more user-friendly, and that you can find the inform­a­tion you want quickly. Please feel free to com­ment, or email me with any thoughts or suggestions.

I think Sander has come up with a beau­ti­ful design.  The build­ing in the ban­ner incor­por­ates an image of the old Stasi HQ in Ber­lin.  I like the idea — an image of a pan­op­tic police state that seemed bru­tally immut­able, but that has now just.… gone.

How the Light Gets In festival — my talk

My recent talk at the excel­lent How the Light Gets In philo­sophy fest­ival at Hay-on-Wye.  With credit and thanks to IAI TV and the staff of the Insti­tute of Art and Ideas, the organ­isers the event.

 

Bits of Freedom — Amsterdam Talk, 16 September 2010

It’s going to be a busy month for talks — I’ll be in Ams­ter­dam with the Dutch (digital) civil rights organ­isa­tion, Bits of Free­dom, on 16th Septem­ber.  I use the brack­ets con­sciously, as I don’t per­son­ally see a dis­tinc­tion between rights in the phys­ical or digital world — the under­ly­ing prin­ciples are the same.

BoF is doing great work, so any­one within strik­ing dis­tance of Amstie please come along, not only for the talk, but for what also prom­ises to be a great social evening!

Little_BrotherIf you can’t make that night, I ser­i­ously recom­mend com­ing along to a BoF din­ner on 24th Septem­ber, where the guest of hon­our is acclaimed journ­al­ist, blog­ger and author, Cory Doc­torow.  I had the pleas­ure of meet­ing up with him a couple of years ago in Lon­don — an extremely switched on man.

I really, really enjoyed his digital act­iv­ists’ hand­book — sorry, novel — “Little Brother”, ostens­ibly aimed at the young adult mar­ket.  But, hey, we’re all young at heart, and this book is spot on!

Watch out, Big Brother.….

US Intelligence targets Wikileaks

WikileaksThe US gov­ern­ment has appar­ently been get­ting its knick­ers in a twist about the excel­lent Wikileaks web­site.  A report writ­ten in 2008 by US army counter-intelligence ana­lys­ing the threat posed by this haven for whis­tleblowers has been leaked to, you’ve guessed it, the very sub­ject of the report.

Wikileaks was set up three years ago to provide a secure space for prin­cipled whis­tleblowers around the world to expose cor­rup­tion and crimes com­mit­ted by our gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and mega-corporations.  The site takes great care to verify the inform­a­tion it pub­lishes, adheres to the prin­ciple of expos­ing inform­a­tion very much in the pub­lic interest, and vig­or­ously pro­tects the identify of its sources.

By doing so, Wikileaks plays a vital part in inform­ing cit­izens of what is being done (often illeg­ally) in their name.  This free flow of inform­a­tion is vital in a democracy.

Well, no gov­ern­ment likes a clued-up and crit­ical cit­izenry, nor does it like to have trans­par­ency and account­ab­il­ity imposed on it.  Which led to the report in question.

As I have writ­ten before ad nauseam, whis­tleblowers provide an essen­tial func­tion to the healthy work­ing of a demo­cracy.  The simplistic approach would be to say that if gov­ern­ments, spies and big cor­por­a­tions obeyed the law, there would be no need for whis­tleblowers.  How­ever, back in the real, post-9/11 world, with its end­less, neb­u­lous “war on ter­ror”, illegal wars, tor­ture, extraordin­ary rendi­tion and Big Brother sur­veil­lance, we have never had greater need of them.

Rather than ensur­ing the highest stand­ards of leg­al­ity and prob­ity in pub­lic life, it is far sim­pler for the powers that be to demon­ise the whis­tleblower — a fig­ure who is now (accord­ing to the Exec­ut­ive Sum­mary of the report) appar­ently seen as the “insider threat”.  We are look­ing at a nas­cent McCarthy­ism here.  It echoes the increas­ing use by our gov­ern­ments of the term “domestic extrem­ists” when they are talk­ing about act­iv­ists and protesters.

There are laws to pro­tect whis­tleblowers in most areas of work now.  In the UK we have the Pub­lic Interest Dis­clos­ure Act (1998).  How­ever, gov­ern­ment, mil­it­ary, and espe­cially intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als are denied this pro­tec­tion, des­pite the fact that they are most often the very people to wit­ness the most hein­ous state abuses, crimes and cor­rup­tion.  If they try to do some­thing about this, they are also the people most likely to be pro­sec­uted and per­se­cuted for fol­low­ing their con­sciences, as I described in a talk at the CCC in Ber­lin a couple of years ago.

Ideally, such whis­tleblowers need a pro­tec­ted legal chan­nel through which to report crimes, with the con­fid­ence that these will be prop­erly invest­ig­ated and the per­pet­rat­ors held to account.  Fail­ing that, sites like Wikileaks offer an invalu­able resource.  As I said last sum­mer at the Hack­ing at Ran­dom fest­ival in NL, when I had the pleas­ure of shar­ing a stage with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, I just wish that the organ­isa­tion had exis­ted a dec­ade earlier to help with my own whis­tleblow­ing exploits.

The Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) in the UK, is draf­ted to stifle whis­tleblowers rather than pro­tect real secrets.  Such laws are routinely used to cover up the mis­takes, embar­rass­ment and crimes of spies and gov­ern­ments, rather than to pro­tect national secur­ity.  After all, even the spooks acknow­ledge that there are only three cat­egor­ies of intel­li­gence that abso­lutely require pro­tec­tion: sens­it­ive oper­a­tional tech­niques, agent iden­tit­ies and ongo­ing operations.

This US counter-intelligence report is already 2 years old, and its strategy for dis­cred­it­ing Wikileaks (by expos­ing one of their sources pour encour­ager les autres) has, to date, mani­festly failed. Credit is due to the Wikileaks team in out-thinking and tech­no­lo­gic­ally out­pa­cing the intel­li­gence com­munity, and is a ringing endorse­ment for the whole open source philosophy.

I’ve said this before, and I shall say it again: as our coun­tries evolve ever more into sur­veil­lance soci­et­ies, with big brother data­bases, CCTV, bio­met­ric data, police drones, vot­ing com­puters et al, geeks may be our best (and last?) defence against emer­ging Big Brother states.

Pay peanuts, get monkeys

So the spooks are yet again try­ing to recruit IT pro­fes­sion­als. MI6 is cur­rently advert­ising for a, quote, “world class enter­prise archi­tect”, but is offer­ing a salary sig­ni­fic­antly below the mar­ket rate. MI5 is con­stantly on the lookout for IT staff –as recent adverts in the press will attest.

My sense is that the agen­cies are still des­per­ately play­ing IT catch-up. In the 1990s, when I worked as an intel­li­gence officer, we were still writ­ing out everything longhand and get­ting our sec­ret­ar­ies to type it up – with all the attend­ant typos, revi­sions and delays. Inform­a­tion data­bases, such the sys­tem code­named Durbar, which held the ter­ror­ist records, could only be accessed via 1970s, beige, monitor-and-keyboard, all-in-one computers.

In the early 1990s MI5 did try to develop its own inform­a­tion man­age­ment sys­tem from scratch, rightly think­ing that buy­ing off-the-shelf from an Amer­ican mega­corp was prob­ably not good secur­ity. How­ever, MI5 man­age­ment still thought IT was a low pri­or­ity – des­pite the fact the effi­cient pro­cessing of inform­a­tion should have been the core work. So, the agency paid sig­ni­fic­antly below the mar­ket rates for IT pro­fes­sion­als, and pos­ted main­stream intel­li­gence officers, with no pro­ject man­age­ment exper­i­ence, to run the depart­ment for 2 year peri­ods. Need­less to say, moral was rock-bottom. The IT bods were unmo­tiv­ated, the IOs demor­al­ised at being pos­ted to a career grave­yard slot and the unwieldy sys­tem, code­named Grant, never got off the ground.

In the middle of the dec­ade MI5 in des­per­a­tion bought an off-the-shelf pack­age which was based on Win­dows 95. Even then officers had to fight to have access to a ter­minal to do their work. And, of course, Win­dows is not known as the most stable or secure sys­tem avail­able. I also heard recently that MI5 is still using this pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware, and thinks that it can pro­tect its inform­a­tion sys­tems by patch­ing up secur­ity prob­lems. It gives one such faith that MI5 can really pro­tect this coun­try from ter­ror­ist attack.

But this leads us onto a more ser­i­ous issue regard­ing our national sov­er­eignty. What the hell is our gov­ern­ment doing, shov­el­ling bil­lions of pounds every year over to US IT com­pan­ies to pay for licences that then per­mit our gov­ern­ment depart­ments to use their soft­ware pack­ages? And with the cur­rent con­cerns about ter­ror­ism and the sub­sequent datamin­ing activ­it­ies of a para­noid US admin­is­tra­tion, how can we be sure that the NSA is not sneak­ing a peek at the work of our secur­ity forces via back doors in this software?

So, to pro­tect our sov­er­eignty, as well as develop our know­ledge base and grow our eco­nomy, why does the UK gov­ern­ment not encour­age all gov­ern­ment agen­cies and depart­ments to switch from pro­pri­et­ary to open source soft­ware? After all, many other coun­tries around the world are already doing this for pre­cisely these reasons.

No doubt it’s that pesky “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” kick­ing in again.….