The Ghost of Daniel Ellsberg

Pentagon_papers This is an excel­lent art­icle from a European tech­no­logy strategist and futur­ist.  It suc­cinctly sums up all that is wrong with the old medi­a’s cov­er­age of the Wikileaks story over the last year, where people obsess about the tech­no­logy, the web­site and the per­son­al life of Juli­an Assange.

As the art­icle says, we should be focus­ing on the core issues: illeg­al wars, war crimes, murder, tor­ture, cor­por­ate and polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion, and dip­lo­mat­ic dupli­city.

Let’s address the mes­sage, not attack the mes­sen­ger, and cer­tainly not the medi­um.

 

 

Spy drones coming soon to a place near you.

For a long time now I have been giv­ing speak­ing out at con­fer­ences and in inter­views around the world about the encroach­ing nature of our sur­veil­lance states. 

One aspect of this, the endem­ic CCTV cov­er­age in the UK, is notori­ous inter­na­tion­ally. Not only the estim­ated 4 mil­lion+ pub­lic CCTV cam­er­as on Brit­ish streets, but also all the traffic cam­er­as and private secur­ity cam­er­as that sneak a peak onto our pub­lic spaces too.  As if that were not enough, earli­er this year it was also repor­ted that loc­al coun­cils are invest­ing in mobile CCTV smart spy cars too.

Addi­tion­ally, of course, we had the issue of Google Street View invad­ing our pri­vacy, and the cam­era cars also just happened to coin­cid­ent­ally hoover up the private inter­net traffic of those too trust­ing to lock their wire­less inter­net access.  Unlike the UK, the Ger­mans have thank­fully said a robust “nein” to Google’s plan.

All this, as I’ve pre­vi­ously noted, des­pite the fact that the head of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police depart­ment respons­ible for pro­cessing all this sur­veil­lance inform­a­tion went on the record to say that CCTV evid­ence is use­less in help­ing to solve all but 3% of crimes, and those merely minor.  In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nation­ally, viol­ent crime on the streets of Bri­tain has not notice­ably reduced.

But, hey, who cares about facts when secur­ity is Big Busi­ness?  Someone, some­where, is get­ting very rich by rolling out ever more Orwellian sur­veil­lance tech­no­logy. 

Talking_CCTV_CameraOn the streets of Bri­tain, it is get­ting pro­gress­ively worse.  Audi­ences across Europe and North Amer­ica have respon­ded with shocked laughter when I have men­tioned that police tri­als had been con­duc­ted in the UK using talk­ing CCTV cam­er­as that barked orders at appar­ent trans­gressors.

In 2007 Middles­brough, a town in the north east of the UK with a zero-tol­er­ance policy, began a tri­al using these talk­ing cam­er­as.  In line with a gov­ern­ment review of civil liber­ties this year, it was repor­ted over the sum­mer that the use of these cam­er­as might be phased out.  Need­less to say, the coun­cil is fight­ing a fierce rear­guard action against the remov­al of talk­ing CCTV — an obvi­ous example of the inher­ent dif­fi­culty of try­ing to wrest estab­lished power from the author­it­ies.

Then earli­er this year it emerged that vari­ous Brit­ish police forces and the Ser­i­ous Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA),  have ordered mil­it­ary-style drones to spy on the cit­izenry from the skies.  One drone man­u­fac­turer said that there had been enquir­ies about the poten­tial for mil­it­ar­isa­tion of these drones: thank­fully, his response was repor­ted as fol­lows in The Guard­i­an:

Military_drone“Mark Lawrence, dir­ect­or of Air Robot UK, said: “UAVs will, to an extent, replace heli­copters. Our air robots cost £30,000 com­pared with £10m for a fully equipped mod­ern heli­copter. We have even been asked to put weapons on them but I’m not inter­ested in get­ting involved in that.”

How­ever, Wired has repor­ted that “non-leth­al” weapons could be installed, to facil­it­ate crowd con­trol.

There is also the oth­er side of the secur­ity coin to con­sider, of course.  If these drones are imple­men­ted in the skies of Bri­tain, how soon before some enter­pris­ing young “Al Qaeda” cadre cot­tons on to the idea that this could be an effect­ive way to launch an attack?  So much for all our won­der­fully effect­ive air­port secur­ity meas­ures.

UK_Police_DronePlus, these little air­borne pests will prove to be a real haz­ard for oth­er air­craft, as has already been noted.

Des­pite all this, no wide­spread indig­na­tion has been voiced by the UK pop­u­la­tion.  When will the tip­ping point be reached about this incip­i­ent Orwellian night­mare?

But hope may be at hand.  A some­what frivol­ous art­icle appeared today, stat­ing that small spy drones will become the new paparazzi: Ver­sion 2.0, no doubt.

Per­haps, finally, we shall now see some mean­ing­ful oppos­i­tion to this encroach­ing Big Broth­er state. 

Once Bono, Sting, Saint Bob and the assembled celeb corps get on their high horses about their enshrined, fun­da­ment­al right to pri­vacy, it might finally become fash­ion­able to dis­cuss the very basic prin­ciples under­pin­ning our civil­isa­tion.….

.…you remem­ber, those fuddy-duddy ideas like the right to life, not to be tor­tured, not to be unlaw­fully imprisoned or kid­napped, free speech, fair tri­als, free con­science etc .…. oh, and pri­vacy of course!

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.

The Case of Gary McKinnon

Gary_McKinnon_Bow_Street_Magistrates_24_Nov_2005_600-thumbI’ve been fol­low­ing the extraordin­ary case of Gary McKin­non for years now in a long range kind of way, but we are now in the final throes of his pro­longed fight against extra­di­tion to the USA, and he needs all the sup­port we can give him.  The Daily Mail recently star­ted a cam­paign against his extra­di­tion:  it’s not often I agree with the Wail, but I’m whole­heartedly in favour of this ini­ti­at­ive. 

For those of you who have been liv­ing in a bunker for the last 7 years, Gary McKin­non is the self-con­fessed geek who went look­ing for evid­ence of UFOs and ETs on some of Amer­ica’s most secret com­puter sys­tems at the Pentagon and NASA

And, when I say secret, obvi­ously I don’t mean in the sense of encryp­ted or pro­tec­ted.  The Yanks obvi­ously did­n’t feel that their nation­al defence war­rants even curs­ory pro­tec­tion, as Gary did­n’t have to hack his way in past mul­tiple lay­ers of pro­tec­tion.  Appar­ently the sys­tems did­n’t even have pass­words.

Gary, who suf­fers from Asper­ger­’s Syn­drome, is no super hack­er.  Using a basic PC and a dial-up con­nec­tion in his bed­room, he man­aged to sneak a peek at the Pentagon com­puters, before kindly leav­ing a mes­sage that the US mil­it­ary might like to have a think about a little bit of basic inter­net secur­ity.   Hardly the work of a malig­nant, inter­na­tion­al cyber-ter­ror­ist.

UK police invest­ig­ated Gary soon after this epis­ode, way back in 2002.  All he faced, under the UK’s 1990 Com­puter Mis­use Act, would have been a bit of com­munity ser­vice if he’d been con­victed.  Even that was moot, as the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice decided not to pro­sec­ute.

And that, as they say, should have been that. 

How­ever, in 2003 the UK gov­ern­ment passed yet anoth­er dra­coni­an piece of law in response to the “war on ter­ror” — the Extra­di­tion Act.  Under this invi­di­ous, one-sided law, the US author­it­ies can demand the extra­di­tion to Amer­ica of any Brit­ish cit­izen, without present­ing any evid­ence of the crime for which they are wanted.  Need­less to say, this arrange­ment only works one way: if the Brits want to extra­dite a sus­pect from the US they still have to present prima facie evid­ence of a crime to an Amer­ic­an court.  The Act also enshrines the ques­tion­able European arrest war­rant sys­tem in Brit­ish law.

So how on earth did the half-wits in Par­lia­ment come to pass such an awful law?  Were they too busy tot­ting up their expense fiddles to notice that they were sign­ing away Brit­ish sov­er­eignty?  This law means that it is easi­er for a US court to get a Brit in the dock than it is for them to get a US cit­izen from anoth­er state.  In the lat­ter case, evid­ence is still also required.

Let’s get this straight.  The UK author­it­ies decided not to pro­sec­ute in this coun­try.  Even if they had, Gary would prob­ably have been sen­tenced to com­munity ser­vice.  How­ever, if he is extra­dited, he will get up to 70 years in a max­im­um secur­ity pris­on in the US.

So a year after Gary’s bed­room hack, and after the CPS had decided there was no case to answer, the US author­it­ies deman­ded Gary’s extra­di­tion ret­ro­act­ively.   The UK gov­ern­ment, rather than pro­tect­ing a Brit­ish cit­izen, basic­ally said “Yes, have him!”.  Gary has been fight­ing the case ever since.

Janis_SharpHe has not been alone.  Many people from across the polit­ic­al spec­trum see this uni­lat­er­al law as invi­di­ous.  And the gov­ern­ment reckoned without his mum.  Janis Sharp has fought vali­antly and indefatig­ably to pro­tect her son from this unjust extra­di­tion. She has lob­bied MPs, talked to news­pa­pers, gained the sup­port of many pub­lic and celebrity fig­ures.  She even recently met the PM’s wife, Sarah Brown, who was reportedly in tears for Gary.  Yet still the major­ity of the par­lia­ment­ary half-wits refuse to do any­thing. 

In fact, it gets worse.  Over the last few years many MPs have signed Early Day Motions sup­port­ing Gary’s fight against extra­di­tion.  But in a recent debate in the House of Com­mons about the need to revise the pro­vi­sions of the Extra­di­tion Act, 74 of these MPs betrayed him and voted for the gov­ern­ment to keep the Act in place.  Only 10 Labour MPs stuck to their guns and defied the party Whip.  One Labour MP, Andrew MacKin­ley, will stand down at the next elec­tion in protest at this hypo­crisy.

This week is crunch time: on Fri­day a final judi­cial rul­ing will be made about the case.  It was the last throw of the leg­al dice for Gary.  If this fails, he will have to rely on polit­ic­al inter­ven­tion, which is pos­sible, to pre­vent his harm­ful, unjust and unne­ces­sary extra­di­tion to the USA.  Please vis­it the Free Gary web­site and do all you can in sup­port.

Echelon and the Special Relationship

Journ­al­ist and writer James Bam­ford, has a new book, “The Shad­ow Fact­ory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eaves­drop­ping on Amer­ica” (Doubleday), which came out this week in the United States.

Bam­ford is a former pro­du­cer at ABC News of thirty years’ stand­ing, and his book has caused quite a stir. One of his key gripes is the fact that for­eign com­pan­ies try to acquire work in sens­it­ive US depart­ments. He cites in par­tic­u­lar the attempt in 2006 of Israeli data secur­ity com­pany, Check Point Soft­ware Tech­no­lo­gies, to buy an Amer­ic­an com­pany with exist­ing con­tracts at the Defence Depart­ment and the NSA. This deal was stopped after the FBI objec­ted.

For­eign soft­ware and secur­ity com­pan­ies work­ing with­in intel­li­gence agen­cies are indeed a prob­lem for any coun­try. It com­prom­ises the very notion of nation­al sov­er­eignty. In the UK, MI5 and many oth­er gov­ern­ment depart­ments rely on pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware from com­pan­ies like Microsoft, notori­ous for their vul­ner­ab­il­ity to hack­ers, vir­uses and back door access. Should our nation’s secrets really be exposed to such eas­ily avoid­able vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies?

Anoth­er sec­tion of the book to have hit the head­lines is Bam­ford’s claims that bed­room “con­ver­sa­tions” of sol­diers, journ­al­ists and offi­cials in Iraq have been bugged by the Nation­al Secur­ity Agency (NSA).

Bam­ford, who is by no means a fan of the NSA in its cur­rent rampant form, makes the mis­take of think­ing that in the inno­cent days pre‑9/11, the agency respec­ted demo­crat­ic rights enshrined in the US con­sti­tu­tion and nev­er snooped on US cit­izens in their own coun­try.

While tech­nic­ally this might be true, does nobody remem­ber the ECHELON sys­tem?

ECHELON was an agree­ment between the NSA and its Brit­ish equi­val­ent GCHQ (as well as the agen­cies of Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zea­l­and) whereby they shared inform­a­tion they gathered on each oth­ers’ cit­izens. GCHQ could leg­ally eaves­drop on people out­side the UK without a war­rant, so they could tar­get US cit­izens of interest, then pass the product over to the NSA. The NSA then did the same for GCHQ. Thus both agen­cies could evade any demo­crat­ic over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, and still get the intel­li­gence they wanted.

Spe­cial rela­tion­ship, any­one?

Singularity Society

And so to my first transhuman­ist meet­ing recently. No, this is not some kinky prac­tice impor­ted from Hol­land. Transhuman­ism is the study of the impact of devel­op­ing tech­no­lo­gies on the human – the erad­ic­a­tion of genet­ic­ally inher­ited dis­eases, increased longev­ity, aug­ment­a­tion and men­tal enhance­ment.

I’ve been intro­duced to the implic­a­tions of cut­ting edge tech­no­logy over the last year – and it’s been a bit of a cul­ture shock for a clas­si­cist. But as tech­no­logy devel­ops faster and faster, prob­ably lead­ing to a “sin­gu­lar­ity” where arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence devel­ops expo­nen­tially and humans can­not keep up, we all need to start factor­ing this in to how we see the world chan­ging in the next 20 – 30 years.

The vast major­ity of us think that the cur­rent polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic frame­works will con­tin­ue in pretty much the same format, with the odd war and reces­sion, in the fore­see­able future. Few of us factor in the seis­mic shift that is loom­ing. We worry about the cred­it crunch, the price of food and fuel, Big Broth­er (alas, gen­er­ally the TV show, not the deteri­or­at­ing social con­tract between gov­ern­ments and the gov­erned), and the wars. But what will hap­pen if we wake up one day to find that we as a spe­cies are no longer the número uno intel­li­gence on the plan­et?

This need not be dystop­ic. We may sud­denly find endur­ing prob­lems for human­ity – includ­ing the big­gies like war, plague and fam­ine — are erad­ic­ated. And we could see an advance in biotech that will lead to health­i­er and longer lives for all of us.

But one stray thought keeps recur­ring to me: the great MI5 is appar­ently fail­ing to see the implic­a­tions. What will hap­pen to their 100-year non-dis­clos­ure rule when we all live to be 150? Will we finally get to see our files? My bet­ting is that they will sud­denly find urgent nation­al secur­ity reas­ons to extend the secrecy time frame.….

Poor Bloody Infantry

There is an ongo­ing cam­paign to save Bletch­ley Park for the nation, in the teeth of gov­ern­ment oppos­i­tion. As his­tor­ic Brit­ish monu­ments go, the ques­tion of wheth­er to pre­serve it for pos­ter­ity should be a no-brain­er. Bletch­ley is not only where Hitler­’s Enigma code machine was decryp­ted, along with many oth­er sys­tems, which argu­ably gave the Allies the intel­li­gence advant­age that led to vic­tory in World War 2, it is also where the first digit­al elec­tron­ic com­puters, code­named Colos­sus, were oper­ated. Two land­mark events of the 20th cen­tury.

Recently The Times repor­ted on this cam­paign. The art­icle also the dwells at some length on how long Bletch­ley’s secrets were kept by the 10,000 people who worked there dur­ing the war. Although this inform­a­tion was declas­si­fied after 30 years, the habit of secrecy was so deeply ingrained that many former employ­ees nev­er breathed a word. The art­icle laments the passing of this habit of dis­cre­tion from Brit­ish life, stat­ing that politi­cians and seni­or intel­li­gence officers now appear to view the pos­ses­sion of insider know­ledge as a good pen­sion fund when they come to write their mem­oirs.

Over the last dec­ade we have see a myri­ad of books emer­ging for the upper ech­el­ons of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence in the UK: Alastair Camp­bell, Robin Cook, Wash­ing­ton Ambas­sad­or Sir Chris­toph­er Mey­er, ex-MI5 chief Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton. Even Tony Blair has appar­ently signed a sev­en fig­ure deal for his mem­oirs.

All these books have a num­ber of char­ac­ter­ist­ics in com­mon: they are lengthy, but say little of rel­ev­ance about the burn­ing issues of the day; they appear to have been writ­ten for profit and not in the pub­lic interest; and not one of these writers has ever even been arres­ted under the Offi­cial Secrets Act, even when there is clear prima facie evid­ence of a breach.

Yet these dili­gent authors are the very people who are the first to use the OSA to stifle legit­im­ate dis­clos­ure of crime, cor­rup­tion and incom­pet­ence in the highest levels of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence by real whis­tleblowers, who risk their careers and their free­dom. The hypo­crisy is breath­tak­ing.

But was the old-fash­ioned, blanket dis­cre­tion, vaunted by The Times, really such a good thing? The code of “loose talk costs lives” may have made sense dur­ing the Second World War, when this nation was fight­ing for its life. The work at Bletch­ley was mani­festly a suc­cess, obvi­at­ing any need to blow the whistle. But who can tell how these pat­ri­ot­ic men and women would have reacted had they wit­nessed crimes or incom­pet­ence that dam­aged our nation’s secur­ity, led to the deaths of our sol­diers, or even pos­sible defeat?

Also, was the 30-year non-dis­clos­ure rule around the work of Bletch­ley really neces­sary? After all, the war had been won, so how could dis­clos­ure bene­fit the enemy? This unthink­ing applic­a­tion of the stand­ard rules cost the UK dearly. In fact, it would be accur­ate to say that it severely dam­aged the UK’s eco­nom­ic well­being – some­thing the OSA is sup­posed to pro­tect.

In 1943 the Brit­ish were the world lead­ers in digit­al elec­tron­ic com­put­ing. The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act pre­cluded the devel­op­ment and com­mer­cial use of this know­ledge in Bri­tain after the war. In fact, mind­bog­glingly, the Colos­sus com­puters were dis­mantled and the research des­troyed.

There were no sim­il­ar pro­vi­sions affect­ing the Amer­ic­an cryp­to­graph­ers who had been sta­tioned at Bletch­ley. Con­sequently, after the war they enthu­si­ast­ic­ally applied Brit­ish research and tech­no­logy to devel­op the US com­puter research pro­gramme and even­tu­ally the mar­ket, pav­ing the way to the suc­cess of Sil­ic­on Val­ley and the dom­in­a­tion of the world’s IT mar­kets for dec­ades. What price the famed Brit­ish stiff upper lip and dis­cre­tion then?

Of course, there need to be leg­al pro­vi­sions to pro­tect real secrets that could affect Bri­tain’s nation­al secur­ity. How­ever, this should be pro­por­tion­ate and bal­anced, and should not pre­vent the devel­op­ment of new research and tech­no­lo­gies, the expos­ure in the pub­lic interest of crime, and cer­tainly not the fact our coun­try was taken into war on the basis of lies.

Real­ist­ic­ally, how­ever, in the age of the inter­net such leg­al pro­vi­sions are increas­ingly mean­ing­less. Des­pite this, more and more coun­tries appear to be adopt­ing Bri­tain’s mod­el of anti­quated and dra­coni­an secrecy legis­la­tion.

We live in a coun­try that crim­in­al­ises any dis­clos­ure of sens­it­ive inform­a­tion – unless it comes in the form of mem­oirs from seni­or politi­cians, White­hall offi­cials or spooks of course. As always, there is one rule for the gen­er­als and one for the poor bloody infantry.

For the good of our coun­try, we need to rethink this legis­la­tion.

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.….

CCTV doesn’t prevent crime

So, the argu­ment about CCTV and our big broth­er soci­ety rumbles on. A seni­or police­man, Detect­ive Chief Inspect­or Mick Neville of the Visu­al Images, Iden­ti­fic­a­tions and Detec­tions Office (Viido) at New Scot­land Yard, has been quoted as say­ing that only 3 per cent of crimes have been solved by CCTV evid­ence. Des­pite the UK hav­ing the highest per cap­ita num­ber of CCTVs in the world, this brave new world has failed to make us safer.

A few oth­er police forces, and nat­ur­ally the secur­ity com­pan­ies flog­ging the kit, say that CCTV has at least dra­mat­ic­ally reduced oppor­tun­ist­ic crimes. Who should we believe?

What can­not be dis­puted is the fact that there are well over 4,000,000 CCTVs in this coun­try, and the organ­isa­tion, Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al, assesses that we are the most watched cit­izenry in Europe.

While some law-abid­ing cit­izens say they feel intim­id­ated by CCTV and how the inform­a­tion could poten­tially be mis­used, most people seem not to care. In fact, the major­ity appar­ently feel safer if they can see CCTV on the streets, even if this per­vas­ive sur­veil­lance has in no way dis­cour­aged crimes of viol­ence. So why this gap between per­cep­tion and real­ity?

One of my pet the­or­ies has always been to blame Big Broth­er. No, not the book. I have always been flum­moxed by the pop­ular­ity of the TV show and the pleth­ora of real­ity TV spin-offs. My instinct­ive reac­tion was that it was sim­il­ar to being “groomed” to accept round-the-clock intru­sion into our per­son­al lives. More than accept – desire it. The clear mes­sage is that such sur­veil­lance can lead to instant fame, wealth and access to the Z‑list parties of Lon­don. And for that we are sleep-walk­ing into a real Orwellian night­mare.

Slightly flip­pant the­or­ies aside, it is inter­est­ing that one of the most cited examples of the need for CCTV was the Bish­opsgate bomb­ing in Lon­don in 1993. In this case a lorry bomb, filled with a tonne of home made explos­ive (HME) was det­on­ated in the heart of the city of Lon­don by the IRA. One per­son was killed, many were injured, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds worth of dam­age was caused, not to men­tion the fact threat the IRA scored a huge pub­li­city coup.

But this had noth­ing to do with the lack or oth­er­wise of CCTV in the streets of the City. It was an intel­li­gence fail­ure, pure and simple.

This attack could and should have been pre­ven­ted. It occurred while I was work­ing in MI5, and it was widely known in the ser­vice at the time that the bomber should have been arres­ted six months before dur­ing a sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion. Des­pite the fact that he was seen check­ing out anoth­er lorry bomb in stor­age, he was allowed to walk free and escape to the Repub­lic of Ire­land due to pro­ced­ur­al cock-ups. Months later, he returned to the City and bombed Bish­opsgate.

By rely­ing increas­ingly on tech­no­lo­gies to pro­tect us, we are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Amer­ic­ans. They have always had an over-reli­ance on gad­gets and giz­mos when seek­ing to invest­ig­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists: satel­lite track­ing, phone taps, bugs. But this hoover­ing up of inform­a­tion is nev­er an adequate replace­ment for pre­cise invest­ig­at­ive work. Plus, any crim­in­al or ter­ror­ist worth their salt these days knows not to dis­cuss sens­it­ive plans elec­tron­ic­ally.

Scat­ter-gun approaches to gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, such as blanket sur­veil­lance, still at this stage require human beings to pro­cess and assess it for evid­en­tial use. That, accord­ing to DCI Neville, is part of the prob­lem. There is just too much com­ing in, not enough staff, insuf­fi­cient co-oper­a­tion between forces, and the job lacks per­ceived status with­in the police.

The oth­er prob­lem of an over-reli­ance on tech­no­logy is that it can always be hacked. The most recent hack­ing has broken the RFID chips that we all carry in our pass­ports, Oyster cards and the planned ID cards. New tech­no­lo­gies can­not guar­an­tee that our per­son­al data is secure, so rather than pro­tect­ing us, they make us more liable to crimes such as iden­tity theft.

So once again nation­al and loc­al gov­ern­ment bod­ies have rushed to buy up tech­no­logy, without fully think­ing through either its applic­a­tion or its use­ful­ness. And without fully assess­ing the implic­a­tions for a free soci­ety. Just because the tech­no­logy exists, it does not mean that it is fit for pur­pose, nor that it will make us safer.

 

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

This did make me laugh — The Onion News strikes again! Who says the Amer­ic­ans have no under­stand­ing of satire?

Diebold vot­ing com­puters leak crit­ic­al info, mess­ing up the whole charade around the 2008 US Pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.