Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Stalinist UK?

Wiretapping without warrant: Expansion of GCHQ internet monitoring proposed


Now let's be clear - GCHQ, the UK communications monitoring (aka spying) agency will not allegedly be able to read your email or listen to your phone calls without a warrant.

But they will be able to see who you called and who called you at what time and who emailed you and who you have emailed and which websites you accessed.

That's a lot of information to be able pick up on a whim. Are you comfortable with the idea that some anonymous spook can correlate all the people you communicate with and where you browse on the Internet?

This is akin to steaming open your post and recording the sender's details (but promising to not read the actual contents of your letter) and having to check out a book in the library even for browsing whilst presenting the librarian with ID so your name and book title can be noted in a register.

Your IP is anonymous? Is it? Well, this plan will be enacted with your ISP complicit, so at any given time your IP will be able to be correlated with your account. About the only way to be truly anonymous will be to use Tor or to buy a PAYG data SIM for your phone for cash and hope your face didn't get on any CCTV recordings with face recognition technology.

I suppose you feel rest assured that if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide? So what happens when you are a lecturer who emails a student whose uncle who is on a watchlist of "people who may be sympthetic with terrorism", even though the student knows nothing of his uncle's affiliations? Or your son is best friends with the kid from down the road and is phoning the house owned by a man who is a member of No2ID or runs a website like this one. Happy now?

Or you are part of a perfectly legal group that is critical of government policy. I don't know, perhaps Liberty, or an anti nuclear group or a group that believes the country should become a republic or a group that believes the current form of democracy is ineffective or a group that investigates politicians with corrupt dealings with big business?

Perhaps you don't care, because you think all such groups are whackpots? Fine. When you are used to this then what about when the government moves the goalposts a little. Then a little more. Until they are watching you because your child has joined a student protest in London. Or because you believe personal use of cannabis should be legalised. Or you are a member of an opposition party trying to displace your local MP in the next election and the MP happens to be the Home Secretary?

Don't think it could happen here? Well, if you are old enough, or know someone who was alive in the 1970's or 1960's - compare society then with now. Make a checklist of information government agencies could trivially hold on you - then and now. You may be surprised.

And now, advances in computing technology make it easy to correlate. Gone are the days of the cold war when, in order to build up a detailed dossier on someone, you would need a Michael Caine character personally on your tail backed by a small team - which made the possibility of mass surveillance fundamentally self limiting.

Still don't care? Well, don't complain if one day, you or someone you care about ends up in a secret court.

And for those of you who are up on the news enough to see this piece: this is not the first time such a policy has been pushed. How many more times will it happen? Even on this occasion, despite the media outrage, will some of the measures still be enacted? Then a few more. Then a few more?

Orwell may have been a little off on his timing and symbolism, but the day when everything you do outside your home and a fair bit of what you do inside is monitored is most certainly coming and a good deal of it is already here.

Unless you, and I mean you, take a stand. I'm not suggesting you wear a funny beret and join the Tooting Popular Front. All it takes is a letter to your MP, a blog post giving your opinions, talking to friends - anything to keep awareness of the issue alive. Such policies are not successful when everyone is watching out for them - they are successfully enacted little by little when you are distracted, bored or don't care about anything except who gets evicted from Big Brother.

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