Rifkind Defends Tech Giants

This week’s Speccie cover on the state’s war on tech is well worth a read. Its author wisely warns against heading down the slippery slope of surveillance:

“There’s no means of monitoring terrorists that doesn’t leave every-body else thinking you’re monitoring them, too… Think of Britain’s experience over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was introduced to allow the surveillance of serious criminals, and expanded, chaotically, to enable councils to spy on people suspected of fiddling school places. Make it much, much easier for Special Branch to read Geoffrey Al-Wannabi-Jihadi’s email, in other words, and how long until the local council can read yours, and use the fact you booked a rafting holiday as an excuse to cancel your disabled badge?”

In the end, he concludes attempts by the government to crack down on the likes of Google and Facebook are futile and disingenuous:

“If these vast new media empires were railroads, or sewage systems, or fibre-optic networks, then the clamour from governments would be to counter their own impotence by nationalising them… If Google and the like cracked on encryption and rolled over for every state demand, would that make us safer? Perhaps, but only for a week or two. For as long as there are other services more secure, or even just more obscure, those who do not wish to be seen will use them. The security services must know this, and increasingly I struggle to comprehend why they pretend not to.”

Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Intelligence and Security committee, could do worse than heeding the advice of his son, Hugo…

Nameless ‘US Internet Company’ Blame Game

Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the Intelligence and Security select committee, is seeking to blame an unnamed ‘US internet company’ for failing to pass on suspicious online behaviour by one of the suspects to MI5:

“What is clear is that the one party which could have made a difference was the company on whose system the exchange took place. However, this company does not regard themselves as under any obligation to ensure that they identify such threats, or to report them to the authorities. We find this unacceptable: however unintentionally, they are providing a safe haven for terrorists. There is then a significant possibility that MI5 would have been able to prevent the attack.”

Rifkind is effectively saying it is the responsibility of every app, website, email provider or social network to monitor every single word written by its users for anything that could be at all suspicious, then pass the messages directly on to the security services. A cynic might say the implication is that if they do not, the security services should be allowed to do it themselves. Pure coincidence that today’s report was released the day before the government’s new counter terrorism bill tomorrow..

UPDATE: This is the verdict of civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch:

“The conclusion that a failing of an unnamed technology company should determine future legislation, whilst the catalogue of errors by the intelligence agencies is all but excused, is of grave concern.

The report revealed multiple failures by the intelligence agencies to use the powers available to them to monitor communications. The government should use this report as a blueprint to re-evaluate the decision making and record keeping processes of the intelligence agencies, as well as the training and resources allocated within the counter terrorism community.

It is vital that existing powers to combat terrorist activity are used effectively before any further intrusive legislation is considered by parliament. Failure to do this will merely increase the burden on the agencies whilst unnecessarily intruding on the public’s civil liberties.”

Clouded Oversight

GCHQ-ALWAYS-LISTENING-TO-OUR-CUSTOMERS

The Intelligence and Security Committee is finally investigating what GCHQ has been up to and will report in due course that everything is fine. It always does.

GCHQ’s operations are technically complex, and during this week’s session with the Shadow Home Secretary one committee member displayed the sort of technical prowess that we’ve come to expect from the political guardians of our liberties from over zealous spooks. On distinguishing between “internal” and “external” interception under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, Lord Lothian (Michael Ancram), highlighted exactly the sort of insight you would expect from someone tasked with oversight of GCHQ, whose projects include the subtly named “Mastering the Internet” programme – the £1 billion digital mass surveillance programme that would have made Big Brother’s eyes pop with jealousy. Ancram has been thinking:

“I thought, until about three months ago, that I understood this, until suddenly I start reading about cloud and wondering whether anything sent to cloud, whether its from here or anywhere else, is actually external because cloud is based somewhere in California.”

How will GCHQ pull the wool over his eyes?

Two Fingers To The Establishment

(5 minutes in)

Guido will be keeping up with Celebrity Big Brother so you don’t have to. Entering the house last night Sally said she wanted “to give the establishment two fingers”. Well that she certainly did.

Revealing the shocking news that her husband is against the whole idea, she took a scorched earth view to her relationship with the tabloids, especially the Mail, which wouldn’t have upset Desmond in the slightest. MPs of both colours are lining up to have a go this morning, while the Speaker hides in India.  Revealing how she won her husband round to the idea, Sally apparently told friends:

“I just used my feminine wiles and took John away for a dirty weekend in Devon. I gave him a weekend he wouldn’t forget which left him happy if breathless. He eventually gave in, though he made me promise not to say or do anything that might harm him.”

It seems Claire Perry was right



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Quote of the Day

Lord Ashcroft’s focus group is asked where each party leader would be most likely to go on holiday:

David Cameron: “Monaco”

Nigel Farage: “Blighty”

Nick Clegg: “Caribbean”

Ed Miliband: “The Moon, his own little world”

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