Just as Number 10 has been accused of sitting on the intelligence and security committee’s report into Chinese espionage, Guido has come across evidence of the pervasive reach of Chinese surveillance – even deep into SW1. Some thirsty co-conspirators have been in touch to share evidence of Chinese interference in one of Britain’s most sensitive boozers: the Red Lion. Hikivion cameras are well positioned around the pub, frequented by politicians and civil servants alike. Chinese CCTV tech is being removed from sensitive locations over fear there are backdoor exploits know to the Chinese espionage services. Who knows what secrets inebriated Shadow Cabinet Ministers have spilled to the CCP…
Jake Urfurt, Head of Research and Investigations for civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch said:
“As government wants to remove Hikvision for sensitive sites, we wondered what conversations could be monitored by the Chinese cameras at the pub that is the heart of Westminster gossip. How many China hawk MPs might have had a pint under Hikvision’s gaze.”
Guido gives it a day before IDS arranges a pub boycott.
The latest sighting of Chinese spy balloons is closer to home than some might expect. Campaign group Big Brother Watch flew spoof spy balloons over Parliament Square this morning, to raise awareness of the “widespread, intrusive and panoptic use of surveillance cameras in the UK made by Chinese state-owned companies”. The group was joined by activists from Free Tibet and Stop Uyghur Genocide. Despite a mild breeze, which made the balloons somewhat unruly, the event got off to a flying start.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael popped over to support the campaign – he’s just one of the 67 parliamentarians who have signed up to Big Brother Watch‘s pledge to ban Chinese state-owned surveillance cameras. Watch this space.
Though, the Government has so far failed to act – they even overturned a cross-party amendment to the Procurement Bill which would have put a timeline on the removal of surveillance tech companies linked to crimes against humanity from the government supply chain. Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch said:
“This digital asbestos raises serious security and privacy risks for millions of people in Britain, with the majority of public authorities’ CCTV cameras made by Chinese state-owned firms. By spending millions on Chinese-made tech to build a surveillance state at home, the UK government is indirectly supporting China’s crimes against humanity and ethnic persecution overseas.”
That’ll go down like a lead balloon in Whitehall.
Co-conspirators can find a petition calling on a UK ban on Chinese surveillance tech here.
The Mail on Sunday previewed some of the excesses of the government’s efforts to combat disinformation contained in a report from Big Brother Watch. They even called in the military.
The revelations shed light on the state’s free speech interventions – including the Army’s shadowy 77th Brigade, tasked with combatting disinformation. Instead of focussing on propaganda coming from Russia or China, the government kept tabs on its critics and those sceptical of lockdowns. David Davis, Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer were amongst those monitored – hardly pressing threats to national security.
A whistleblower from the 77th Brigade quoted in the report added:
“It was about domestic perception, not national security. By being so fixed on the wrong targets, 77x became more akin to a tool for bad information than an antidote to it… It seemed to me that the government geared the counter-disinformation operation not to serving and protecting citizens, but to serving their own careers and influence.”
Peter Hitchens had warned about censorship of his online content. It seems he may have had a point…
There are at least four further Whitehall arms dedicated to social media monitoring:
All of this state social media spying doesn’t come cheap. Big Brother Watch identified £2.3 million in contracts for the CDU, £2.5 million in contracts and £1.3 million in staffing for the RRU and an annual budget of over £6 million for the Intelligence and Communications Unit. This doesn’t include a staggering £65,000,000 in RICU contracts for social media monitoring and PR campaigns…
While she may be on her way out, there are still plenty of opportunities for Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick to show off her PR skills. Take this incident recorded by Big Brother Watch yesterday when the Metropolitan Police tried showing off their new facial recognition system, another civil liberties slow-motion car crash visible from space. When the civil liberties group caught word of the photoshoot they popped over to ask Dick some questions about the system, not least the impending mass-privacy breach. Her defence? They’re a “great bit of technology”, however “nobody’s privacy was intruded on” that afternoon since they hadn’t actually managed to get the cameras working…
When challenged by Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo about the 95% rate of misidentification by the technology, the Commissioner loftily replied that she was “not going to get into the debate about 95%” as “that’s not the position we have”. The final straw came when she was asked by a campaigner about the cameras working even more poorly with women and people of colour. Asked what she’d say to the innocent young black boy who had been wrongly flagged by facial recognition cameras as a wanted criminal last month, Dame Cressida didn’t respond and promptly walked off…
An experiment by the civil rights group Big Brother Watch has proved that politicians are walking into an anti-free speech trap that would censor their own comments. The government is intent on pressing ahead with the Online Safety Bill – set to be published next week – creating a new category of regulated “legal but harmful” speech which would hit the very politicians forcing through the change. They will be censored by their own legislation.
Using dummy accounts Big Brother Watch posted historic comments to Facebook which had been made Boris, Nadine Dorries and Angela Rayner, all three of which were removed for being offensive: Boris’s ‘burka letter boxes’ column quote; Nadine’s “nail your balls to the floor” tweet; and Raynor’s “shoot your terrorists and ask questions second” joke.
Despite appeals, all three posts remained removed from the platform…
The stunt by Big Brother Watch should alert MPs up to the damage this bill is set to do to free speech, something the government paid theoretical lip service to while eroding it in practice. Mark Johnson of Big Brother Watch says:
“These comments by high profile politicians are unpleasant and have been rightly criticised, including by ourselves. However, unpleasantness alone is not a legitimate basis for censorship. This experiment clearly demonstrates that such controversial yet lawful speech is destined for unprecedented censorship under the Online Safety”
“The Online Safety Bill would replace Britain’s carefully balanced right to free speech with the changing, censorious terms and conditions of foreign companies. The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary should take stock of Facebook removing their own statements and drop powers to target so-called ‘legal but harmful’ speech from the Bill.”
Will DCMS finally wake up and smell the authoritarian coffee?
Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries have reportedly written to the Cabinet arguing that sweeping new powers are required to force internet companies to monitor for “legal but harmful” user content, something that is dangerously vague and intrusive.
Matthew Lesh, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, is right when he says
“The Online Safety Bill is going from bad to worse. The Home Office demand for social media companies to proactively monitor legal speech is a recipe for censorship on an industrial scale. It will mean that Meta (Facebook) and Google will be required to read private messages between consenting adults. This is deeply disturbing and will result in a less safe and free internet. The state should not be requiring monitoring and the removal of legal speech. These duties will also impose huge costs on start-ups and smaller companies, deterring tech investment and solidifying Big Tech dominance.”
During the pandemic Big Tech has run riot stifling legitimate debate on the grounds of public health concerns, if this continues and spreads into general censorship it will be disastrous. The problem is politicians generally are so fed up with the abuse they get on social media they are angry enough to overturn the widely accepted free speech norms of the free world for a more authoritarian approach.
Everyone agrees monitoring for illegal content like child sexual exploitation is a desirable priority. Monitoring legal content that might vaguely be harmful is entirely different and the Home Office is wrong to deliberately conflate the issues. We would be on a slippery slope to laws protecting the “dignity of the state” and stifling criticism of politicians. In many authoritarian countries insulting government officials is an offence. It is not unimaginable that in the near future Jolyon Maugham would be organising a fundraiser seeking to bring a case against Guido for “harming” Prime Minister Starmer if this legislation goes through…