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Tuesday, November 04, 2014 

Time for a mature debate.

Call me old fashioned, but it doesn't strike as exactly the best strategy to on your first day in a new job call those you're going to be working with facilitators of crime, terrorism and child exploitation.  Robert Hannigan, the new director of GCHQ, could just have easily addressed those charges to his, err, new charges, such after all is the work of an organisation that, even by the standards of the intelligence agencies, set itself no limits in just what it could and couldn't intercept.  Tempora was designed to master the internet, and it came somewhat close to achieving that goal, so far as such an ambition can be achieved.

No, in what has become customary for the heads of the security services, Hannigan has stepped out of the dark momentarily to have a whinge about Snowden, make a barely veiled request for more powers, despite having tapped the cables that make up the backbone of the internet, and to insult those who've responded to these blanket powers of surveillance with a renewed focus on encryption.  Rather than wonder if maybe they went a little too far with experiments such as the interception of Yahoo webcam chats, the blame is put squarely on the companies with a duty to protect their users' data.  Without mentioning any corporate behemoth by name, Hannigan directs his ire at Silicon Valley in general, complaining they have become like it or not the command and control nexus for terrorists.  Moreover, their customers also won't understand if they fail to cooperate, ahead as they are when it comes to taxation and so forth.

Ostensibly Hannigan's attack has been prompted by Apple and Google both strengthening the protection the latest versions of iOS and Android offer, with most concern on how they encrypt data by default.  You have to suspect much of the noise is bluster, especially when exploits are being found all the time and many believe the security services had made use of the Heartbleed bug for some time before it was publicised.  Legislation also exists that makes it an offence not to turn over an encryption key, although when Hannigan's problem seems to be anyone daring to encrypt their data in the first place this is rather by the by.

There is you see no absolute right to privacy.  When someone in a position of power comes out with such a ridiculous statement, as though it had been suggested there was, and then in the next sentence says how GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate, the only conclusion to be reached is this is deliberate.  The security services' idea of debate prior to now has been to neither confirm or deny anything, threaten the Guardian with prior restraint, and then whisper about how terrorists had all changed their methods as a result of Snowden's whistleblowing.  Their take on oversight, meanwhile, is being able to see the questions beforehand.  And now they want that mature debate, itself a funny definition of mature when their opening argument is Facebook, Twitter and the rest are terrorist and paedophile enablers unless things go back the way they were, with back doors and nods and winks?  The only pity is Hannigan's invocation of democracy, a concept the securocrats have long had a problem with, won't be seen for the joke it is.

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