Monday, June 15, 2015 

Magna Carta and all that.

I'd like to think we can all agree it takes a special kind of cretin to use the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document that established all are equal under the law, to argue in fact only they can "restore the reputation of human rights".  Considering the chief argument being made for a British Bill of Rights is it would prevent criminals, terrorists and other unworthy sorts from invoking Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that of the right to a private and family life in order to avoid deportation, although how this would be accomplished without also leaving said convention at the same time as ripping up the Human Rights Act has never been answered, it does put in a whole new perspective David Cameron's decision to say it was "ironic" that "the good name of human rights has sometimes become distorted and devalued".  Call me a stuffy pedant, but I'd say it was beyond ironic, in fact an example of a politician without the slightest sense of shame to use Magna Carta as a backdrop to say some will be more equal than others under the law if and when he gets his way.

Then again, Magna Carta has always been a symbol rather than anything real in any case.  Everything you think you know about it is almost certainly wrong, and as Jack of Kent so admirably argues, there is no contradiction in politicians and other worthies celebrating a document that cannot be relied on in court while wanting to repeal one on which you can.  Rights in the view of so many are things you can expect to be given to you as hard and fast as you can take them, and if you can't, well hard cheese.  It's also noticeable historians chuckle and roll their eyes at all this nonsense, knowing full well that Magna Carta sure didn't stop King after King from doing whatever the hell they liked, while politicians, often in the main law or PPE graduates, go into raptures over it.  Not all of them, obviously, but a fair number.

Cameron's dedication to destroying an act that does work, frankly all too well for the government and establishment's liking, is of a piece with the fondness of the spooks for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.  Described by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation last week as "undemocratic" and "intolerable", with the situation in which we are currently in deemed "unnecessary", I wondered if the intelligence agencies wouldn't finally see sense and embrace David Anderson's recommendations, couched as they were in language and arguments that mollified libertarians like me while still providing the agencies with the powers they say they need.

Yesterday's front page piece in the Sunday Times rather answered such thinking.  According to a number of anonymous sources, the cache of files taken by Edward Snowden has been successfully cracked by both the Chinese and Russians, leading to MI6 needing to extract a number of agents for fear they could have been killed as a result.  The entire report, without needing to read the responses from those in the know, such as Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and the Graun, is bollocks of the hairiest, most obvious kind.  Snowden apparently has blood on his hands, and yet there is no evidence of anyone being harmed.  Que?

You don't have to question how the Russians and Chinese could have gained access to the files when the only people in possession of them are journalists, Snowden himself having destroyed his copies after he handed them over, something not previously questioned by anyone.  Nor does another howler, like the precise figure of 1.7m documents accessed by our enemies when the NSA previously admitted it simply didn't and couldn't know how many files Snowden had taken give the game away.  It's how crude and transparent the sourcing is: when Seymour Hersh questions the official version of events in the killing of bin Laden, his reliance on unnamed intelligence sources is ridiculed.  Hersh's recent exposes may be nonsense, but they are no less believable than a supposed newspaper of record (stop sniggering) noting down everything briefed to it by a government and then reprinting it verbatim.

The "exclusive" given to the Sunday Times is revenge, plain and simple.  David Anderson confirmed in his report that without Snowden, absolutely nothing would have changed.  The Intelligence and Security Committee had never asked precisely how GCHQ monitored the internet, so it hadn't thought it necessary to keep them up to date with things like Tempora or their relationship with the NSA.  Anderson's recommendation that judges review and authorise warrants rather than politicians raises the possibility they might be slightly more critical in their appraisal than ministers have previously, and that would never do.

There's also the simple spite factor, that and letting everyone know how they might react in the future.  The smashing up of the Guardian's copy in this country of the Snowden files was utterly pointless when it came to "ending the debate", but it carried with it the message of acting because they could.  Smearing Snowden further and claiming those dastardly Rushkies and Chinese have got their hands on the locations of our brave spies is meant to reinforce how so much as talking about things we're not supposed to know is to damage our security.  You might think you've won this round, it says, with the Anderson report, but just you wait.  When all else fails, appeal to the court of public opinion, with its memories of Bletchley Park and hagiographies of Alan Turing.

It's utterly pitiful behaviour, and yet it shows how worried the government and the securocrats are.  They've done everything they can to deny there is any need for a debate or to worry about what those in the shadows are up to, when even the American authorities have in the main accepted the powers they had went too far in some areas.  Instead of going down the same path, the Anderson report having given them the chance to back down without losing much in the way of face, the age old tactic of anonymous briefing to a trusted hack and newspaper is the response.  When you can't make the perfectly reasonable argument that we can't foresee the future, can't know what the next threat might be, and so have to be ready for every eventuality without resorting to outright lies, there is clearly a problem with accountability.  They saw back in 1215 that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  800 years on some still need to learn that lesson.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015 

When maintaining the status quo feels like something to celebrate.

David Anderson QC's review of the various laws authorising and regulating the interception of data by the state is as good as we possibly could have hoped for.  Compared to the work of parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, well, there's no comparison.  Not a single redaction for a start, very little in the way of obfuscation or outright distraction, regardless of how transparent those attempts to muddy the debate have been, and outright recognition that if it had not been for the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, we would still know almost nothing about the way GCHQ hoovers up our data with the very minimum of oversight.  Anderson still, contradictorily, criticises Snowden, but that is to be expected.  The independent reviewer of terrorism clearly does not swallow the bluster from the security services that major damage has been done to them, despite accepting "national security" has been affected.  When national security is defined so widely, and presumably in this instance includes damage to the reputation of said security services, it could hardly be otherwise.

He does nonetheless accept the pleas of GCHQ for the bulk interception of data to be allowed to continue.  He did at least manage to persuade the powers that be to disclose the general outline of the examples previously provided to the ISC for why bulk interception, which if nothing else gives us something of an idea as to what we're giving up in terms of privacy in order to prevent.

This is not to say the examples given are beyond question (they're contained in Annex 9 of the report): most eye-catching is the claim that without bulk data, an airline worker with links to al-Qaida would not have been convicted.  As Joshua Rozenberg writes, this almost certainly refers to the case of Rajib Karim, who was in email contact with the then leader of al-Qaida in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, since killed in a US drone strike.  You would of course expect someone like al-Awlaki to be under surveillance, although how precisely GCHQ identified Karim we can't know.  Nor can we know how exactly "bulk data" is being defined in this instance: yes, Karim might not have been identified if al-Awlaki also hadn't been targeted, presumably under the rules governing bulk interception rather than as a specific target, but that's rather different to how our "external communications", i.e. the use of any website not hosted in the UK are considered by the intelligence agencies to fall under bulk interception as a whole.  Two of the case studies provided do not so much as relate to subsequent law enforcement action in this country at all.  While this is evidence of the efficacy of bulk interception in cases where intelligence or what we would normally consider to be standard surveillance techniques have started off the investigation, it hardly convinces that the ordinary sifting through of the vast amounts of data being collected will ever on its own save lives, or outweigh the potential abuse of such access to personal data.

That aside, the report on the whole is so well argued that if the intelligence agencies had any sense, they would take a good hard look at Anderson's recommendations and five principles, of minimising no-go areas, limited powers, rights compliance, clarity and transparency and a unified approach and adopt them as their own.  Anderson writes of just how co-operative everyone was with him, as you would expect, and yet these are the same agencies that once free of the presence of those reviewing them go back to demanding redactions in reports, that over-the-top levels of secrecy be maintained and the delivering of self-defeating lectures that we're all so familiar with.  There is in essence absolutely nothing in the report they should disagree with, at least if they realise things can no longer go on as they were, but whether organisations which by their very nature have to be paranoid and constantly on the lookout for new ways to break things can handle such concepts remains unclear.

The problem you suspect will in fact be more with the politicians than the agencies themselves.  Ministers will be loth to give away to judges the authorising of interception warrants, not least because it's another power they'll lose.  So too will it affect their direct line into the agencies, and considering the past at times fractious relationship between the spies and politicians, that's not something necessarily to be welcomed.  Anderson also reiterates the past criticisms of the proposed Data Communications Bill, aka the snoopers' charter, essentially saying the case for it has still to be made, despite "compulsory retention of records of user interaction with the internet" being "useful", as he terms it.  Well yes, useful it would certainly be; as for being justifiable, in the same way as bulk interception is justifiable, not without safeguards far beyond what has been outlined so far.  

All things considered though, especially when we think of how with a Tory majority, a Labour party that looks certain to head back to the right and when the only party remotely interested in civil liberties as a whole has been reduced to a rump, this report in different hands could have been the sum of all fears.  Instead it looks set to merely maintain the status quo.  These days, that feels like a victory.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015 

The securocrats win. They always win.

Hazel Blears is, like David Blunkett, another of those New Labour figures to be sadly leaving parliament in May.  Happily for her, all the unpleasantness involving "Rockets" Rifkind meant she was the obvious choice to chair this morning's Intelligence and Security Committee press conference, announcing their extended findings into whether or not GCHQ have the biggest revenge porn collection in the world.  Rest assured, they don't.  They merely have the capability if they so wish to put together the biggest revenge porn collection in the world, and they really honestly don't, they just want to filter all those mirror shots of cocks and arseholes and underage girls duckfacing down to the point where it's just the finest, classiest self-shot images they collect and then use to keep us safe from the fifth columnists in our midst.

Excuse my ahem, rather colourful corruption of what it is GCHQ do, but reading such an obfuscatory report as the one produced by Blears and pals will do that to you.  Just like their last major release, where they detailed precisely how the security services failed to keep the killers of Lee Rigby under further surveillance (which probably wouldn't have saved Rigby's, or another soldier's life regardless) and then put all the blame on Facebook, so too here they use a similar approach.  Essentially, absolutely everything the security services do involving monitoring the internet is above board, completely kosher, totally necessary to keep us safe.  The fact that we knew precisely nothing of this prior to the Edward Snowden leaks, and the ISC itself didn't think to ask is neither here nor there.  At the same time, despite everything being a-OK as far as not breaking the law as it is stands, said laws need to be torn up and began again from scratch.

Confused?  You shouldn't be.  Basically the laws are a complete mess, and always have been rather than just rendered obsolete by technological change.  As we already knew, GCHQ's bulk interception capability, known as Tempora, is legal by virtue of the foreign secretary signing a public immunity certificate every six months.  However, the RIPA act of 2000 requires that for a specific UK based target to be monitored, as opposed to anyone up to and including every damn person on the internet, a warrant naming that person is required.  Except, due to the vast majority of the services we use being hosted overseas, the agencies distinguish between "internal" and "external" communications.  Posting on Facebook or Twitter is then an external communication, even if you're just retweeting the joke the person on the desk opposite you put up.  This means that while the agencies can't search for your name without getting a warrant, they can suck up all the information they want about you if you happen to be followed by or friends with someone living outside the UK by carrying out the surveillance on them instead.  In any case, as James Ball points out, this doesn't preclude their uncovering metadata on you, just the content.

And oh boy, essentially metadata is whatever the intelligence agencies want it to be, metadata not being defined in RIPA anyway.  The ISC outlines that only the full url of a website (page 52 of the report) is considered to be content, so while they're not allowed to know precisely which video it was you looked at on YouPorn without a warrant, they are allowed to know you went to the site.  It also means they can hoover up the location data stored by your smartphone, as that's not considered to be content either.  This is one of the few areas where the ISC isn't convinced by the insistence of the agencies that such information is unintrusive, and so suggest it be regarded as "communications data plus", with added protections under any new bill.

The one new thing the ISC did find out is the agencies have for some time now been purchasing or obtaining "bulk personal datasets" (page 55 onwards), only any further information on just what these datasets are is in the usual style of ISC reports redacted.  The assumption is they're databases put together by private companies, social networking firms, all the usual suspects, and most probably contain fairly mundane information that could be sourced through perfectly legitimate means.  The ISC notes however the agencies obtain these both through "overt and covert channels", so in other words don't believe that ticking the box saying don't share my information with third parties is going to prevent our friends in Cheltenham from getting their hands on them via unscrupulous methods.  They also set out the controls on the use of the datasets, which even by the standards seen above are flimsy, don't apply to the likes of the NSA, so if they're willing they can do the dirty work for GCHQ.

Where the report truly fails, and this again has always been typical of the ISC, is the evidence that supposedly proves bulk interception works can't possibly be shared with us plebs less it tips off our enemies (page 32).  Any further details on Tempora and just how much of the internet it has mastered are similarly redacted, again without a convincing reason as to how knowing this might help anyone wishing us harm.  It doesn't however stop the committee from ridiculing the likes of Liberty et al from rejecting bulk interception in principle (page 35 onwards), when they and we are not being provided with even the slightest evidence as to whether it works in the way the GCHQ insists to make a judgement on.  That they of course frame this by saying privacy organisations would rather there be successful attacks than a slight infringement of civil liberties only underlines the basic hostility the ISC has so often displayed towards critics, both of themselves and the agencies.  Just how useless the ISC can be at times is further shown by this non-response to allegations in the media concerning the Belhadj rendition case:

I don't know about you, but that *** has certainly reassured me.

The report in its entirety is wonderful for what it makes clear and yet cannot admit.  For all the sound and fury directed at Edward Snowden and the Guardian, all the claims of endangering the public, the soundbites from the heads of MI5 and MI6 of al-Qaida rubbing their hands in glee, the ISC all but admits the leak was accurate, and the current safeguards built into the legislation are not fit for purpose.  The ISC knows full well however that any replacement legislation will not simply bring the regulations up to date, but also enshrine in law Tempora and the further powers of surveillance the agencies have long demanded.  This will happen without the slightest evidence being presented as to the efficacy of GCHQ's attempt to master the internet, nor anything more than internal oversight to ensure individuals within the agencies are not doing precisely what I describe in the first paragraph and far, far worse.  The securocrats win.  They always win.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014 

Make it easy for us, Cheltenham.

At this point, it would be a lot easier for all concerned if GCHQ (and MI5 and SIS for that matter) just let everyone know who the very few people they aren't bugging are.  Is it safe to assume the royal family aren't having their phone calls intercepted, for instance, or at least aren't now, considering the still uncertain provenance of the "Squidgy" and Camilla tapes?  How about MPs?  Is the Wilson doctrine still in force, or is that another relic no longer felt necessary in this brave new world that has such people in it?  Considering the doctrine was established in the main to protect communications between MPs and their constituents, conversations that would not, as phone calls between lawyers and their clients are, be felt to be subject to legal professional privilege, is there any reason to believe the successive prime ministers who have insisted the doctrine still has force?

Even if it does still apply, as was outlined by David Davis in parliament, the ban is only on the content of communications, not on the metadata, the time of the call and so on.  Evidently the same must apply to intercepted communications between lawyers and their clients; even if a government lawyer decides a conversation cannot be stored and must be destroyed as keeping it can't be justified under the usual national security, economic well-being or prevention/detection of serious crime exemptions, the metadata will still exist and be kept.

Considering the Snowden revelations, it really shouldn't be surprising the intelligence agencies also view privileged communications as fair game, so long of course as they can point to one of the above reasons for doing so.  It does though, precisely because the legal privilege attached to conversations between lawyers and their clients should be sacrosanct.  If there was any suggestion of collusion, for instance, between a lawyer and a "terrorist suspect", we almost certainly would have known about it down to how the Met leaks anything remotely prejudicial should their charges fail to stick.  No, this seems to have been done not just in case it provided additional information that could be useful to the government against those facing deportation on national security grounds, or to help resist legal claims by those caught up in the rendition scandal, but as with so much else of GCHQ's work, because it could.

We have a good story to tell, GCHQ's new director Robert Hannigan wrote at the beginning of the week.  And so, as seems inevitable, will the next whistleblower.

Update: I somehow managed to confuse provenance with providence.  I am, as ever, an idiot.

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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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Thursday, July 10, 2014 

Every modern scourge tamed, but only if we pass this emergency legislation.

When all sides of the House agree on a measure, you know there's something else going on behind the scenes.  This is an emergency.  Lives are at risk.  Our prime minister doesn't want to be the one to stand up after an attack and admit more could have been done.  This is not about introducing new powers, it's to ensure the authorities can carry on as before.

It's utter crap, but every single time it works. The government clearly hoped it would have another justification to fall back on, as the Graun reported last week. The Intelligence and Security Committee is due imminently to release their report into what involvement the security services had with the killers of Lee Rigby, expected to predictably say they could have done more if they had the precogs seen in Minority Report. Only the ISC report for whatever reason hasn't materialised, meaning the government had to act today regardless to be able to force it through before parliament goes into its summer recess next week.

The excuse is a ruling back in April by the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the data sharing agreement between governments and providers which allowed metadata to be kept for up to 12 months.  There needed to be far more privacy safeguards in place, said the CJEU.  The wiseacres among you will note April was three months ago; if this was truly urgent, the legislation would have emerged long before now.  Indeed, when Iain Duncan Smith needed to swiftly get an act on statute to deny those on benefits compensation for not being given the information they needed to make an informed choice about the workfare scheme they were sent on, the bill was before parliament in just over a month (and that act, incidentally, has also fell foul of the beak).  The idea the same wouldn't have been the case if this was truly as serious as claimed is ludicrous.

Instead they've waited for the most opportune time to ram through a bill that barely makes any concessions to the ECJ ruling.  Sure, as part of the apparent deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems/Labour we're now due to get a privacy and civil liberties board as an apparent replacement for the current lone reviewer of terrorism legislation, as well as a review of the RIPA legislation that allows for the very existence of Tempora, but these carry as many potential downsides as they do benefits.  David Anderson has been a vast improvement over Lord Carlile, and frankly I'd rather have one decent reviewer than a board of Carliles.  Much the same goes for the review of RIPA: are we really supposed to expect the same politicians who have insisted time and time again that rather than putting in more safeguards we in fact need even wider surveillance to accept any report calling for the former?  Pull the other one.  The sunset clause will therefore provide just the opening the securocrats have been looking for.

Nor will the legislation just reinstate the existing agreement as the government and opposition are insisting.  As Jack of Kent and others have pointed out, it goes beyond what RIPA currently allows.  It will require overseas companies to comply with warrants, where previously the law was hazy on whether it applied to them, while also redefining exactly what "telecommunications services" are far more widely, again removing any room for doubt.  Rather than risk having these changes scrutinised by committee, the government and opposition have connived in the idea of there being a phony emergency, a move most likely needless in any case considering how the majority of the press and the public accept each new dilution of privacy and civil liberties as needed to save us from paedogeddon/bearded fanatics/any thug with a gun/transforming teddy bears.

See, this is why the idea there was an establishment cover up over child abuse at Elm Guest House or wherever else is so difficult to believe.  The odd person with suitably powerful connections can, on occasion, get away with such things.  Cyril Smith wasn't just the subject of rumours for instance as we've seen; there were specific allegations published about him that simply weren't followed up or were squashed with help.  When we're talking about 20 or so high profile figures, as some are claiming, that's a hell of a lot of back covering, involving hundreds of people or more, none of whom were challenged by their conscience into backing up Geoffrey Dickens or taking their concerns to the press or anyone else.  

Moreover, government is terrible at keeping secrets or pulling a fast one: it couldn't do it on this, it couldn't do it on rendition, where the papers that might have confirmed more flights did land at Diego Garcia were destroyed by "flood", and News International couldn't do it to take a corporate example over phone hacking.  This isn't to say there aren't conspiracies to be uncovered, it's we always ought to wield Occam's razor first.  Or just a razor in general when it comes to the aforementioned legislation.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013 

Parker saved from having to stick his nose in.

Andrew "nosy" Parker, the head of MI5, will not then be giving evidence to the Home Affairs committee after all.  In what must rank as the most analogous instance of a grown man being got out of a potentially sticky situation by the equivalent of a note from his mum, Theresa May has decreed that for the chief spook to appear before another committee, albeit a select committee rather than a statutory one, would be to duplicate the ISC's work.  This is an interesting new innovation on the part of the coalition: apparently you can't have two inquiries into the same thing going on at the same time, unless of course the object of the inquiries is to try and get one over on the Labour party, in which case you can have innumerable different investigations into the Co-op Bank and Paul Flowers.  To be fair, it reminds just as much as Labour's position on a further inquiry into the Iraq war while troops were still in the country.  Once they were back home, then we could have the Chilcot inquiry.  Until then, and regardless of how in the past we'd managed to have inquiries into debacles in both WW1 and WW2 without damaging the mission, we couldn't possibly hold one.

You can at least see why Theresa May has "declined" the committee's request to call Parker.  What's the point of the ISC if the heads of the intelligence agencies can also be called to account by other, normal, parliamentary committees?  If the Home Affairs committee had been allowed to question Parker without first informing him of what they intended to ask, as the ISC did in its carefully stage managed session, then it would rather undermine the whole haven't we changed into tremendously open and answerable organisations narrative.  This doesn't explain however why security service heads have previously given evidence to the home affairs committee in private session without any such difficulties; what would be so different in doing so in public post the first ISC appearance?

Except, as was clear after Alan Rusbridger's appearance, the most pertinent question to ask of Parker is the one he doesn't have an answer to.  Both he and the government know full well there has been no real damage caused by the Edward Snowden revelations, except that is to their reputations and the "oversight" regime.  While there was no guarantee Parker would have expanded on his and his fellow spooks' answer to the ISC that they could only go into specifics in closed session, it would have been embarrassing to say the least to have to repeat his response without doing so.  The committee could also have asked some of the questions the ISC didn't, and Parker would additionally have had to confront the increasing number of those demanding reforms to the current legislation that regulates surveillance.  There was also the possibility the trial of the two men accused of killing Lee Rigby might have concluded by the time of the session, with the potential for embarrassing revelations still to emerge which Parker could have been put on the spot over.

Much the same thinking seems to have been behind David Cameron's refusal to allow Kim Darroch, the national security adviser to give evidence, after Chris Huhne revealed that the national security committee had not been informed of the existence of Tempora.  Apparently this would have set a "difficult precedent", or rather, would have been acutely embarrassing and revealing about the levels of secrecy even at the very heart of government.  As Keith Vaz said, regardless of who they are, witnesses should not be afraid of questions from MPs, nor should the prime minister or home secretary be dictating over the heads of committees who can and cannot give evidence.  The government and security service have got into this mess through their own ridiculously overblown reaction to Snowden's whistleblowing; they should not be allowed to get out of by shifting the goalposts.  That can be left to the badgers.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013 

I love a free country.

In the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, Edmund's plan to get out of going over the top by pretending to be mad having come to nothing, General Melchett inspects the troops one last time.  Turning to Baldrick, he asks if he loves his country.  Certainly do sir, he responds.  And do you love your King? Certainly don't sir.  Bristling, literally, Melchett asks why not.  My mother told me never to trust men with beards, sir, comes the answer. Melchett laughs, exclaims on the excellence of native cockney wit, and punches Baldrick in the face.

I relate this only due to Keith Vaz yesterday deciding to ask the same question of Alan Rusbridger during his appearance in front of the Home Affairs committee, although without also enquiring of his loyalty to the Queen, motherhood, apple pie and all that.  Vaz's interjection clearly wasn't meant seriously, as much being a swipe against those who have accused the Guardian of treachery over the publication of the Snowden files as it was anything else, but it summed up the shallowness of the session while at the same time highlighting the undercurrent of threat manifest in the statements of the Conservative front bench.  You can have a debate on the security services and how they've mastered the internet, it's just we'll be the ones to decide when that debate ends and when it's time for the stolen files to be turned over.

Having completely failed to provide any evidence of harm caused by the Guardian's articles, as almost everyone other than the securocrats has said they can't see how national security has been damaged (including the DA-Notice committee), those calling for a prosecution have had to change tack.  In a brilliant example of not being able to see the wood for the trees, four members of the committee (Three Tory, one Labour) focused instead on how the Snowden files had been transferred to the New York Times and elsewhere, supposedly putting at risk the agents named in the documents.  As section 58a of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to publish or communicate any such information that might be useful to terrorists, Mark Reckless especially thought he had caught Rusbridger out.  Quite apart from how, as Rusbridger tried to explain to him and the others, there haven't been any names released nor will there be so there isn't a breach of the law, the act provides a "reasonable excuse" defence.  If the security services and the government want to make a case in court that the paper has not acted in the wider public interest, then they should bring it on.

It is after all just ever so slightly perverse to worry more about the Graun transferring heavily encrypted files either by FedEx, David Miranda (the password he had on a piece of paper was not to the files themselves, Rusbridger said, but to an index to the files, the encryption on which GCHQ has not been able to break) or to the New York Times than it is to be concerned at how 850,000 individuals in the United States had, or possibly still have access to the same material as Edward Snowden.  Snowden wasn't even directly employed by the National Security Agency, rather by a contractor, and yet the same MPs grievously concerned that the Graun might have revealed the identities of GCHQ employees didn't seem to think this was worth worrying about.  Is every single one of those people reliable, or is it possible there's others with allegiances far more inimical to the West's values than that of a former Ron Paul supporter?  For all we know the files may have long been in the hands of the Chinese or Russians precisely because of the wide open access GCHQ was apparently happy with.

Michael Ellis for one was certain of the Graun's treachery.  Not only had the paper revealed there was a LGBT group at GCHQ (as was openly stated on err, Stonewall's website), he also came right out and asked if Rusbridger would have revealed the existence of Enigma.  Leaving aside the obvious existence of censorship during WW2 and the complete absence of any threat even slightly comparable to that of Nazi Germany today, it highlighted the inability to listen of some of those on the committee.  Despite the protestations afterwards, the paper has communicated with both the US and UK governments as well as the security services and the DA-Notice committee before publishing each report, only not doing so before it splashed on the original GCHQ spying on the G20 story.  If there had been any material about to be revealed which they believed could truly do damage on the scale of say, the existence of Enigma being revealed to the Germans, they would have said so.  They have not.

Just as with the appearance of the spy chiefs before the ISC, having already been told precisely what they were going to be asked, much of the rhetoric is just to keep up appearances, and that probably goes for the Graun as well.  It will however be interesting to see whether Andrew Parker does agree to give evidence in public before the committee, having been asked by Keith Vaz, and whether he will set out exactly how the Snowden revelations have affected the work of his agency.  Some members of the committee might even enquire just how far the discussions have gone between GCHQ and the NSA over the massive sharing of their documents, and whether the fact the NSA has funded GCHQ to the tune of £100m over the past three years has anything to do with it.  Or we might just get the equivalent of a punch to the face again.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013 

The illusion of oversight.

It would be an exaggeration to say today's first ever public session with the heads of the intelligence agencies was a waste of time.  Finally getting MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to answer questions from a committee in front of the cameras is itself an achievement; not so long ago Andrew Parker and Sir John Sawers' predecessors were refusing to give evidence to any other parliamentary committee, and would only do so to the Intelligence and Security panel in closed session.

Apart from their showing up though, there wasn't much else to recommend them having bothered taking time out of their schedules.  A flavour of just how little we were likely to learn was in the ludicrous "security" measures that were taken: journalists weren't allowed to take their phones in, for who knows what reason, while the session was broadcast with a two minute delay just in case any information believed too sensitive was discussed or mentioned.  Considering it was unlikely Parker, Sawers or GCHQ's Sir Ian Lobban were suddenly going to detail exactly how it is we combat cyber espionage, or listen in to the communications between al-Qaida leaders, this presumably was meant to be in case a committee member quoted too liberally from the Edward Snowden revelations, or rather, to give the impression such sensitive material could be discussed.  All but needless to say, it wasn't.

There were at least a few minor points, mainly from Parker, which we weren't entirely aware of before.  He put an actual number on the plots which have been foiled since 7/7, saying there had 34, one or two of which had the potential to be mass casualty attacks, presumably a reference to the "liquid bombs" plot and the cell disrupted in Operation Crevice.  Seeing as we've heard from 3 different heads of MI5 now, including Parker, who have repeated the claim there are around 30 plots on-going at any one time, with 2,000 individuals involved in one way or another, these two figures don't exactly tally.  Is MI5 in fact more successful than it's letting on, or are the extremists less competent or committed than is routinely imagined? This discrepancy wasn't remarked on however, unsurprisingly.  Parker's other point of interest was, despite the whining from Labour earlier in the week, they don't regard the replacement of control orders with TPIMs as having had any adverse effect on security.

The rest of the session was dedicated almost entirely to questions that we either already know the answers to, or which the agencies themselves have responded to in one way or another.  Sawers gave the same response when asked if MI6 would ever work with foreign agencies who use torture that he has previously, saying that if he was concerned someone could be mistreated he'd get ministerial approval, and if he was certain there would be, authorisation would never be forthcoming.  This approach was presumably not in operation when two of Gaddafi's opponents were rendered back to the dictator's most notorious jail courtesy of MI6 with Jack Straw's signature, but none of the committee were crass enough to raise the issue. Sawers was also pleased the Justice and Security bill was passed, "as this meant they could "now defend themselves" in such cases, rather than say ensure such embarrassing details as the seven paragraphs never become public again.

You see, secrecy isn't to prevent the services being embarrassed or privacy concerns from becoming known, it's only to ensure those who want to do us harm aren't aware of how we prevent them from doing so, as "nosy" Parker made clear. The idea that GCHQ has been reading everyone's emails and listening in to phone calls just isn't true, said Lobban in response to some very carefully worded questions. Snowden's revelations of course didn't say that they did, as such a thing would be impossible, rather that Tempora has meant they can hoover up all that information. Lobban claimed that their approach was to get to the needle without upsetting the haystack, which was a wonderfully revealing analogy: GCHQ can apparently do the undoable! Or, err, they can't and don't.

Thus we moved on to the ordained Guardian bashing section. Sawers growled that the paper is "not particularly well placed to make [that] judgement" on what would and wouldn't affect national security, echoing the position chairman Malcolm Rifkind had already reached. Sawers added that "our adversaries had been rubbing their hands with glee ... al-Qaida are lapping it up", yet when the three were asked for specific examples of the damage done, they naturally refused to compound it by setting some out.  Lobban said they had "intelligence on specific terrorist groups discussing what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods", which rather suggests that, err, they haven't made any such shift yet, and that they might have been rather slapdash in the first place.  All three would expand on the damage done, but only in a closed session, meaning us proles will never be able to judge whether or not the three were telling the truth. Their point was also slightly undermined when they accepted that the ISC had not been kept informed of how their capabilities had developed, learning along with the rest of us from the Guardian, but this too would now be remedied in a closed session. No one suggested that this was perhaps a little late, nor does it inspire confidence they will be more up front in the future.

There were also some great big pork pies in amongst the dull stuff.  Parker, quite incredibly, said that MI5 "was not arguing for more intrusion and more and more powers", even going so far as to say they had turned down "disproportionate" offers in the past.  Really?  Did MI5 really tell Blair and then Brown they didn't want 90 days or 42 days detention?  Eliza Manningham-Buller might have said she didn't believe it was necessary, but that's not the same thing.  As for the data and communications bill we know full well all three agencies have been lobbying hard for, and which would have enshrined in law the powers the Guardian revealed GCHQ already has, we heard absolutely nothing about it.

The committee, with the possible exception of Lord Butler who asked a couple of the more searching questions, completely flunked the opportunity to get any real nuggets of information out of the three.  No one thought to ask why it was the Americans have funded GCHQ to the tune of £100m over the past three years, or what GCHQ meant when they boasted to the NSA that the "legal framework" here was a "unique selling point".  We also didn't hear why it was that only the prime minister and relevant secretaries knew about Tempora, with the national security council and other senior ministers not being informed.  If we're being charitable, perhaps two out of the Guardian's ten questions were somewhat addressed.  The rest were clearly far too pointed.

The real purpose of today was to present the illusion of oversight.  All three intelligence chiefs thought the current regime worked quite well, as indeed it does, for them at least.  When the head of the committee asking the questions makes clear the media simply doesn't have the knowledge to make a decision on what might damage national security, and so shouldn't publish anything without first consulting the very people they're about to expose, it's abundantly clear the entire system is a joke.  Even with its expanded powers, the ISC is a fig leaf, and whether the secret state likes it or not, it's one that goes on shrinking.  The sooner we have a regulator that's worthy of the name, the sooner the public concern about privacy and civil liberties will subside.  Sadly, that seems as far away as ever.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013 

Consistency, thy name is the Conservatives.

One of the complaints about modern life you tend to hear repeatedly is that there just isn't any consistency in the decisions made by those in positions of authority.  Whether it's councils and the existence of postcode lotteries, the funding of said councils by central government, or less seriously, (yes, really) the calls made by football referees, if we see what seems to be a lack of fairness we usually hear voices raised about it.  Of course, this doesn't mean those doing so are necessarily right: there's nothing intrinsically wrong with different areas focusing on different services, and it's expecting the impossible for different referees to always agree on whether a bad tackle deserves either a yellow or red card, just as we ought to be used by now to how what's a foul outside the penalty box can't always be one inside it.  Unless you really want a penalty almost every time there's a corner.

Which brings us, in an extremely roundabout fashion, to the Tory view on what is and isn't an abuse of power.  Both David Cameron and Theresa May have now stated that they support the IPCC's view that the three representatives of the Police Federation who completely misrepresented their meeting with Andrew Mitchell to the TV cameras should face misconduct hearings, as well as apologise.  While governments in the past haven't always been so swift to say they believe the police are in the wrong, we shouldn't hold that against this particular one.

More to the point, it's quite remarkable what exactly the police are defending in this instance: forget this involves a politician, and just think of the deserved uproar there would be if they had lied about a meeting they'd had with a family of a victim, or a celebrity.  You can't describe the PF three's version of the meeting, when they said that Mitchell refused to elaborate on what he had said, with the transcript which makes clear he did, as anything other than an outright lie.  It wasn't an untruth, or a different subjective view of what took place, it was a lie designed to keep the pressure up on a minister fighting for his position.  If one of us proles either lies to the police or refuses to assist with their inquiries, we can be charged with assisting an offender or even, at the extreme end, perverting the course of justice.  If we were to lie to our employers, we'd expect to face a written warning or even more severe consequences.  Is it too much to expect for that to be the case here?

Just as incredible is that the police and crime commissioners for West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire have all stated they support the original decision not to bring proceedings against the officers.  Those of us who imagined the introduction of the PCCs was designed to increase political control over the police, as they surely were, can at least now be safe in the knowledge it hasn't quite worked out as the Tories had hoped on that score.  Less welcome is it hasn't improved police accountability one iota, and on this rare occasion when the IPCC has bared its teeth, the first thing that happens is the likes of Hugh Orde and other chief constables come out and either criticise it or say it should be replaced.  After all, what right has the IPCC to complain when it decided only to supervise the West Mercia investigation rather than carry it out itself?  Expecting the police to recognise when their officers are so obviously in the wrong might be reflective of the IPCC's continued naivety, but do their representatives really think this is a strong argument or one that's likely to resonate with the public?

Compare though the ire of the Tories towards the police for their apparent attempts to get Mitchell and in turn the party as a whole with the continuing position taken by the leadership on the Snowden revelations about the intelligence agencies.  Here we have another arm of the state acting at the very edge of its remit, with GCHQ able to suck up unimaginable amounts of personal data, aimed by its own admission at "mastering the internet", and all authorised by a ministerial signature every six months.  We now know almost everyone was kept in the dark about Tempora, whether it was ministers on the National Security Council, the committee set-up to examine whether the data communications bill was necessary, or the Intelligence and Security Committee, the very body meant to monitor the spooks' work.  Indeed, as has been pointed out, this seems to amount to misleading parliament, let alone breaking if not the letter then most definitely the spirit of the act used to authorise the programme.

Rather than so much as accept the revelations necessitate at the very least a debate over the current oversight of the security services, the response from ministers has been to continually shoot the messenger, and as we saw last week, encourage rival newspapers to accuse the Guardian of outright treachery.  Yesterday Theresa May claimed the public interest had been damaged by the revelations, while at prime minister question's David Cameron took the opportunity presented by Liam Fox, of all people, to call for the Graun to be investigated by a committee.  He also had no qualms about misrepresenting exactly how the government approached the paper, with the cabinet secretary apparently "politely" asking it to destroy its local copies of the Snowden files, and also presented their willingness to do so as accepting that their mere presence in this country was dangerous to national security, rather than as a pointless gesture when they had backups overseas.  Indeed, the continuing imperial arrogance of our politicians and securocrats is such that they attempted to intimidate the New York Times as well, who told them exactly where they could go.

While the government is more than prepared to stand up to those opposed to its reforms and present its own as a victim, it has no compunction in smearing and slandering others who want those with the ultimate power and responsibility to be more accountable.  When journalists are compared to terrorists and their work the equivalent of hacking the phones of murder victims, shouldn't it be clear that if you give it, you should able to take it?  Or is that a consistency too far?

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Thursday, October 10, 2013 

The feral press part 2.

Earlier in the week, Chris made a few good points about how us sad sacks tend to exaggerate the influence of the media in general.  It's an argument I'm more inclined to agree with than I was in the past, but I do think that over the longer-term biases against benefit claimants, asylum seekers and immigrants in general have had an impact that has contributed to the policies we're now seeing.  Of special concern is there's evidence that in some instances, the government and media have openly colluded with each other in such campaigns, as Peter Oborne revealed David Blunkett had with the Sun back in 2003.

It's more than reasonable then in light of the events of the last couple of days to wonder if the coalition has informally done a similar deal with the right-wing press over their sudden rage at the Guardian's revelations about GCHQ.  First we had the speech from Andrew Parker that gave them the laughable line that terrorists were being handed gifts via the Snowden files, accompanied by briefings that went even further.  Yesterday these were backed by the spokesman for the prime minister, who said he agreed entirely with Parker's choice of language, while today both Clegg and Cameron have come out and said the Graun is in effect helping terrorists.  The Mail and others meanwhile have further upped the ante by saying the paper "helps Britain's enemies" or is downright traitorous.

Quite apart from how this makes clear just how little it takes for the Mail to view someone or an institution as either hating Britain or guilty of treachery, it provides a quite wonderful contrast with last week.  Then we had the likes of Michael Gove defending the Daily Mail's right to tell lies about a dead man, which if said of someone alive would almost certainly have brought a libel suit, while other Tory politicians cautioned everyone to be mindful of the freedom of the press, as though criticism of the Mail equated to wanting to restrict its right to embarrass itself.  7 days later and we don't just have politicians attacking a newspaper on the grounds that its actions might have helped someone somewhere who wishes us harm, we have other sections of the press joining in, without so much as a thought to publish and be damned, as they have so often argued for in the past.

Criticising the Guardian on the basis that it hasn't properly thought through what its revelations could lead to is one thing.  To bring treachery, helping terrorists or putting lives at risk into it is quite another.  It's as though we've never been through these kind of controversies before: every single time the security services and government have shrieked about national security and lives being put at risk, and every single time they either fail to produce a single piece of evidence to back up their claims or they quietly drop them.  The prosecution against Chelsea Manning failed to provide one example of someone coming to harm due to the release of the files she leaked, and that was despite Wikileaks putting up the raw files for download, against the wishes of the media organisations they had worked with.  The claim by the prosecution counsel quoted in the Telegraph that agents have had to move due to the Snowden files isn't just ridiculous, it's an insult to our intelligence.

Despite having repeated the Guardian's articles, if we're to believe the Mail, Times and Telegraph, they now don't think the public have the right to know exactly what their intelligence agencies are up to.  They shouldn't have been told they were attempting to "master the internet", tapping into fibre optic cables and sucking up every single piece of data they can, that they're trying to break internet encryption, with all the potential consequences that could have, that they've been working hand in glove with the biggest internet companies behind the scenes, despite the denials of both in the past, and that all of this has been deemed lawful on the basis of a certificate a minister signs every six months, to focus on just the most notable things we've learned.  Indeed, according to the Mail all this has helped our enemies, while others quoted with approval suggest the paper should be prosecuted.

As John Kampfner points out, in the past the Mail has been (rightly) outraged over certain abuses by the security services.  That this time round it's taken the side of the government can't just be explained by anger at the Graun not agreeing with them on press regulation; it's that this is a government of a blue rather than a red hue.  It might not like Cameron much, but last week emphasised how it can expect nothing from a Labour government under Ed Miliband.  That their part in this campaign against the Graun betrays their readers' right to know seemingly doesn't matter, but then again, it never has in the past either.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013 

The feral press, pathetic in the face of real power.

Wouldn't it be lovely to have a free press?  You know, the sort that, rather than concentrating on trivia or revelations along the lines that an X Factor contestant has two cousins who are convicted murderers, actually undertook investigations, exposed wrongdoing, and held governments and the state to account?  If you were to believe the likes of the Mail and the Sun, that's exactly what we have and exactly what we stand to lose should the government's royal charter be used to set-up a new press regulator.  That it seems the same newspapers that plunged the entire British media into a crisis will instead go their own way yet again doesn't enter into it.

Nonetheless, if you ever needed further evidence what we in fact have is an industry that doth protest too much, you only need to see how the Mail, Times and Telegraph all decided today that rather than stand up for press freedom and journalistic integrity, they would instead side with the government and the securocrats against the Guardian.  Not only did they focus in laser like on what was a mere couple of paragraphs in the speech by MI5 director general Andrew Parker, in which he didn't so much as mention either the Graun or Edward Snowden, they were also helpfully briefed by "sources" who told them that "Parker is furious about the Snowden leaks", that the Graun has essentially provided a "handbook" for terrorists in how to avoid detection and that they "find it incomprehensible" there needed to be a public debate about such piffling matters.

When David Miranda was detained at Heathrow under section 7 of the Terrorism Act, plenty of people were quick to point out the number of Sun and former News of the World journalists who have been arrested, many of whom remain on bail, not knowing if they will yet face charges.  It was a fair enough point, and there probably hasn't been enough coverage in the ex-broadsheet press about the impact of the phone hacking investigations on journalism in general.  It's surely equally absurd though to then regard Miranda's detention, and as Alan Rusbridger later revealed, the pyrrhic smashing of a hard drive containing the Snowden files, as anything other than intimidation of the most unsubtle kind.  For the Mail, which unlike the other right-wing tabloids opposed New Labour's worst excesses on civil liberties, to tacitly agree with the government that the real danger is not from surveillance programmes which have grown exponentially without any oversight but the journalism which exposed them is a betrayal of the very values it claims to uphold.

There are obviously other factors at work here other than just anger at the Graun for not going along with the press barons on the new regulator.  The paper was the Mail's harshest critic last week during the Ralph Miliband row (with the possible exception of the Mirror)  and it was the Graun's own Jonathan Freedland who started the ball rolling with his column in the Jewish Chronicle on whether there was a whiff of anti-Semitism about the original article and then editorial (I didn't think there was, but can see why some felt that way).  This doesn't however explain why the Telegraph has took the government/securocrat line, especially when it was one of the few to follow up the Guardian's initial revelations.  The idea that either the Times or Torygraph would have refused to publish the Snowden files had he gone to either rather than Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald is laughable in itself.

The simplest explanation is that the majority of the press, and indeed MPs, are in thrall to the security state.  Parker's speech yesterday was in fact for the most part a sober, dry, and rather dull update on where MI5 stands at this moment.  Contrary to some reports, he did not say that the threat from terrorism was increasing, rather than it was diversifying, as anyone who's watched the news over the past year can tell.  Unlike previous holders of the job he didn't engage in scaremongering, and even suggested that some had done so in the past.  Whether it's true that as he said, the number of those who wish to do us harm remains about the same as it has for the past few years we simply can't tell, but it wasn't by any means an attempt to alarm.  Where he did venture into politics, apart from the nonsense about "gifts" and "handing the advantage to the terrorists" was in his claims that the intelligence agencies are well regulated and monitored, as well as all but asking for the powers that GCHQ already has to be given a proper legal basis.

All of which are the sentiments you would expect from a MI5 director general.  It's when the government agrees with those sentiments, and essentially accuses a newspaper of helping terrorists that we get into territory that ought to receive a response from all those who claim to believe in freedom of expression and the press.  The idea that terrorists or anyone else aren't already highly paranoid about how they communicate is laughable, unless they're the kind we've mostly dealt with of late, the incompetents.  The revelations about Prism and Tempora merely made clear what we and they already suspected.  Indeed, the New York Times reports that the US letting slip it was listening in to communications between al-Qaida leaders has had a far more chilling effect than anything that's emerged about the NSA and GCHQ.

The securocrat attitude is that nothing they don't reveal themselves should enter the public domain. And who can blame them? The last few years have seen their methods during the first stage of the war on terror when they were complicit in the rendering and torture of British residents brought into harsh light. They then lied through their teeth to the Intelligence and Security Committee about what they knew, even claiming they couldn't understand how the Americans were getting those they had captured to talk. They feel so secure in their position that they can make outrageous claims along the line that the Snowden files have dealt them their biggest blow in their history, as though the Cambridge Five never existed.  That these ridiculous sentiments are then repeated in a supposed feral press without criticism only underlines how supine they are in the face of real power.

When the media won't do the very basics, how can we expect those with even less inclination to do so? Just remember, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. William Hague said as much.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013 

Hip, hip hooray!

Can we have three cheers for the Intelligence and Security Committee?  Having postponed the hearing where the heads of MI5 and MI6 would have been questioned for the first time in public as it was "too busy" trying to get to the bottom of the Woolwich murder and the ability of GCHQ to get access to almost any data that it feels like, it's managed to come to a firm conclusion on whether or not the access GCHQ has had to the NSA's Prism programme broke the law.

Could you possibly believe that it didn't (PDF)?  Indeed, it was fairly obvious that it didn't when dear old Bill Hague stood up in parliament and inferred, for that was as far as he went, that everything GCHQ did was signed off by either him or another minister.  It was up to the Graun to inform us that everything was legal and hunky dory as GCHQ's Tempora programme, similar to that of Prism, is operated on the basis of certificates and warrants that are renewed every six months, taking advantage of the wide discretion given in paragraph 4, section 8 of the RIPA act 2000.

Of course, the ISC doesn't specifically state this is how the system operates, as that might make clear just how wide open it makes it for potential abuse.  It merely alludes to it, with the line that "a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place".  Meekly, it does make the point that even though written just over a decade ago, RIPA is clearly out of date, as "it is proper to consider further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate".

Which is only a slight understatement.  RIPA was never written with the intention of giving the security services access to what is likely thousands of terabytes worth of data, which can then be stored for up to 30 days. In part, this is was what the communications bill was meant to address: ministers and the security services just didn't think it was relevant to let us know that they already had access to the exact metadata that was to be collected through it (Tempora collect the data itself as well), under a system that is legal even if it stretches RIPA to absolute breaking point.

In a way, the revelations via Edward Snowden and the Graun have actually played into the securocrats' hands.  Now it's apparent that GCHQ can get access to whatever it wants anyway and it's all perfectly legitimate, what's the point of opposing a bill that will simply update it for a modern age?  Thanks also to the D-Notice and much of the media deciding that the security services are above suspicion, there's been hardly any outcry here at all about the impact on privacy, in complete contrast to how the news of snooping under Prism has been received in mainland Europe.  Moreover, we've got a generation growing up now used to sharing their lives online, apparently perfectly happy with the premise that if you've got nothing to hide you've nothing to fear, where movies actively celebrate how wonderful and beyond reproach Google is.  To say this doesn't bode well for a future where the internet is only going to become even more integral to everyday life no longer seems vaguely paranoid; instead, it looks set to become a fundamental challenge to civil liberties.

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