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What is being done to control mass surveillance?

CCTVThe cascade of revelations about secret surveillance, thanks to Edward Snowden, rolls on. Today it’s Dropmire which apparently refers to a bug inserted in an encrupted fax machine used for transmission of commercial data at the EU mission in Washington DC. Once revealed, the Americans explain it as designed to collect data on policy disagreements between member states regarding global issues. It is far more likely that it has been used to gather commercially sensitive information to put the US secretly a step ahead in the global market place.

But whichever it is, it is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible to treat allies (or anyone) in this manner, and German outrage has rightly condemned it as tactics reminiscent of the Cold War. But amid all this flood of revelations of dirty tricks, the central issue still remains: what is being done to stop it since both the US and UK governments, the main perpetrators, have sought to defend it, however feebly and evasively?

At present, it seems, next to nothing. The spooks of course say it has stopped lots of terrorist plots, but provide no evidence to justify that claim. Hague has taken the line that everything done by MI5/6 and GCHQ is targeted and lawful, and they are accountable to well-informed ministers and scrutinised by effective parliamentary oversight. But how can ministers, even if they were minded to, keep tabs on such an infinite trawl of data? How can the parliamentary Intelligence Services Committee, made up of loyalist MPs carefully selected by the PM, even know what the relevant questions to ask are, apart from what the spooks offer to tell them?

Has the Intercept Commissioner reviewed the system, bearing in mind that the technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and always secretly? Did ministers and the so-called oversight bodies have knowledge of what GCHQ was up to before it was exposed by Snowden, and if so, did they approve it, and if so, why did they make no statement to Parliament to assure the nation that its human rights and civil liberties were protected? Almost certainly they had no idea what was going on, and even if they did, could give no such assurances because they would be untenable.

We therefore face a future in which Deep State is not only unscrutinised, but effectively unknown. Whether the younger generation will accept a lifetime subject to virtually total and continuous surveillance is however another matter. We may find that the uprisings by the young which are transforming the Arab Spring, Turkey and Brazil, which we observe condescendingly as the product of authoritarian states, increasingly strikes a chord here as disillusionment and resentment about the political class deepens.

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