The authoritarian state keeps trampling on liberty

big-brother-1984A judge has ordered that the criminal trial of two persons accused of terrorism (or rather of ‘preparing for terrorism’) should be held in secret, and that even the existence of this trial should be kept secret on the grounds provided by the crown prosecution that “there was a serious possibility that the trial may not be able to go ahead”. That looks suspiciously like blackmail. And it is an extreme unprecedented departure from open justice for defendants to be anonymous, a court meeting in utter secrecy, and the press and public wholly excluded from the proceedings. Continue reading

Who gave away access for US surveillance of all British citizens?

The revelations from Edward Snowden’s documents get ever more breathtaking. It had always previously been thought that under the so-called Five-Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangements (established under the UKUSA Signals Intelligence Agreement in 1946) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the citizens of each of these countries were off-limits from surveillance by any of the other countries.

Now Snowden has brought to light that in 2007 there was a major change of policy which allowed the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect, analyse and retain the mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses of any British citizens. That immediately raises 5 crucial questions. Who took the decision to allow this? Continue reading

This week’s spooks hearing proves urgent need for independent inquiry

Edward SnowdenTo call it a grilling would be unfair to fried fish. It was a soft-centre velvet-glove exchange between decent establishment chaps which only confirmed just how feeble and inadequate the present system of so-called oversight of the security services really is. As spy chiefs came before parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), it is incredible that not once in the whole 90-minute encounter was the word Tempora mentioned. Even though the hoovering up of unimaginable amounts of internet traffic from the transatlantic under-sea cables by GCHQ is at the heart of public concerns about the biggest potential breach in personal privacy in history.

Worse, none of the three heads of MI5, MI6 or GCHQ showed any awareness that the public are right to be worried about how such a powerful capability might be used, or that the deployment of such a capacity beyond the scope of any existing law might show that the spymasters were simply out of control. Why were neither the ISC nor the cabinet nor the National Security Council never let into the secret about Tempora, which we would still know nothing about were it not for Snowden’s revelations? But the ISC stooges never even asked this! Continue reading

Who can you trust in Britain today?

The latest evidence that GCHQ in their systematic electronic harvesting of information went far beyond what the law allowed, and were acutely well aware of this, is certainly troubling, but perhaps not surprising. The mood and culture in Britain today in the use of power is push your advantage to the limit and beyond – so long as you can get away with it.

Deregulation masquerading as the removal of red tape is all the fashion, the law is there to be circumvented if you can, and conscience and justice don’t really fit into our fast-moving commercialised world. If it were GCHQ alone, that would be bad enough. But the last 4 years have seen every institution of trust tarnished if not disgraced – the banks, the media, the police, the politicians, and now the security services. It isn’t just austerity that is now biting hard, it’s the painful awareness of the huge accountability deficit that affects every part of the power structure. Continue reading

Time for a public inquiry into mass surveillance

Public InquiryThe role of Parliament is to hold the Executive (Government) to account and the role of the media is to prevent the abuse of power and to provide a mechanism of accountability where that fails. Are they at present fulfilling that role? Neither is. And both have failed at the critical point where today the development of extraordinarily powerful new communication technologies have far exceeded the capability of current instruments to apply effective oversight. The nursery story hitherto has been that for MI5/6 to target an individual or group, they had to get a warrant from the Home Secretary.

The truth is, and has been for some time already, that the NSA in the US via the Prism programme and GCHQ in the UK via the Tempora programme have mutually acquired the capability to hoover up untold vast quantities of personal data from the undersea cables that carry internet data in and out of the UK on a colossal scale, and without any check or accountability at all. Continue reading