The Guardian reports that (the bold is mine):
Internet companies face intense demands to monitor messages on behalf of the state for signs of terrorist intent after an official report into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby said one of his killers wrote on a website – later named as Facebook – of his desire to slaughter a soldier, without the security services knowing.
Meanwhile, we get stories like this, describing the situation five years ago – that is to say, in 2009:
Millions per month
The leaked Snowden documents also contain numerous references to payments from GCHQ to Cable & Wireless in return for access to cables and infrastructure, some of is which listed as active well after Vodafone’s takeover.
In February 2009 some £6 million was paid to Cable & Wireless, now Vodafone, and a 2010 budget references a £20.3 million expense.
A July 2009 document shows that Cable & Wireless either owned or leased 29 out of 63 cables to which GCHQ had access to via partnerships, providing almost 70% of the total data accessible to GCHQ from the cables.
So not really fair enough, after all.
We’re being told, over and over again this week it would seem, in a concerted campaign bordering on an irresponsible panic-generation strategy of public fear, that more access to our online data is needed by various bodies. Which bodies these are, I’m really not sure. GCHQ? MI5? The police? The government itself? Paedophile politicians? Posh parliamentary committees? Craven police commissioners? Newspaper journalists with the right ideologies?
What’s more, if we’re to believe even just a small part of what Snowden has let out of the bag, I’m really not clear how those who already – perhaps rightly – have relatively legal access to our data could have any more access than they clearly already do. And if they currently don’t, and if they actually should have more, and if it’s possible at the moment for them not to be in possession of enough, why on earth are so many of those involved in the apparent business of planting and propagating all kinds of stories – in particular about the alleged omnisciences of our governments – doing anything of the sort in the first place?
It seems their bind runs as follows. They either:
- Don’t know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t admit to this because a) it would let the baddies know there are places to hide; b) more importantly, let the rest of us know that all those unaccountable billions spent on surveillance aren’t quite the value-adding bolt-ons to democracy we’d been led to believe; and c) give us the impression that our leaders are not only spinning the truth but are doing so mightily unprofessionally.
- Do know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t quite admit to this since when a Lee Rigby-style atrocity hits the fan, in theory they’re directly responsible – what’s more, surely ripe to be (perhaps) class-action sued – for not having done more to stop such crimes.
In the latter case, of course, the easiest thing out there is to distract the public’s attention by piling the pain on a Facebook for not having done what the security services were supposed, from the start, to have done themselves.
But that’s really really not fair.
For it doesn’t fit together at all, does it? If in 2009, GCHQ was paying millions a month to a fibre-optic cable company to globally access Internet-carried traffic, just imagine what it was doing in 2014! (With or without, I might add, the relevant legislative protection – which I suppose in such gun-slinging days as ours have obviously become is neither here nor there any more.)
Consequently, how can it be acceptable that government should now cast the first stone at Facebook for not having seen what GCHQ et al are bound to have “seen” first – even if they failed, in their googlingly overwhelming stream of daily zettabytes, to properly “observe”, “understand” and “act on” the right information?
If we were being charitable, we might say: “We understand the problem. It’s like looking for an undetected euthanasia victim in a million sad cemeteries. How do you know where to start? How do you know where to end?” But the problem here is, despite their current inability to process everything as we need them to, they’re apparently asking for even more data to not be able to usefully process. It’s clearly not enough to access all Internet traffic, past, present and (algorithmically predicted) future; it’s clearly not enough to tie IP addresses to all our devices; it’s even not enough to automatically track and comprehend our social-network profiles, instincts and behaviours – and then stop us in our tracks when our tracks are typed as leading us toward violence. No. They must have more, far more than that: they must have the biggest sword of all to batter every one of us over our vulnerable heads with – in the full knowledge that the real baddies will always know how to construct, at the ordinary citizen’s expense, adequate shields to defend themselves from such overkill.
I dunno. Just seems to me that surveillance law and process, as it stands, is mainly there to be able to point the finger fairly accurately – a posteriori – at the miscreants various of evil acts multiple.
But, sadly, wearily, not before.
Not in time to reliably prevent anyhow.
Something’s manifestly broken. I don’t know if the lack of fit is our fault as demanding consumer-society subjects – or the spooks for not going down the route of getting and keeping us onside; for, instead, perpetually playing us out of the match and any constructively wider understanding.
And in the meantime, we as a civilisation blame our corporations for not doing the state’s job properly; our states for not doing the people’s job properly; our peoples for not doing a society’s job properly; and this society for not doing anything at all.
The blame game is a merry-go-round of truly adult pleasures.
And that euthanasia victim I alluded to perhaps all our Western democracies.