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MI5, MI6, and GCHQ chiefs public hearing live on the BBC (bbc.co.uk)
80 points by baliex on Nov 7, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

This is a better live stream, with running text commentary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24848186

This may also work for those "outside the UK".

(It works for me whilst the original link doesn't as the BBC thinks my IP is in .ch despite me being less than a mile from the Houses of Parliament.)

I'm in Germany currently and it works fine for me, thanks a lot for sharing!

Sweet, no problem

I can confirm this link is working for those in the US.

What is the point of this? Does anybody honestly think they will be honest? They will admit to a few little "bad" things but justify it all for the Greater Good™. They will talk about "internal policy review" and "more transparency with the public/government". They will apologise for "over stepping". They, obviously, won't admit to anything that really matters. They will be given a stern telling off then everybody will go home and nothing will have changed.


I agree, but...

Things like this matter in the long run. Remember how, before the war in Iraq, over 1 million people marched in London against the war? We still went to war, but Tony Blair never recovered from it, and when the issue of Syria came up recently, MPs opposed intervention - that is the legacy of the opposition to the war in Iraq.

In Britian at least, policy trends seem to be set over periods of 10-15 years. (The battle with the miners is another example). Things rarely get sort out in one big showdown. When it comes to government surveillance and privacy, the important thing is that we keep the story going, that we keep the pressure on, that we keep explaining to people why this is an issue and keep building the argument. And making intelligence chiefs squirm is all part of that.

I agree with your point buy disagree regarding Iraq and Syria. Syria was about getting involved in an internal conflict whereas Iraq was about WMDs (albeit lies). Quite different IMHO.

Yes, Iraq and Syria were very different situations. If anything Syria is the one we should have got involved in. I just raised it to highlight how a non-intervention policy is now firmly establish following years of pressure.

Plus, as we left it so late to intervene the Syrian opposition is mostly islamist nutcases now.

The purpose of this is to ramp up the media against all the pro-Snowden reports. This is a circus.


Sorry, but again, what video are you watching?

They have provided zero public evidence that they are following the law. Just their word.

edit: in reply to your edit, I would choose my tin foil hat any day over your glasses of ignorance.

The market is lucrative for those in the Rose Tinted Glasses business.

Which law? Out law or their law because they aren't the same apparently....

Everytime I see anything about MI5 all I can think about is that article from Adam Curtis ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/BUGGER ). It's at the time reassuring (the agency is filled with people too incompetent to do any of the major conspiracies we think they're up to), but also bothering (their worldview is dangerous and is basically fearmongering).

Listening to this, I feel like the difference between storage and actually looking at data is an important one. The view of the quasi-totality here seem to think it's the same, but I think the distinction is important. Especially when being looked at through search programs (and not human eyes), we run into the whole "Chinese room" problem: the program doesn't understand what it's looking at, so is it really "breaching" privacy? And what is the difference between your e-mails being in a locked box at an ISP or a locked box with the NSA if the key is in the hand of a judge anyways?

Then again I'm more of the sort to think that if a judge agrees, then access to the info should be swift. Some people disagree with that.

Without wanting to be too facetious "Don't worry, we may be violating your privacy, but we're rubbish at it." isn't a particularly compelling defence.

The problem with the locked box analogy is that my ISP isn't going to potentially scrutinise my data and decide that because I read stuff from all sorts of sources - including the blogs of subversives, activists, hackers, and political outliers (along with the thousands of other things I read online) that I should be considered a threat to a society I am part of, and could be considered a 'baddie', espescially given the UK's stupidly broad definitions of terrorism.

Perhaps that is a slippery slope argument, but it's a valid one IMO especially given that the reason for excusing it is one that not many of us put much credit in (the omnipresent threat of terror and violence from fanatical foes). I'd sooner we just didn't go around making enemies.

Oh dear.

The fact that certain communication methods are not secure or are hard to secure has been know to people in IT for some time. The Snowden revelations would've only helped those with no idea about IT. Are these people now going to be immediately tech-savy enough not to choose another insecure communication method? Or will they just give up?

Blaming the Snowden leaks for informing all the criminals about how not to get caught is like blaming Google for enforcing HTTPS.

There's a 2 minute delay on the feed in case they want to [redacted]

A capability they just appear to have exercised. As one of the agency heads went into details on their Syria strategy, the audio suddenly fell out for ~20 seconds. Strictly speaking, I can't rule out network issues as the cause, but video was still 100% smooth.

The needle in the haystack analogy, in that they are only looking at data through complex queries to find the needles, and not looking at data collected from the public directly, only works if they get no false positives.

Are they expecting us to believe they have a perfect system? If so, why collect all the data in the first place and run their queries in real time?

The board questioning doesn't have the technical background to ask any challenging questions.

'so we have to do detective work' - Iain Lobban

uuum... what did he think his job was?

Although this is a bit of a whitewash, it's good to see these issues discussed, and spies questioned to some extent, and forced to justify their activities in public for the first time.

Asked about complicity in torture. Sir John of MI6: "I don't accept the allegations that have been made against us"

There have been several court cases about M16 involvement in torture, including that of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, which exposes our cynical backing for terrorists when it suits our agenda after sending them to be tortured just a few years before.

GCHQ denies listening into telephone calls or reading emails of the majority. "That would not be proportionate, that would not be legal, and we would not do it."

Like Obama, they're denying something they haven't been accused of. Tempora is storing and sharing with the NSA as much data as they can manage, even though it's not legal or proportionate. This non-denial is very misleading if you don't know that background. They don't need to read emails or listen to phone calls for this to be incredibly dangerous - it's enough that everything is recorded and stored for potential future or current use by any partners with access.

34 terrorist plots have been thwarted in the UK since the 7/7 London bombings. One or two were major plots aimed at mass casualties.

What's most interesting is the focus on terrorism as a way to deflect criticism - they've learned that talking about terror switches off the brain quite effectively and stops people doing a risk benefit analysis. This is incredibly useful, as along with having broad laws passed which restrict rights as part of the war on terror, they can tar anyone with that brush, and immediately turn the public against them. According to Kovats QC for the gov. in the Miranda case, we have a new definition of terrorism: "simply having this data is terrorism".

Terrorism is not a great threat to either the US or the UK - a tiny number of people have been killed by it, and yet it is painted as an existential threat which must be fought at all costs. Many of their activities have nothing to do with terrorism, but we've heard nothing about the Belgacom hack (Operation Socialist), tapping cables crossing the Atlantic, subverting encryption protocols, tapping internal traffic at providers like Google for the NSA, tapping G20 attendees, Mastering the Internet™ with Tempora, or tapping Merkel's phone. Very little of that is useful for combatting terrorism (most terrorism is not organised on the internet but face to face, terrorists like Bin Laden are not stupid), but it's very useful for economic and political espionage.

That none of that has been mentioned, let alone questioned, betrays just how little proper supervision this committee provides.

> 34 terrorist plots have been thwarted in the UK since the 7/7 London bombings. One or two were major plots aimed at mass casualties.

I see this type of argument often, and I wonder how people can take this type of logic seriously. If I say: "I had a cold 9 months ago. Immediately after, I ate an apple. I've been cold-free ever since, so it must be that this apple was effective at preventing colds". The logic flaw here is that I don't know what would have happened had I not eaten that apple. Maybe I would not have had a cold either so the causal conclusion is flawed.

If you transpose that example to the "terrorism" case, you get a similar type of logic flaw. I can believe that 34 plots where thwarted since the 7/7 bombings. But do we seriously believe that 0 plots would have been thwarted without the new security measures? Not really. Maybe 33 would have been thwarted. Maybe 34, which would mean that all the money poured in the system as well as the privacy sacrifices were made in vain. Who knows? Inferring causal relationships from this type of flawed reasoning is very misleading.

Plus, I was under the impression that in most cases of a thwarted terrorist attack, the criminal responsible simply fucked up or the person was caught by good old fashioned detective work.

> Terrorism is not a great threat to either the US or the UK - a tiny number of people have been killed by it, and yet it is painted as an existential threat which must be fought at all costs

"Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism"


Are we going to go into this numbers game again?

Few people were killed in the Boston Marathon bombings. But many were maimed , and it will remain traumatic for them for the rest of their lives. But , more importantly, this bomb hit a group of people whose only reason for being hit/killed was that they were in the same geographic area as this bomb. There was no reason for this tragedy.

In drunk driving, you can place the cause relatively easily. Furniture falls over because a shelf was badly built. You can place the cause. Most acts of terrorism happen due to extremely nebulous and complicated reasons, so the people who die in events such as 9/11 and Boston died "for no reason".

Talk to some Japanese people about the March 11th Tsunami. the feelings about that event are very similar to those Americans have about 9/11, as a turning point in society and something where many innocent people died for no good reason. Terrorist attacks are basically on the same level as huge natural disasters, emotionally.

Terrorist attacks are extremely traumatising for people just like getting an arm cut off is traumatizing a lot more than being slowly bruised over and over on the arm. It's a huge shock event that feels unavoidable, and people don't want to experience it ever again (because we're not all robots who count lives like we're accountants). It's a major event and trying to avoid it is entirely reasonable.

How are "In drunk driving, you can place the cause relatively easily." and "only reason for being hit/killed was that they were in the same geographic area as this bomb. There was no reason for this tragedy." incompatible in any way?

You can also place the cause of the bombing extremely easily - the person with the bomb. In drunk driving accident, people get hit/killed just because they were in the same geographic area as the drunk driver. They will also get sometimes extremely traumatised (enough to avoid any road travel).

Both cases are completely out of control for the affected people. What's the big difference?

This is post 9/11, right?

The interesting thing is seeing how vague they are about the actors, there's a lot of 'oh South Asia, around that region' but they very rarely go into actual detail about where there's a threat. There was also an excellent moment where this was said:

"Sawers says it is not like it was in the cold war, states trying to destroy our government and way of life, but there are very diverse threats: the biggest is terrorism. Then there are states that want to harm us, he says."

So it's not like the cold war with specific states, but there are specific states that want to harm us. A bit of a weird flip-flop.

I like how they talk about how much "balance" they try to maintain, so they don't become another "North Korea" or something like that, or how they talk about "oppressive regimes", yet they still stumble on explaining why they accused David Miranda of terrorism.


They also use the excuse that Snowden leaks could "help paedophiles (it always seems lead to this one, doesn't it?):


Let's not forget that whatever they say about the terrorists learning from these leaks, the leaks wouldn't have happened if they didn't spy on everyone. They could've just spied on the people they actually suspected of terrorism.

German "Spiegel" has also a live stream: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/live-aus-dem-unterhaus...

I couldn't be more repulsed by these people. They simply justify their crimes against humanity with the call "protection! security!".

"Alex from Ipswich emails: I really don't understand this furore over industrial surveillance. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, simple."

I don't want to live on this planet any more.


There's no such thing as a trustworthy government, and the "if you don't like it then maybe you should just leave" attitude doesn't help anyone.

It's backwards, the citizenry doesn't have to tolerate their government, the government must serve its citizenry.

I don't know what you are smoking but given your comment history, I am sure you would be fine if the police came knocking at your door at night and randomly wanted to search your place, without a warrant. Right? Since you did nothing wrong, it should be OK for the police to randomly search people's places and arrest them. We should trust the police also and let's remove the judicial oversight they have. Correct?

You should ask yourself why the police should not be allowed to do this. And then if you do understand, you may perhaps realize why the GCHQ should not be allowed to carry out mass surveillance.

Unfortunately the country you're in isn't a choice. I can't just move to another country because they have laws preventing people from doing that.

Elsewhere in the thread you say "If you disagree with those laws, apply pressure to change the law."

So which is it. Do you expect people to stay and fight perceived injustices, or leave? You can't have it both ways.

If you think that having a wide open window into the industrialized world, such that GCHQ and NSA have, and don't use that for capitalist, industrialist purposes, then you are a fool.

Its not about having anything to hide. Its about whether or not others can use your work against you. This happens far more often than real terrorism, and it ruins lives, industry, and culture when it happens.

Exactly, and on top of that most people actually do have something to hide, whether they realize it or not.[1]

Even setting aside crimes, there's plenty of things that happen in peoples' day-to-day lives that the government has absolutely no business even being aware of. It's not hard to imagine that they could collect vast troves of information on a person and then that information can get misused in any number of ways by rogue employees or by the government itself.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...

Internet commenting is a cesspool of idiocy.

If your government is daily committing crimes against humanity, you shouldn't be trusting it. You should be replacing it.


That's naive, we've already seen them abuse their powers in the name of terrorism.

OK, I'm no fan of invasive government snooping on this scale. Read my HN comment history. But invoking 'crimes against humanity' in that way shows a distinct lack of perspective.

It's their job to spy on people. It's what they are for. If the legal regime they operate under is faulty, it needs to be fixed. If they have overstepped, they need to be reined in. Lumping them in the same category as race militias butchering women and children with machetes is not helpful.

One mans machete is another mans remote controlled drone. If you think the UK is innocent of war crimes, you haven't been paying attention.

We're not talking about drone strikes, we're talking about rummaging in google accounts. Which incidentally we know for a fact have been used in the past by terrorists to plan atrocities.

Now, it just so happens that I agree with Benjamin Frankin's assertion that those who trade freedom for security deserve neither. Nevertheless, going all "stick it to the man, they're all out to get us" puts no votes in the ballot box. These people can be fought and the laws they operate under can be changed. So lets work towards changing them.

Its not just rummaging through google accounts. Its recording 5 days of all Internet traffic.

But I agree with you: change the politicians in power, change the laws.

I wouldn't call surveilling internet connections and phone calls a 'crime against humanity', those are reserved for mass murders and genocides. It's bad, but not ethnic cleansing bad.

Most of the questions they aren't even answering... this is pointless and stupid.

For people that are interested, there was a good [podcast] interview with the head of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal - "a judicial body, independent of the government, which considers complaints brought against the intelligence services, the police, military and local authorities."


The link is available to play in the UK only.

Note: Only viewable if you live in the UK

* if the website thinks you live in the UK

The link acallaghan posted is working from outside the UK -> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24848186

Is there some browser extension to be able to watch it?

Media Hint is an excellent extension, that should allow this (if not through that link, directly through the BBC's iPlayer)


Check the feed further up.

PS your latest comment is [dead]...

unblock-us.com will help you out ;)

Excellent, some very sensible/esteemed members on the ISC.

Yet, as mentioned above, not technically insightful enough to pose some important challenging questions.

True, but it's easy to email the people involved to suggest lines of questioning for future public (and private) sessions.

edit: Deleted due to the overwhelming amount of Guardian readers/conspiracy nuts in the comments section, who aren't able to listen to reasoned debate.

Could you give an example of the sensitive information that we definitely should not be talking about? I can't think of anything from the Guardian's reporting of this matter that falls into that category right now.

Edit: You say "Guardian readers/conspiracy nuts in the comments section, who aren't able to listen to reasoned debate". That's a well-reasoned rebutal right there to the people who replied to you with facts. Could you expand on it? I'm listening.

The type of person that supports these sorts of activities is the sort of person I would also expect to delete their message instead of standing their ground regardless of adversarial opinions.

Agreed, though I don't want to see people merely stand their ground, I want to see them engage with adversarial opinions. I want both of us to have the possibility of learning where we got it wrong. Leaving in a huff is even worse than standing your ground.

The idea that this makes one "Guardian readers/conspiracy nuts" is laughable.

Sorry I might be watching a different video; what reasoned points are you talking about?


The NSA said they prevented 54 attacks but it was widely reported supported by evidence that that was not the case. Not to mention that they repeatedly lied to Congress. If you trust these organizations so much, good for you. But this bogeyman of "terrorism, drug dealers" is not acceptable by most people who understand this. The probability of me getting killed just randomly on the street is far far higher than me getting killed in a terrorist attack in the US. Statistics are important. Why should the government go overboard to prevent this? Have you realized that gun violence in the US for example causes more deaths than all terrorism attacks combined? And yet even a slight mention of this has gun lovers cry about how their second amendment is being violated. Let's not forget that there is a fourth amendment also:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

There is a reason that democracies around the world don't allow police to just randomly walk into your house and arrest you. A good reason.

Just because terrorism has to be prevented, doesn't mean that our basic rights have to be violated. By that logic, let's go even further and install CCTV cameras and microphones in everyone's homes. All crimes can be prevented. And perhaps the next step can be to have thought control devices even.

I can't find the source but they revised the number of thwarted attacks down to 54 to 1 when pressed iirc.

We don't make things "easy" for law enforcement on purpose. Search warrants, constitutional rights, due process, and even the adversarial system more broadly are all designed to make things more difficult for them at a fundamental level. Empowering a bunch of Judge Dredd wannabes would make things far easier than the status quo. Oddly enough, we don't pursue such options.

As for the assertions about terrorists moving to other communication methods, that horse already bolted years ago. Osama Bin Laden's reliance on a hand courier made that crystal clear. They've known that their communications were at risk for years now. In that sense, the Snowden leaks revealed nothing new to terrorists.

It was widely reported that OBL had removed all forms of communication from his compound well before the leaks as he was fairly certain that they were all being monitored anyway. A serious terrorist wouldn't be using an unencrypted communication method to start with anyway.

And if op's were at risk they'd have made arrests immediately or D Noticed the Guardian immediately. As they haven't, it's probably a load of shit.

A claim that they don't monitor that which they don't need to for safety seems unsupported? As in, it seems to me like you are saying something roughly analogous to "they said that it is neccesary, so we should let them do it"

I would think "we only do it to the extent neccesary" would be what an argument is meant to show, not the argument itself.


I am going to make an assumption that any 'terrorist' that plans their next attack through facebook or gmail is more of a threat to killing themselves by a bomb backfiring, than to the public.

Mass surveillance is not the solution.

Also, their claim that 'they operate fully within the law' is just a claim without any public evidence to back it up, if all three of them were subject to a polygraph during this then I might take it a bit more seriously. Otherwise, why should I be inclined to trust the words of a organisation that clearly does not trust me?

Wow, are you an astroturfer, or do you actually believe everything your Government tells you?

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