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UK intelligence forced to reveal secret policy for mass surveillance (privacyinternational.org)
291 points by r0h1n on June 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

The political silence on this issue is indeed deafening. As was the press silence (other than the Guardian). The press in this country are far more interested in reality tv, political infighting, fanning flames about 'immigrants' and what the royals are up to.

And I suspect it's because most of the public don't care either. There are people who would like privacy, who think that GCHQ should be accountable and then there are other people who are perfectly happy that someone is watching everything, everywhere, because that makes them feel safe, and of course they aren't doing anything wrong, so why should they care?

And of course a large proportion of the population either aren't intelligent enough or aren't interested enough to understand what's going on.

It makes me angry, but that's the world we live in.

Don't forget about "the muslim problem" and the "international islamic conspiracy".

I'm sorry to Godwin the thread, but it's pertinent. The push on "british values" (nationalism) and "preventing non-violent extremism" (such doublespeak) and "combatting islam" is fucking terrifying to anyone even vaguely familiar with the events that preceded the holocaust and the second world war.

The surveillance state we find ourselves under just makes it that much easier for atrocities to be committed and utterly hidden from view.


I'm a UK resident and I note that the propaganda machine is running on overdrive. The batshit sheep majority (sorry but it's true at least where I live) of the country is almost calling out for anyone with a beard and a turban to be hung and the armed forces are constantly in focus in the media and in public word. If you look around facebook it's terrifying some of the rants you hear yet at the same time these people are slating the Nazis for their prejudice. It's literally:

"Kill all the muslims", "support our boys", "Nazi's bad m'kay".

I will say that none of these people were alive when the Nazis had their gig. Those who were are suspicious and aware of the consequences of thinking and acting like this.

I too am suspicious of anyone who holds a noose.

The biggest problem in the UK is: groupthink. The national identity is oriented around just how conformant and pliable an individual is, in relation to their peers, and thinking what everyone else thinks is, fundamentally, at the core of what it means to be an Englishman. Don't rock the boat, don't go outside the boundaries of 'acceptable society', and so on.

Well, I'm sorry to say, but you English deserve your oppression. It will be a long road travelled hard before the UK is anywhere near the free, spirited nation it claims itself to be. I can only imagine there are new breeds of dissidents in the British isles, and I can only hope they rise some day to shock British culture out of its utterly self-righteous stupor.

British person here. Very astute observation.

However I'm the opposite. I kick off regularly at people for being that pliable and conformant. What do I get in return? I am shunned for possibly being contrarian, despite the logic being flawless and have put up with a lot of shit over the years despite being right 100% of the time. This country is slowly descending into hell.

Britain needs to look at war-torn Europe up to the late 1990's. It was a fucking mess. I mean a real mess. People sleep with an eye open still and everyone understands what nationalism and prejudice brings: death and suffering.

Britain sleeps with its eyes shut, its fingers in its ears and it's identity in everyone else's business.

That's the human condition, and what you've just defined isn't "British culture", but all cultures. You can hardly have a homogenous whole without individual conformity.

What you've basically said is "you can't have a compliant society unless everyone complies" .. but that's exactly the point I'm trying to make: compliant societies are weak and prone to immense amount of corruption. The right to express dissent shall not be infringed, if you want to live in a land not rendered useless by tyranny. As is the case in the UK.

I suspect something much more mundane.

Politicians love to shout about their successes. Only, this government hasn't really got any to shout about, so they're falling back to the old standby that all governments do in situations like this. Wave the flag and be proud to be British.

Sort of. The problem that the mainstream political parties have right now is that right-wing sentiment just scored high in the elections. They need a little bit of sabre-rattling and flag-waving to convince those on the left-most fringe of the newly-empowered right to come back towards the centre, and the only way they can do that is through winning the stupid, populist vote on simple issues again.

That of course, coupled with the lack of real achievement from the current government, the ongoing and incredibly unpopular austerity cuts, and a long and drawn-out recovery that doesn't seem to be materialising for most people means that any way to make political hay right now needs to be grasped.

Charlie Brooker, brilliant as ever:

David Cameron has responded to this crisis by declaring we need to celebrate "Britishness" with more enthusiasm. More enthusiasm? More? We've been celebrating Britishness with the strained determination of a man desperately trying to shit a cricket ball for the past five years.


The worrying part is : what happens in 10 years if the sabre-rattling was not enough? What is the next step? (And this is not specific to UK but most European countries)

I don't see that - Cameron recently pointed out that he's a christian, and said that Britain is a christian country. He's bringing religion forward.

There is certainly a slippery slope, but I think we need to recognise that there exist at least some organisations acting under the "Islamic" banner that are extraordinarily dangerous. 'ISIS' and 'Boko Haram' are the two most recent that come to mind. They already have a track record of mass execution of their enemies.

Let me put it this way - one of the recent scare stories here in the UK involved a supposed "Islamic takeover" of schools in Birmingham that didn't get noticed by inspectors because the schools were delivering an impressively good secular education to deprived inner-city kids. Apparently a few teachers seated girls and boys seperately, though, which is un-British according to our prime minster and education minister who were both educated at exclusive boys-only schools and are proud of it (as were most of our other cabinet minsters).

Funnily enough, the politicians and journalists making a big deal out of this scandal are strong supporters of replacing state-run schools with state-funded academies run by Christian fundamentalists, especially failing ones in deprived inner city areas. Some of those have been caught teaching kids in science classes that the scientific evidence says the world is 6000 years old like the Bible says, but that didn't cause a big controversy for some weird reason. In fact, our leader David Cameron has been using this to push for more Christian indoctrination in schools.

Those groups are horrible and dangerous but they exist only in their regional contexts and so are hardly relevant in the U.K. There are Muslims in the West that sympathize with them, but they are (a) in the minority, and (b) fools who couldn't organize themselves out of a wet paper bag. Get three of them together and the third forms a splinter group. Which is why the over-focus on them is sensationalist nonsense; you could find 'shocking' views similar to theirs by trawling local pubs.

There is also an organization operating under the "Democracy" banner that is extremely dangerous. Extremely dangerous to democracy, which is the thing we have to protect us from, amongst many other things, mass executions by the State.

True that. I rate the UK Military-Industrial complex as a far more dangerous threat to free, open society. The English already have their extremist-enforced laws - its called the Official Secrets Act. If only folks would realize: all the things they're afraid "Islam" will do to them, have already been done in the name of "British safety".

Not every cultural clash should be compared to the Holocaust. There are plenty of historical examples of societies that got eaten from within when they couldn't maintain their culture in the face of aggressive foreign ones.

Germany in the 30s wasn't the Holocaust. The Holocaust emerged from it. Had people known where things would go, maybe they could have stopped it.

Today we have history to tell us where things could go. If we don't allow comparisons to the early stages, might we unwittingly make later stages more likely?

> There are plenty of historical examples of societies that got eaten from within when they couldn't maintain their culture in the face of aggressive foreign ones.

There's an implicit valuation of culture in this statement. Most cultures throughout history melded and adapted to other cultures, both in little and big ways. Xenophobia about cultural invasion is also throughout history, but the reality is that dominant cultures are never "pure" and diversity of culture was actively censored and/or ignored by some historians for a long time.

You acquire culture through co-mingling and confusion of the elements and ideas of different peoples. Isolate cultures have common roots with others, and evolved in the same way. Drift happens with extended isolation, but if anything this is more of a degenerative process than anything else.

Our precious "British" culture is a Franco-Germanic-Nordic-Celtic-Romano-Pictish-Jutish-Afro-Indian-Sinesian and god only knows what else fusion. They should teach Bayeux, not Carta.

> There's an implicit valuation of culture in this statement.

Damn right.

Could you please elaborate on some examples of this?

If you truly believe that "culture" is a fixed phenomenon, unable to transform itself, adapt and merge to new mixtures of people in society then I fear for our future.

Agreed that not every cultural clash should be compared to 1930's Germany. Alarmist. There's a long way to go before getting to that state of affairs. Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, South Africa, ...

Why would you think the UK would round up and execute its Muslim citizens? And if nothing like this has any chance of occurring, just finding out who is in contact with real terrorists and who isn't seems useful, whether they're Muslim terrorists or Breivik. It is of course vitally important that information gathered for this purpose cannot be used for commercial or political ends, which is the hard part (maybe impossible).

This comment is misguided, but it doesn't deserve a downvote. It vocalizes the argument coming from the authority, and so it needs to be examined - and we can't do that if we downvote it to invisibility.

Taking away a person's privacy is a punishment. You can't do it because it might bear interesting information. That you don't know ahead of time whether that information will be important is no excuse: you can't punish someone unless you know they're guilty.

Further, given the shroud of secrecy around the collection of the information, how can we be assured that it's not going to be used for commercial or political ends? Even if you trust the present keepers of these secrets, will the next batch be as clean?

Why do you believe that it's so important to gather this information? Is there any real evidence that it's been used in ways that is truly important to our safety (not just for catching drug dealers), and that cannot be accomplished through conventional means?

And how can you even know? If the government won't even own up to what they're doing, how can the electorate weigh the factors? Given that the nature of the problem renders democratic action impossible, how can it be tolerated in a democratic state?

'Terrorist' is fundamentally a political label, so it's not possible to separate the political and security questions.

How do you define a "real terrorist"?

Are you equating promotion of "british values" such as democracy,freedom,rule of law with nazism? Or am I misreading your argument?

I believe the GP was equating "British values" as a dogwhistle for racists, in the same way claiming you're a "real American" is in the US.

I assumed they were referring to this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27853591

Which is a much more moderate message.

I'm not really convinced that the UK is becoming any more racist overall, it's just that the internet has given those who are already that way inclined a platform.

There are issues that people care about in theory, in books & political science courses and such and there are issues that people care about in practice.

In their political sphere, people care about their wealth (economy), their identity (nationalism, religion) & drama (political scandals). These are pretty constant. They are the bread and butter of politics and have ben since ancient time. When wealth decreases, identity is challenged or political drama whips the mob into a frenzy political instability ensues. So long as those are kept in check, political stability is hard to challenge.

If you look at most big stability events (eg the recent riots and protests in Greece), they relate to these. Wealth & political drama. The US banking crisis related to wealth (recession), drama (evolving doors) and identity (corporate welfarism).

Abstract ideas like freedom (of X), democracy, equality, privacy, justice, do not have political weight in their own right. To make them count politically they need to become one of the things that matter, bundled into the national mythology, people's identity.

The US for all their faults, have a genuinely principled foundational mythology/ideology. They can graft principles like privacy onto those making "privacy" into an identity issue. Government spying is offensive to Americans in the same way (though sadly not to the same degree) as a perceived islamization of the UK to the British. Most major political "principle" issues are really identity issues. That's why nationalism and religion are impossible to exorcise from politics.

Americans seem better positioned to put up a fight against this spying stuff than the rest of us because they already have government-skepticism built into their national identity. Europeans can build onto our 'enlightened" edentate though this is less wieldy. But ultimately I have a hard time believing that any of us will avoid being completely surveilled by several governments. There is too much momentum in that direction.

I hate this post, but mostly because I'm afraid of how accurate it is.

It is disturbing how quickly we forget the lessons of history -- even history still within living memory that shaped the entire future of Europe -- and instead allow an "it would never happen to me" mentality to take over.

Everyone should care about this; but as you said most people don't see the issue in practical terms. I think is our jobs as tech-savy people to put it in more practical terms for them, someway the average Joe can relate to, for example:

- NSA and GCHQ are probably watching your kids naked, a lot, because exploits from webcams are very common, and they cannot know before hand if someone is using Skype to plan tewowist attacks or a video for their teenage boyfriend.

- They are watching everything related to any company, so if an NSA employee happens to have stock in a rival company, well, that's insider trading sponsored by the state.

- Blackmailing is a piece of cake, because completely normal and legal activities such as watching porn are enough to defame you.

- They want security exploits to exist (and they pay for those), because that's how the intercept your communications, the problem is, those are the same exploits tewowist and black hat hackers use against you.

You get the idea.

To the extent that I'm right, I don't think this is enough. You can respond to criticisms about blackmail exploits or watching your kids with layers of laws, bureaucracy and compromises. You can deny it or call it isolated incidences.

To fight something like this, we need something that makes people draw a line. An uncrossable one. The main item a politician can identify with.

Otherwise, this is a negotiation. One we'll lose.

> Blackmailing is a piece of cake, because completely normal and legal activities such as watching porn are enough to defame you.

How can you blackmail someone with their normal and legal activities? Either watching porn is abnormal, and a source of blackmail opportunities, or it's normal and it's not, surely?

The UK is probably more relaxed about this than the US but I can imagine situations where people watching legal[1] porn could come under sever pressure at work because of it. Scout masters watching gay porn; headmasters watching legal but "teen" porn; teachers watching BDSM; etc - these are all people doing something legal that has no impact on their job but who would face severe pressure at work, and may well lose their job inder a variety of "disrepute" clauses.

[1] the legal situation in the UK for porn is not straightforward.

Is there one (or a few) book(s)/article(s) that shaped your view on this (most of all the wealth, identity, drama triad)? I'd be interested in reading them.

"The Century of the Self" (BBC documentary by Adam Curtis) is a good start. It discusses the Self(image), nationalism, (mass)psychology and much, much more. http://vimeo.com/87419450

Then make sure you watch "Human Resources" to see how manipulated and unknowingly controlled most of Human society is.

Found it. "The driving force in society is not love, but fear". It's on Youtube, but it's from this site: http://metanoia-films.org/films/

You may find this book interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

See Machiavelli: both The Discourses on Livy and The Prince are quite insightful on these topics. I recommend reading both near the same time.

>And I suspect it's because most of the public don't care either.

I think that may be the effect rather than the cause. Public opinion is shaped to a pretty large degree by what the media tells people to be interested in.

And with the media mostly telling us that it's happening but that's it's not important, it's for our own good and that anyone publishing details about it (like the Guardian) is threatening national security, that's what a lot of people accept as fact.

It makes me angry because this is the exact reason why freedom of the press needs to exist - not to allow papers to publish details of some celeb's romantic life. But it's only the latter that 95% of the press in the UK seem to be prepared to battle to defend.

I just now realized the double-speak of their name, the Guardian. I thought they guarded the public. Silly me.

What do you mean? Guardian is at the forefront of exposing the leaks and informing the public about the wrongdoings of the government!

He is being sarcastic. See his comment history.

Further cause for anger: In a democracy the people own the government, not the other way around. Yet our government can spy on us and lie about it without consequence, while it is treasonous for the people to be given intel on our own government's actions (e.g. Edward Snowden)!


* Yet. As long as people such as peterlawest (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7903705) continue to be the majority.

You nailed it. Why would politicians stick their necks out when their constituents - the British public - don't seem to care?

a. Why Surveillance Doesn’t Faze Britain [0]

b. Why the British like their spies [1]

[0] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/opinion/why-do-brits-accep...

[1] http://blogs.ft.com/the-world/2013/11/why-the-british-like-t...

Indifference always gets us in trouble.

Why bother blaming politics you don't control when instead you can blame the technology that makes this possible in the first place? Support an alternative like http://mailmarkup.org/value.xhtml

> political silence on this issue is indeed deafening.

The UK Government does not comment on issues of national security. End of discussion.

who downvoted? do explain?

I consider myself an educated, well-informed person, and I have no problem whatsoever with government surveillance. Like anything, it can be abused, but I don't think that outweighs the benefits.

I think it's sad that it makes you 'angry' that some people simply disagree with you. We have a democracy, and obviously only a minority consider this to be an issue of concern.

If you have a problem with it, stand for election.

The communists claimed to have a democracy too. A state can maintain all the forms of democracy whilst in reality being run on a completely different basis by a parallel internal oligarchy.

"If you have a problem with it, stand for election" is facile: First past the post electoral district representative governments are almost designed to eliminate single issue candidates from ever having any electoral power. The only way to make a difference is to convince the main parties that this matters & that takes years of ground work against a well funded group which will oppose your every move using its access to the machinery of government. It isn't called the military-industrial-congressional complex for nothing you know.

As an aside, very few people have a problem with targeted government surveillance. What I have a problem with is the dragnet sweeping up of every communication, keeping as much as possible for future use against anyone and anybody whilst keeping this policy secret from the population in question. Historically this kind of action has been seen as a signifier of a totalitarian states who are afraid of their own population revolting against them and I fear that the UK/US (and by extension the five-eyes countries) have put in place the full machinery for a panopticon, in which any dissent against the ruling cadres is quietly quashed. This isn't a road I personally wish to see my country taking, yet the politicians and public at large seem blind to the risk, handing over sweeping powers to the security services with almost no oversight or control.

>I consider myself an educated, well-informed person, and I have no problem whatsoever with government surveillance

Well, I don't consider that stance well-informed.

Surely its not informed of the tons of abuses of surveillance from "democratic" governments. And its also not informed of thousands of people rotting in jail, targeted by the police, tortured etc. Perhaps people who think that way, believe that all governments are like their local bubble -- or that it has to be some third-world dictatorship for those abuses to happen.

But I'm pretty sure they're also misinformed about the abuses in their local bubble too.

If you're an American for example, you might not know FBI has an attrocious record (under McCarthyism, under the the direction of Hoover, in the sixties against students and black protesters, up to Occupy Wall Street). If you're British, you might not know of an equally disgusting history. And don't get me started on places like Italy, Greece, Spain etc. Or Latin America for that matter.

Or they know those things but just don't care, because either "this time is different" ("and now we're fully and trully a transparent democracy" -- which is the most laughable ignorance one can muster), or they agree with the abuses.

But there's an even easier explanation: they only care for themselves, and since they don't ever do anything to challenge things you think they are safe.

And it might even be true.

But those that do challenge things (from civil rights activists to new political parties, and from artists to people experimenting with new ways of living), are the ones who make society better. Not the cover-my-asses. And it's those people who challenge things that very much are targeted by the abuses.

And what exactly are the benefits? Living in a nanny state?

[edit: fixed typo, child commenter: you a funny man]

nunny state

No, that's Ireland (where the investigation of a mass grave of children in a nunnery is failing to get off the ground)

There are a few problems in here.

Most notably though, I find terrible the statement that "we have a democracy" when essentially what we're talking about are tools whose abuse (which is going to be very welcomed by the government[s]) is exactly to suppress the democracy itself. Not only this, but also that fact the this is put in a context where government[s] are increasingly given powers to silence dissidence and legally rape people (or minorities, at worst), in an immoral (probable cause hello!) or worst, unlawful way (Snowden docs here).

All of this, with the fact that the "benefits" are not proven, and are actually very arguable. It's naive to think that indiscriminately listening to a billion conversations is an easy way to investigate "terrorism".

I don't think honestly that it's a well informed opinion to assume that we have a democracy just because we can vote somebody; more specifically, black/hispanic low-class people would not have the same opinion, at least, in some countries.

> government[s] are increasingly given powers to silence dissidence and legally rape people

1. Governments have always had these powers. The state has 'a monopoly on violence' and that can be abused in many different ways, without the need for pervasive surveillance. But it isn't, at least in the USA and the UK, we don't have 'death squads' roaming the streets or summary extra-judicial executions by firing squad for supporting the wrong political party, or having the wrong religion.

2. Wait, legally rape people... What?

> Like anything, it can be abused, but I don't think that outweighs the benefits.

In a recent past, my great-grand-father was arrested and beaten up by the Gestapo for his political views (sorry for the emotional argument but i think it's appropriate). My point is that even if you perceive your country as a democracy where the leaders behave for the best, it may not be so forever. And as history shows, it can change very fast. It's important that we have strong laws that protect the people from their leaders.

> We have a democracy, and obviously only a minority consider this to be an issue of concern. > > If you have a problem with it, stand for election.

There must be a name for this kind of fallacy.

I call it "faith in democracy", as there is no evidence of it happening in any modern "democracy". Just got to believe....

Is it really a fallacy?

Part of democracy is accepting that you don't necessarily agree with everyone about everything, and you have to compromise.

Say you were born in 1850, but had the understanding about race and slavery that you do now. Slavery makes you angry (I'm assuming here) and you make an impassioned post about the evils of slavery. In reply you get, "We have a democracy, and obviously only a minority consider this to be an issue of concern."

Is it "sad that it makes you 'angry' that some people simply disagree with you"? Is it ok to dismiss your anger because you don't "stand for election"?

I think if I were born in 1850, the right thing to do would be to try and convince other people of why I'm right about race and slavery.

Yes, part of democracy is accepting that some people will disagree with you. The right way to go is to either compromise or to convince them you're right. Incidentally, that's what actually happens most of the time.

When you have secret laws that protect secret proceedings or as we actually have now, agencies that operate in a legal black hole and are completely unaccountable then yes, the idea that this is somehow a democracy is comical.


Just because one part of an organisation does not have a particular property, it does not negate that property for all other parts. The USA and UK are, quite obviously, democracies. There are free and fair secret elections for government in which anyone can vote, and anyone can stand for election as a candidate. That makes them democracies, the behaviour of their secret intelligence services is irrelevant.

I worry about the thought processes that must occur for people to think this; or similar things, like conflating an instance of some law enforcement department abusing its power with a totalitarian police state... I understand hyperbole as a rhetorical device, but it isn't helpful when assumed as fact.

> There are free and fair secret elections.

Sorry, but I'm going to have to call bullshit on this one.

Lobbying and uncapped campaign donations are tantamount to legalised bribery. The system is utterly corrupt.

Free they may be, but calling them fair is a gross misrepresentation in my opinion.

> I worry about the thought processes that must occur for people to think this; or similar things, like conflating an instance of some law enforcement department abusing its power with a totalitarian police state.

We're not saying it's a police state. We're saying it is becoming one because of the very tools that these agencies possess and abuse without accountability.

As an example, you've basically had a man (a criminal) James Clapper lie directly to congress knowingly and unabashedly. He's somehow still walking around, free and lol'ing at the general public he so joyously likes to mislead and scaremonger.

> I worry about the thought processes that must occur for people to think this; or similar things.

I honestly think the same of people who think that there is no problem here, nothing to worry about or even that it's a good thing. I honestly can't wrap my head around the immense wilfull ignorance some people seem to be displaying.

It makes me sad, angry and disgusted all at once.

> We're not saying it's a police state. We're saying it is becoming one because of the very tools that these agencies possess and abuse without accountability

Right, this is my problem. I have no problem with posession of these tools. States possess much worse things, nuclear weapons spring to mind. And abuse of these tools in an unaccountable fashion is wrong, 100% with you on that. However it is not clear to me that such abuses have occurred, or are occurring in a systematic way. Are there any documented (to the extent possible) cases of this? I didn't think even the Snowden documents showed that. In fact, it looked like they were full of caveats about US and UK citizen surveillance being a problematic area, and stated requirements for legal reviews and checks in these cases?

As grkvlt has said, this isn't a black or white issue. We're not either a) a democracy or b) not a democracy, we're obviously more democratic in some areas and less so in others.

I agree that having secret proceedings, etc., is a big problem. But there are cases where they're necessary, or at least many people think so. Like it or not, changing the way things work now means gaining some things (e.g. more freedom, more transparency) but potentially giving some things up (some measure of security).

Some people might be willing to give up different measures of freedom for different measures of security - others will have different numbers. That's why, in a democracy, we either convince people or compromise with them.

Standing for election will potentially get you put on a list of "extremists": http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/15/green-party-...

The question is not so much can it be abused, but to what extent it is being abused. Remember, the security services are not above having people murdered if they're sufficiently troublesome: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-21283169

Created 9 minutes ago (as of this post) and has one post.

Doffs tin foil hat.

I see this a lot on a variety of forums whenever topics like this come up.

It would be interesting to do an analysis of the age of the average commenter’s account by topic across popular comment type sites.

We know that the security state is spending large amounts of money employing people to run 'personas' on social media sites, make blog comments etc etc. Sometimes these are spectacularly obvious, but there are plenty who are good enough at their work to look plausible.

The goal is to create the feeling amongst those who are seeking to change the status quo that the population is not with them & that changing things will be difficult, whilst at the same time creating the impression for anyone reading the comments that certain viewpoints are unpopular or contested.

Yes, I'm sure this has happened many times, and will continue to happen, although probably not as much on HN as on jihadi extremist forums and so on...

But the knee-jerk responses of 'shill' or 'astroturfer' to dismiss anyone whose opinion differs from the local majority is sad, and seems to be getting more common on many sites I frequent.

>> I consider myself an educated, well-informed person, and I have no problem whatsoever with government surveillance. Like anything, it can be abused, but I don't think that outweighs the benefits.

You have cared enough to actually think about it and are prepared to engage in debate. Congrats, you are more interested/intelligent than 90% of the population.

>> I think it's sad that it makes you 'angry' that some people simply disagree with you.

No, I'm angry that most people don't care enough or aren't smart enough to think about it, and that's the majority, and so nothing can be done. Your assertion that I'm angry that people disagree with me is incorrect and patronising.

>> We have a democracy, and obviously only a minority consider this to be an issue of concern.

Our democracy is incredibly weak, it's arguable we even live under a democracy when we have secret trials and secret laws.

>> If you have a problem with it, stand for election.

That's a guaranteed way to waste time and money while achieving nothing.

> We have a democracy, and obviously only a minority consider this to be an issue of concern.

I think those are separate things -- being in a democracy means the majority decide what happens; it doesn't mean that the majority are well-informed rational deciders of objective truth.

If the government were kicking puppies for entertainment, and nobody knew about it, then the majority wouldn't use their democratic powers to vote against that either :P

There hasn't been any evidence to support these 'benefits'.

I don't know what else to say apart from that I've seen the same coverage as you, and I'm not bothered by it.

I'm sorry that this seems to infuriate you people so much, but that's my opinion. If I'm happy with it, I'm happy with it. So are many people.

Your indignation isn't going to going to change my mind, or many other people's minds.

>I don't know what else to say apart from that I've seen the same coverage as you, and I'm not bothered by it.

Sure, but then again the majority of Southerners weren't bothered by the slavery or the lynchings either. It took a civil war to make them change their ways.

I mean, if we are to put "not bothered" as some kind of argument.

Sadly, even 100 years after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, and 200 years after the Declaration that "all men are created equal", we had huge resistance to the much belated civil rights acts of the 60's.

Yes, peterlawest is entirely right. Our indignation isn't going to going to change his mind, or that of many others like him.

"People don't change their minds. They die, and are replaced by people with different opinions" -- Arturo Albergati, via Paul Graham (http://www.paulgraham.com/quo.html)

"Science progresses one funeral at a time." -- Max Planck

Downvoting for "you people", a phrase which pretty much universally seems to indicate dismissive contempt and disinterest in engaging the other party's point of view.

This attitude is incredibly naive (the fact that you made an account 2 hours ago to express this opinion, means you probably agree and are just trolling). Governments change, but data is forever, what you say now or do in public may be politically neutral or acceptable at the moment, but might be worth a jail sentence in 20 years time. Your data will never disappear and you can be held accountable for something you said 15 years ago, even if your opinion has changed or if it was out of context.

For example, have you ever expressed a view about abortion, either for or against (or homosexuality, or religion, or politics? Right now any of the views you expressed may be socially and legally acceptable. It is conceivable that the legal views on this could change 10 years down the line and if you expressed a view that is out of favor with a government of the future you could potentially be in serious trouble.

I find this view rather short-sighted.

To some extent I agree with you that there are benefits to mass surveillance, and that on the whole it is (probably) not currently being widely abused.

However, this is not predictive of the future.

By setting up such a pervasive surveillance machine, this massively enables abuses by future governments that may not be quite as benign towards its citizens.

Just consider how 'useful' this mass data mining of private communications would have been for the East German Stasi, or during McCarthyism in the USA, or many other examples of overly authoritarian governance.

The danger is that a system set up to protect state security, ostensibly with the best of intentions, can be subverted later on as a tool of governmental abuse.

What are these benefits?

I believe it helps ensure security. I don't believe they'd bother doing it if it didn't. I think you're a bit arrogant for assuming they give a fuck what you write to your girlfriend on iMessages.

I know you probably disagree with that, but this is my point - not everyone agrees that surveillance is bad. And I'm not alone - I think most people don't really care about surveillance. And this isn't a conspiracy - it's just a simple case of people not agreeing with you - this happens - get over it.

I think you're a bit arrogant for assuming they give a fuck what you write to your girlfriend on iMessages.

This is absolutely not why people object to pervasive surveillance. The democracy that you harp on about above as the justification for your position is fundamentally incompatible with pervasive surveillance and secret trials.

The problem is not whether they can see pictures of my cats on twitter or imessages to my girlfriend, it's that with pervasive and universal surveillance of our communications which GCHQ is engaged in (collect it all, mastering the internet), those in power would become almost omniscient and able to manipulate our markets, our economy, our politicians, our judges and every other branch of our society. This activity is currently not significantly limited by law, but only by technical ability, which is fast changing. For example all SMS messages in the UK are stored, and all internet traffic crossing the kingdom (which is almost all of it) for as long as possible (Tempora), probably some phone calls too. We also don't even know who they share it with - probably the NSA given their subsidiary relationship. In the wrong hands, this would be a terrible weapon, and even in the right hands, it's likely to pervert those given the power.

If you had access to the private emails of judges, lawyers, accountants, politicians, in retrospect and forever it would be incredibly easy to make and break careers and manipulate everyone else in the country to bend them to your will. Now imagine this power in the hands of a select few, and the rise to power of someone ruthless enough to use it for their own ends. Perhaps initially they'd simply nudge a referendum on independence, or a presidential election by releasing inconvenient emails at the right moment, maybe they'd ensure their continued funding with blackmail (has this already happened, would we ever know?), maybe they'll decide they could run this place better after all - again, we wouldn't even know our democracy had been entirely subverted until it was too late.

IMO the time to oppose this sort of surveillance is now - surveillance should be one-off and controlled by independent judges on a case by case basis, not pervasive and eternal.

You don't even need to have access to the content of the mail, the meta data are more than enough to find out if you've called a known drug dealer, went to an abortion clinic, used an escort service... It is more than enough to end a career or silence a critic.

I come from a country where 30 years ago every single phone call was listened to by a government worker, and everyone knew,and no one cared. People literally did not care, using the same arguments as you are using - why would they worry about what they are saying to their girlfriends, wives, husbands, so on. And you know what? For most part, the government didn't care. But it was gathering notes on everyone - where are you going, when, with whom, are you drinking, are you buying something - everything that could be of importance was recorded,but never acted upon. Unless you managed to piss off someone. Unless you said something bad about the police or a local politician. Then these notes would be found, even from several years before,and they would be used to put you in prison for 20+ years, as a "danger to society".

This is exactly what is happening right now, and you have to be a complete IDIOT to not see that this is the case. Governments are gathering loads of data about every single one of us. Just because they decide not to act on that data right now,does not mean we should not be worried, and you couldn't be more wrong when you say that the government does not care what you write to your gf on iMessage.

Noone has mentioned there that they are afraid of their loveletters to be publicly available, as a consequence of surveilance. (It is possible, but whatever)

Instead, our problem, is that surveilance is being used as a an invaluable tool for autocracy.

And the question is not whether they will use surveilance for oppressing government opposition, but when if not already.

I think that is a good question. And if there were ever a case of surveillance being used to suppress government opposition, that would be terrible. But this has not occurred, and opposition to the government is a protected and valued right of every citizen of both the UK and the US. There are even entire organisations devoted to the opposition of the current government, some in the UK even go as far as having a 'shadow' group that mirrors the current ruling cabinet, to contest their decisions publicly.

You've not heard about the police embedding undercover officers into protest groups then? And acting as agent provocateurs when embedded within them? To the extent some of them had sham relationships and are now being pursued for effectively rape?

Maybe that's not surveillance being used to suppress in your book. Whatever. Your post reads like propaganda though.

> I think you're a bit arrogant for assuming they give a fuck what you write to your girlfriend on iMessages.

This statement is nonsensical, because we know now that recording and reading what we write to our girlfriends on iMessage is exactly what they are doing. Indeed GCHQ have watched so many webcam chats amongst random people they can tell us how many are pornographic to three significant digits of accuracy. This is very much the definition of "giving a fuck".

Given that the premise of your post is incorrect, I wonder why you hold the opinions you do.

> I believe it helps ensure security.

Your beliefs are wrong, as we have been shown that this mass surveillance has failed to prevent even one terrorist attack since its inception.

Couple that with the immense amount of (wasted) tax payer money it costs to run and you've got a disgusting abuse of power and resources in exchange for the mere illusion of security to those who fail to actually do the research required to see through the bullshit.

> Your beliefs are wrong, as we have been shown that this mass surveillance has failed to prevent even one terrorist attack since its inception.

We don't actually know this. Mass surveillance may have led to 'extrajudicial' methods of thwarting terrorist attacks, i.e. death squads or drone killings. Or when cases of terrorist plots have been taken to trial, its use could have been masked by parallel construction of evidence.

This level of underhandedness seems to be increasing in recent times. For example, there is a terrorist conspiracy trial currently ongoing in the UK that is being held almost entirely in secret - the public and media are not permitted to know the evidence or the sources of evidence against the suspects. In fact up until recently even the existence of the trial and the identities of the suspects were under a gag order, for reasons unknown[1].

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jun/12/secret-terror-tri...

You could be right.

I'm just not sure how much 'we can't reveal that due to national security concerns' is going to fly as an excuse anymore.

Far too many shady things can be covered up under that umbrella.

Oh, I agree. Just pointing out that mass surveillance may well be both helpful to national security and very damaging to human rights.

For what it's worth, I suspect it's unduly balanced towards authoritarianism as well.

having a policeman standing in your kitchen to prevent domestic dispute, ensuring security.

a webcam in all bedrooms would ensure more security and possibly prevent other types of crime.

most people wouldn't go for those - some security measures are too invasive and ripe for abuse to support.

unless you've missed it, your location and contact endpoints are now permanently stored, and some of your conversations both written and audible are.

if one of your associates is within a certain number of hops from someone deemed undesirable - so are you.

the reason the london met phone hacking scandal resulted in outcry was that the general public could understand what happened.

this is slightly beyond their ken but it's the same problem - questionable powers that are ripe for abuse.

>I believe it helps ensure security.

How many terrorist attacks have been prevented as a result of this illegal privacy invasion?

Is there any evidence of it ensuring security? I see none.

What leads you to believe that it ensures security?

So you don't know what those benefits exactly are or how should I interpret this?

Isn't it ironic that you are being downvoted?

> The Government believes that, even when privacy violations happen, it is not an “active intrusion” because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway.

unbelievable! What if they're building a searchable database of every user, so as to have 'dirt' on someone when he 'becomes a threat' to their interests? (Like becoming a spokesman against this sort of thing or whatever the bureaucrats wantto do next year).

When I read such things ("...because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway."), it fills me with deep hate against those people. How dare they take us for such idiots?

Disclaimer : I worked as an intelligence analyst.

1. I am not in favour of widespread, unaccountable surveillance of UK citizens.

2. During my time we disrupted a number of exceptionally serious terrorist operations.[1] [2] are public knowledge and there are a few others that are not open source at this time.

3. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, were instructed to keep any files on individuals to be used as political leverage or "for dirt" at a later stage.

That is really all I can add. I am not in favour of how far the needle has swung but but anyone not involved in the Intelligence Community is just simply fumbling around in the dark trying to say what does and what does not happen.

The threat from Qutbism Islamic Fundamentalism (Wahhabi/Salafist inspired terrorism) is real and intelligence organisations work constantly to prevent attacks.

If the threat warrants the level of perceived intrusion...I don't know. That is difficult to judge. Each citizens attitude to risk is different.

The HN crowd are technologically-savvy, critical thinkers but our law enforcement and intelligence agencies also have a mandate to protect the elderly, the young and the incapacitated. Do you think my grandmother gives a fuck about your outrage at having your email read?

All she cares about is that we don't return to the time of consistent bombing on the streets that plagued the troubles.

In short; it's not all about you, your vote is worth exactly one other vote.



I am not in favour of widespread, unaccountable surveillance of UK citizens.

Don't you think Tempora constitutes widespread, unaccountable surveillance? Also why the UK citizens qualifier?

During my time we disrupted a number of exceptionally serious terrorist operations.[1] [2] are public knowledge and there are a few others that are not open source at this time.

Most people would applaud you for that work and support some level of targeted spying, overseen by the judiciary, that doesn't mean spies should have carte-blanche to spy with impunity on everyone. Judicial scrutiny would make life more difficult when surveilling terrorists, but we have a limited justice system because it is fair and moral, not because it is maximally efficient.

Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, were instructed to keep any files on individuals to be used as political leverage or "for dirt" at a later stage.

If information is kept on everyone, you wouldn't need to be. The information is stored, ready to be used at any point in the future, and your boss doesn't need you to access it. The concept of keeping files seems a bit quaint in an age when massive datacentres are built to store our data, and every communication, no matter how mundane, is being logged for future use.

I would also note that British intelligence and police have on multiple occasions spied on individuals for use as political and economic leverage, and given Tempora, they wouldn't even need to spy on individuals specifically, so your assertion here rings a little hollow.

It's not all about us or some perceived intrusion, it's about power and the very real threat to a democratic and free and open society that universal surveillance and unaccountable spy agencies pose. Also interesting that you bring up the IRA and the attacks of the 90s - that violence wasn't settled by surveillance and repression, but by compromise and self-rule.

One (amongst others) huge problem with this is: I need to take your word granted for it. I have no means whatsoever to check whether any of this is true. The Snowden revelations showed very clear that all regulatory control mechanisms in the USA failed. I'm pretty sure this is the case in UK and Germany (my home country) as well. In history we learned that where there is no oversight there will be misuse for sure. Sorry, but ubiquitous surveillance is far too intrusive to rely only on a word given.

Are we supposed to just take it from you that since in your time you or your colleagues were not instructed to keep info on individuals to be used later it is ok to let them do it?

anyone not involved in the Intelligence Community is just simply fumbling around in the dark trying to say what does and what does not happen because the government is keeping the curious people in the dark and that is exactly what and why we are fighting against.

>> In short; it's not all about you, your vote is worth exactly one other vote.

And how the hell am I supposed to know what I'm voting for?

This is the problem. There has been no discussion. There is no mandate from the public at large, it's all secret programs, secret laws and secret trials.

It's sick, and it's not democratic.

> secret laws

Can you explain how a secret law could ever exist?

Yes. A law could be a secret law if it was not created in a public way but was still acted upon by the authorities as if it were any other law.

It's an easy concept.

If you don't think we have secret laws then that's a debate we can have, but please don't pretend not to understand the idea. We have secret courts. We have people unable to know the charges or evidence against them. We have press gags on reporting what some court cases are about (let alone the evidence or the defendents' identities), we have press gags on even reporting that some cases exist! We have security services operating beyond any democratic legal mandate based on political 'guidance'. These effectively make up a secret and hidden system of law.

You obviously need to read more Kafka.

    "During my time we disrupted a number of exceptionally 
    serious terrorist operations."
Why is this kind of work not law enforcement work instead of intelligence agency work?

It seems like the current policy is to reclassify many types of illegal activities as being in the same category as aggression by nation states even when only a handful of individuals domestically are involved, and that this reclassification is done for the purpose of sidestepping civil liberties protections.

>The threat from Qutbism Islamic Fundamentalism (Wahhabi/Salafist inspired terrorism) is real and intelligence organisations work constantly to prevent attacks.

Is it more real than the threat from a government forcing disabled people into suicide? Or retooling 'reform' on the economy with zero-hours contracts, depressed wages, and asset inflation?

If anyone was looking to protect the elderly, the young, and the incapacitated, do you really think they'd hire GCHQ, Group 4, Capita, and the rest?

Oh - and we know the spooks keep personal files. This has been going on for decades. Anyone to the left of Enoch Powell was fair game - including at least one former Prime Minister.


Are you telling us this has all stopped, because Internet, and because (we're told) you never saw it personally, so it doesn't happen?

> GCHQ is intercepting all communications - emails, text messages, and communications sent via “platforms” such as Facebook and Google – before determining whether they fall into the “internal” or “external” categories

This should raise some interesting questions about the methods used considering all of that communication is going over TLS.

We all talk about using SSL everywhere protects people from NSA/GCHQ/... It may prevent script kiddies to use Firesheep but as far as I understand if the NSA/GCHQ has access to any key from any Root CA (which I highly assume) then it doesn't matter at all to the NSA/GCHQ what kind of encryption we use as they can do easily MITM attacks (anyone checking SHA1 from the certificates from a reliable source, whatever this means?). The same is true that at several companies I worked for, people had to install (or per automatic software update) a fake certificate to allow the proxy to spy on all traffic. In one case I tried to fight against it, but I was the only developer of the 80 developer which cared. Their reasoning was totally flawed (which I demonstrated, e.g. that it protects against viruses, which it didn't, as the proxy only checked the first few MiB) but despite that, it was signed by management etc. Maybe I made I mistake in my reasoning and I hope someone explains my why, but in my opinion SSL (despite the script kiddie example) is broken as long as we have to trust companies which we shouldn't trust at all.

I think we are pretty safe against MITM attacks (for dragnat survallance). As a quick test, I am sure that many people on this site have access to very public facing, SSL enabled, servers. Try verifing that the public key your server sends is the same one that you get visiting your site.

Even without concerns over government survallence, it is probably a good idea to check this occasionally.

Corporate IT departments tend to rely far too much on network level security like this. But if the users machine is compromised in some way network security is completely useless. Even if TLS was completely perfect there would still be vulnerabilities in software that could be attacked on-mass.

Quick tip: En masse, pronounced with an "awww". It's French.

Secure technology doesn't prevent governments from getting the "platforms" to co-operate with them, as we saw with PRISM. I could be wrong, but surely it seems far more likely that they are providing GCHQ with the data rather than that GCHQ is cracking encrypted traffic.

Maybe I'm being naive, but while I'm certain there are easy ways for GCHQ and others to obtain data of chosen people, I have a hard time believing Google would just give them all-you-can-eat data access with no restrictions or monitoring. Simply because they are big enough to be able to take their data elsewhere.

Why would you find that hard to believe? The NSA has been putting their own hardware in other people's data centers and requiring their SSL keys, for example. So it certainly happens in the US.

Yes, but providers don't have much choice in that case. (also because the company has to follow local law) But with all available interconnects, there are many places in Europe where you could open a datacentre and not have to deal with GCHQ requests. It's not the case about every spy agency with every company - it's about specifically US companies like Facebook / Google and GCHQ.

Or, as has been in the case in many of these stories, the public policy vectors are reported roughly accurately, but the specifics and, most especially, the scope aren't. So you have thousands or tens of thousands of FISA directives for specific accounts sent to Google reported as "NSA has a shell on Google servers".

It's probably the case that GCHQ simply doesn't collect "all" communications, and can't do much about cert-pinned TLS to Google Mail. (You know, since they got caught fiber tapping Google's UK data centers.)

Google doesn't have any data centres in the UK.


Sorry, data center fiber connections, not data centers.

TLS all the time on these big websites is a very recent phenomenon, only being activated in the past couple of years. What's more, GCHQ were tapping internal traffic between Google datacenters which wasn't encrypted until Snowden, so TLS between customer and web server only slowed them down.

I suspect nowadays they're finding it much harder, but in these documents they're being asked to explain their pre-existing policies which were developed when TLS and internal encryption were much less widely used.

The head of GCHQ last year during an inquiry: "If I asked my employees to spy on UK citizens they would walk out...they would quit their jobs"

- Perhaps he should quit.

I worked in the defense industry. The employees don't give a shit if the pay cheque turns up. It doesn't matter if they're making guns, bombs or reading people's emails. Someone told them it was good and they're getting paid so screw it to ethics and morals.

The section regarding external communications starts on page 37. The same document seems to contradict this article's premise:

(from p.41) "Despite the fact that some UK to UK communications may be intercepted under section 8(4) warrants and that common uses of the internet by persons in the British Islands, such as a Google search, a Facebook post, or a "tweet" on Twitter, may entail the making of "external communications" for the purposes of Chapter I of RIPA, the section 8(4) regime as a whole is designed so as not to authorise the selection for examination of communications of this nature, except in the tightly constrained circumstances set out in section 16 of RIPA."

Disclaimer: IANA-(British)-L

It goes on though to say that tweets are posted to a US platform, not an individual, so they all count as external. Only email from one person to another both in the UK is "internal" but they admit it will be collected anyway, but say they can't look at it.

Well, yeah - with regards to it being an "external" communication, they say that on p.37 (as I said in my post). The document starts talking about the differences between internal and external communications on p.37 and how a tweet that isn't directed to another British citizen is considered an external communication because the server is in the US. They then continue by saying on p.41 that even though that tweet is an external communication, they still aren't authorized to intercept it unless it's "necessary" under section RIPA 5(6)(a) and the tweet also isn't authorized for "selection for examination" unless it meets other criteria under RIPA section 16.

The article is focusing on the fact that the tweet is an external communication and neglecting to mention that there are still additional restrictions on collecting external communications. What Charles Farr is saying in that document is a far cry from the article's wording: "By defining the use of ‘platforms’ such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as ‘external communications’, British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications - simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK."

(After skimming through RIPA, though, I will concede that UK laws can be very obtuse. Section 16 gave me a headache - but that's an entirely different issue than the external communication argument)

> The distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ communications is crucial. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (‘RIPA’), which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, ‘internal’ communications may only be intercepted under a warrant which relates to a specific individual or address. These warrants should only be granted where there is some suspicion of unlawful activity. However, an individual’s ‘external communications’ may be intercepted indiscriminately, even where there are no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing.

This is another reason to force companies to hold local datacenters in major countries...or, if they prefer, put everything under end-to-end encryption, so it doesn't matter where they hold it.

Only these 2 options should be given to the companies, otherwise no "foreigner" (in relation to where the data is kept) can trust them with their data. They decide which is less costly, but I'm hoping they choose the latter.

There can be no secret laws in a democracy. Else it's not a damn democracy.

Since the secret laws are actually out there, what conclusion does this fact support?

Maybe we don't actually have a democracy?

You know, we have been watching, for more than a year now, story after story telling us that the Five Eyes intercept, filter and store a range of communications between allegedly criminals, mere suspects and whole populations.

A tiny portion information is then used to "fight crime", while the rest sits there, waiting to be used for the economic and political interest of those nations, and to stop dissent and social movements -- even it the information is not used, the mere fact that somebody is watching works damn well to bring fear and distrust to potential unrest.

What 'secret laws' are you talking about? No such thing exists in the UK, at least. Is there not a similar process for creating legislation publicly in the USA?

Many countries have secret laws unfortunately. The US is especially bad because they hide their secret laws behind a veil of "nation security" when they clearly have no requirement to do so. They legalise these secret laws through a secret court.. once again justified with "nation security". Mind you, a secret court whose judges are appointed by the executive.

How are we meant to hold our elected representatives accountable when the goings on of these secret courts are not even open to them? How can this possibly be a democracy if we don't have the slightest say in what our executive does in our name?

So no, we don't live in a democracy anymore. Long live congress and God bless America.

I'm not sure that what you are talking about are things that are in the same category as the rest of the laws of either the UK or the US. For some rule to be classified as law, a bill must be passed by the legislative body of the government and added to the statute books; this is a public process.

There are other things that a court can use when deciding the outcome of some argument, perhaps the text of a contract or a set of rules that govern national security proceedings. In the same sense that the rules under which an employment or arbitration tribunal/panel operate under, these are not 'laws'. You cannot be prosecuted for breaking them, and so on.

So, while there are these extra rules that govern national security matters, and courts can decide on matters relating to these rules, with the entire thing being secret, which seems right and proper since they govern classified (or secret) matters.

The ones you don't know about because they are secret.

I have just re-read this entire thread in its entirety and once again a potentially valuable debate about the limits of police and intelligence services have devolved into a stunningly naive rant centring around -

> The Islamic Terrorist threat is made up > The Government is a homogenous entity that cannot be trusted. It is definitely not a disparate group of people and organisations trying to make an effective and functioning society. It is sinister > Intelligence services watch your children naked. Seriously - this is disturbingly dark. In nealty 10 years of service neither I or anyone I ever met in my employment ever saw a child naked. Honestly; that comment hints at real psychological problems. > Government oversight of communications travelling along copper wires is the same as pre-WW2 Nazi Germany > Assertions we live in a police state etc etc. Which is hilarious because I have been to actual police states and very few people assert online they live in a police state. You know, on account of that not being wise in an actual police state.

I could go on but this is beyond absurd.

Privacy concerns? Legitimate. Anything else? Hollywood-isation of actual intelligence work. 99% of it is seriously boring and no one gives a fuck what porn you watch. Bit busy trying to stop actual people getting killed.

I didn't steal that money because I already spent it.

I stole that money but I forgot that I stole it. Not a crime!

You might find this debate from Intelligence Squared interesting on this topic.


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