Consider the Communications Bill. That’s the bill that will supposedly allow the intelligence agencies to catch serious criminals and terrorists. But the only people it won’t catch are serious criminals and terrorists. And the only thing it will do is allow the government to know who you are talking to and where you go on the internet at all times and as you do it – at a huge cost to the public purse. (Incidental #1: The public purse is not government money. It is your money. The government doesn’t have any money. It is therefore taking your money to pay for a system to spy on you.)
Obnoxious as this is, it is not in itself undemocratic. You can argue that in a democracy, the electorate votes for a government and gives it the authority to make decisions without further reference to the electorate. (Incidental #2. I believe that this is a mis-interpretation of democracy developed and promoted by governments. I believe that in a democracy, the government is always subservient to the will of the people.)
But what is quite incredible is the experience of Conservative MP Dominic Raab. As a member of parliament he is being asked by the government to vote in favour of this bill. A fundamental part of the spying process will be the filter. ISPs are going to be asked to keep complete records of our communications and browsing. That will be a national database of everything, albeit spread across the different ISPs. Technically, not a problem – it’s a national database from a government that promised to ‘roll back the database state.’ The filter is the mechanism by which the agencies can get to what they want – that is, it is effectively a private government search engine for our emails.
Quite reasonably, Raab wanted to know more about what he was being asked – no, told – to vote for on our behalf. All he wants to know is the advice given to the Home Office to justify the filter. The Home Office said no. So with true Yorkshire grit (he can kiss goodbye to any government preferment in the future) he issued a freedom of information request. But again the Home Office said “no, national security issues, don’t you know old boy.”
So he referred it to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner has requested more information from the Home Office so that he can make a ruling on whether the refusal of the FoI request is justified. The Home Office has just over 20 working days from now to respond or face potential legal action for what amounts to contempt.
My bet is that the Home Office will respond, but we won’t know how, because the Information Commissioner will agree that it is in national security interests to withhold the information. His only alternative is to side with the people, upset the government and kiss goodbye to his knighthood – just like Raab. I will be delighted and will beg his forgiveness for besmirching his noble position if he sides with the people. I doubt that I will have to.
But step back and think about this. The Home Office is demanding that our elected representatives simply do what they’re told with no understanding nor knowledge of what exactly they’re doing. That, I fear, is democracy in 21st Century Britain: we elect people to do what the government wants which is what big business and secret services want. What the electorate wants is irrelevant.
As expected, Dutch Ruppersberger has reintroduced CISPA following Obama’s Cybersecurity Executive Order. He must be hoping that the warnings voiced by Obama in the State of the Union address will strike a chord and somehow make CISPA more acceptable this time round. And he’s added his own warnings.
In an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun he writes:
August: Cyber attackers disrupt production from Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, taking out 30,000 computers in the process, according to press reports.
Fight cyber crime through information sharing
It didn’t happen. At least Aramco says it didn’t. Yes, Shamoon took out 30,000 desktop computers, but it didn’t touch the production system which is on a separate network. So, regardless of whether there is some gutter press report somewhere saying that production was disrupted, it wasn’t. If it had, and oil production from the world’s largest exporter of crude oil had been disrupted, there would have been an almighty spike in world oil prices. There wasn’t – and Ruppersberger knows it. It’s a pure and simple lie for political purposes.
And it’s not the only truth distortion in his article. He says, “each of the above-referenced attacks could have been prevented by the federal government,” because “The U.S. government can often see the worms and viruses placed by hackers and other evil-doers in the computer networks that make up our modern world.”
I think if I was Aramco, I’d want to know what the US government was doing inside my networks monitoring unknown malware. On the face of it, if what Ruppersberger is saying is true, the implication has to be that the US government put it there in the first place – and that wouldn’t be the first time that has been suggested.
Later on, he suggests that “a hacker was able to access nearly 4 million tax returns in South Carolina with a single malicious email.” Well, we’ll gloss over the suggestion that the email was all it took, and remember the point he is making – that the government could have stopped this hack if it had been able to share its knowledge with the victims – which it can’t, by law. But the fact is, it did anyway. The South Carolina Tax Department only learnt about the hack because the Secret Service told them it was happening. So although the government can’t, it did – so why does it need new laws?
“We’ve gotten wake-up call after wake-up call,” he concludes. “It is time to work together to prevent the cyber nightmare from becoming a crippling reality.” He is absolutely right. Such shameful and twisted hyperbole should wake us up to the reality and motives behind this proposed law. The cyber nightmare is CISPA, and we need to work together to stop it becoming a crippling reality.
Oh, and once you’ve managed to stop CISPA, would you all just mind popping over here to help us get rid of the UK’s Communications Bill and the EU Cybersecurity Directive – both of which are actually much worse than CISPA…
Finally, someone in the UK’s mainstream press has woken up and noticed the EU Cybersecurity Directive – Europe’s CISPA. The Daily Mail, so usually in the pocket of any Conservative government, has spoken:
The language is typical Mail sensationalism, but the facts are essentially correct. The worry is that this EU Directive goes much further than Cameron’s cherished Communications Bill – already broadly known as the Snoopers’ Charter. The danger is that because it’s from the EU, which already owns our legislative process, Cameron and his GCHQ puppet-masters can just turn around and say, sorry guys, we’ve got no choice, the Treaty of Lisbon blah blah blah…
But the surprise is that this dangerous, draconian, police state Directive – much more extreme than CISPA in the US; which incidentally will be re-introduced in the US on Wednesday, along with a presidential executive order decreeing the same thing – is causing hardly a ripple in Europe. Are we so punch-drunk by the politically motivated economic crisis that we are already dead? Do we not care about liberty in Europe any more?