Shame on you, Obama. Shame on you Cameron. God help the rest of us.
In the UK we used to have this wonderful process called ‘stop and search’, which allowed the police to stop, search, and subsequently arrest a ‘suspected person’ without warrant. In 1984 it was repealed by the PACE Act. The police would no longer be allowed to stop and search someone because he looked Irish and was probably an IRA terrorist, nor a coloured person because he was black and obviously a gun-toting rapist. Instead, a constable in uniform would need to provide his name and his police station, the reason for the search, the legal justification for the search, and subsequently make a copy of the search form available for 12 months.
Why doesn’t this principle apply to the internet? In the UK, the government still has designs on getting the Communications Data Bill onto the statute books one way or another. This allows unwarranted search of all of our communications data – the who, what, where, when and how long of our communications. Based on who we speak to and where we go on the internet, the government will know if we’re gay when we have told no-one, pregnant before we tell our parents, ill (and possibly how) depending on which specialist we visit, whether we’re looking for a loan, our ethnic, political and sexual leanings, and a whole host of other deductions based on the who, what, where, when and how long of our communications.
That Bill has been stalled, not prevented, by the opposition of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. But the reality is that it probably isn’t necessary. Edward Snowden – who should be lauded as a folk hero rather than condemned as a criminal – has leaked US documents showing firstly that the NSA already operates its own version of the Communications Data Bill as a secret enactment of a secret interpretation of a US law; and secondly that a second secret project (PRISM) provides NSA access to the servers of major corporations such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and others. That access will include content as well as meta data. In both cases it will include data on UK citizens: meta phone data when speaking to someone in the US; and full content data whenever you have an account with any of the participating corporations.
Now, given the close relationship and standard exchange of data between the British intelligence services and the US secret services, it defies credibility that GCHQ and MI5 are unable to get whatever online information on UK citizens they want whenever they want it.
This afternoon in a ministerial statement in the House of Commons, home secretary William Hague gave out the most unbearable guff and waffle trying to say the British citizens have nothing to worry about. But British citizens have everything to worry about. He avoided saying that any attempt by MI5 to get data from the NSA would require judicial oversight, saying only that ministerial oversight was involved – the fox is in charge of the hen-house.
He stressed that British laws apply in the UK and US laws apply in the USA. He made no attempt to suggest that the US should not be collecting data on UK citizens, and gave no indication of whether any oversight at all is required if the NSA provides, unasked, personal data on UK citizens to the UK intelligence services.
It is, in effect, the return of the ‘sus law’ in a cyber guise. But this time we are all searched – not just the terrorist-looking Irishman (and Muslim today) and the obvious rapist black man but all of us. We are all assumed to be guilty and searched in order to find the proof to prove the suspicion. It is a total reversal of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ premise of natural justice; and it applies directly to all UK and US citizens (and everyone else in the world who has an account with a US company).
Explaining his action, Edward Snowden said, “I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
He deserves our support. It is time for us all to stand up and say “Shame on you, USA and UK. Shame on you for your deceit. Shame on you for criminalizing principled people who tell the truth. Shame on you for your lies. And shame on you for turning us all into suspects.” You are creating a society that is hardly worth defending against the real enemies. With you in power, they have already won.