Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

The justice system in the UK and abroad

Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Ernest » 06 Jan 2016, 14:56

As I understand it the Investigatory Powers Bill (often referred to as the "Snooper's Charter") is currently being discussed at committee stage. I have heard that "Community Leaders" are being consulted. I am sure surveillance is a topic you've touched on before at the forum, but I couldn't find a specific topic on it. With this bill in progress I thought it a good time to start a debate.

What do forum members feel about this bill? I have encountered both sides of the argument among the "right", the right hon. David Davis for example being consistently against such powers. However more commonly I have come across the view that the government needs these powers to protect us from terrorism. "If you've done nothing wrong you've nothing to fear" is a common argument from this camp.

For myself I find it hard to be sure which side is right. Of course I want to be protected from terrorists, but is storing everyone's data in case we might be a criminal really justified? Could this data be abused and used to silence political opponents? Are we drifting towards an Orwellian police state?

The biggest problem with the "if you've done nothing wrong you've nothing to fear" is that it implicitly trusts all governments never to abuse their power. The government seems increasingly adamant that anybody criticizing Islam is doing something wrong, and many of us are doing just that. The government have directly referred to a speech by Paul Weston from the PEGIDA uk movement as an example of an extremist fuelling hatred. It is abundantly clear that Ms May wants to silence him. Can we trust such a government, that does not understand the difference between free speech and inciting violence?

On the other hand, following a terrorist attack, we want the security services to discover any links the terrorists have. The old idea of getting a warrant before starting surveillance is not helpful in cases where the terrorists were not known previously to the police. Do we accept a loss of our civil liberties to enable this?
Ernest
 
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Gavin » 08 Jan 2016, 18:30

You're right, Ernest: I don't recall a specific thread dealing with surveillance so your post starting this thread is certainly welcome.

At present I don't have sufficient familiarity with the "Snooper's Charter" to contribute very specifically on that, but I will say that in general I am not against surveillance, depending on the kind of government that is doing the surveilling - the over-arching aims of that government being malevolent or benign as I judge the two. I know this position may be contrary to that of many conservatives and libertarians.

Theodore Dalrymple regrets the many security cameras everywhere and believes the police look too military now. He says they are all appearance with no actual power. However, there is no question that CCTV is invaluable in solving countless crimes, and I don't really care who sees me on it. I must be very boring watching CCTV all day. Also the more military the police appear the happier I am, quite frankly. I am concerned by how few there seem to be in evidence considering the Islamic threat and am always reassured to see them with their rifles. They should certainly feel able to use them when required though, as they had to recently in Paris.

But I'm talking short term. Perhaps people like Dalrymple are talking long term: i.e. we wouldn't need all these cameras and police if we were not so decadent and, for example, prison served more often as a deterrent rather than (as it is in some cases) an incentive for people to commit crimes. But we're in the situation we're in so I think strong measures are required in the short term. All mosques under surveillance, either overt or covert. Plenty of armed police about, with licence to actually use those weapons. Stop prisoners automatically serving only 50% of their sentence, "life" meaning life etc. I don't even mind more Internet "snooping" actually (as I say, proving the government is benign). This catches paedophiles and would-be jihadis. Security services are not going to check everybody's e-mail - this is totally impractical - but I can understand them "sweeping" and frankly I'm glad they do.

I agree with Sam Harris on many matters, disagree on others (he doesn't quite seem to fit in with his leftist fans!). I think this is one where his position differs with mine, although he is undecided on the matter of Edward Snowden. I'm with Douglas Murray on that matter (and on virtually all others as far as I'm aware).

That's where I stand at the moment, anyway. I think our state is relatively benign, so I don't mind it having a fair few inquisitive powers, though it is true it will likely try to shut down people like Paul Weston and Tommy Robinson (maybe us, too). I don't think that can last though. It'll just boost their profiles. Our state is craven, PC and incompetent but not lethally dangerous or utterly corrupt in my view (as Arabic states are) - if it was then Tommy would be dead by now!
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Jonathan » 08 Jan 2016, 23:26

I'm not familiar with the details of this particular bill, but I might contribute a few notes on the question of surveillance from the Israeli perspective.

First, Israel does not have a national registry of biometric data (facial recognition features, fingerprints, etc). There is one, of course, for criminals and suspects, and there is an experimental pilot program which has generated much controversy, but not the real thing. Shootings, stabbings, suicide bombers, yes. Biometric registry - no. There isn't even one for the Arabs in the occupied territories. Israel has a lot of experience in dealing with terrorism, and has not chosen to establish such a registry. I do not know how much experience this Theresa May has in this field, so it is possible that she knows better.

Second, when the main threat comes from illegal immigrants, who - almost by definition - are not documented, what good will the registry be? The state cannot compel men to send their teenage daughters to school, or women to reveal their faces, but it will succeed in this? A burka and a falsetto will be sufficient to frustrate it. What brave policeman, in the middle of a muslim-dominated town, surrounded by hundreds of muslim men, will demand to peek under the cloth to confirm the young lady's identity?

Third, even if a registry is established, crimes will be committed repeatedly by men who are not in the registry. Or they will be committed by men who have given false names and false addresses, and cannot be found. Or they will be committed by men who blow themselves up, and whose fingers can be literally picked up off the ground. What use will the registry be against these men?

Fourth, when the state is weak and ineffectual, the draconian laws will only be used to harass innocent citizens. Today, in Israel, the gunman who killed two people in Tel-Aviv last week was finally hunted down. Without a national registry. In England, such a terrorist will put on gloves and a burka and be in France in two hours. Outraged English men will demonstrate against the ineffectual policy of the government. What will happen? A photograph will be taken, the men's identities will be established, and the next day their mailboxes will be full of bills and summonses and inquests and notifications of mandatory audits. Their names and faces will appear in the newspapers, to illustrate every sordid story an ex-wife or disgruntled subordinate might be tempted to recall. Their addresses might even be leaked to some muslim association - sorry, I meant human-rights group - which will provide its own flavor of intimidation.

The true purpose of the demands for an increase in the powers of government serves is to excuse past failures and present inaction. When the demands are met, further demands will be made - for the appetite of governement is always whetted, never sated. By a delightful coincidence, the new demands will also provide insurance against future failures.

That said, there is another side to it.

First, the Old City of Jerusalem - being a small maze of alleys and passageways - is completely covered with hundreds of cameras, which are always under active observation (as oppose to post-factum forensic examination). This ensures that terrorists are quickly caught, and that help is never far away.

Second, military operations are always conducted with the best surveillance technology available, and it is usually the military which is called on in situations where a policeman cannot simply walk up and make an arrest.

I suppose my point can be reduced to this: If you have a competent police or army, you probably don't need such a registry. If you don't have a competent police or army, the registry will do more harm than good. And it might do quite a lot of harm. In the beginning of the reign of the emperor Tiberius - after the Roman Republic had collapsed, and the ancient freedoms lost for good - a small change was made to the laws of forensic evidence, as it were. Until then, no slave could be compelled to give evidence against his master. Tiberius bought the slaves, and pretended that the old law was no longer valid. Effectively, this gave the emperor a multitude of spies in every household. Even better, it provided a ready tool to satisfy his resentments, for many a slave - seeing his former master on trial for his life, and himself ready to be sold to another man - would be sorely tempted to exact vengeance for every slight he had experienced by supporting whatever accusation was being made against his master. A national registry of biometric data is a tool perfectly designed to serve the same function.
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Ernest » 09 Jan 2016, 01:02

[Jonathan thanks - you posted whilst I was typing so I haven't read your post yet, this is a response to Gavin.]

Gavin - Apologies perhaps I should have started the topic with a bit more background information. You have raised some important issues though so I will respond to those first.

Security cameras are something of a smaller concern. They don't have a comprehensive ability to catch crime, because you would quite literally need one just about everywhere (including in our homes), pointing in every direction (in high definition) all the time to catch every crime. At least for the moment, they are highly visible, so any serious criminals with any sense are likely to just avoid them, knowing the cameras are there. You only have to wear a burqa/balaclava/george clowney face mask to render them useless anyway.

Personally though, I am not bothered in the slightest by the presence of public security cameras. Even if the police are not on hand to catch the criminals red handed, they may still provide valuable evidence, especially for example in the case of underclass assaults where the assailants might not even have thought about the cameras' presence, because the assailants are just too thick or too drunk. These cameras do not invade my privacy, because I am already in a public space.

A mosque (in fact any designated place of worship) should in effect be considered a public space, I don't really see how or why anybody could object to security cameras and microphones recording every sermon. The sermons should be in English and should be made public as a matter of routine on the mosque's website. If there are objections, then it is clear there must be something to hide in that case. It is a matter of public concern. The rule should be you lose your planning application if you don't follow these rules. We can save money this way as well, no need for MI5 to be trying to spy on them secretly all the time, just random spot checks to make sure they are being honest.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Snooper's charter has nothing whatever to do with public cctv security cameras. I think we can either start a separate topic on those cameras and the mosque issue or put them aside altogether for the moment. The "Snooper's Charter" is entirely concerned with the matter of internet surveillance. I can see how the name might lead to that confusion.

The problem with the internet is that it is almost inherently a huge grey area. I might post a comment on my private facebook page, but I might have hundreds of people reading that all the same. In the case of a jihadi hate preacher that might constitute a very significant crime as I might be directly inciting a real act of violence, and I might have a lot of "followers". He doesn't have to physically be in a mosque, either.

"Security services are not going to check everybody's e-mail - this is totally impractical - but I can understand them "sweeping" and frankly I'm glad they do."

This sounds persuasive at first glance, but unfortunately the powers the government are trying to obtain go far beyond just our emails. Much more gets caught in the net.

Much as Edward Snowden's activities may seem unpatriotic to many, he has at least brought some unknown aspects out into the open. The revelations that some secret services contractors may have been spying on their spouses' love affairs, kind of makes you think a bit. Another revelation, that the microphone and camera on a smart phone can be activated remotely, even when the camera is not "switched on", also should give us a long pause for thought. We might reach a point where we're afraid to even own a smart phone. Actually a can of worms is opening here as I speak, and there are yet more topics that should be probably dealt with separately. I might have inadvertently trivialized the subject a bit as well, consider if say an "enemy of the state" is being watched 24/7, without a warrant, suddenly its no longer trivial at all. These type of intrusions have a psychological power, its not just about whether the government is trying to kill us physically. Remember the characters in George Orwell's 1984 did not have to die to be subdued.

The problem with the "what type of government is it" argument is that governments change from season to season, and once we allow the precedent to be set, we have started to slip dangerously down a slippery slope. Some people may throw their hands up against this argument, exclaiming "we are all doomed anyway", but governments come and go. Precedents are still important, they are a cornerstone of our legal system. Even if Jeremy Corbyn came to power (God forbid it, if he exists), a precedent would still carry some weight. We would still be a little bit further down that slippery slope. Many on both the left and right are opposed to mass internet surveillance, the argument can still be won even with the Corbyn crowd in power.
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Jonathan » 19 Jan 2016, 18:59

I would expect that the British security services would be happy to get the same wide-ranging powers that the American services evidently have, or had. But is it necessary to stop the current wave of violence?

If I'm not mistaken, it was published after the Paris attacks that the terrorists communicated by sms, without encryption. If the intelligence agencies had identified them as threats, they could have gotten warrents to tap their communications, and no far-reaching powers would be necessary. If true, it would say something about the feeling of impunity these men possess, that they did not think it necessary to take such precautions.

In addition, it does not seem like these attacks were planned over a long time. Some of the attackers entered Europe only a few weeks earlier. Can Western intelligence agencies really sift through tens of millions of emails so quickly that they could automatically and reliably identify an imminent attack in such a short time-frame? And even if they had that ability, could it not be easily circumvented by publicly available encryption programs, or by the simple expedient of code words? "The cake will be delivered on 9/11" might be indistinguishable from millions of truly innocuous messages.

Ad-hoc assaults like in Cologne are probably organized by mass tweets or text messages; these powers would do nothing to curtail them.

Spontaneous Jihadi attacks like Israel has been experiencing for the past few months also cannot be prevented by snooping powers. All the data is publicly available - many of the attackers have facebook pages full of violent incitement, but they are indistinguishable from many other hateful pages whose owners commit no act of violence.

It seems to me that traditional approaches to counter-intelligence will bear more fruit. Plant spies, turn agents, tap phones or monitor specifically-chosen email accounts, under some form of judicial review. Millions of muslims in Europe want to bring their families over, or have a sick grandmother who needs medical treatment. Find a thousand of these in key locations and make them your agents. It can be done. The son of one of the founders of Hamas turned out to have been an Israeli agent for several years (he also eventually converted to Christianity). The request for new powers seems like a confession of inadequacy.
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Ernest » 17 Feb 2016, 14:58

The true purpose of the demands for an increase in the powers of government serves is to excuse past failures and present inaction. When the demands are met, further demands will be made - for the appetite of government is always whetted, never sated. By a delightful coincidence, the new demands will also provide insurance against future failures.


I think there is a lot of truth in that. Its also not just in the area of surveillance that such demands can be seen. A lot of the UK government's responses to terrorism since 9/11 have been more about making the government look busy than anything else. Following the London bombings in 2005 there were promises to close extremist mosques, but not one single mosque was closed by the then Labour government. The current government has made the same promise which I believe could be carried out under existing law, but instead of just doing it the government keeps inventing convoluted new legislation. Of course we can expect in the event of another terrorist attack, the government will accuse those critical of opposing the proposed new legislation of aiding the terrorists.

It seems to me that traditional approaches to counter-intelligence will bear more fruit. Plant spies, turn agents, tap phones or monitor specifically-chosen email accounts, under some form of judicial review.


I agree. Monitoring specific individuals is surely more likely to be effective. The proposed attempt to store every single person's online browsing history will cost a huge amount of money and be difficult to achieve technically where people are using encryption. It will also divert the security services from activities more likely to actually work.

Judicial review is also I believe essential to ensure the government does not misuse the powers.

Find a thousand of these in key locations and make them your agents.


I am sure there must indeed be many potential recruits among immigrant populations who have experienced tyrannical regimes first hand.
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Re: Big Sister Wants To Watch Us

Postby Jonathan » 26 Feb 2016, 23:21

I should add, Ernest, that Tommy Robinson's book has several descriptions of such recruitment techniques being used against him.

Which pretty much sums up Britain's current situation, doesn't it?
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