Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Big Brother’

Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

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Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online ( to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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What Is Respect up to in Tower Hamlets?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th December, 2009

Since the heyday of Respect, when it got George Galloway elected as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and became the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council one year later, the party has been in the doldrums. Mr Galloway’s reputation took a nosedive as he donned a red leotard and pretended to be a cat in the Big Brother house, and a whole raft of Respect councillors later defected to Labour and the Conservatives (sic). Indeed, rather like the rival Palestinian factions in the classic movie, ‘The Life of Brian’, the party then split into two pieces, each claiming to be the keeper of the true flame, which has left all but those at the centre of things at a loss to know what Respect really is these days and what it stands for. But now the party has a new rallying point, which it hopes will help it rise like a phoenix from the ashes: a referendum for a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. There already is one in neighbouring Newham, Labour’s Sir Robin Wales, but presumably Respect is hoping that it could win a mayoral contest in our scandal-torn borough. And who would be their candidate? Everyone is assuming it would be George Galloway. ‘Gorgeous’ George is standing down from Bethnal Green and Bow at the forthcoming general election and moving over to my home seat of Poplar and Canning Town. But assuming he doesn’t win here, a mayoral contest a few months later would suit the party nicely, to have him bear its standard. So the party has been collecting signatures on a petition to move to a mayoral system. As 7,000 of the 17,000 signatures collected were reportedly inelligible, because the people did not fill in their full names or else did not live in the borough, one hopes that Respect will be a little more careful when it comes to filling in George’s nomination papers. It’s all a bit of a fiasco, but at least he adds to the gaiety of the nation.

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Lembit Woos Loughton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th October, 2008

  My zone 1-6 Oyster card took me to Debden this evening, where Epping Forest Liberal Democrats hosted a pizza and politics addressed by Lembit Opik, MP, who is on the party presidential campaign trail, but also being motivational — or inspirational, as he put it. He had Stephen Kearney, our candidate in the recent Henley by-election, with him and their joint message was about reaching out to people in local communities, listening and using language that they can understand. Inevitably, media issues came up — no, Lembit is not going into the Big Brother house in January, as the Sun confidently reported — but Lembit maintained that celebrity can be useful in opening up channels of communication with people who are usually switched off from politics and politicians. Of course, George Galloway said the same thing, though he DID make the mistake of going on Big Brother.

Lembit argued that the next President — whether it is him, Ros Scott or Chandila Fernando — should not be concerned with policy matters, which should be the province of the Leader. But there were appreciative rumbles round the room when he indicated that he would like to rattle the bars at the Cowley Street party HQ sometimes. He also championed the value of fun — which I suspect may prove to be either his making or his undoing.

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Surveilling Tom Brake

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd September, 2008

 Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Olympics, was filmed by at least 40 CCTV cameras on his journey from Wallington to Westminster this morning, he informed attendees at the Wednesday Circle lunch at the National Liberal Club today. And those were just the ones he spotted. In a talk that was a disturbing account of the degree to which Britain has become a surveillance society, he pointed out that there about four million CCTVs in the UK — some of which now have loudspeakers attached — representing about a fifth of the total in the whole world. Both the authorities and commercial companies are constantly acquiring information about us, some of which data may be passed on (despite data protection laws) or used in ways for which is was not intended.

Britain is also a world-breaker in the size of its DNA database, including that of people who have committed no criminal offence. A disproprtionate amount of these samples are from ethnic minorities.  And if the government persists with its plans for identity cards, even more elements of the Big Brother society risk being introduced. A starting point in tackling the ways that our civil liberites are being infringed would be the introduction of a written constitution, Tom argued, as the product of widespread consultation.

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Now a “Snooper’s Charter”: Where Will It All End?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th August, 2008

The latest advance in furthering New Labour’s dream of a surveillance society is coming with the right that will be given to local councils, health authorities and hundreds of other public bodies to access details of people’s Internet use, as well as email and text messge traffic, under new Home Office proposals. The government says this is to comply with an EU directive, but before all the blame is pushed onto Brussels — as I am sure some will try — it is worth pointing out that the European Union adopted related measures after the ‘7/7’ London bombings, under pressure from the then British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

He justified this on the grounds of the fight against terrorism and organised crime — sounds familiar? — but the Home Office proposals would mean that all sorts of personal data would become available for investigations relating to a wide range of matters which have nothing whatsoever to do with either. As the Guardian reports this morning, the government has already indicated that it intends to introduce a new communications bill this autumn which will require all the telecommunications companies to hand over all relevant data to one, central “super” data-base, so that the police and other public bodes can access it directly without having to ask for permission each time. Big Brother has truly arrived!

Chris Huhne (who is really making the political running on civil liberties issues these days) has pointed out that government ministers have shown that they cannot be trusted with sensitive data, yet they seem determined to press ahead with the new measures. “We will be told it is for use in combatting terrorism and organised crime,” Chris says. “but it will soon be used to spy on ordinary people’s kids, pets and bins!” 

The Tories have mumbled some discontent about the new Home Office document. But as I outlined in my blog posting yesterday, they cannot be trusted to protect civil liberties either.

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