Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘surveillance society’

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.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Tom Brake, Facebook and the Snoopers’ Charter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th March, 2009

The Labour government is making plans to monitor people’s Facebook traffic, in its latest move to turn Britain into an Orwellian society. The Home Office has told the BBC this surveillance is necessary to tackle criminal gangs and terrorists who might use Facebook and other social networking sites for their own nefarious ends. Our phone calls, emails and details of the Internet sites we visit are already deemed by Labour to be of legitimate government interest, in the name of national security. But as Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, rightly points out, ‘it is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views.’  Thank God the Liberal Democrats are there in the Houses of Parliament to protest each time Labour chips away at our civil liberties. Public opinion now needs to be mobilised, before we are led blindfold by Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith into a police state.

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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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