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GCHQ on trial and DRIP emergency data retention bill

Posted by on July 16, 2014.

Coincidence? Only if the tooth fairy is real.

In the same week in which Privacy International and other civil liberties groups are trying to force the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) to declare GCHQ internet spying activities illegal, prime minister Cameron is trying to force through parliament emergency new powers (DRIP) to make such activities legal. And supporting arguments for each side have come from Glenn Greenwald (who published a Snowden document detailing a GCHQ TAO-style list of spying tools); and that old apocalyptic Horseman, paedophilia. All in one week.

In sequence…

PI Vs IPT
This week sees an action by civil liberties groups in the secretive Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT — worse than FISC because it operates after the event and has no judicial content) seeking to get the government to both admit to the existence of Tempora and then declare it illegal. If Tempora does exist (and few people doubt it) it will almost certainly be illegal; but it will probably require the European Court of Justice to say so.

In the meantime, Cameron will have got his Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill onto the statute books, providing GCHQ with similar capabilities to Tempora, but perfectly legally.

DRIP
DRIP was concocted in secret (no public consultation) and agreed behind closed doors in a secret deal done by the three main political parties. Backbench MP David Davies describes the process as “an insult to the supremacy of Parliament, to democracy and to the trust of the public.” It is indeed all three.

Cameron claims it is needed to maintain the intelligence services’ existing powers of surveillance without increasing them. That second part is a lie: it seeks to impose a US-style international power of interception. Companies operating abroad will now be required to retain customer data and make it available to the intelligence services on demand.

This is an extension of the powers enabled by the EU’s Data Retention Directive, recently declared illegal and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameron claims that DRIP is necessary to replace the EU directive. It seems that he does not believe that human rights have any place in the UK.

Tiny part of GCHQ's catalogue of dirty tricks

Tiny part of GCHQ’s catalogue of dirty tricks

GCHQ’s bag of dirty tricks
Glenn Greenwald has published a document leaked by Edward Snowden detailing a catalogue of cyber espionage tools developed and used by GCHQ. Several commentators have claimed that they are not very sophisticated. Forbes, for example, repeats Robert Graham:

But Robert Graham, a hacking expert at Errata Security, was unimpressed by the capabilities of Britain’s secret services. In a blog post, he claimed that some of the tools devised by the boffins at this clandestine agency required just a “couple lines of code” and would not take “an average hacker more than a weekend to accomplish”.
British Secret Agents No More Skilled Than An ‘Average Hacker’

This is both silly and dangerous. Experts often claim that the Syrian Electronic Army is not very sophisticated; but it is as sophisticated as it needs be, and is very, very successful. That makes the comment silly. It is dangerous because it suggests we don’t need to worry about GCHQ — the fact that it has these tools and uses them means that we really do need to worry. Greenwald writes,

One of the methods used by GCHQ to influence public opinion is to manipulate on-line polls -- image from The Intercept

One of the methods used by GCHQ to influence public opinion is to manipulate on-line polls — image from The Intercept

The tools were created by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG’s use of “fake victim blog posts,” “false flag operations,” “honey traps” and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.
Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek to Control the Internet

Paedophilia
Britain is overcome by a public paedophilia crisis. It appears increasingly likely that a new investigation will demonstrate that the Establishment used the power of the Establishment to hide repeated accusations of child abuse by the Establishment over many decades. If the investigation is thorough, it will almost certainly name some very, and some very, very high public and political figures.

In recent months, the primary need and excuse for investigatory powers has been to prevent organized crime and international terrorism. Suddenly, that old Horseman of the Apocalypse, paedophilia, has returned. DRIP is needed, says Cameron, to prevent paedophiles from practicing.

But the old investigatory powers that are merely being replaced (not extended according to Cameron) never stopped the paedophiles in the past and the new ones won’t stop them in the future. This is simple scare-mongering by the Scare-monger in Chief; designed to justify the loss of everyone’s privacy in the name of our children. Cynical doesn’t begin to describe it.

Summary
David Cameron is increasingly acting like a despot. It is hard to believe that he is fooled by the intelligence services’ arguments (very few thinking people are); which rather suggests that he is under the thumb of the intelligence services. The man who promised to ‘roll back the database’ state is doing the opposite at an alarming rate. Now he seeks to force the retention of communications data so that there is one huge decentralized database of all of our communications available to the state on demand without judicial oversight.


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