Tuesday, January 13, 2015

UK government exploiting Paris terror attacks to expand mass surveilance

I have an article in The Conversation this morning about the UK government's unconscionable exploitation of the terror attacks in Paris last week.

Copy of original unedited version below.

Je Suis Charlie

No one has seen anything like the demonstrations on the streets of Paris on Sunday 11 January 2015 since the end of World War II. 

Three deranged men murdered 17 people last week and millions mobilised, not just in the French capital but throughout the country, united in solidarity to express sympathy for the victims’ families and friends, intolerance of hatred and terrorism, and publicly acknowledge the country’s distress, defend freedom through satire and, no doubt, a whole host of other personal reasons unique to each individual on those streets.

Political leaders were out in force too, uncomfortably linking arms at the front of the crowd. What is it the cynics say? Never waste a crisis or photo opportunity? 

I must admit my own response to the talking head wind-bagging on the Charlie Hebdo attacks and other murders was less than charitable; noting the opportunist hypocrisy on the part of political leaders calling for more mass surveillance in response to the attacks to be almost staggering. 

David Cameron and Theresa May judge conditions to be ripe for promoting a re-introduction of the snoopers charter and railroading through of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill which could result in the jailing of university staff refusing to report students suspected of undefined extremism.
The French Prime Minister, in echoes of the appalling failures of Blair-Bush-ism, has called for a war on terrorism.

I was wrong in one respect at least.

It is cynical, opportunistic and hypocritical but not in the least surprising that politicians would use the Paris attacks to further their own agendas. Neither is it surprising they would fly to Paris for the mass commemorations. There is a good chance the likes of David Cameron would have been roundly abused, possibly even with satirical cartoons, if he had declined to show up. Cameron is flying to the US to discuss the Paris murders with President Obama later this week, as well as plans for GCHQ to work more closely with the NSA.  More closely? If the Snowden revelations are to be believed it is hard to see how they could be any closer.

In light of the politicking/electioneering, I do have a question or two for Mr Cameron and perhaps a suggestion or two for the mainstream media hacks who do get access to him. 

Now you’ve been to Paris to stand up for free speech, will you repeal laws like section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 which criminalises offensive speech?

How exactly will the further expansion of mass surveillance in the UK cure the problem of known terrorists committing murder? (If anyone should doubt we already have mass surveillance in this country, I suggest typing ‘Snowden’ or ‘Tempora’ or ‘OpticNerve’ ‘DRIPA’ or ‘GCHQ’ or ‘NSA’ into your favourite search engine and perusing the results at your leisure. Alternatively spend some time with The Guardian’s NSA files).

The French intelligence and security services could not keep track of the Kouachi brothers, known extremists, to a sufficient degree to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Likewise Amedy Coulibaly who murdered a police officer and 4 others in a supermarket.

France has blanket electronic surveillance. France has armed police. France even has the ID cards so beloved yet so tantalisingly eventually out of reach of Tony Blair and his succession of home secretaries. France has an inquisitorial justice system the purveyors of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill’s ‘prevent’ duty seem to be hankering after. France arguably also has a constitution that mass surveillance, at least, offends against.

None of it was enough to stop the Kouchais and Coulibaly.

If it takes a conservative 20 intelligence and securitystaff to monitor a suspect 24/7, where do we get and how to we provide the 1.2 billion staff and associated resources to watch the 60 million people in the UK?

Not going to watch the 60 million 24/7? Which ones and how many will you watch in addition to the known dangerous individuals you are already unable to keep track of

Which, for example, of the resources currently devoted to extremely dangerous suspects will be diverted to watching grumpy academics disinclined to engage in their ‘prevent’ duty, under section 21 of the Counter Terrorism & Security Bill to report students prepared to voice non-standard views.

Little noticed last week the Parliamentary Human Rights Joint Committee issued their fifth report. By coincidence, it happened to be a legislative scrutiny of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. In it they criticise the Bill as an attack on freedom of expression and academic freedom. They even recommend universities be exempt from the section 21 preventing terrorism duty:

6.11 In our view, because of the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom in the context of university education, the entire legal framework which rests on the new "prevent" duty is not appropriate for application to universities. We recommend that the Bill be amended to remove universities from the list of specified authorities to which the new duty applies. 

That might, should a blue moon ascend and associated flock of pigs fly past and the government accept this recommendation, be good news for universities and irascible academics. But where does it leave the rest of the public servants burdened with this ill-defined, liberty-bashing, preventing terrorism duty?

Two final questions and a suggestion.

If the Paris terrorists had been white middle class Manchester United supporters declaring their motives to be love of Alex Ferguson and all things Red Devilish, would political leaders have been so keen to gather in commemoration; and condemn Man Utd supporters as extremists we need new mass surveillance laws to guard against?

How, in the name of all that is holy, if I may borrow a phrase from the violent religious extremists that cause rational thinking human beings due concern, can anyone consider it a respectable or defensible position to require everyone in public service to spy on each other and the rest of the population?

The suggestion? 

Try typing ‘Stasi’ 'NKVD' and 'KGB' into your favourite search engine and looking through the selection of offerings it throws up. Then ask yourself why the West spend over 40 years fighting a Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies, if all we wanted to do was construct the architecture of a surveillance state that would make those guys weep with envy...

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