One of the keystone shocks of the big Edward Snowden reveals last year, was that tech giants like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and many others had been forced into handing over information to the governments in the five-eyes intelligence alliance (USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada), without being able to tell anyone due to gag orders. However now the British arm of that alliance, GCHQ, is suggesting that it needs even more cooperation from tech companies to combat… you guessed it, terrorism.
This is the message being put out there by recently appointed head at GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, who said in an opinion piece in the Financial Times, that extremist groups like ISIS had taken to using the internet and were finding it as useful as everyone else in the world.
Bizarrely though for an intelligence head, he almost seems perplexed by the way these terrorist groups use the internet. “The extremists of Isis use messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand,” he said, though it’s not clear if he’s referencing something like Arabic, or internet slang like LEET speak.
“Their use of the World Cup and Ebola hashtags to insert the Isis message into a wider news feed, and their ability to send 40,000 tweets a day during the advance on Mosul without triggering spam controls, illustrates their ease with new media,” he continued, highlighting Twitter’s need to add better spam filters. Except that’s not what Mr Hannigan wants to happen. What he wants, is people to reveal more about their private lives, on the off chance that they’re affiliated with groups like ISIS.
“GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an absolute right and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions,” he said. This however seems to skip over the fact that article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights reads:
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” There is a secondary condition that suggests that national security is allowed to infringe on this, but considering we’ve seen how little effect the NSA has had with its invasive mass data collection (it has aided traditional detective work in 1-2 cases a most) then that doesn’t seem to warrant even more collaboration between tech firms and the government.
Apparently though, Hannnigan thinks everyone would be onboard with that idea, stating: “I think those customers would be comfortable with a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies.” This also ignores the fact that in the wake of Edward Snowden leaks and little assurance from the White House that it wasn’t digging through people’s dirty laundry, trust in US tech companies fell to an all time low, losing a lot of business for a lot of people, especially cloud providers.
It probably doesn’t help that the Police and NSA have been caught looking at people’s nude images in the past either.
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KitGuru Says: What’s always bizarre to me with this sort of thing, is that governments and police have plenty of powers to go after terrorism. If they suspect someone of it, they can pull them off the streets, have warrants issued that allow them to open up that person’s entire life. Why exactly is it necessary to monitor everyone on the off chance that they might be affiliated? If commercial encryption techniques are defeating GCHQ as Mr Hannigan makes it sound, they have much bigger worries than making sure Facebook messages can be easily read.