A private investigator hacked a schoolgirl and a few celebs’ voicemails, and it caused a public inquiry, it brought a media mogul (previously considered “untouchable”) to be summoned to parliament and forced a historic Sunday newspaper to shutdown.
All because of a few private investigators listening to a few voicemails.
We’ve learned since then, that GCHQ has, (partly sponsored by the NSA) has been intercepting any internet traffic, conversations, phone calls that leave/return the UK via submarine cables (Level3, BT, Vodafone & others have helped facilitate this) as part of a programme called Tempora.
As even a Facebook conversation with my girlfriend will probably go via Sweden, An email via Gmail will go via Irland, and a good deal of other communications will cross borders, we can assume that details of most people’s daily communications are being captured.
The response from the UK Government has been for William Hague to call for the public to have “confidence” in GCHQ and to state that “law-biding members of the public had ‘nothing to fear’“.
They also released a D-notice (effectively about Tempora) which, though voluntary, means that many UK news outlets won’t report on the Tempora. The Guardian clearly is the main exception.
Interestingly, as lots of EU traffic flows through the UK on the way to the US, a lot of European countries, Germany in particular, are less than pleased about their citizens being snooped on - Germany recently nuked a cold war era collaboration pact with the US in protest.
The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection in Germany has called for the former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden to be given asylum in Germany so he can assist with ongoing investigations.. Imagine if the Information Commissioner of the UK said that?!
The striking thing about the story is not the revelations, or the implications, or the speculation of what these tools could/are being used for, the striking thing about the story is how little the public seem engaged in it.
Since the phone hacking scandal caused a public inquiry, and took down a historic newspaper, why is mass interception of everyone’s email, not an issue?
The story needs to be communicated better to the public and we need to work out how we can make people relate to it.
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?
A few of my thoughts:
- Can the Tempora story be personified? Who has it been used to snoop on? What has it been used for?
- What is it used for? Who has access to it? Who chooses targets?
- Can stunts be deployed as a medium of raising the profile of the system? Can airtime and media attention be ‘bought’ by peaceful and legal activist actions?
- Would street protests help start a movement and help people supporters meet and rally each other on?
- Would a coalition of NGO’s signing a public letter with several demands or questions help get the media try to answer those questions?
- How can we make people feel like something can and must be done to stop this?
A few weeks ago, I went along to Netroots UK – North West, a gathering of progressive types with a focus on grassroots online activism.
It was a lot more interesting that I expected. I didn’t have any idea what to expect and it turned out to be a mix of workshops and talks from people who’d run massive online campaign sites and what they’d learnt from them and engaging with their communities.
In many ways, one of the most interesting sessions was hanging out with someone from Pat’s Petition and working with them to suggest ways they could improve their campaign. This wasn’t a subject or audience I usually spend a lot of time thinking about. To give a bit of background, Pat’s Petition is a blind lady who cares for very poorly husband who is asking the government to reconsider its plans on carer cuts.
My first reaction on hearing this was to type it into google and see what came up, which I did there and there in the session and I quickly noticed a few areas for possible improvement of their presence – there seemed to be very little background to it online (even though I could hear from the lady there was a lot involved) so I suggested a video of this lady could be valuable.
Another thought was that a lot of these campaigns seem to promote negative emotions – “STOP the cuts”, “Tax David Cameron/Nick Clegg/the bankers”, but the message here needs to be a lot more focused. A lot of the people who wouldn’t usually sign this petition because they’re unhappy about “benefit scroungers” and cheats sometimes unfairly bundle this group of carers into the same group. Why does that happen? Is it because all carers are bad people? Of course not – it’s probably because most people don’t know someone in Pat’s situation and don’t know about all the good work people like her do.
By placing and emphasis on the good things and hard work she does, and “oh wait, also, she’s blind”, the “and what if this was taken away?” question, will hit home with a greater number of people and more people will sign the petition.
I felt I got a lot out of that session in terms of thinking in ways and about things I usually don’t have to.
I also went to a talk with Loz Kaye and Jim Killock talking about digital rights:
Followed by a question and answer session where it quickly became obvious there were several firm Pirate Party and Open Rights Group supporters.
In the evening, I had an amusing moment when I was introduced to a friend of a friend’s friend, “Tim” – some kind of progressive activist who had recently written a book. He had a copy of his book to hand and I had a glance though it. “Tim Gee” – that rang a bell. It turns out that Tim, his dad and my parents had all played music together a lot when I was little. The last he remembered of me was a curly haired 8 year old standing on a home made raft I’d built on a river in south Manchester. Small world!
I think netroots was a worthwhile event to go if you care about online activism and want to get better at it – I think if there were more events in Manchester I’d go to them.