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 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?
We’ve found out, via a whistleblower, that in the past few years, mass surveillance, for the purposes of later analysis, has been turned into reality, in the US and in the UK.
The thing is, the general public is largely unphased. It’s barely scraped public opinion. The average person who doesn’t watch the news, might be aware that there was a guy called Snowdon, but would not be aware that the UK government knew who they’d phoned, who they’d emailed, and what the subject lines of those emails were.
The thing is, if I’d suggested this 6 months ago, it’d have sounded like a crazy conspiracy. Even today, it’s only information, pieced together – various sources correlating stories and confirming points, that give me the confidence to say it exists.
But the public doesn’t care, and apart from The Guardian, the UK media isn’t bothered in the surveillance story (perhaps due to this D-notice?) or more probably, due to various bias’s inherent to their organisations.
The problem is: we’ve not communicated it well enough.
We’ve so far not communicated how this means that the Government knows about you. How talking to your girlfriend via Facebook is a lot less private than you might think and that actually, your phone shares a lot more information about you than you think it does.
The recent revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden about the US’s PRISM program, have, in the US, mainly centered on how the NSA could be spying on American citizens which may or may not be against the constitution. The details seem to suggest that so long as the data collected is 51% or more, between non-Americans, then it’s all good. The EFF/ACLU are upset that American’s are being spied on.. and simultaneously missing the much larger point:
Since when did it become “OK” for the US to conduct surveillance on every foreign internet user?
The big thing the American constitutionalists are up in arms about is these discoveries in relation to their constitution’s 4th amendment – their protection again unreasonable searches and seizures – the oversight role of their judiciary and the requirement of ‘probable cause’.
It seems that whilst American foreign policy frequently talks up the virtues of their country’s bill of rights, they don’t feel this applies to “the rest of the world”.
Unfortunately, this means that for non-Americans, most of the world, we know that any traffic to/from the US is being spied on as a matter of course, and I think that is significant cause for concern.