On the 5th of August I wrote to my MP about Tempora.
My concerns are quite generalised, and my letter format and styling is to be worked upon, however the most important thing was to convey my opinion, and that is what I did:
Today I received a response. Take a read, it’ll only take a second.
Some points of note:
Lucy is recently elected, and could not have personally voted RIPA into law.
Parliament is on recess
Lucy is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to a new member of her family
I like paper responses, in specific cases like this.
It’s quite easy to be disillusioned by a letter like this, but I’m happy with it. The Home Secretary, Teresa May and I will not see eye to eye, but the most important thing about this letter is something that you may not noticed first time through.
I’ve had to blank it out partially, but I now have a reference number, and this reference number means that, rather than simply sitting and waiting for Lucy to hand me a form-letter from Teresa May’s summer intern, about why “GCHQ is important for our national security” and we must “prevent terrorists and think of the children”, what the reference number means, is that I can write back and engage Lucy in the issue more.
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?
During the summer, MPs go on holiday, and so MPs and ministers can’t be called to the house to debate or justify their idea. Parties don’t need to react/state their views to things. In addition, some of the MPs that are voices of reason are on holiday and thus not available to shout it down.
If it got anywhere neat implementation, it’d be wildly unpopular.
My feeling is that given the statistics in the field I’m aware of, it’d be about as popular as outlawing alcohol.
It’s conveniently drawing attention away from other things
Criticism, media attention, activist attention is being diverted to the Porn Block from the other story – that GCHQ is already is monitoring your internet with Tempora and that almost no UK media want to talk about it. “Sex sells” as they say.
Whether deliberate or co-incidental, the porn block is clearly is a distraction. And a very effective one.
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.