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?
I’m very pleased with Michael Gove’s announcement on scrapping the existing ‘Information and Communication Technology’ curriculum. I think this is a great step forward for young people and technology, and has the potential to increase interest in what is a vital area of skills for British youth.
With the launch of ‘Code Year’ and the Guardian’s campaign to address issues with digital literacy, it is good to see the government giving this part of the curriculum the attention it both needs and deserves. Indeed this initiative comes at a great time and with the Raspberry Pi – an affordable British learning computer for exciting young techies – becoming available soon.
With all that said, I am still somewhat nervous about some of the details of this announcement. The omission of a reference to open source software and solutions is disheartening, especially whilst referring to “an open-source world” and a changing and open curriculum. I hope that the Department for Education is aware of the potential positive benefits of looking at open alternatives to proprietary ‘solutions’.
I do welcome the premise and direction. Mr Gove is exactly right when he asks us to:
“Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch.”
As someone who now works in the technology sector but who suffered from poor ICT tuition at school, I hope that the government is able to deliver on these proposals; it is something that students in the UK deserve, that the economy of the UK will benefit from and something that has been ignored for too long. I have been campaigning for changes like these since 2009, they are very welcome and I am keen to see how they are implemented and developed.