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Dr Richard Tynan's picture

It was a throwaway line in a Washington Post article, one of the many stories about government surveillance in the past few months.

By September 2004, a new NSA technique enabled the agency to find cellphones even when they were turned off. [Joint Special Operations Command] troops called this “The Find,” and it gave them thousands of new targets, including members of a burgeoning al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq, according to members of the unit."

Being able to track a mobile phone, while switched off? It was the first time we had read about the NSA having such a capability, and a revelation that has far-reaching implications. For most consumers, when they turn off their handsets, they have a reasonable expectation that the device is powered off, is not emitting or receiving a signal, and does not have any piece of the mobile phone still 'on'.

Kenneth Page's picture

Today's hearing was built up in some media circles as an historic ‘public grilling’ of the heads of the UK’s Intelligence Agencies as Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ appeared in public in front of their oversight committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Nothing would be further from the truth. It was tame, predictable, and limp. No member of the public concerned with the activities of our intelligence agencies would be comforted by the ISC’s performance. The Committee was almost fawning in their attitude and showed a near sense of embarrassment at having to hold them to account in public at all.

For security reasons, the live steam was on a 2 minute delay in case national security secrets were discussed. From the outset, Chair of the Committee (and former Government Foreign Secretary) Sir Malcolm Rifkind noted that this delay would probably not be needed. That should have given an early indication that the questions would not unsettle those giving evidence.

Sam Smith's picture

The heads of the main UK Intelligence Agencies are all giving evidence to Parliament today, on camera for the first time. The fact that this has as of yet not happened demonstrates how obsolete the UK’s oversight regime is. The UK political establishment revels in its historical traditions, but this can result in archaic proceedings, stuck in another century, refusing to move forward with the modern era. With a time delay (allegedly a few minutes, but possibly 20 years), we get to view the stream of the third debate in three weeks. Whether it’s more like the first monologue, or the second sideshow remains to be seen. It makes for interesting TV, but it’s not primetime drama.

[Spoiler alert ahead for those fans of award-winning political dramas]

Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

As anticipated, the Snowden revelations – first referred to in the opening session as the “elephant in the room” – soon became the central focus of many of the 150 workshops that took place during the 8th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, and dominated the bilateral meetings that took place between governments, the private sector, the tech community, and civil society.

The various stakeholders arrived at the IGF ready to pursue their own agendas. The U.S. came to try and restore its image as a concerned protector of human rights of Internet users; China, to seize the opportunity to portray itself as a support of citizen’s rights in face of mass foreign surveillance programmes of Western democracies; and Brazil used the IGF to reaffirm its leadership for a multi-stakeholder approach which would respect human rights and challenge unethical illegal mass surveillance.

Dr Gus Hosein's picture

Just search for the term "surveillance state" and you’ll pull up various uses of the term or news articles citing the phrase.

In some respects, this newfound concern can’t be a surprise; given vast new amounts of information in the public sphere since the Edward Snowden leaks began in June. However, it is critical to nail down the exact meaning of the term, so as the public and governments have the debate over State spying, we can actually know what we're talking about. Most importantly, this will help us push back against it.

Carly Nyst's picture

For the first time since the Snowden revelations exposed the vast reach and scope of Britain's surveillance and intelligence activities, Parliament will openly debate the need for greater oversight of the intelligence and security services.

Matthew Rice's picture

When a product line becomes engulfed in controversy, the PR team's first move is to distance the corporation from the damage. The surveillance market is not immune to this approach, so when companies products are found to be in use by repressive regimes, the decision many boards make is simply to sell off that technology. This increasingly repetitive narrative is failing to solve any of the problems inherent with the sale of surveillance technology and in fact, is creating more.

Anna Crowe's picture

Today’s much-anticipated launch of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index, an industry standard for assessing transparency among major aid donors, shows that, despite progress, many aid agencies continue to maintain secrecy around what they are funding.

Further, for those agencies that achieved high rankings in the index, transparency alone does not prevent one of our larger concerns: aid which facilitates impermissible surveillance of communities and individuals in the developing world. Biometric databases, electronic voting registration systems, criminal databases and border surveillance initiatives are being backed by Western donors keen to see the adoption abroad of technologies that raise considerable controversy at home.

Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

*Update: The European Parliament has voted to recommend suspension of its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement with the US. The vote in favour of suspension only highlights how the NSA’s reported activities have undermined the agreement. Negotiations should immediately commence to strengthen the privacy and redress provisions, to ensure that governments cannot spy on individuals and obtain their data in violation of the agreement. The recommended suspension of the agreement, however, does not change our position that Europeans are entitled to seek redress regarding the NSA’s breach since the alleged violations occurred while the agreement was still clearly in effect.

Amongst the recent blockbuster revelations of global government surveillance and espionage has emerged a quieter, less ostentatious story surrounding allegations that the NSA is gaining unauthorized access to the international financial messaging system, SWIFT.

Alinda Vermeer's picture

In our ongoing campaign to prevent the sale of surveillance technologies to repressive regimes, Privacy International today has filed a complaint with the South African body responsible for arms controls, asking for an investigation into South Africa-based surveillance company VASTech for the potential illegal export its technology to Libya.

In this case, Western-made surveillance technology was found by the Wall Street Journal when journalists entered the communications monitoring centre of the Gaddafi regime in August 2011. They found English-language training manuals carrying the logo of a French company called Amesys, and reviewed emails that indicated that VASTech provided Libya with tools to tap and log all international phone calls going in and out of the country.


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