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Big Brother is listening to you


big-brother-poster-1984By Jeremy Dewar

Thanks to the actions of former CIA employee and intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, it is now widely known that Britain and the US are actively monitoring and listening to millions of our private emails, phone and Skype conversations every day.

George Orwell, author of 1984, couldn’t have dreamt of the scale of the operation, though he would certainly have recognised the mindset of those behind the biggest secret surveillance programme in history.

Snowden first revealed the existence of large internet surveillance programmes, Prism in the US and Tempora in the UK, six months ago. Since then he has been forced to seek asylum, first in Hong Kong, now in Russia.

The horrible treatment of Chelsea Manning – the US soldier who handed over details of war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay to Wikileaks – must have weighed on Snowden’s mind. He was denied any clothing or bedding for whole periods before being sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.

Who is being watched?

First off, the scope of the programme is vast. Potentially all electronic data passing through Britain or the US, which act as hubs for all world traffic, can be captured.

The US and UK share each other’s information. Snowden revealed also that internet giants, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, Apple, AOL and YouTube, have all given US intelligence agency NSA permanent backdoor access to their databases and severs.

When minor email provider Lavabit refused to comply, they were forced to close their company – and the founder Ladar Levison now faces a court case to force him to reveal encryption keys.

The New York Times has described the NSA as “an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations…

“It sucks the contents from fibre-optics cables, sits on telephone switches and internet hubs, digitally burglarises laptops and plants bugs on smartphones around the globe.”

In their defence intelligence agencies and government ministers have emphasised that only “metadata” is being stored – that is who contacted who, where and when – not the content.

Besides, according to Sir Iain Lobban, head of spy centre GCHQ, they would only monitor “a terrorist, a serious criminal, a proliferator, a target or if your activities pose a genuine threat to the national or economic security of the UK”.

This sounds comforting – except who decides who is a “terrorist”?

The Metropolitan Police gave us an insight into its thinking this month when it defended its 9-hour detention of Brazilian journalist David Miranda, who collaborated with Snowden, saying his “disclosure, or threat of disclosure [of Snowden’s documents] is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism.”

The Met’s lawyer Jason Beer told the court, “The definition of terrorism [in the Terrorism Act] is exceptionally broad… Terrorism is terrorism, whatever the motive.”

So under this “exceptional” remit, anyone can be listened to – even or especially those who threaten to expose the spy rings.

New MI6 chief Sir John Sawyers told parliament that, “It is clear our advisories are rubbing their hands with glee [at the disclosures]. Al Qaida is lapping it up.” This led David Cameron to make a veiled threat against The Guardian:

“I don’t want to have to use injunctions or D notices or the other tougher measures. I think it’s much better to appeal to newspapers’ sense of social responsibility. But if they don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act.”

Political targets

The Cold War still resonates for these spymasters.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been phone-hacked since 2002, along with 34 other heads of state. French president François Hollande complained that millions of his citizens were being bugged.

Another document from Snowden’s haul details how British and US Embassies have installed their own spy nests to listen to supposedly neutral or even friendly governments, including Germany. All illegal, of course.

More obvious targets included those governments who have recently baulked at the US treating them as its own backyard. Venezuela was an obvious and consistent target. Ecuador was certainly leaned on for initially offering Snowden asylum. And Bolivia’s president Evo Morales had his plane forced down in Vienna because the US thought Snowden was on board!

So if this is happening to elected politicians, states that are formally allies of the US and UK and mainstream journalists, imagine what they are doing to activists in the workers’ movement, anti-war campaigns and socialist groups.

The fact that this is done in the name of the “war against terror” should fool no one. Remember, these are the spooks who fed us the dodgy dossier claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They are liars.

It would be interesting to know how many of the alleged 34 plots foiled since 2005 were really busted by this mass surveillance – if they ever existed. A similar claim in the US that the NSA has prevented 54 terror plots since 9/11 was investigated by ProPublica, who could only find evidence of four; NSA director John Inglis has since admitted only one such incident existed.

But even if terrorists are caught, it does not justify the negating of our basic human rights. British police “stopped and examined” 60,000 people in 2012 alone under the Terrorism Act (2000) – not many were arrested.

What should be done?

We should demand the immediate closure of GCHQ and its US equivalents and the cessation of Prism, Tempora and other surveillance programmes. Elected trade union and popular representatives and trusted experts should have access to these files and databases. All the secrets should be made public.

Of course there should be safeguards against the press hacking into private phone messages and emails – as the case against News International journalists has revealed. But the threat – and practice – of muzzling press freedom, as evidenced in this case and by the Royal Charter’s code of conduct, must be resisted.

What a hypocrite Cameron is – he rails against The Guardian for leaking information and threatens the law against them, while he was quite happy to invite Rebekah Brookes into his inner circle and Andy Coulson into Downing Street, when it was widely known that the newspapers they ran were using these very same secret surveillance methods.

He, along with the parliamentary subcommittee which failed to subject Britain’s spymasters to any serious investigation, is no guardian of our rights. Indeed none of the Westminster set-up could be since they share a vested interest in protecting the state against the people they are supposed to serve.

Only a workers’ government, based on real workers’ councils of action and determined to oversee the most thoroughgoing destruction of the state’s bodies of coercion and control, could carry out such a task: a revolutionary task.

In the final analysis, these methods of surveillance serve one ultimate purpose: to protect and promote the interests of imperialism and the capitalist system. To those who think capitalism and democracy are synonymous and intricately intertwined, let this be a warning.

Capitalism treats individuals as cogs in their profit machine. If they even look like they may be questioning the status quo – or communicate with others who do – then they become targets. Time we targeted the targeters.

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