The draft “snooper’s charter” does not protect people’s privacy says Commons intelligence committee

09/02/2016

The intelligence and security committee, set up by prime minister David Cameron to scrutinise new investigatory law, has said that home secretary Theresa May’s draft “snooper’s charter” bill “fails to cover all the intrusive spying powers of the security agencies and lacks clarity in its privacy protections.”

The unexpectedly critical intervention by the intelligence and security committee comes just days before a key scrutiny committee of MPs and peers is to deliver its verdict on the draft legislation aimed at regulating the surveillance powers of the security agencies.

Central to the committee’s complaint is the fact that privacy is an add-on to the bill, rather than being an integral backbone of the proposed legislation.

The ISC said in its report that it supported the government’s intention to provide greater transparency around the security services’ intrusive powers in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden mass surveillance disclosures.

“It is nevertheless disappointing that the draft bill does not cover all the agencies’ intrusive capabilities – as the committee recommended last year,” said Dominic Grieve, former Conservative attorney general and chair of the committee.

The committee had expected to find that privacy would form an integral part of the bill, around which the legislation would be built.  But instead it seems that privacy concerns are an afterthought, and the legislation is not at all transparent in this regard.

“Given the background to the draft bill and the public concern over the allegations made by Edward Snowden in 2013, it is surprising that the protection of people’s privacy – which is enshrined in other legislation – does not feature more prominently,” said the committee, which also proposed three amendments to the bill:

  • On “equipment interference” or computer hacking powers, the ISC said the bill only covered the use of these powers to gather intelligence and did not regulate their use for attack purposes.
  • On “bulk personal datasets” – data bought or obtained from other bodies – it said these included personal information about a large number of individuals that was sufficiently intrusive to require a specific warrant. The bill’s provision for “class bulk dataset warrants” should therefore be deleted.
  • On “communications data”, it said the government’s approach was inconsistent and confusing and clear safeguards needed to be set out on the face of the bill.

“We consider these changes necessary if the government is to bring forward legislation which provides the security and intelligence agencies with the investigatory powers they require, while protecting our privacy through robust safeguards and controls,” Dominic Grieve said.

I believe that any future legislation should ensure that proper warrants from judges are required before investigators can begin retrieving personal data.  There may be occasions when urgency demands authorization from the home secretary; but in general permission should be sought from a judge, not a politician; and there should be real evidence to prove that intrusion into privacy is needed.  This seems to me a no-brainer: just as the police need a warrant before they can search private premises, so investigators should need a warrant before rooting through an individual’s private data and communications.

It seems that the government wants enshrined in law the illegal powers the intelligence and security services were found to use thanks to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations.  For instance, GCHQ, with its TEMPORA program, has been sifting through the private communications that pass through the underwater cables between Britain and the USA.  Such bulk collection of data should not be allowed.  If the security services believe that an individual is communicating data about unlawful plots, they should present a judge with their evidence and the judge can then decide if data collection is called for. The idea of allowing Theresa May to micro-manage cases is ludicrous: she is not in a position to make judgement calls of this nature while also carrying out her other duties.  The result of the proposed bill would be the home secretary signing off on cases she knows nothing about: basically giving the police and intelligence and security agencies a blank cheque.

Invasion of privacy is a serious matter, and a citizen’s right to privacy should be breached only if there is a good reason.  A judge would be better placed to make this call than a politician in London who has neither the time nor resources to check each case on its merits.  When agencies are given carte blanche to do whatever they want, history indicates that they go too far.  They need to be reigned in.

 

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Thousands of people killed by drones? Don’t know if I wanna go out today…

23/10/2012

Here’s a little globule of info that I discovered today and thought I should share with the blogosphere:

Between June 2004 and September this year, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. (Guardian, 23 Oct 2012).

So many civilians… so many children… and this is supposed to be targeted strikes of known insurgents? We need to stop the use of drones, now. The operators back in America obviously have a problem remembering that they’re killing real people, that it isn’t a video game. Yet the RAF are planning to acquire more drones. Insanity.

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Wikileaks.org is back up! Not a *huge* victory for freedom and common sense – but a victory nevertheless

15/12/2010

On 3 December, we reported that you could no longer reach the Wikileaks site by using the wikileaks.org URL. Well, that is no longer the case: aim your browser at “http://wikileaks.org” and you get rerouted to http://mirror.wikileaks.info/ – one of the many, many mirrors that sprouted after the USA’s clumsy efforts to limit free speech. Not a major victory by any means. But a victory nevertheless.

In other (Wikileaks/Assange-related) news: Julian Assange is still in prison even though he was granted bail yesterday. The Swedish prosecutors have appealed against the bail ruling, claiming that he would pose a major flight risk. I’m not sure how the Swedes think he’ll flee: Assange’s face must be one of the best known in border security circles, plus they have his passport… but as things stand, he must remain in HMP Wandsworth for at leat another couple of days while this judicial circus runs its course.

This case is highlighting the problems with the new European arrest warrant system. Usually, it is only possible to extradite someone if the crime he’s accused of is also a crime in the country he’s “hiding” in. As far as I can tell, Assange’s alleged crimes are not illegal in Britain (what the Swedes call “rape” and “sexual molestation” are very different to the UK’s definitions – I believe one of the charges relates to Assange refusing to use a condom; the complainant admits that the sex was consensual, so how in hell can this be called a crime? He didn’t force her to have unprotected sex).

Anyway, a blog like this one is not really a good place to discuss the intricacies of Swedish law. But what I will say is this: Sweden has got very accommodating rendition agreements with the USA. If Assange is extradited to Sweden, it won’t be long before he ends up in America. And if you look at what politicians are saying about Assange it’s pretty clear he won’t receive a free trial and he’ll end up on a slab.

But do these people really believe that Assange is Wikileaks? The leaks will continue, regardless of his fate. All that will happen is that Assange’s colleagues will improve their security and anonymity. Killing (or imprisoning) Assange will not kill Wikileaks. And all politicians need to beware: if they treat Assange like a piece of shit, the leaks will become more and more damaging to the so-called “liberal” European “democracies” who are currently baying for his blood. So watch out, fools: the day of reckoning is nearly upon us… and you.

UPDATE: I just noticed this, a page that lists the very many sites that are mirroring Wikileaks in an attempt to stop the authorities ever again closing them down. Well, when I say “stop”, I actually mean “make it very difficult”. The USA has already demonstrated the length of its reach. But when Wikileaks is mirrored in a huge number of countries, some of whom dislike America intensely, the job of censorship becomes much more difficult.

There’s also info on the page about how you too can mirror Wikileaks on your web server. I say go for it! I think it’s about time that the USA learned what “democracy” actually means: rule by the people for the people; not rule by a bunch of rich geezers on behalf of their billionaire buddies. Or is my dictionary out of date?

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How to search the internet 4: Understanding search engine results

12/05/2010

This is the fourth part of my guide on how to search the internet. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here. Part 5, about using “advanced operators” is here.

So you’ve used Google or some other web search engine, following the tips I’ve given you in this little series, and you’ve been confronted with “results” that don’t actually seem to be any help whatsoever. And it’s true, often Google comes across as an incomprehensible joke designed to make you feel bad. But don’t fret: Google (and its kind) really don’t want you to run screaming; they want you to use the results to find what it is you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this may involve having to learn a thing or two about how Google works. It may be scary-looking at first glance, but really Google want you to find their results pages easily to comprehend. They want you to return to Google.com every time you want help in finding what you want. It can be a rather intimidating interface the first time you look at a results page: but it is all pretty simple really. You just need to know how to understanding the reams of info Google throws at you. Hopefully, this 4th part of my guide will make it all seem far easier.

First thing first: very often Google will offer you a list of sponsored results that may give you what you’re looking for; but if you click on a sponsored link you will be putting money in Mr Google’s pocket and chances are that link will be useless. Forget the sponsored links: go for the meat and potatoes in the list of real links.

Look at the search results; very often you will find other kinds of info alongside those results. Stuff like:

Suggested spelling corrections: Google may think you typed in your query incorrectly. If you’re no good at spelling, this can be a life-saver. But if you know damn well you typed your query correctly, forget this option;

Dictionary definitions: Are you actually searching for the word/s you mean to search for? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Think about it. Spelling can be a right tricky operation;

Cached pages: Google carries a huge number of pages that are not currently up to date. Maybe one of those cached pages may contain the info you need. Worth checking if regular searches are turning up sweet F-all;

Similar pages: Often Google won’t find a page that contains the precise info you want, but it has algorithms to turn up similar results. Have a look at them, you’ve nothing to lose really…;

News headlines: A webpage dealing with your query might be hard to find, but it’s often easier for Google to find news stories on related material. And these news stories may well include links to more relevant info. This can save you a bunch of time searching for that little nugget of info that will give you what you want. Remember: news stories are updated frequently, whereas a static page may never be more relevant. Use those options;

Product search: You want to know something about a particular project name. So search for that project name, add a bit of info on what the product can/is meant to do, and see what turns up. This approach works a lot more than you might think;

Translation: So what you want isn’t available in your mother tongue. But it may well be out there for speakers of other languages. Just think: if you are looking for info on a product released by a Portugese company, what makes you think that info will be in English? Search Portugese sites, using Google’s Translation feature or the other translators offered by search services. These translators are often pretty crap; but at least it’ll give you a good idea of what’s what;

Do book searches: Useful info may not yet be available in articles, but books often contain useful stuff. So it can often be a good idea to do a book search;

Cached pages: When a web page is undergoing a lot of changes, clicking on a Google link to a page might take you to the latest version of that page, which may be missing information that was presented some time before. Sometimes, these changes can happen frequently, so a Google link will not take you to the info that the search results first suggested.

Fortunately, Google will often cache an earlier version of the page. So, let’s say a particular page yesterday contained the info you want; but you go to today’s version of the page no longer holds that info. A problem? Not necessarily. Next to the Google link to the updated page will be a link to a [i]cached[/i] version of the page; basically, a version of the page that Google downloaded and cached before the important info was removed. So you click to navigate to the cached page, and you will find the info as it was before it got removed. Google’s system of caching certain pages helps ensure that the history of the web is respected to a certain extent.

If you want to download a version of a page that existed longer ago (several weeks, or months, maybe even years) you can go to [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] at archive.org. This is a project to archive internet sites the way they were in the past, so the current generation’s “now now now” attitude doesn’t drive the history of internet sites into oblivion. [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] doesn’t promise to archive the internet of the past forever; but it is a very useful project that has a multitude of potential uses. Archive.org, like most such projects, is run by volunteers and is always in need of financial support, as well as more practical support such as providing servers. I’d advise anyone who finds such projects very useful to contribute even just a few dollars.

There’s a lot of info on how to understand Google results, and how to configure the way Google works to it gives you the info you want and hopefully protects your privacy, here: http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/. I really advise anyone who’s seriously into using Google as best they can to check out this info. Google really is one of the best resources available online… and it’s free! Let’s make the most of it while we can! Before the goddamn Man tries to take it away from us!

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UK tortures terror suspects – it’s official!

27/01/2010

Wednesday 27 January 2010

United Nations human rights investigators have published a report that concludes the UK government has been “complicit in mistreatment and possible torture” of British citizens during the so-called “war on terror”, says the Guardian today.

This latest development follows a string of allegations about the United Kingdom’s own version of the infamous US practice of “extraordinary rendition”. Two months ago, the New York based Human Rights Watch reported that Pakistani intelligence officers admitted torturing British suspects on behalf of their UK counterparts. And there have been a number of allegations about MI5 (UK counter intelligence), MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) and Greater Manchester Police officers involvement in torture at secret prisons abroad.

No doubt some people will argue that in the climate of terror that has existed since 2001, sometimes robust measures have to be taken to safeguard public safety. I would remind those people that the victims of this torture were terror suspects, not actual terrorists. Time and time again, men who have been investigated and subsequently cleared of any involvement in terrorism have claimed they were tortured. At times it has seemed that any British Muslim visiting relatives in Pakistan is fair game for arrest, secret imprisonment and torture. And many of them have been examined by doctors who have found injuries that could only have been caused by the infliction of repeated, brutal violence.

There is, for instance, the case of Binyam Mohamed. He was arrested in Pakistan and kept in a secret prison where he was tortured. During this time he was questioned by a MI5 officer who was aware of the torture. Then he was given to the CIA, who flew him secretly to Morocco, Afghanistan and finally Guantanamo Bay. He was kept there for 4 years before finally being released without charge.

Once he was back at home, Mohamed took the UK government to the High Court for its involvement in his secret imprisonment, extraordinary rendition and torture. It is useful to note that the British government did not deny his claims – David Miliband, then foreign secretary, just tried to cover it up. Miliband actually tried to censor the high court judges’ ruling, claiming it would hurt UK-USA relations if the truth about Mohamed’s treatment was made public. He actually got the CIA to write a letter to the judges saying the CIA would no longer share intelligence with the UK if Mohamed’s rendition and torture was revealed. Luckily the judges would have none of it and they published their ruling in full, criticising the government’s conduct in the matter.

Binyam Mohamed is just one example. UK agencies have repeatedly colluded with other countries to secretly imprison and torture British citizens. And who knows how many citizens of other countries have been tortured on behalf of the UK? It is a terrifying fact that absolutely anyone could fall victim to these barbaric practices.

Binyam Mohamed, tortured in Pakistan on orders of MI5

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Brit hacker loses fight against extradition

08/08/2008

Gary McKinnon, the British hacker who broke into US Defense and NASA computer systems in search of evidence of UFOs, has lost his battle against extradition.

It was 2002 when the police came round to McKinnon’s house to nick him.  Now 6 years later,  on 30 July, the House of Lords agreed he should be sent to America to face trial and possible imprisonment.

Initially, McKinnon thought he would be tried in the UK and might get, at most, 3 or 4 years in prison. But then the US authorities decided they wanted to try him in an American court with charges that could a sentence of 70 years.

The Americans claim that McKinnom was intent on sabotage and that he did $700,000 worth of damage to US computer systems.  McKinnon refutes this – he says he had no malicious intent and was just trying to find the “truth” about America’s dealings with extraterrestrials.

The Americans have been hyping up the case, claiming that his hacking activities damaged defense systems in September 2001 – during the 9-11 crisis.  They’d have us believe that McKinnon is an online terrorist.  And they want to punish him accordingly.

Of course it’s no surprise that the UK government supports the USA’s desire to put him on trial in a US court.  But it is worrying to know that the UK authorities has no problem with sending a British citizen to another country to face a possible 70 years in jail.  McKinnon could have been tried in a UK court… so why wasn’t he?  Why is everyone so keen to ship him abroad?

I’ll tell you why: it’s because the UK government loves the USA.  A perverse love.

Remember when there was all that hullaballoo about “extraordinary rendition” (aka kidnapping)?  The UK government had absolutely no problem believing the lies told by the USA about how no rendition flights came anywhere near British territory.  It’s since been proven that these illegal flights often used to land in the UK territory of Diego Garcia to refuel.  And rendition planes frequently overflew the UK despite US assurances this never happened.

And now the UK is actively helping with a rendition.  They are to render McKinnon to the Americans, to do with as they will.


Four British residents to be freed from Guantanamo Bay… two others will stay locked up

08/12/2007

Four British residents are to be freed from Guantanamo Bay, after being held without charge for 5 years.  They are Jamil el-Banna, a father of 5 from London;  Abdenour Samuer, who fled from persecution in Algeria and was given political asylum in the UK;  Omar Deghayes, a 37 year old man who was born in Libya and came to Britain as a child after his father was murdered;  and Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer, a Saudi national with a British wife.

Although the men are not British citizens, they have long, established links with the UK.  But until August this year, the government refused them representation.  Then foreign secretary David Miliband responded to growing criticism of the government’s position, and wrote to Condaleezza Rice requesting their release.

They will be returning to Britain, except Shaker Aamer who is going to Saudi Arabia.

Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian, was on a business trip to Gambia.  MI5 had approached him, asking him to work for them; then, a few days later they told the CIA that Banna’s travelling companion was carrying bomb materials.  This was not true, but the CIA grabbed him and flew him to Guantanamo.

Omar Deghayes had studied law at Wolverhampton University and in Huddersfield.  His family says that he condemns terrorism.  He has been blinded in one eye by a US soldier during his imprisonment.

Another UK resident, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi from Ethiopia, is to stay in Guantánamo. The Pentagon claims he is particularly dangerous and it is determined that he face one of the military commissions established to prosecute prisoners in the camp.   And another former UK resident, Ahmed Belbacha, has not even been mentioned in the reports.

Amnesty International urgently wants to find out why these 2 men are not being freed after 5 years of being held with no charge.  And David Miliband should do what he can to get them freed.  After all, if they were truly dangerous, wouldn’t they have been tried in court by now?


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