FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

GCHQ, Tempora and Global Surveillance

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The relationship between Britain (or the UK, if you wish to be properly official) and the United States has always been peculiar. Accents are mocked, styles of language derided and the occasional library burned (oh, to remember 1812 again). The older party is often treated as the superior party, that is, if you are the older party wishing to be in the good books. The future Prime Minister of Britain, Harold Macmillan made it clear as a soldier in the African campaigns of the Second World War: We shall be the new Greeks to the succeeding Romans, Britain’s wise counsel to America’s brash and vulgar empire.

If you imagine a brother wanting to burn your house and write a sweet obituary, you might get a relationship of sorts between the intelligence communities of the respective powers. They may not necessarily like each other, but romance can be a disease of convenience.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), has been doing rather well for itself and its cousins across the Atlantic. The trains may not run on time in the land of Pimms and cricket, transport might cost the earth, as do many services. But when it comes to suspicion, this organisation does it better than most, assuming that any view point expressed through fibre optic cable is worth noting. As far as information is concerned, it is a vacuum service, hoovering up for its masters with an efficient disposition.

As John Koetsier explains in Venture Beat (Jun 21), “Why go to Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo for their data if you can just intercept it on the world’s network of fibre-optic cables?” GCHQ, according to Edward Snowden’s disclosures, has tapped 200 such cables, effectively monitoring 600 million “telephone events” a day. It can also intercept Internet users’ access to websites, what is being posted on Facebook, and intercept emails.

As always, the British prefer the names of classics, suggestion and allusion when it comes to wars of code and operations. In a true sense of fashion, if you like musty shelves and wooden desks, it is called Tempora. What is even more disturbing about the Tempora program is that it has even less restrictions than those governing the NSA PRISM program. There is even the suggestion that the GCHQ program might be more effective in gathering metadata than PRISM.

This form of circumvention has been sometime in the making. Over the course of five years, GCHQ has been making agreements with data transmission companies allowing the attachment of probes to trans-Atlantic cables that touch British soil. These companies are forbidden to disclose the very fact that they are participants in the surveillance program.

Much of this is based on a very wide reading of the powers granted by the Regulation and Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was passed in 2000. Where there is a law, there is a will. And there is no equivalent of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to cast a keen judicial eye on the process. As one of GCHQ’s senior legal advisors told The Guardian in a confidential briefing, “We have a light oversight regime compared with the U.S.” Troubling yet hardly surprising.

The Tempora program is also a work in progress. The first part is dubbed “Mastering the Internet”, the second “Global Telecoms Exploitation”. The language of the program says it all: internet imperialism as an experiment, the attempt to control the seemingly uncontrollable. When fully established, the program will be able to pull data from over 90 percent of cables with routes through Britain (Atlantic Wire, Jun 21).

Naturally much of this data might be encrypted. Furthermore, we live in an age of surfeit of information, a sphere populated by asphyxiating infoglut. There is simply too much, much of it nonsense, much of it irrelevant. The flow of 21.6 petabytes a day is the equivalent to 192 times the British Library’s entire book collection.

But the very fact that such a massive surveillance system exists, transcending legal institutions, is highly problematic for any power professing to believe in them. The British intelligence establishment has effectively issued writs against freedom. Apart from The Guardian’s efforts, many in the British press have been slow to act on the revelations. Liberties are bound to be lost when a populace is desensitised to their worth.

These are the times, these are the curses. Germany’s Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has gone as far as to call Project Tempora a “Hollywood-style nightmare” (Der Spiegel, Jun 22). It will be up to us to change the nature of that, to combat establishment paranoia and redraft the script.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail