Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Spycatchers

One of the major stories today was the finding of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) that an internet company, widely identified as Facebook, was partly to blame for the death of Lee Rigby because it did not report a conversation held by one of his killers and a known terrorist leader during which Michael Adebowale (one of the murderers) was said to have stated 'We should kill a soldier'.  On this basis, new powers are being proposed in the name of prevention of terrorism.

Yet again out fearless leaders display their complete ignorance of how the internet works.

Point one: millions of conversations take place on Facebook every day.  Monitoring every single one of them would be impossible, leaving aside the fact that it would be a gross breach of privacy in any case.  It's is believed that Facebook does have some sort of keyword search of conversations, although not many details are known about this.  Evidently, if this is so, the conversation containing the phrase above did not trigger an alert.

Point two: I'd imagine a phrase along the lines of 'I'm going to kill...' isn't that uncommon on Facebook.  'He forgot our 6 month anniversary, I'm going to kill him when I see him'.  'I really hate Martians, I think we should kill them all.'  In 99,.9% of cases when people say they are going to kill someone, it's hyperbole or an attempt to impress someone, and the threat will never transform into reality.  With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see how Michael Adebowale was making a real threat, but at the time it could just as easily have been bravado.  If Facebook had to report all threats to kill, the security services would quickly be overwhelmed.

Point three: The threat itself was very vague.  'We should kill a soldier'.  No more detail than that has emerged.  What would MI6 be expected to do with this information?  It's not against a specific individual and has no reference to time and place.

Point four: it would be hard to prove that it was Michael Adebowale who made that threat.  I'm not disputing that his account was used, but there is no way of proving that he actually had that conversation.  Another example of this appeared today, when Rachel Johnston, sister of Boris, had to apologise for apparently calling David Cameron an 'egg-faced cunt' on Twitter.  She claims her Twitter account was hacked.  It's much more likely that she left a phone/tablet/laptop lying unattended with her Twitter account logged in, and some prankster friend decided to take advantage of it.

All-in-all, this is a knee-jerk reaction, leading to soundbite politics to make it appear as if the government is taking a stand against the forces of terrorism.  Of course, we wouldn't be under threat of jihadist terrorism if our government hadn't decided to indulge in illegal wars, but you won't hear that mentioned.

We need to be vigilant and take a stand against any further invasion of our right to privacy, and the government needs to learn that it can't intrude into every aspect of our lives.

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