Backdoors and distortions of Prism

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by John Kersey
Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society.

I call on all Web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data.

A store of this information about each person is a huge liability : Whom would you trust to decide when to access it, or even to keep it secure?

Thus Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, upon learning of the covert Prism operation, which has been reported extensively in The Guardian. According to their report, The US-run programme, called Prism, would appear to allow GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside the UK the papers describe the remarkable scope of a previously undisclosed snooping operation which gave the NSA and the FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world’s biggest internet companies. The group includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype. It is clear that the government is none too keen to have this matter discussed in the public forum.

Listening to BBC Radio 4s Any Questions debate the issue yesterday, the major point of concern to the government minister on the programme appeared to be that in his opinion and experience, GCHQ had always been scrupulous to operate within the law. This is a neat way of avoiding the real point at issue, which is that the law on security matters is more or less irrelevant if the stakes are sufficiently high. Secrecy or judicial immunity for security service personnel can be justified on national security grounds, and if inconveniences such as the human rights of the accused should threaten to intervene, there is always the option of extraordinary rendition, with any subsequent awkward questions firmly kicked into the long grass.

As the Guardian reported, the government’s critics have not been unobservant of these trends: All too often in the years after 9/11, they argued, official secrecy and denials, and in camera courtroom procedure, concealed evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing on the part both of MI5 and MI6, and the ministers of the last government to whom the agencies answered. Yet this seems now to be the status quo; the security services engage in alleged usurious criminal wrongdoing, but are effectively unaccountable to anyone. There is no genuine prospect of effective public scrutiny of these cases, nor in it would appear obtaining any form of redress for their alleged victims in respect of criminal convictions.

I have no doubt that this situation suits the governments of the UK and USA very well indeed. The UK, of course, has pursued a relationship with the USA that was well depicted by Gerald Scarfe when he showed the head of Tony Blair emerging somewhat petulantly from George W. Bush’s fundament. If there has been any great change to that special relationshipĀ under Cameron and Obama, I struggle to see it. When the USA wishes to target a British citizen, using that unique combination of entrapment and plea bargains that passes for justice there, the British government not merely stands by impotently but extradites its own citizens  something the USA almost never does. Nor should we think that this policy has changed in the light of the recent Gary McKinnon decision, which seems to have been merely an exception proving the rule.

Further Study
NSA’s Prism surveillance program: how it works and what it can do

Tags: Apple, Facebook, Google, MI5, MI6, Microsoft, NSA, Prism, Skype, UK Government Snooping, Yahoo