Government Surveillance Strikes Back


Open Letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron On Freedom Of Speech, Government Surveillance and What to Do

About the Author: Matthew Jones is an elected BitShares delegate, one of the worlds first people to be employed by a decentralised autonomous company working for a blockchain hive-mind. BitShares allows for stable cryptocurrency trading on a libertarian exchange.

Dear David Cameron,

You recently claimed that certain forms of modern communication cannot be allowed to happen in private.  I wanted to let you know that writing was invented over five thousand years ago and speaking, privately or publicly, predates writing by hundreds of thousands of years.  There is nothing modern about private communication.  What is modern, are high literacy rates and the Internet.  High literacy rates mean people communicate though writing much more than they used to.  The Internet facilitates written communication, identifies the communicators, and due to the nature of writing, keeps a record of it.

This gives governments the ability to monitor their citizen’s communication on mass for the first time.  Ever.  Never before in history has a government had as much access to their citizen’s private information as today. The question is whether this communication record should be private or not and who should decide this.  It is my opinion that a citizen should be able to decide themselves whether to communicate in private or publicly without trusting a third party such as a company or government to look after their information.  That is the original, most natural way to live.

It is thankfully still generally accepted that when we speak to someone everything we say should not be recorded and sent to a central database.  However, it appears that there is no limit to the type of communication you wish to monitor, Mr Cameron.  Most of us carry a microphone around with us in our pockets in the form of our mobile phones.  The Internet of Things is bringing computer chips to every household appliance.  Would you have everything we say recoded and stored in a central database, which only the Home Secretary can grant access too with a “personal” signature?  You are asking us to trust the Home Secretary with all of our information without earning our trust.  In fact it has been broken many times.

Only last year police were caught trying to spy on Cambridge students planning a peaceful anti-fracking protest.  It has been branded “a gross abuse of surveillance powers”.

It appears to me that an educational lesson is appropriate as a reminder of what freedom of speech is.

Rick Falkvinge explains it well on his Liberties Report:

It’s not the outcome of the legal test that determines whether you have freedom of speech – it is the existence of such a legal test in the first place that determines whether you have freedom of speech or not, regardless of which criteria or how narrow criteria that test uses. If stating an opinion or making an artistic expression can get you convicted, even if under a hypothetical set of circumstances, then you do not have freedom of speech.”

The fact that citizens’ communications are already recorded unwillingly and broadcast to third parties they did not intend to communicate with has removed freedom of speech in the West.  It is part of your job Mr Cameron to defend and restore it.

The terrorists wish to destroy our society.  Surveillance is a weapon of mass destruction.  Don’t give them success in removing our most basic freedoms.  Freedom of speech is a human right and recording citizen’s private communication who have committed no crime is a human rights abuse even if it is not intended to be listened to.

Furthermore, Mr Cameron, the security of the collected information cannot be guaranteed and could increase Britain’s vulnerability.  Just last week a group of activists wiretapped high-level political surveillance hawks at Sweden’s top security conference and discovered that their mission was “to develop society’s ability to prevent and deal with serious accidents and contingencies.”  The activist group say:

 “We consider it problematic that their personnel is nowhere near sufficiently trained in information security”

There is no reason whatsoever to trust a government, or anyone else at all, besides than the intended recipient, with our private information.  Edward Snowden revealed Western governments do not even have full control over their own security agencies and that these agencies are beyond the reach of the law.

Despite this, it appears from your statements Mr Cameron that you wish to push the limits of what is recorded and collected by the government to include every form of communication.

What kind of World would that be?

The surveillance state has come about mainly though natural market forces.  The very same forces are now stirring once again to satisfy demand for privacy. This is happening for a reason, which is that the Internet is growing and also due to government whistle blowers, namely Edward Snowden.

With a small user base, the invasion of privacy taking place on the Internet was not a concern to most people and was actually considered a conspiracy theory.  This was until the Edward Snowden revelations, which revealed that unaccountable agencies around the world, funded by governments, including your own, Mr Cameron, force technology companies to allow security holes in their platforms, giving these agencies the power to spy on all the users of those platforms.  The general public was unaware of this.  It was not announced.  It was hidden.

But now the cat is out of the bag on surveillance and with an ever-growing Internet, freedom of speech for the whole World is potentially at stake.  Britain should set an example of freedom on the Internet which can only be achieved though encryption and not be hammered down into a surveillance state through fear.  The purpose of terrorism is to make people afraid and increasing surveillance achieves that.  It is like negotiating with terrorists to compromise our hard-won principles.  It is targeting the whole population in a beam of surveillance, putting everyone at risk of having their information compromised. The negative effects of mass-surveillance are not immediately observable but it has the effect of sterilising ideas, cleansing organic social movements of their existence and is a bridge to totalitarianism.  Mass surveillance is sacrificing an essential aspect of a free society in exchange for a slight potential increase in security.  It is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Surveillance does not reduce the hatred against the West.  Surveillance does not solve the problem.

The “modernising” which you rightly state the law is in need of, should be the removal of this modern spy feature.  The Internet was never intended to be an insecure platform and thousands of developers around the world are working on cryptographic solutions to fix this flaw.  Their efforts should be supported.

A government controlled database of all our information is a target, a central point of failure and a foundation for totalitarianism.  If you lay the groundwork for a spy-grid Mr Cameron, a less well-intentioned successor could take advantage of the absolute powers you will have obtained.  Extremism cannot be fought with more extremism.  That is how it multiplies.  A war on encryption makes everyone less secure.  You have no right to unleash robotic sniffer dogs into every digital device and piece of software.  Governmental security agencies must be kept on a tight digital leash and have the quantum leap they have recently made into our daily lives, undone.

Any wise leader will be concerned that a cornerstone of their society – free speech, is threatened.  Expecting that the population trust a clandestine organisation, which is connected up to many other such organisations around the globe, one of which was recently revealed to be committing torture, with all of our private communication data, is absurd.

Interestingly, the Pope’s recent statement that freedom of speech has limits and that his assistant could “expect a punch” if he “cursed his mother”, is irrelevant, because the Pope is not the law and in any case, he didn’t request surveillance to be placed on his assistant in case he dare say such a thing.

However, the Pope is right about one thing, that people sometimes react violently when provoked.  The threat of attacks against the West is not due to provocative cartoons, but primarily due to the invasion of Iraq.  Invading a country leaving mass devastation and death is provocative.  Very provocative.  The danger we face comes mainly from a backlash against this nation and its allies’ very own actions, for which no apology or reparations have been made.  There has been no accountability.  But that is something you have the power to change Mr Cameron, and is one of positive action steps I recommend you take.

Arrest Tony Blair.

According to International Law the Iraq war was illegal and the instigators are war criminals.  The Chilcot report into the Iraq War is still delayed and so far the report has graciously offered to mere citizens the “gist” of what was said between Tony Blair and George Bush in the lead up to the invasion and not the actual documents.  Mr Cameron, did you not say so yourself that in an “extreme” situation, private communications must be accessible in order to catch terrorists?  Is not GOING TO WAR an extreme situation?  The hypocrisy of enforcing access to the private information of citizens but not for the political class is astounding.  Politicians are supposed to be accountable to us, the citizens, not the other way around.

The basis for the war, imaginary WMDs in Iraq, never existed and Sadham Hussein was in the process of allowing UN weapon inspectors into Iraq to see for themselves.  It is long since time that the source of this faulty information be revealed and those who spread fear about this imaginary terror threat, in knowledge that it was false, must be brought to justice.

You may not be aware of this Mr Cameron but there is a bounty of over £7000 for the arrest of Tony Blair, ex-UK PM, run by the Arrest Blair campaign.  It is most unusual for citizens to donate funds to arrest their previous Prime Minister.  On top of that £163,000 have been donated to The Killing of Tony Blair documentary on crowdfunding platform kickstarter.  This is proof that there is a lot of support for this action.

But how does arresting Tony Blair help the current security situation?

Security is primarily about relationships, not military might.  It is more efficient to prevent someone from having the desire to attack you than it is to defend yourself.  All relationships are based on trust.  This country has broken the trust of the Middle-east and broken its relationship with millions of people.  At some point this relationship has to be repaired.  The hatred spewing from this toxic relationship is fuelled by the devastation created in the past.  This hatred is directed at the general population even though it was a miniscule minority who committed the War Crimes in Iraq by deceiving the British public and government.  For international and intercultural relationships to be healed, justice is needed.  The rational cause given by terrorists for their actions often has ties to religious extremism, but the emotional fire that fuels conversion to such violent groups is likely to be a reaction to Western military action.

To conclude

  1. Arrest Tony Blair and put him on trial for War Crimes.
  2. Leave encryption alone.

This action is real change and will result in a real improvement in inter-cultural relations.

Three highly relevant quotes from Martin Luther King.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

By Matthew Jones

Elected BitShares Delegate

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Matthew Jones