Departing GCHQ Boss Insists GCHQ Isn't Engaged In Mass Surveillance... If You Define 'Mass' And 'Surveillance' The Way He Does

from the but-not-the-way-the-rest-of-us-do dept

With the UN declaring mass surveillance a violation of human rights, the proper thing for the world's biggest intelligence agencies -- who regularly engage in mass surveillance -- to do, might be to cut back on the practice and go back to targeted surveillance projects that most people find acceptable. Or, you know, they can do what the outgoing head of the GCHQ (the UK's equivalent of the NSA), Sir Iain Lobban, did and just redefine the English language. That's easier.
“The people who work at GCHQ would sooner walk out the door than be involved in anything remotely resembling ‘mass surveillance,”
Of course, this basically contradicts everything that we've learned about the GCHQ recently. In fact, it's abundantly clear that the GCHQ regularly engages in programs of mass surveillance. It has a whole program, called TEMPORA, that is entirely focused on tapping into fiber optic cables and snarfing up pretty much everything that goes over them.

Just like the folks at the NSA, the GCHQ likes to have its own dictionary on these things. To them, it's not "surveillance" if no one actually looks at the data or if they don't store it all in a particular database (but rather keep it in another database). The NSA and GCHQ insist that they're just doing all of this for safekeeping, and the surveillance part doesn't start until someone actually looks at the data collected. And, it's not "mass" surveillance, even though it collects data on everyone, because they only think the people who someone took the time to directly snoop on count in the equation.

The end result, though, is that for everyone else, we recognize that the GCHQ is one of the leaders in mass surveillance, and having Lobban pretend otherwise doesn't make anyone feel safer. It just makes them think that there's another liar in charge of an intelligence agency.

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  • icon
    lfroen (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:39am

    But isn't it actually true?

    >> To them, it's not "surveillance" if no one actually looks at the data

    But isn't it actually true? If no one looks at the data, how is it "surveillance"? I tried to understand logic, but found none.
    My phone company also recording call "metadata" - does it "surveillance" too? It probably also log phone location - should it ask for court order?

    Either prove that "no one looking" is false or nobody going to take your "OMG, surveillance" seriously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:53am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      The phone company have a reason for recording the data that they do, improving their service by knowing how the towers are used and where users are concentrated, which is where to add new towers. Location data also That said, they are being forced to keep that data longer than they would so that it is available to law enforcement if they need it.
      When the government collect lots of data, they will sooner or latter start to use it, and most of the potential uses are to protect the existing political system, rather than respond to people demands and desires. It is all too easy to define people who want to change the system as terrorists, regardless of the approach that they use to try and change the system. Also with governments becoming more totalitarian in nature, there is a data base for identifying undesirables just waiting for them to use.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:57am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      First, yes, your phone company may be engaging in surveillance of your call activity. However, you have chosen to use their service and allow them to do this. The government is doing it without any permission.

      As far as it not being surveillance if nobody looks at it? Let's look at it like this: are you ok with someone putting a video camera in your bedroom and telling you they will never look at the footage unless they decide they really need to? Oh, and they also do not need to tell you they have or have not looked at the footage if you ask.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        lfroen (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:29am

        Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

        >> are you ok with someone putting a video camera in your bedroom
        Your argument boils down to claim that "nobody is watching" is false. That's OK as long as _you_ understand it. Because you seem not to.

        Today's law (simple criminal stuff, not some "anti-terror") explicitly allows to put camera in your bedroom if "they really need to" without your knowledge.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:38am

          Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

          "Today's law (simple criminal stuff, not some "anti-terror") explicitly allows to put camera in your bedroom if "they really need to" without your knowledge."

          ...and that will involve warrants, targeted investigation against individuals (so not equivalent) - and will involve someone watching. So, that's surveillance, which by your own argument is something totally different.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Michael, 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

            Sure, but what they are doing is putting a camera in EVERYONE's bedroom so they can look at the footage "if they really need to". This (in the US) is unconstitutional.

            Get a warrant, then feel free to collect what you need to. Don't collect everything and get a warrant (which they are not actually doing) to go back and look at all of it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 7:21am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

              Exactly my point, but I fear our friend above is too busy trying to turn this into a "look how many languages I speak!" contest to understand the basic subject being discussed. He doesn't seem to understand the difference between a phone company and a government, let alone due process and targeted boundaries.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:26am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

                US Court: "...people do not have a privacy interest in information that they have already disclosed to a third party, such as a bank or telephone company."

                "He doesn't seem to understand the difference between a phone company and a government, let alone due process and targeted boundaries." Neither does the Government, apparently.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:58am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      "But isn't it actually true? If no one looks at the data, how is it "surveillance"?"

      That's a semantic argument at best. The data is collected and stored ad infinitum. Just because it might not form part of active surveillance immediately doesn't mean that you can't complaint about it now. You can't retroactively prevent the data being collected just because they don't decide to use it instantly, and it's too late once it fits your narrow definition of the word.

      "My phone company also recording call "metadata" - does it "surveillance" too? "

      I'll ignore your horrible grasp of the English language, and ask you a question in return. Do you honestly not see the difference between a service provider with whom you've signed a service contract you can explicitly cancel and a covert government operation with no such option?

      If not, you'll never understand the arguments because you don't comprehend the most basic facts they're based upon.

      "Either prove that "no one looking" is false or nobody going to take your "OMG, surveillance" seriously."

      If nobody's looking, and never will, why do they need the data?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        lfroen (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:14am

        Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

        >> I'll ignore your horrible grasp of the English language
        Yes, please. That's my 3rd language. How is your 3rd?

        >> stored ad infinitum
        Nothing is "ad infinitum". First thing that will end is money. How match is US federal debt in 2014?

        >> Do you honestly not see the difference between a service provider ...
        This difference, as you said is "semantic at best". What do you mean "can explicitly cancel" - while theoretically it is possible to live without phone, it's not very practical by any means.

        >> If nobody's looking, and never will, why do they need the data?
        The argument is about "mass", not about "surveillance", because "surveillance" is what those agencies are supposed to do.
        Answer me (or yourself) - why do US need CIA (or UK need MI6)? Why military+police is not enough? Answer is simple and annoying - because military+police are bounded by law. You want covert james-bond-style operations hidden from public eye because it's very match illegal by any law. By keeping CIA/MI6 finding you're saying "keep going with your stuff".
        It's only when your government have too match(*) of covert ops, only then you have a problem.

        (*) put your own definition for "too match"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:34am

          Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

          "That's my 3rd language. How is your 3rd?"

          Mediocre at best. But, I don't start arguing with native speakers about how they choose to define the terms they use. Why did you choose to make such an argument?

          "Nothing is "ad infinitum""

          So, you're arguing the definitions of Latin terms as well? is that a fourth language I need to forgive you for, or your second?

          "Ad infinitum" doesn't necessarily mean forever (although it can be a synonym for infinite). It just means there is no defined limit. Is there a limit defined with the data collected here? If so, I've not seen it.

          "What do you mean "can explicitly cancel"

          I mean that you can cancel with the service provider in question at your request. If you find one provider particularly odious, you can cancel and use a different one. If you don't like the way any of them operate, you can use different forms of communication. Nobody forces you to use one if you really don't want to.

          Is that enough, or do you need me to start linking to dictionary definitions, since there's a number of words you're not understanding here?

          "while theoretically it is possible to live without phone, it's not very practical by any means."

          So, you admit it's your choice to continue using one. Practicality and possibility are not the same thing. Even if it's difficult, I can stop using one phone provider, or all phone providers. I can't stop residing in an area where mass surveillance takes place (which between all the agencies involved appears to be defined as "planet Eatrth").

          Is that clear enough?

          "Answer me (or yourself) - why do US need CIA (or UK need MI6)?"

          I'll rephrase my original question in response: Those agencies have been running successfully for decades without the need for mass surveillance. Why do they need it now?

          Answer my question, and I'll bother answering yours. Otherwise, you don't understand what's being said here and so you should stop arguing about what you fail to understand.

          "It's only when your government have too match(*) of covert ops, only then you have a problem."

          Yes, and "too much" is mass surveillance as per the subject being discussed. Like I said, you apparently don't understand what you're arguing about.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            lfroen (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:56am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

            >> is that a fourth language
            While I can read and understand stuff in Latin, I don't even count it among 4 I know. How is your 4th language? Does at least 1 uses non-latin letters?

            >> "Ad infinitum" doesn't necessarily mean forever
            You're confused. To quote wiki: "In context, it usually means "continue forever, without limit". Use a dictionary next time if unsure.

            >> Like I said, you apparently don't understand what you're arguing about.
            Of cause. I'm idiot foreigner which can fluently read in 4 languages, speak fluently in 3 and write without dictionary in 2.
            But what can I possibly know about words in not-my-own-language? Probably nothing. I can not even comprehend what "mass" and "surveillance" mean. I'm sorry.
            Educate me, oh-wise-american, what is the meaning of all this "words" you're using

            >> I mean that you can cancel with the service provider in question at your request.
            Only to go to another provider, which will do same thing. What was your point again? Like I said - you can live without phone. And car. And plane. And refrigerator. And so on "ad infinitum"

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 7:16am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

              "To quote wiki: "In context, it usually means "continue forever, without limit". Use a dictionary next time if unsure."

              Stop being a smug asshole and use it yourself. Start with the definition of the word USUALLY. Then the phrase "in context". The perhaps learn why Wikipedia's definition of a word or phrase isn't some kind of ultimate canon source for a definition even if those words meant what you think they meant.

              "Of cause. I'm idiot"

              You said it.

              "foreigner"

              So am I to many of the people who use this site. So?

              "which can fluently read in 4 languages, speak fluently in 3 and write without dictionary in 2. "

              From the evidence so far, I'm assuming that English is among the latter two. Of course, this wouldn't matter if you weren't trying to be pedantic over the use of a language you clearly don't understand and weren't intent on trying to turn the thread into a pissing contest because I pointed out you were mistaken about some of the words. if the basis of your argument wasn't the meaning of a word, i'd be kinder to your weak understanding of other words.

              "oh-wise-american"

              Read my profile and work out how this is something else you're utterly wrong about. Again, you can't even get the basics of the argument correct, so it's understandable why you're so clueless about the more complex issues.

              "I can not even comprehend what "mass" and "surveillance" mean. I'm sorry"

              Then, perhaps you should stop attacking people for the way they use those words? That was the entire point of your first comment here, was it not?

              "What was your point again?"

              It was stated in clear English. You can cancel your phone contract, you can't cancel mass surveillance, especially that carried out by a foreign government.

              If you don't understand this, which language do you want to discuss this in? Perhaps you're not as much of an insufferable idiot in one of the other languages you claim to know.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:47am

          Re: Re: Re: But isn't it actually true?

          Answer is simple and annoying - because military+police are bounded by law.

          Have you seen what the police regularly get away with these days?

          If the police are bound by law, the law's doing a horrible job.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      staringatclouds (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:57am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      If I have a camera system that, say, records an image of a boundary fence, with some electronics attached that sounds an alarm when anything bigger than a cat enters the region of interest, then that's a surveillance system and similar systems have been referred to as such for decades.

      It's still a surveillance system even if the alarm never goes off and I never have to look at the recording.

      If I have a system that records every entry and exit to a building, then that is also a surveillance system, it tells me who has entered and exited so I know who should be in the building at any given time.

      It is still a surveillance system even if I never have cause to look at the records it keeps.

      Logging every access to a website with the time and location of the accessor, the time, location and target of every phone call made, the time, location and target of every email sent or received, is surveillance.

      It is still surveillance even if no one has cause to look at the data.

      The fact that this surveillance is applied to everyone in bulk makes it mass surveillance.

      Denying it is surveillance because 'no one looks at the data' is sophistry at best and an outright lie at worst.

      This is mass surveillance of the largely innocent population of the UK by any definition except perhaps those very selective definitions used by GCHQ and the Home Office.

      I can see no reason or benefit for the bulk collection of this data, except perhaps in a few years some enterprising MP may attempt to pass laws to allow selling it to a third party like they are trying to do with our NHS records.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:29am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      "If no one looks at the data, how is it "surveillance"?"

      When data is being gathered about me, it's surveillance. If that data is being gathered about me without my permission, it's spying. Whether or not anyone ever looks at the data is completely irrelevant. It's the gathering of it that counts.

      "prove that "no one looking" is false"

      You have that backwards. The government is making a positive claim, it's up to them to prove it. Particularly when we're talking about highly secretive agencies that can't seem to utter a single sentence without lying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rich Kulawiec, 23 Oct 2014 @ 7:45am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      Your attempt to torture the semantics of the word "surveillance" into what you wish it to be -- rather than what it is -- is hereby summarily rejected.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 10:36am

      Re: But isn't it actually true?

      They are looking that's how they managed to get it in the first place, there's still no proof they aren't looking or passing it off to the NSA for them to look and vise versa , then the claims of them not looking is true, but deniable .

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hans B PUFAL (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:02am

    He said it himself

    "The people who work at GCHQ would sooner walk out the door than be involved in anything remotely resembling ‘mass surveillance,”

    Says departing GCHQ boss as he walks out the door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:17am

    You missed the important distinction he made

    Have a listen to the source speech. GCHQ doesn't do "mass surveillance". Such a thing would be terrible and wouldn't be stood for by the good people who work there.

    No, they do "bulk data collection". Totally different thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 11:44am

      Re: You missed the important distinction he made

      And then they run algorithms over that bulk data to "see" who they should be looking "more" closely at. Jews, homosexuals, Gipseys etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:29am

    Not to mention a "suspected" "suspect" being surveyed, IN SECRET, and turns out to be completely inocent, where's the justice in that scenario, wilk they inform the public of the illegal surveilance and suffer their wrath, will they fuck.....this whole thing is nothing but trouble, taking us down a road none of us want

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:58am

    Well there's a fuckin' lie. Their own documents it's clear that it is very clearly 'remotely' close to mass surveillance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 7:38am

    Come now, this is all preposterous. It's not "Mass Surveillance", it's Tempora, it's right there in the name. Tempora sounds nothing like Mass Surveillance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:23am

    'It just makes them think that there's another liar in charge of an intelligence agency'

    who will be/is going to be replaced by another liar, who will report back to an even bigger liar in the UK government, who will then keep as much as possible from the head of the UK government so he can continue lying about having no knowledge of such matters. that is until a decision has to be made on something of a 'delicate' nature!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 9:43am

    I wonder how he defines slaves and serfs compared to citizens with rights

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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