Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why isn’t the GCHQ & NSA Privacy Invasion Socially Accepted?

Post Snowden it is easy to jump on the media bandwagon, cry foul that GCHQ and the NSA have gone too far, forsaking our Privacy for Security. Yet if you take a walk through any city or town in the UK, and your image and actions are recorded by hundreds of CCTV cameras, no permission is ever sort, and you have no idea who is watching you without your knowledge, yet this invasion of privacy is socially accepted. 

Millions of people in the UK willingly give up their privacy on social networks, sharing almost every aspect of their private lives. This private information is commercially exploited through targeted advertising, this invasion of privacy is socially accepted. The same is true with smart phones where considerable user privacy is given up, just read Apple’s agreement and your mobile phone contract to see the extent, it goes well beyond personal details, phone calls and text messaging. These companies track the applications you use, the websites you browse and where you physically are in the world with your smart phone, huge aspects of people's personal lives are tracked and recorded. No one ever seems to complain that a US based smart phone manufacturer and German mobile phone companies are able to know exactly who we are, and track a history of our movements over time, so this level of privacy invasion is socially accepted.

Actual Mobile Phone Contract Example
We collect such information as:
your name;
billing address;
installation address;
delivery address;
telephone number;
your use of products and Services including but not limited to phone numbers and/or email addresses of calls, texts, MMS, emails and other communications made and received by you and the date, duration, time and cost of such communications, your searching, browsing history (including web sites you visit) and location data, internet PC location for broadband, address location for billing, delivery, installation or as provided by individual, phone location;

Then there is the UK ISPs, all of them track and record every website we visit, every network connection we make, in fact they have been instructed to do so by our government, the law was passed and this is socially accepted.

And of course the UK government already keeps track of many elements of our private lives, including our earnings, our medical details, and they even know the type of car we own, all private information which can be easily strung together to form a profile of our private lives.

So we already significantly trust the UK government and foreign land based businesses with considerable amounts of our private lives, so is it really correct to concluded GCHQ and the NSA have gone too far in abusing our privacy as well?  Their intent is to protect our society, preventing terrorists and criminals from delivering their dastardly acts. This is the role of such agencies in the modern age, they are usually the first in the firing line of politicians when terrorist actions are successful. 

Nether-the-less both GCHQ and the NSA are in powerful positions, which in my view requires policing and oversight to ensure such agencies do not abuse their powers, especially behind the closed doors of their operations. Such operations must remain covert for their success, this prevents the sort of public scrutiny we see with other UK government agencies. In the absence of the desired public scrutiny I believe their needs to be an independent body watching over GCHQ and the NSA within their perspective countries, a body which has public creditability and trust, and the power to investigate and where necessary hold secret service agencies to account when they are found to have strayed too far from our society’s Privacy Vs Security balance.  The Privacy Vs Security balance can never be solidified, and must be subjected to public debate which is open ended, so as a society we can keep pace with the rapid information technology revolution, and the inevitable increased storage and exploitation of our private data which comes with it, only then can we as a society come to a general agreement to what is a socially accepted level of privacy invasion.

Finally the big question I have is who is suppose to be holding to account the commercial giants, many have compiled huge amounts of our private information. Yes we have Information Commissioners for data privacy enforcement, but the truth is these bodies are toothless tigers, shackled by ancient data protection laws which are pre-social networking and pre-cloud computing. They are pretty much useless when it comes to tackling the large tech giants, giants which are motivated by exploiting our private information for profit, a far less noble purpose than GCHQ’s and the NSA’s intent.

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