GCHQ staff 'would sooner walk' than do anything 'resembling mass surveillance’

House of Lords discovers Google Maps

GCHQ as seen on Google Earth

QuoTW This was the week when GCHQ boss Sir Iain Lobban managed to exit stage left from the spook play without ever mentioning the Edward-Snowden-shaped-elephant in the room.

The now-former director of British spies did not speak directly about the the rogue NSA sysadmin's leak of GCHQ’s TEMPORA programme, but he did mention that gathering data on Blighty’s citizens was totally done within the law, claiming:

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

He also talked about how the internet presented both challenges and opportunities for intelligence agencies, in what could be taken as a justification for TEMPORA. He said:

We all now know that the beautiful dream of the internet as a totally ungoverned space was just that — a beautiful dream. Like all utopian visions, it was flawed because it failed to account for the persistence of the worst aspects of human nature. Alongside the blessings ... there are the plotters, the proliferators, and the paedophiles.

We continue to look for the patterns, connections and abnormalities that indicate or illuminate hostile capability and intent.

So, he explained, spies need to be monitoring the internet deeply pretty much all the time, though apparently, this is not mass surveillance:

Those who would do us harm don’t want to be found. They use certain routers or applications to hide in the darkest places of the internet. We have to enter that labyrinth to find them. We work to crack their defences. We have to understand what adversaries seek to do to us and dedicate ourselves to preventing them from realising their plans. And the vast majority of those criminal threats to the UK are posed by groups or individuals based overseas. So we need strong intelligence and cyber capabilities to identify them and, where international law enforcement doesn’t work, to disrupt them directly. This combination is increasingly essential.

We access the internet at scale so as to dissect it with surgical precision. Practically, it is now impossible to operate successfully in any other way. You can’t pick and choose the components of a global interception system that you like (catching terrorists and paedophiles) and those you don’t (incidental collection of data at scale): it’s one integrated system.

In other disturbing Blighty news, Baroness Lady O’Cathain, who is on the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee, apparently had no idea what Google Maps was. In a session on the civilian use of drones and the related privacy and aviation law issues, Lady O’Cathain spoke about how horrified she was to discover that Google could count the roses in her garden:

I was horrified the other day when I was given a certain website to look at. I could see the roses in my garden. It was on a Google map or something, and I have no idea how it was taken. It was taken from up there. Obviously it was not a large aircraft, but this is happening. It did not fill me with a sense of security.

Her comments were, naturally, retweeted numerous times by folks, with most expressing concern that a politician who’s supposed to be on a tech panel doesn’t seem to know about Google Maps:

While others were pretty dismayed that she didn’t appear to know the difference between drones and satellites:

Speaking of drones, ex-US Navy fighter pilot Mary “Missy” Cummings has told The Reg that, somewhat surprisingly, she’s a big fan of the unmanned aerial vehicles. The stance may seem strange for someone who was one of the first female US Navy fighter pilots, but Cummings reckons it’s safer to use the UAVs in certain situations.

She said:

About a year-and-a-half ago, it became safer for the military to send a drone on fighter bomber missions than manned aircraft.

I have actually having seen my compatriots accidentally bomb and kill friendly forces; humans in the cockpit are under so much stress and susceptible to human frailty.

Drones allow operators to be much more calm, cool and collected. They allow people to have a discussion about whether a target is the right target or not. There is no question in my mind that drone warfare is much better and safer, and results in less collateral damage than putting a human at the tip of a spear.

The reason is that drones don’t get tired, [and are not prone to] fatigue or emotional distress. They don’t have drinking problems. And with automation, drones themselves do a much better job of keeping the plane at altitude and staying on course.

Meanwhile, a group of veteran UNIX admins have said they’re fed up with too much input from GNOME devs dumbing down Debian, so they want to rebel and fork the system. They said:

Current leadership of the project is heavily influenced by GNOME developers and too much inclined to consider desktop needs as crucial to the project, despite the fact that the majority of Debian users are tech-savvy system administrators.

We don't want to be forced to use systemd in substitution to the traditional UNIX sysvinit init, because systemd betrays the UNIX philosophy.

Debian today is haunted by the tendency to betray its own mandate, a base principle of the Free Software movement: put the user's rights first. What is happening now instead is that through a so called 'do-ocracy' developers and package maintainers are imposing their choices on users.

We see systemd being very prone to mission creep and bloat and likely to turn into a nasty hairball over the longer term.

The rebels would prefer to have sysvinit as the default and system be optional, but if that doesn’t happen, they’re prepared to fork Debian.

If systemd will be substituting sysvinit in Debian, we will fork the project and create a new distro. We hope this won't be necessary, but we are well prepared for it.

And finally, naked selfie app Snapchat has started serving up adverts to its users Stateside, though it promises that they’ll be totally unobtrusive and interesting. The company said in a blog post explaining how cool its ads are and how rubbish other companies’ adverts are:

The best advertisements tell you more about stuff that actually interests you.

Some companies spend a lot of time and collect a lot of data about you to figure that out. The product we’re releasing today is a lot simpler. An advertisement will appear in your Recent Updates from time to time, and you can choose if you want to watch it. No biggie. It goes away after you view it or within 24 hours, just like Stories.

We won’t put advertisements in your personal communication – things like Snaps or Chats. That would be totally rude. We want to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted. It’s nice when all of the brilliant creative minds out there get our attention with terrific content.

We’ve heard it all before, but at least the messaging service didn’t try to pretend it was adding advertisements because they were going to be such a great experience:

Understandably, a lot of folks want to know why we’re introducing advertisements to our service. The answer is probably unsurprising – we need to make money. ®




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