Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


The Conservatives and the security services are ramping up the propaganda for the digital panopticon, now particularly pressuring US-based social network companies to give up their quaint ideas of privacy. If you’re not with the snoopers you’re with the terrorists and the paedophiles.

“Terrorists are using the internet to communicate with each other and we must not accept that these communications are beyond the reach of the authorities or the internet companies themselves,” [David Cameron] told MPs after the report was published.

“Their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem. It is their social responsibility to act on this.”

This refers to the government report on the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by an Islamist extremists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, that accuses Facebook (not by name — the name of the company was only leaked to the press, for some reason) of failing to inform the security services that they had been carrying on conversations about plans to murder a soldier on Facebook.

Try this out with regard to telephone service: If criminals were found to have plotted a killing on the telephone — not that such things ever happened before there was Facebook — would that be taken to prove that the telecoms are responsible for monitoring the content of every phone call? What about the post? What if they didn’t use electronic media, but fiendishly took advantage of the fact that there is currently no electronic surveillance in everyone’s bedrooms?

Why aren’t the security services who have been downloading all of our communications, including everything on Facebook, supposedly to protect us from terrorism, responsible for detecting the terrorist chats?

Those who see no problem with the collection of vast quantities of private data by various security services, or who see it as a necessary evil, tend to assume that Western democracies can ensure through legal structures that the information is used in the public interest, in the defence of democracy. Others believe this is naïve. There is nothing about Western democracy that nullifies the basic truths of humanity, and how people respond to the temptations of power.

If you are having difficulty imagining what our wise and good protectors in the security services might get up to if they had access to a complete collection of correspondence, maps of contacts, purchasing history for everyone in the country — indeed, for most of the world — consider this historical affair that has recently been in the news:

The security services are facing questions over the cover-up of a Westminster paedophile ring as it emerged that files relating to official requests for media blackouts in the early 1980s were destroyed.

Two newspaper executives have told the Observer that their publications were issued with D-notices – warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security – when they sought to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse in 1984. One executive said he had been accosted in his office by 15 uniformed and two non-uniformed police over a dossier on Westminster paedophiles passed to him by the former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle.

The other said that his newspaper had received a D-notice when a reporter sought to write about a police investigation into Elm Guest House, in southwest London, where a group of high-profile paedophiles was said to have operated and may have killed a child. Now it has emerged that these claims are impossible to verify or discount because the D-notice archives for that period “are not complete”.

So, 30 years ago powerful men used their control over the security apparatus, not to protect children, but to cover up their crimes, and those of their friends. Now imagine them with the power to trace the complete social network — current and past — of any who seek to uncover their crimes, and to eavesdrop on all their past conversations at the click of a mouse.

After all, we know how easy it is to convince yourself that those who oppose your wise and good political goals are “terrorists” or “saboteurs“. Eggs and omelettes.

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