Eavesdropping and diplomacy meet Goldilocks

Eavesdropping and Diplomacy. The gift that keeps on giving, if fatuous grandstanding is what you want. Can you see any government abandoning its right to protect its citizens through electronic surveillance of some sort?

Watching all the time?
Charles Crawford
On 3 November 2013 10:34

My creative juices are at a low ebb these days. It must be Global Warming. Hence the feeble presence here and indeed everywhere else apart from forays on to Twitter.

Anyway, I am off to Budapest today to give a presentation on Eavesdropping and Diplomacy. The gift that keeps on giving, if fatuous grandstanding is what you want. We may or not have reached Peak Oil. But do I sense that we have reached Peak Stupidity where ravings about government spying are concerned?

The Brazilians and Germans are joining forces to go to the UN General Assembly to push a resolution on the illegal (sic) collection of personal data as " a highly intrusive act". Haha - a footling PR gesture. Any government bathing in the world's data oceans does that 'legally' under its own laws. Can you see any government of consequence abandoning its right to protect its citizens through electronic surveillance of some sort? No, me neither.

Then there's John Kerry mumbling that some NSA spying went 'too far'. That's an interesting Goldilocksy idea. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right! Kerry implies that there is a technical or even moral way to spot precisely what is 'just far enough'.

If it's bad to listen in to Mrs Merkel's text messages, is it OK to listen in to those of her Private Office? Not to ignore the fact that if you're listening to V Putin's telephone calls, you're also necessarily listening to the person he's talking to, who may be A Merkel.

Meanwhile the EU huffs and puffs, ignoring its own intelligence pooling 'cell' in the External Action Service, and its supporting hi-tech capability SatCen that provides (my emphasis)

early warning of potential crises to decision makers in order to enable timely diplomatic, economic and humanitarian measures, including the generic planning for and follow-up after an intervention. Apart from the SatCen’s role within the CSDP, the Centre’s activities also support: arms control; non-proliferation and treaty verification; counter terrorism; humanitarian aid missions; contingency planning of peacekeeping missions; counter crime and general security surveillance.

OMG! What??!! European governments cooperating with GCHQ on 'mass surveillance'. Whoever knew until the Guardian breathlessly told us? In short, we have to decide whom to trust.

People in our government who may or may not be clever, stupid, venal, intrusive, sloppy, wise, sneaky and everything else, but (a) are British and (b) are paid to look after our security and indeed have a personal interest in our country doing well?

Or people in Russia and China and Saudi Arabia who work for elites that sneer at Western pluralism and who are being paid to undermine us and make us weaker, and working at it non-stop.

While you are thinking about that, read this magnificent speech by Dan Geer, a US IT guru who lays it all out - hard to imagine a better account of the world we are creating where things that were never even imagined are now becoming possible and so challenging every rule/code we have. One fine insight after another:

the workfactor for the offender is the price of finding a new method of attack, the workfactor for the defender is the cumulative cost of forever defending against all attack methods yet discovered

the more technologic the society becomes, the greater the dynamic range of possible failures ... as technologic society grows more interdependent within itself, the more it must rely on prediction based on data collected in broad ways, not targeted ways

How do you feel about a Smart Grid that reduces your power costs and greens the atmosphere but reports minute-by-minute what is on and what is off in your home? Have you or would you install that toilet that does a urinalysis with every use?

Is there any real difference between a system that permits easy, secure, identity-based services and a surveillance system?

All we have to go on now is the hopeful phrase "A reasonable expectation of privacy" but what is reasonable when one inch block letters can be read from orbit?

The price of freedom is the probability of crime. But as technology progresses, your choice will not be between Big Brother or no Big Brother. Rather it is already between one Big Brother and lots of Little Brothers. Think carefully, yours is the last generation that will have a choice.

Wow. Read the whole thing. Then ask John Kerry how he plans to calibrate 'too far'.

Then watch this video about clever British scientists rigging up cameras in remote parts of Africa to monitor wildlife via satellite straight to our iPhones in real time..

Cat? Out of bag. Deal with it. And by the way, it's a VERY BIG CAT

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, he is now a private consultant and writer. Visit his website (on which this article is cross-posted) and follow him on Twitter: @charlescrawford

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