Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

I SPY WITH MY LITTLE SEARCH ENGINE

The Edward Snowden affair brings electronic spying into the limelight. The whistleblower has put Government Communications HQ, in the UK, and their friends in the USA into the news. The privacy of ordinary citizens exists no longer. All our e-mail messsages and mobile phone conversations and Tweets and Facebook posts and Blogs have an electronic record somewhere. We are also on video if we have ventured into a public place. People with the necessary skills can recover all this data. They CAN do it. ARE they doing it? Yes, they must be. If suspicion of terrorist activity falls on an individual, the security services are bound to use every means of assessing the danger. But do they look at you and me? Why should they? Well, information comes to them from many sources and one of the routes must surely be an electronic trawl for material deemed suspicious. I suppose it is a bit like a search engine – you enter a word or a phrase and the screen fills with instances – picked up from different contexts. Lots of very bad words can be harmless in the original context but suspicious when taken out of context and viewed by somebody looking for evil intent. It is perfectly possible that somethimg you have said or written could appear on a screen in GCHQ. The next question is, “How do they view it?”

There must be a grading system. Perhaps juniors are told to flag anything that might be suspicious and the next person up the ladder bins it or passes it further. So almost anything that you or I write or say will be discarded at Level One or Level Two and forgotten. Big Brother has only got limited staff and they must be highly selective on what they follow up. So the fact that they can and do spy on us hardly matters. It is  a fact of the electronic age, though it may not be what Tony Blair had in mind when he wanted us all to get on the Information Super-highway. But suppose a few new things happened in my life. Suppose my credit card showed three extended visits to a country believed to contain a terrorist base. Supposed I went to Somerset House and changed my name to an obviously foreign one. Suppose I searched the internet for firearms dealers. All these could have harmless and unconnected causes. Together, viewed by somebody looking for danger signs, they might arouse suspicion.

Right now you and I are pretty safe, for somewhere in the system is a human being. But what happens when the next stage of the digital revolution arrives and the human element  is drastically reduced?  Then the computer will follow an algororithm. The e-arrest-warrant will spew out of a printer all on it’s own. We have all experienced computer malfunctions like extra zeros on the fuel bill. It will be no different – except that you or I will be sitting in a cell somewhere. Worse still, nothing will get us out because the human beings in the organisation are NOT ALLOWED to adjust the system or HAVE NO MEANS of adjusting it.

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