The old joke goes “George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not a ‘how to’ manual.” But that joke is increasingly less funny as the UK really seems to be doing everything it can to put in place Orwell’s fictitious vision — just a few decades later. Right after the election a few weeks ago, we noted the government’s plan to push forward with its “extremist disruption orders” (as had been promised). The basic idea is that if the government doesn’t like what you’re saying, it can define your statements as “extremist” and make them criminal. Prime Minister David Cameron did his best Orwell in flat out stating that the idea was to use these to go after people who were obeying the lawand then arguing that the UK needed to suppress free speech… in the name of protecting free speech. Really.
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.
This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.
We learned recently from Paris that the Western world is deeply and passionately committed to free expression and ready to march and fight against attempts to suppress it. That’s a really good thing, since there are all sorts of severe suppression efforts underway in the West — perpetrated not by The Terrorists but by the Western politicians claiming to fight them.
One of the most alarming examples comes, not at all surprisingly, from the U.K. government, which is currently agitating for new counterterrorism powers, “including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalize young people.” Here are the powers which the British Freedom Fighters and Democracy Protectors are seeking:
They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.
It will also contain new powers to close premises including mosques where extremists seek to influence others. The powers of the Charity Commission to root out charities that misappropriate funds towards extremism and terrorism will also be strengthened.
In essence, advocating any ideas or working for any political outcomes regarded by British politicians as “extremist” will not only be a crime, but can be physically banned in advance. Basking in his election victory, Prime Minister David Cameron unleashed this Orwellian decree to explain why new Thought Police powers are needed: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.’” It’s not enough for British subjects merely to “obey the law”; they must refrain from believing in or expressing ideas which Her Majesty’s Government dislikes.
To most consumers it’s common sense that they can make a backup copy of media they own, but in the UK this was illegal until late last year.
After consulting various stakeholders the Government decided that it would be in the best interests of consumers to legalize copying for personal use.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all copyright holders were in favor of the legal changes. In fact, emails published from the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack reveal that Hollywood wanted to stop the plans by urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to keep Hollywood’s interests in mind.
The first email mentioning the issue was sent January last year. Here, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was informed that MPAA boss Chris Dodd wanted him to give Cameron a call.
“Essentially, Dodd thinks (and we agree) it would be helpful for you to call Prime Minister Cameron if you are willing in order to ensure our position is fully considered,” the email from Sony’s Keith Weaver reads.
According to Weaver it was still uncertain whether Hollywood’s concerns would be properly heard in Parliament.
“This is because prior interactions with the U.K. government over the last few months have left us with no certainty that our concerns will be addressed in the proposal that will be presented to Parliament for an up or down vote in February,” he explained.
Faced with mounting international pressure over the Falkland Islands territorial dispute, the British government enlisted its spy service, including a highly secretive unit known for using “dirty tricks,” to covertly launch offensive cyberoperations to prevent Argentina from taking the islands.
A shadowy unit of the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had been preparing a bold, covert plan called “Operation QUITO” since at least 2009. Documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, published in partnership with Argentine news site Todo Notícias, refer to the mission as a “long-running, large scale, pioneering effects operation.”
At the heart of this operation was the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group, known by the acronym JTRIG, a secretive unit that has been involved in spreading misinformation.
The British government, which has continuously administered the Falkland Islands — also known as the Malvinas — since 1833, has rejected Argentine and international calls to open negotiations on territorial sovereignty. Worried that Argentina, emboldened by international opinion, may attempt to retake the islands diplomatically or militarily, JTRIG and other GCHQ divisions were tasked “to support FCO’s [Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s] goals relating to Argentina and the Falkland Islands.” A subsequent document suggests the main FCO goal was to “[prevent] Argentina from taking over the Falkland Islands” and that new offensive cyberoperations were underway in 2011 to further that end.
Tensions between the two nations, which fought a war over the small archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1982, reached a boil in 2010 with the British discovery of large, offshore oil and gas reserves potentially worth billions of dollars.
The British government frames the issue as one of residents’ self-determination. Prime Minister David Cameron maintains that the islands will remain British as long as that was the will of their inhabitants, “full stop, end of story.”
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, known for her provocative, left-leaning foreign policy since taking office in 2007, rallied regional and international leaders to pass resolutions in international bodies supportive of Argentina’s claim to the islands and stand against what she called the U.K.’s “downright colonialism.”
Even the United States, Britain’s closest ally, declined to support the U.K. position, instead offering to mediate a resolution between the two sides in 2010. Prime Minister Cameron rejected the proposal, calling it “disappointing.”
GCHQ’s efforts on Argentina and the Falklands between 2008 and 2011, the time period the documents cover, were broad and not limited solely to JTRIG. Surveillance of Argentine “military and Leadership” communications on various platforms was a “high priority” task. Despite the Obama administration’s unwillingness to publicly back their ally, NSA assistance was ongoing as of 2010. According to an NSA “Extended Enterprise Report” dated June 2008, based on NSA officials’ meetings with GCHQ representatives, Argentina was “GCHQ’s primary interest in the region.”
Europe’s top cop has taken to the BBC to once again slam encryption as the biggest threat to counter-terrorism and law enforcement.
Europol Director Rob Wainright said encrypted communications gave plods across the continent the biggest headaches, and his main gripe was with the IT companies that provide them.
“We are disappointed by the position taken by these tech firms and it only adds to our problems in getting to the communications of the most dangerous people that are abusing the internet,” he said.
He told the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament the same thing last November. Now he says there is “a significant capability gap” that must be closed.
“It’s changed the very nature of counter-terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore,” he told the Beeb.
However, Wainright himself will not get his hands on any of that “capability”. According to Europol’s website, the organisation itself “has neither the technical equipment nor the legal authorisation to wiretap or monitor members of the public by any technological means”.
“Any information being analysed by Europol is provided directly by the co-operating law enforcement agencies. Europol’s principal role is to gather, analyse and re-distribute data,” he said in the interview.
That hasn’t stopped EU countries beefing up Europol with a new European Internet Referral Unit to find, identify and potentially remove websites used by terrorist groups.
National leaders across the EU have been calling for increased access to private communications since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The European Council hopes the new unit will be up and running by June.
Meanwhile, tech companies will continue to boost end-to-end encryption after the Snowden revelations created a business case, as consumers demanded their communications be secured.
Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld said she found his comments (which echo those of UK PM David Cameron) extremely worrying. “What is next? Having a lock on the front door of your home being a criminal offence? Banning people from protecting their private communications is unacceptable in a democratic society. We are really on a slippery slope here.”
“Not only individual citizens have a right to privacy, but journalists, politicians, lawyers, whistleblowers, NGOs, etc must be able to communicate freely, safely and knowing they are unobserved,” she added.
“There seems to be no limit to the appetite of secret services to know EVERYTHING about us, without being subject to any meaningful kind of oversight or bound by laws,” continued In’t Veld.
“He believes all of this is caused by the ‘revelations’ on NSA mass surveillance. “One would think it was the secret and illegal mass surveillance itself, not the fact it was revealed, that has breached trust,” said In’t Veld.