Whose Responsibility is it to Change Cyber Surveillance? Yours

By Karen Veazey June 19, 2014

When I learned to drive I also learned the phrase “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.” I haven’t thought of that in a long time, until reading recently about a decision that the British intelligence service GCHQ can monitor communications over Facebook, Google and Web-based email because they are communications sent outside the country. British law only forbids snooping in cases of communications within the U.K. by citizens.

I’m not one to get up in arms about trends like outrage over cyber-monitoring because:

1) Do you really think this hasn’t been happening for some time already?

2) I have some strong personal beliefs about personal privacy vs. national security.

3) There’s much more to every story that what you read in mainstream media.

But that’s just me. I know most people explode over the notion that intelligence agencies might be peeking and that’s why it behooves users to know the laws, for their own country as well as those they may travel to. At least then if you’re going to protest you’ll be protesting the proper privacy invasion. Nothing worse than walking a picket line all day (defending principle!) only to learn that, say, the law you’re protesting only applies to one percenters who are heavily invested in the African diamond trade.

In England, a lawsuit by Privacy International has forced the government intelligence sector to finally comment on its legal spider web and the line seems to be pretty clear. Anything classified as external communications – including browser searches, email routed through a webmail server, and a broad range of sites like Twitter, and YouTube – bounce across servers outside the country. These are all subject to monitoring without a specific warrant. Communications between citizens on sites within the U.K. are protected and require probable cause to obtain a surveillance warrant.

But wait; before people run off to make protest signs, there’s one more important distinction: The director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr, has delineated that even data that is collected as external communication cannot actually be analyzed without good reason. So all the embarrassing Google searches done can sit on a GCHQ server somewhere but unless the agency can prove someone is worth investigating there is not a legal provision for combing through the material. Still, many people don’t enjoy the idea that their personal searches and chats are stored somewhere that hackers might get at them. Just in case a hacker wants to extort a suburban dad of three who’s gambling away the milk money.

It’s funny to see individuals protest cyber surveillance as if browsing the Internet was a trip to the local milk store with a cop breathing over our shoulder. We forget that the Internet we use daily, dirty as it is, is the Park Avenue of cyberspace. There are also the Dark Web and the Deep Web, where things like children, arms, and drugs are bought and sold with abandon. Do we want laws to prohibit people from doing that? Yep. Do intelligence agencies need to use surveillance to catch those people? Yep.

None of us living in the free world want to fall asleep and wake up in China, where censorship and monitoring exist at levels we can’t begin to comprehend. To best monitor our own government “servants” it behooves us to craft arguments that are educated and, most importantly, accurate. Know the law, not the arguments presented by talking heads. Edward Snowden made such a splash because he knew the law and therefore, knew where it was being broken. Yet how many protesters in Snowden masks know that much of his revelations dealt with international, government and corporate level surveillance? To try to jump on the Snowden bandwagon and complain about personal privacy invasion is just shouting into a void. It doesn’t matter because it’s an irrelevant discussion.

So what’s the best way to dig and really learn the truth, find the laws, be educated? Read and read widely. Read the government’s websites, read the text of the law, read analysis from both sides of the argument. Never base your opinion or rant on one writer’s blog or article. The Internet is the greatest informational tool we’ve ever had in our homes but, like the government we have to monitor ourselves on it, for our own protection. Don’t let just anyone across your mental border.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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