Friday, 2 August 2013

You'd have to be naïve not to

The third and final episode of Steve Hewlett's report on Privacy Under Pressure was broadcast on Monday 29 July 2013.

The programme took the form of a debate and at one point the participants turned to the Edward Snowden revelations. The US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ here in the UK monitor our phone calls, emails and web browsing on a monumental scale. That makes a nonsense of privacy.

Surveillance is justified, said Lord Carlile, by the state's duty to protect us against terrorists. In other words, in the fight between privacy and surveillance, surveillance must win. That can't be right, said the great Simon Jenkins, not without qualification.

The advocates of freedom admit that we're not free to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. The advocates of counter-terrorism should similarly admit that there are limits.

Among others, there are financial limits. How many billions, Simon Jenkins wanted to know, should we pay for the NSA and GCHQ's work? Lord Carlile had no answer.

We're back with the arguments advanced by Fraser Nelson and Charles Moore. Of course spies spy. That's their job. Of course we're all under surveillance. You'd have to be naïve to think otherwise. It's for our own good. No-one sensible should be surprised by the Guardian's scoop, it's not a scoop, we've always known all about the interception of communications.

Let's follow the Nelson-Moore-Carlile (NMC) proposition when it next goes out for a walk. See where it leads.

And let's concentrate on money.

In yesterday's Guardian, in addition to learning about X-Keyscore, we also learned about the NSA paying GCHQ tens of millions of pounds. That's handy money. This surveillance lark is expensive and someone's got to pay for it. You'd have to be really naïve not to have worked that one out.

We're following NMC, he bumps into his NSA opposite number and there's an argument. Tempers rise, voices are raised and we can just make out the NSA saying "that's it, you were paid to deliver, you didn't deliver, no more money".

Oh dear. GCHQ's budget is being cut by the UK Exchequer and now the US are turning off the taps (faucets), too. But the state still has a duty to counter terrorism according to NMC. How to fund it?

As luck would have it, in the ordinary course of their work, which is entirely legal according to William Hague (Foreign Secretary) and Sir Malcolm Rifkind (chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee), GCHQ trip over a lot of useful information.

They knew about Berkshire Hathaway taking over Heinz, for example, months before the news was made public. Should GCHQ do their duty, take advantage of that knowledge and invest, say, £100 million in the target company? That would have yielded a £20 million profit: "Shares in Heinz soared nearly 20% in New York to hit the $72.50 price being offered". If not, why not?

That's one place where NMC leads. And you'd have to be naïve not to realise that.

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