More database state stupidity

This is becoming a bit too much of theme. So, with apologies for the nagging, a brief rant on yet another BBC article about the database state:

Plans for a super-database containing the details of all phone calls and e-mails sent in the UK have been heavily criticised by experts.

Well, duh. I’m no “expert”. So I’m not going to criticise this for its inherent insecurity. Or the enormous cost of feeding and maintaining such a database.

I’m not even going to criticise this plan for its blatant attack on civil liberties. That should be screamingly clear to anyone with more than a dozen working brain cells.

Instead, I’m going to take the anti-terrorist claim at face value and assume, for the sake of argument, that this is not a cynical manipulation of public fear to gain draconian powers. So, I’m sticking with the sheer stupidity.

I’m going to assume that the expensively-educated people in the upper reaches of government have somehow failed to grasp some basic things about the plotting process. Maybe they should watch more TV and movies and read some detective or spy fiction.

Do terrorists really send emails to each other’s home email addresses, saying “Bring the semtex to 23 Green Street on Thursday at 3:00 o’clock?” I’m not saying it’s impossible that this happens. I just think it would be in the low single figures on a probability scale of 1 to 100.

Even without going into the far reaches of steganography and secure encryption and the dozens of effective technological ways to obscure information, the simplest of agreed code words can convey any amount of meaning. “Happy birthday!” could easily mean “Bring the …. etc”

Phone calls? Do terrorists have to call each other’s home phones? There are still a few call-boxes, for a start. Anyone can get hold of a used mobile and then use it to call another used mobile. Phone theft is hardly unheard of. Your stolen mobile phone can have arranged a dozen dastardly plots before you’ve even noticed that your bag’s been dipped. Blimey, people could even break into your house and use the phone.

Plus language. Anyone with any facility in an obscure language could openly discuss their plots on an open and attributable phone connection for 6 months before the government’s listeners get round to finding a security-cleared speaker of idiomatic Finnish to translate.

The embarrassing dictionaries of youth slang that appear occasionally in the media are testament to the fact that even speakers of a common language may have no idea what a subcultural group are saying. If you are anything like me, your conversations with close friends and family will be basically impenetrable to anyone else, with obscure catchphrases and references to long-ago lame jokes that don’t need spelling out for the recipient but would be (suspiciously) meaningless to a listener.

In any case, a serious terrorist or master-criminal would surely choose to pass messages face-to-face to their co-conspirators, in the face of electronic surveillance.

So these measures are so dumb as to be completely pointless, in terms of their supposed objective. A suspicious person might think that this suggests there is another agenda.

But, let us be charitable and assume that the WAT is being conducted by morons. In that case, may I politely suggest the “talk and resolve the issues” route….. Yet again………

7 thoughts on “More database state stupidity

  1. I’ve never understood how we’re supposed to find a needle in a haystack, by chucking in more hay. So many of these measures simply add dead-ends and wild goose chases to an already massive monitoring system. How are we going to catch anybody with real malicious plans, when each day a team of people has to sort through the lives of 60 million people? It’s absurd. Not only are these plans ineffective and draconian, but they are dangerous. The government is playing games with our safety by cranking out measures designed to assure voters that something is being done, despite the fact the measures will have little positive effect, and will most likely increase the likelihood of another major terrorist attack. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. XanderG

    You are so right.

    What a brilliant phrase: “I’ve never understood how we’re supposed to find a needle in a haystack, by chucking in more hay. “

  3. Yeh this is stupid. It reminds me of Gorge Orwell he was right after all. We will all end up under the Big Brother eye. Now I always use 0800 numbers service. It’s great.

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  5. I’d first like to say that I agree: this is kinda of a dumb idea, needle in a haystack, George Orwell all the way.

    Perhaps this is to catch the amateur conspirator, though. One who is dumb enough to send emails or post messages in public forums. I agree in that this database won’t catch any master terrorist, but it might slow down a few amateurs before they turn pro…

    Just a thought.

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