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………