Thus the problem: for this issue above all others, we need to be offered the facts for once, instead of the endless conflation of calculated spin, PR, and scare stories, which nowadays means more of those Scary Muslims (tm). And the facts show a reality which should worry all those concerned about surveillance overreach. The first act of deception by the Government is to pretend they have “climbed down”. They haven’t.
This spin has been obediently churned over by the Murdoch Times: “Judges get right to veto anti-terror operations … Ministers face overrule in privacy climbdown”. The Telegraph has another angle: “Prison for officials who abuse snooping powers”. We should therefore feel better about the spooks. What is not told is that rather more of that snooping will be legal, above-board, and beyond judicial reproach under proposed new laws.
It has been, as ever, down to the deeply subversive Guardian to hint at what Ms May has in store for us all: “May’s bill to reveal every website you visit”. Every site. Without any kind of warrant. Without a judge being asked first. Without anyone going to prison for abusing their powers. And you, the punter, don’t get a further say. That is what the right-wing press are spinning for. And then there is the further erosion of your privacy.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has unspun this, starting with spinword du jour, “Metadata”. He puts it plainly: “Journos: if officials say they aren't capturing your web history, push back. ‘Metadata’ reveals every site you hit … ‘Metadata’ means records about your private activities and associations. It's an activity dossier. The novelty is in the lack of warrants [my emphasis] … Are your readers having trouble understanding the term ‘metadata’? Replace it with ‘activity records’. That's what they are”.
It gets worse, when the matter of encryption is raised. Snowden’s warning, “I warned UK govt sought to ban strong encryption, despite public denials” is shown to be more than prescient. Tech firms and service providers would be forced to be able to provide an unencrypted version of communications if demanded via a warrant. The all-too-gullible Telegraph has told “The move follows concerns that a growing number of encryption services are now completely inaccessible apart from to the users themselves”.
That is, of course, the point of encryption! As an industry blog Snowden quotes explains, there is no climbdown, no compromise. It concludes “Mandating breakable encryption is the same thing as banning encryption”. GCHQ and the other spooks are clearly still sore that they couldn’t break the encryption of the drives they seized from David Miranda.