Proposed legislation means that GCHQ will be able to hack into anyone’s communications without even having to give a reason. This differs from the current situation whereby several state bodies can already access the same information if they give a reason. Over half a million ‘information requests’ were made by public bodies last year to access ‘traffic data’. Just like under the proposed legislation, this means data on who you talk to and when, but not what you actually say. Spooks can of course access this as well, they just need a Home Office warrant. Apparently all this isn’t enough for the peeping toms at GCHQ.
That the Government seem to think that these powers should be extended suggests they are laying the groundwork for GCHQ to routinely monitor everybody’s communications details and online activity.
GCHQ will never have to buy themselves a drink again as tabloid hacks suck up to them in an effort to find out what kind of porn Hugh Grant looks at or whether Katie Windsor is googling diet pills.
GCHQ are also involved with the design and implementation of Iain Duncan Smith’s magical Universal Credit database. This will contain details on everyone who’s ever claimed any form of benefit and will also be harmonised with the current tax office database (in their dreams).
Information that could be held will include details of health problems and disability assessments should you ever claim sickness benefits. Monthly income details are to be reported to the state in ‘real time’. Should you ever claim Housing Benefit the database will contain full details of housing status, including how many rooms you have, who lives with you and scans of your bank statements. Any job search activity you may carry out whilst unemployed (or working part time) will be recorded, along with details from private providers such as A4e. The database will also contain your tax return or PAYE information, details of your children, your partner (and how much they earn if you claim Child Benefit), your bank account details and anything else Iain Duncan Smith can think of before the new tax and benefits system is introduced in 2056.
Currently the Government are tendering for private companies to provide Identity Services – this will be the way in which you access the Universal Credit database which is set to be only available via the internet or telephone except in very few cases. Voice Biometrics, meaning a ‘voice print’ which is unique to individuals, is one option being considered. That this is in the pipeline at the same time GCHQ are plotting to extend telephone surveillance suggests that the spooks have a better idea of joined up government than ministers currently do.
At present benefit claims also require some form of ID, usually a passport or driving licence. It is likely that the Universal Credit database will also therefore contain your photograph, as well as a copy of your birth certificate.
If the Government get their way GCHQ will have all this information available in one handy place, which they can then cross reference with their own snooping which will tell them which websites you visit, who your friends are and how often you ring your mum.
The situation is truly chilling except for the fact that the whole sorry racket is to be run by a bunch chinless toff wonders who can’t even eat a pasty without causing a national embarrassment.
Voice biometrics over clunky telephone system is a fantasy with the current technology available. IDS is about to waste a lot of money finding that out. A Government Minister who knows fuck all about computers has been given £2 billion to spend on IT and every shark in the industry wants a slice of it. It was only recently the DWP were getting all excited about ‘lie detection’ software before abandoning it in a sulk. Voice Biometrics will likely go the same way.
Universal Credit has already been described as ‘pie in the sky’ by DWP insiders. The privacy implications are only starting to emerge, not because the Government has actively tried to cover them up, but just because it doesn’t even appeared to have occurred to them. There is no great conspiracy, just a monumental cock up waiting to happen. If the Illuminati overlords did exist (and they really don’t so please just stop), then they wouldn’t go within a mile of fuckwits like Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling. They couldn’t get in the fucking Woodcraft Folk, never mind a shadowy new world government.
Universal Credit will be an expensive disaster. When Working Tax Credits were introduced, which are far simpler, the online interface was abandoned after hundreds of thousands of people jammed the phone calls complaining that it didn’t fucking work. IDS is attempting to create the most expansive, and indeed draconian database ever made in the world, on a cheap budget and to an unrealistic timescale. This won’t bother the likes of Accenture and IBM who have the bulk of the contracts to deliver the new IT. It’s in their interests to string the Government along for as long as possible. After all, once you’ve spent £2 billion then it’s difficult not to be persuaded to spend another. Universal Credit will be just around the corner, just a little more time and cash required, until finally someone puts the whole sorry project to bed and IDS is sacked.
This doesn’t mean that millions won’t suffer in the carnage as new systems don’t work, benefits don’t get paid, fraud runs rampant and well meaning DWP staff haven’t got a clue how the fucking thing works. On planet Oxbridge they think that almost everyone will be able to use the online interface, because of course everyone has a computer, broadband and scanner and all the other bits of kit required. In reality lots of benefit claimants can’t even afford a land line, something inconceivable to the public school toffs in this Government. Local Authorities are to be left to pick up the slack for those unable to use the labyrinthine database online according to current plans. Council Tax payers will foot the bill for this Government’s lack of understanding of how most benefit claimants actually live.
The spooks are no better. Despite recent attempts to recruit anyone who can speak Arabic in a Bradford accent, by advertising in the Guardian of all places, they are still stuffed to the brim with chinless toffs. MI5 is far more Johnny English than it ever was James Bond. Whilst they may have fantasies of perving over the nations porn habits any large scale information analysis would be hugely expensive. And it’s easily got round by doing what drug dealers, activists and presumably terrorists have been doing for years – not chatting about sensitive shit on the phone or online.
It is of course a concern that such vast information gathering powers may be used by any future dictator who may happen to claw their way to power. But then dictators don’t tend to worry much about the illegality of hacking someone’s twitter account when they are hauling people off to labour camps.
There’s no doubt that the Government is terrified of further civil unrest. But whilst GCHQ are pissing about trying to find out who you share kitten pictures with on facebook the kids will be burning out department stores the old fashioned way, just like they did last Summer.
That doesn’t mean these new initiatives shouldn’t be resisted. All increases of state power are bad news. But let’s not get carried away. All Government’s are incompetent. GCHQ will welcome the fact their budget is secure, but their dreams of vast Orwellian state surveillance techniques remain little more than fantasies. For every over-arching database or internet monitoring system they bring in there is some kid in their bedroom working out how to bring it down. Governments don’t win because they are cleverer than their citizens. Political power still comes out of the barrel of a gun, not a USB port.
This post is dedicated to all the conspiracy types who turned with their youtube videos and revelations after David Icke linked to this post on the Universal Credit database. The last time the fruitcake linked to this blog he claimed it “encapsulates the bile, hatred and puerile nature of so many on the ‘Left’ who claim to be ‘anti-system’ when the system is in complete control of what they bravely call their ‘minds’.”
Presumably he was too slaughtered to remember.