Monday, 10 March 2014

Hazel Blears, MP: We're Not Spying On You, Google Is

So I wrote to my MP Hazel Blears to complain about the spying, surveillance, and egregious breaches of our privacy. Here's what she said by way of reply:

Dear Mrs. Cockcroft,

thank you very much for your email and I do understand your concern, especially in the light of the recent revelations and the media coverage this issue has received.

It is undeniable that Britain does face the real and imminent threat of terrorism. It is for this reason that our security and intelligence services need to be up-to-date with the latest technology in order to secure our safety.

Recent developments in technology, especially the internet and social media, have meant that information is more readily accessible. One of the fastest growing businesses on the internet is the business of spying on internet users. But this spying is not being conducted by government intelligence and security agencies, but by websites such as Google and Facebook who use tracking technology to monitor your internet movements in order to sell it for profit.

These companies are motivated by profit in contrast to the security and intelligence agencies who are there to maintain our safety. These agencies to not "spy" on innocent people and do not have the legitimacy to do so.

The Intelligence and Security Committee have bolstered their powers through the Justice and Security Act, and have tried to make their actions more transparent by broadcasting some of the questioning sessions with the heads of those agencies.

Privacy and freedom of expression are hard won rights and are an extremely important part of our society and need to be maintained. But we also have to recognise that maintaining the safety of the people in this country is also paramount. It is not a question of giving up one for the other, but of understanding that there needs to be a balance; security agencies do need to carry out surveillance in order to monitor threats, but this should not impinge on the rights of ordinary citizens.

There is so much WRONG in that letter, the most egregious point of which is illustrated in the recently launched National audit of NHS medical data following concerns over sale of records for insurance purposes. Motivated by profit, much? Well, that wasn't Google or Facebook, and by her logic, my "medical movements" were being monitored in order to sell them for profit. She hasn't answered my question on why this wasn't brought in during the Troubles. While the internet wasn't around, terrorists bombing London and other UK cities were.

Alternatives to Google and Facebook exist. Where can we go to get away from government-sponsored surveillance? It's WHY I don't use the internet much any more. Vague references to terrorist threats, it seems, are the only rationale she can offer but "Look over there!" isn't going to wash with me. As people who oppose the status quo become increasingly under threat and their loved ones targeted for harassment, I find myself wondering who the "innocent" people are. It's probably not me.

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