Pol Clementsmith: We need an independent monitor of the threat from secret surveillance

Digital rights campaigner Pol Clementsmith raises concerns over the recent Edward Snowden revelations about Scottish surveillance 

THE MAIN ISSUE with the bulk collection of data is the capacity to sift through it in any really meaningful way. Randomly grabbing every little digital byte and bit simply creates a mammoth intelligence iceberg that just keeps on getting bigger and more difficult to fathom. You just end up with too much data and no time to look at it all. 

Imagine putting in a request to see all of the CCTV footage from every night club in Scotland on just one single Saturday night. Each individual club could have up to 10 cameras all recording for up to 8 hours a night and then you’d still have thousands of hours from all the other clubs to look at. This is the reality of bulk data collection. It’s been documented – in reports leaked from our own intelligence services – that most of this data will never be analysed. 

With the average working week lasting 40 hours, it would take a solitary MI5 officer the best part of two whole weeks to watch all of the footage from just one small nightclub in Paisley. That's a lot of digital techno to get through and less than 3 per cent of all data collected in bulk is ever properly interrogated by MI5 and GCHQ. 

This is why the UK Government’s proposals to make bulk collection the default position of GCHQ is so frightening. The Investigatory Powers Bill (or Snoopers Charter) which has just been passed in Westminster is proposing to collect all of our internet data and store it for 12 months. The lack of constraints and oversight enjoyed by our secret services has just been rubber stamped in a way that would make Big Brother blush. 

Police Scotland have already found themselves in hot water with the black-ops style interception of journalists and whistleblower’s data without proper judicial approval, so who knows what they might get up to with all of our bulk data.

The only sensible way to gather useful and effective data is by targeted intelligence which has been judicially warranted and authorised. This gives our agencies a much higher chance of actually catching potential criminals whilst protecting us from the random spray gun approach of bulk data collection which is an attack on our rights to privacy. 

Open Rights Group (ORG) Scotland have some concerns about the Scottish Recording Centre and MILK WHITE projects and the fact that we are only hearing about it now thanks to Edward Snowden suggests that we are potentially being exposed to intrusive and murky attacks on our personal and private information. 

Police Scotland have already found themselves in hot water with the black-ops style interception of journalists and whistleblower’s data without proper judicial approval, so who knows what they might get up to with all of our bulk data.

Clear lines need to be drawn in the digital sand and this is why ORG would like to know exactly who is authorised to collect this private data belonging to Scottish citizens, how this data is being collected and who here in Scotland has access to it. Even if it’s just sitting on a gargantuan hard drive somewhere at Fettes HQ we need to know how that information is safeguarded from being hacked. 

ORG would like to see a Scottish Digital Watchdog put in place – which is solely accountable to the people of Scotland – and which operates independently of our overstretched police force. 

The SNP rallied against the idea of a secretive Snoopers Charter in Westminster last week and they were part of a sensible minority in Westminster who should be lauded for standing up to this potentially Orwellian invasion of our fundamental rights to protect our private information.

Picture courtesy of Lamentables

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