Don’t Spy On Us!

Don’t Spy on US – Day Of Action

Steve Wright

As Europe and the world commemorate the D-Day landings of June 1944, I will be heading down to London, for a Day of Action of 500 activists at Shoreditch Town Hall, on the theme of “Don’t Spy on US….” Is there a connection? Well yes – In 1946-47, at the end of WWII (which was essentially won with the help of good intelligence), a new organisation was set up by the Americans, called the National Security Agency (NSA) which was so secretive, it subsequently became known as “No Such Agency.” Its role – to watch the telecommunications of the enemies of the allied five English speaking nations (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) – initially Russia but it quickly went global. Today we have more detail thanks to the whistleblowing activities of Edward Snowden and the Guardian. The NSA are watching all telecommunications, social media and skyping of the famous, infamous and the ordinary as a giant trawl which presumes all are guilty unless proved otherwise.

What was most shocking was that NSA targets were not terrorists but also allies and that no-one was immune. The scale and capacity of interception were revealed to be literally staggering – tapped cables had capacity to deliver 21 petra-bytes of data per day – the equivalent of sending the entire content of British Library 192 times per day, every day.

This meeting defines its objective as creating a new global movement to defend the digital rights of ordinary citizens, in the face of these mass surveillance capabilities. Science Fiction writer Cory Doctorow will kick off the day and there will be contributions from high-profile speakers including Jimmy Wales, Alan Rusbridger, Shami Chakrabarti, Bruce Schneier, and Stephen Fry. The full programme is here.


According to the organisors, we will get a chance to work with “influential parliamentarians to create a bill to protect our civil liberties at a session with Lord Richard Allan, (Liberal Democrat peer and director of policy for Facebook MENA) and Baroness Helena Kennedy (Labour peer). There will be an opportunity to create an advertising campaign at a session led by Tim Duffy, UK Group Chairman and CEO of M&C Saatchi; and tech experts will teach us to secure our privacy on line by attending a “cryptoparty.”

Why will I be going – well I got a VIP ticket via my past association with Privacy International and I helped play a role in exposing the spy system from when I was a postgraduate student at Lancaster over 30 years ago. I stumbled across the NSA feeds at the back of the university to the biggest NSA field station in the world on the North York Moors, Menwith Hill. The map I produced was an alternative security paradigm, effectively an illegal vision which you can read about here.

This mapping procedure was essentially a jigsaw puzzle attempting to use open information to map what was formerly secret. The UK secret police carried out the their first raid on a British university in 1977 to nip this vision in the bud. Ironically the university’s motto is Omnibus Patet Veritas – Truth Lies Open to All.

Twenty years later, in 1997, I used information provided by one of the speakers at Saturdays event, Duncan Campbell, to deconstruct the role and function of the now satellite based spy networks of the NSA to write a report for the European Parliament, “An Appraisal of the technologies of Political Control” which essentially exposed the NSA Echelon system to the world.  We got a lot of media coverage but the final report of the Parliaments’s temporary committee on Echelon which I recommended be set up, was published in September 2001, and was completely overshadowed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The NSA activities have grown massively since with very little public scrutiny, at least until Snowden allied himself with the Guardian last summer to make the largest whistleblowing leak of modern times. Saturday’s meeting which includes a dialogue with Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, seeks to redress this accountability gap. But in truth, very little has changed since the so called Snowden revelations and capacities like the NSA’s have the power in the words of the Tower Commission, “to make tyranny total.” Without effective encryption, we may witness the balkanisation of the web, as other players including China want to conduct their business as if privacy mattered.

For anyone concerned about sustainable futures and development these debates are vital since this hidden system currently ensures business as usual to maintain current western economic, political resource and conflict management interests. It remains sobering to be reminded that as a military organization, all this data is being codified into future targets and knowledge in the public domain remains more or less obscured….


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