Mass state surveillance – some questions for Martin Horwood

A letter to the Gloucestershire Echo, published Monday 29 July 2013.

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Dear Sir,

Back in 2008, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, Martin Horwood, could be found encouraging UK citizens to set limits on GCHQ’s eavesdropping capabilities. As reported by the Echo at the time, Martin was “deeply concerned about the civil liberties implications” of government plans to “monitor and store every single text message and e-mail sent in Britain, as well as records of every single website visit made within the country”.

Fast forward to the present and Martin Horwood can now be found lambasting whistleblower Edward Snowden for revealing that GCHQ, via a programme codenamed “Tempora”, indiscriminately (and almost certainly illegally, given current UK statutes) intercepts, stores and scans colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by UK citizens. More worrying still, Martin Horwood’s office has recently confirmed to me, by email, that Martin does not consider this mass surveillance programme to represent a threat to privacy!

The above in mind, I’d be grateful if Martin could grace the Echo’s letters page to explain:

(a) The dramatic shift in his perspective between 2008 and 2013; and

(b) How his 2013 views square with the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledge to “protect and restore [our] freedoms” and “end plans to store [our] email and internet records without good cause”.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Sucksmith

Will the BBC Trust investigate axing of Ilan Ziv’s “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story”?

Dear BBC,

Further to Ilan Ziv’s rendition of the pulling of “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story” (available at: http://ilanziv.com/2013/04/28/the-exiling-of-my-film-exile-a-myth-unearthed-in-the-bbc-2/), I wish to request the following: (a) a full, official explanation of WHY the programme “does not fit editorially”; AND (b) the identity of the person who described the programme as “propaganda”, and the circumstances under which this person came to exert influence over the airing of the programme; AND (c) under all relevant FoI statutes, copies of all relevant internal BBC communications that considered the programme’s “editorial fit”, to include minutes of any meetings that took place on the same subject. I look forward to hearing from you.

Joe Sucksmith

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments regarding about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. Your concerns were brought to the attention of senior management in BBC Vision who responded as follows:

“Ilan Ziv’s film was originally acquired earlier this year to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. Acquisitions are often prepared for transmission close to broadcast and it was only at this point that it was decided that the film did not fit the season editorially and was not shown. We would like to assure you that this was an internal decision and there was no political pressure involved in the decision to suspend this programme. We’re sorry for any disappointment caused but please be assured we are talking to the director about future plans for the film, the outcome of which will be published on the BBC’s FAQ website: http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ in due course”.

With regards to your FOI request, I can assure you that this matter is currently being looked into for you. You will receive a response in due course. Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your concerns with us.

Kind Regards
Richard Carey

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Dear BBC,

Your response is merely a re-statement of the original response to other complainants that prompted my complaint! To repeat: I would like a full, official explanation of WHY the programme “does not fit editorially”. Put another way, I would like you to explain the phrase “does not fit editorially”, with reference to the specific editorial codes infringed, and why.

Many thanks, Joe

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and we are not in a position to discuss the specific details at present. As we have said, we are talking to the director about future plans for the film and we will publish the outcome on our FAQ website at http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ once these plans are decided. In the meantime we regret there is no more we can add. Thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer
BBC Complaints

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Dear Gemma,

Many thanks for your further response, received yesterday, and which reads:

“We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and we are not in a position to discuss the specific details at present. As we have said, we are talking to the director about future plans for the film and we will publish the outcome on our FAQ website at http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ once these plans are decided. In the meantime we regret there is no more we can add.”

No, you have NOT explained the “reason for decision”. Rather, you have issued a generic cover-all response that the programme “did not fit editorially”. The crucial question, and the one that I’ve now repeatedly asked, is WHY the programme was considered not to fit editorially. This would obviously entail reference to the specific editorial criteria that the programme was considered against, and the reasons why these criteria were not considered to have been met. It is tiresome in the extreme to have to go to these lengths to get an honest response from a publically funded organisation 😦 Please consider this email a request for this complaint to be elevated to Stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.

Joe

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your follow up comments about our decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April. We recognise you continue to feel strongly about this but we have explained the reason for the decision (including why it was made very close to transmission) and we are not in a position to discuss the specific details at present. As we have said, we are talking to the director about future plans for the film and we will publish the outcome on our FAQ website at http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ once these plans are decided. In the meantime we regret there is no more we can add. Thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer

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Dear BBC Trust,

Please find attached recent correspondence with the BBC regards the BBC’s decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ on 25 April.

In my professional capacity as an Administrative Officer at a university, I regularly have to assess [various kinds of] student applications. Every now and again, I have no choice but to refuse a student’s application. Can you imagine the student’s consternation were I to respond with a generic “I’m afraid your application did not meet the criteria”? Would such a response inspire confidence that my assessment had been carried out objectively? Would the student not be entitled to an explanation that covered the precise reasons for refusal? I trust this gives an insight into why I remain dissatisfied, and I why I wish the Trust to now investigate further.

Please note: while the BBC clearly believes its continued discussions with the director of the programme to be a mitigating factor, I consider this a red herring. Irrespective of any future transmission, the circumstances surrounding the original axing need to be adequately explained. And of course, the more the BBC Executive procrastinates, the greater the impression they have something to hide.

To re-iterate: I am seeking a full explanation of what was meant by the phrase “does not fit editorially”. This will obviously entail reference to the specific editorial criteria that the programme was considered against, and the reasons why these criteria were not considered to have been met. I think it would also be useful to know HOW these decisions were made, and by WHOM.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Sucksmith

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Further to my email of 6 June 2013, the Trust Unit has reviewed your correspondence and agree that BBC Complaints should have provided you with a further response.

We have therefore asked BBC Complaints to respond to you again directly addressing your concerns. This response should also explain how to take your complaint further should you wish to do so.
I hope this helpful.

Yours sincerely
Christina Roski
Complaints Adviser, BBC Trust Unit

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

Thank you for your email sent to the BBC Trust, which was forwarded to me for reply. Your concerns were again brought to the attention of senior management in BBC Television (formerly BBC Vision) who responded as follows:

‘Ilan Ziv’s film about the archaeology and history of Jerusalem and surrounding areas was acquired by the BBC for transmission during a BBC Four archaeology season. It was found during the re-versioning of the film to 60 minutes in length that it covered broader issues and for that reason, it was decided to withdraw it from this particular season. The BBC is now working with the film maker on a new version of the film and will issue a further statement once that process is complete.’

Please accept this as a response at Stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process. If you remain unhappy you may ask the BBC Trust to consider an appeal within 20 working days. You can write to the BBC Trust at 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ, and you should quote case number CAS-2218615-RZF0C3.

Full details of the complaints and appeals processes are on the BBC Trust website: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/contact/complaints_appeals/appeal_trust.shtml

Yours sincerely
Sarah Greatrex
Senior Complaints Advisor
BBC Audience Services

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Dear BBC Trust,

I have just received the [above] response from BBC Complaints.
This seems to be a perfunctory re-formulation of what has gone before (only with “did not fit editorially” replaced by “covered broader issues”), and most certainly does not evidence any effort to “directly address my concerns”.

I would be grateful, therefore, if the Trust could now investigate further.

Best wishes,

Joe

Julia MacGregor: representing her members, or representing GCHQ?

Dear GCHQ,

In a recent Echo article, journalist Joe Lane revealed that:

As a direct result of [Edward Snowden’s] claims, an internal electronic message board entitled Proud to Work for GCHQ has been launched, where staff can leave comments to reflect their pride in their efforts to protect national security.”

Some questions about this, if I may…

1. Are you able to confirm how Joe Lane came by this information?

2. Am I correct in assuming that the release of this information, relating as it does to an internal message board, would have required prior approval from GCHQ? If so, I’d be grateful if you could confirm the grounds on which approval was granted?

3. Given the clear public interest element, I’d like to request – under all relevant FOI statutes – the disclosure of all comments that have been left by staff (suitably anonymised, of course) on this message board.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

Classification:UNCLASSIFIED

Joe,

Thank you for your email.

In answer to your questions:

1. Julia is the Chair of the GCG and is at liberty to engage with the Press as and when she feels it is appropriate to benefit her members.

2. As a matter of courtesy GCHQ were informed beforehand of Julia’s intention to engage with the Press and we fully support her efforts in this area. Julia doesn’t need authorisation from GCHQ to represent her membership and we have no issues with anything she said or did.

3. Your Freedom of Information request will be forwarded to the appropriate area and someone will be back in touch with you soon.

Regards,

GCHQ Press Office

[This message has been sent by a mobile device]

Many thanks. Are you saying that it’s ok for staff to disclose to the press details of internal message boards (that would otherwise never make it into the public domain) without seeking prior approval from GCHQ?

This sounds an awful lot like “leaking” to me.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Joe

Classification:UNCLASSIFIED

Joe,

I refer you to my earlier answer.

Regards,

GCHQ Press Office

[This message has been sent by a mobile device]

Many thanks. Your “earlier answer”, to my specific question about whether Julia was required to obtain approval before disclosing to the public details of the internal “Proud to Work at GCHQ” message board, was that “Julia doesn’t need authorisation from GCHQ to represent her membership”. Do I infer from this that the answer to my original question is “no” (as in, authorisation not required to disclose details of internal message board)? I’d be grateful if you could clarify.

Joe

Protective Marking: UNCLASSIFIED

Joe,

Regarding your latest question, we are not prepared to reveal the nature or content of discussions held between GCHQ and the Chair of the GCG.

Regards,

GCHQ Press Office

Thanks. So there were “discussions” then? Are you able to clarify why “discussions” were required given Julia “doesn’t need authorisation from GCHQ” and “is at liberty to engage with the Press as and when she feels it is appropriate”?
Joe

Classification:UNCLASSIFIED

Joe,

I feel we have adequately explained our position over the course of your many emails.

We won’t be looking to respond to any further enquiries from you on this particular topic as we are of the opinion that we have said all that needs to be said to answer your questions.

Regards,

Press Office

[This message has been sent by a mobile device]

Email to Julia MacGregor regards mass surveillance by GCHQ

Dear Julia,

In a recent interview with the BBC, you stated – in respect of Ed Snowden’s leaks about NSA/GCHQ – that:

Staff are very hurt, very angry about the allegations in the newspapers. There have been implications that we don’t work within the law and we absolutely do. We work completely within the law, completely within policy and completely within the spirit of the law. So these allegations that we are trying to circumvent the law and use back channels to exchange intelligence are just complete rubbish.”

While I have some sympathy with these sentiments, it seems to me that the illegality or otherwise of GCHQ’s work is ultimately a red herring. The real issue here is the development of what former NSA employee Thomas Drake describes as a “vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism “.

Such a characterisation in mind, do you at least accept that Ed Snowden’s revelations have kick-started a much needed debate about what level of surveillance is acceptable within a (supposedly) liberal democracy?

Best regards,

Joe

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Hi Joe

I’m afraid I’ve got no comment to make on this issue. You need to contact the GCHQ Press Office.

Regards

Julia

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Over to you GCHQ Press Office!

Joe

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Protective Marking: UNCLASSIFIED

Joe,

Thank you for your email.

It is worth pointing out to you that GCHQ takes its obligations under the law very seriously. Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Intelligence and Security Committee.

I’d also like to point you to the statement made by the Foreign Secretary to the House of Commons on 10 June in support of the work of GCHQ and its partnerships.

Regards,

GCHQ Press Office

Martin Horwood MP on mass state surveillance: a case of principles for (GCHQ) votes?

Further to this article in the Gloucestershire Echo, here’s some recent correspondence with Martin Horwood’s office (which, inevitably, means David Fidgeon), arranged thematically for ease of reading…

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On G20 spying by GCHQ

Dear Martin,

The Echo article states:

“Mr Horwood said the intelligence hub answered to a Parliamentary committee, which had vowed to investigate the claims. But he said the listening post had acted legally.”

Are you saying that it is *legal* to spy on G20 delegates? Please clarify.

In regard to legality, all intercepts have to be legal and authorised by warrant and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 specified that each warrant had to ‘name or describe’ one person or set of premises. It also says:
‘The conduct authorised by an interception warrant shall be taken to include-
(a) all such conduct (including the interception of communications not identified by the warrant) as it is necessary to undertake in order to do what is expressly authorised or required by the warrant;
(b) conduct for obtaining related communications data.’

The law generally specifies that any actions thus allowed have to be ‘proportionate to what the action seeks to achieve’ (Intelligence Services Act 1994 5 (2), and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, also 5 (2) ).

David Fidgeon
Assistant to Martin Horwood MP
01242 224889

Are you implying that the interception of G20 delegates’ communications would have been covered by warrants? If so, how would you reconcile the issuing of such warrants with the principles of “necessity” and “proportionality” that – purportedly – underpin all of GCHQ’s interception activities? Are we to believe that the delegates of, say, Germany, posed a terrorist threat to the UK?

Yes, I am implying GCHQ activity is covered by warrants. I cannot sensibly comment on the detail of necessity and proportionality though in any particular case – that is a judgement for the Intelligence and Security committee.

All members of a democracy are entitled to comment on the necessity and proportionality of GCHQ spying, David. Just so I’m clear: is it your belief that the G20 delegates posed a “threat to national security”?
[On the issue of the ISC, I notice they have tasked themselves with investigating the “allegations” surrounding the Prism programme. Could I ask Martin to enquire on my behalf as to whether or not the ISC will also be investigating GCHQ’s Project Tempora?]

I am afraid I just don’t know.

[regards ISC] I will need to look into this this – not sure how much information the ISC gives on their investigations

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On bulk interception and storage of citizens’ private communications by GCHQ

Martin,

The Echo article goes on to quote you as follows:

“I don’t think it has come as a surprise they use phone lines and the internet to gather intelligence. It is quite proper that questions are asked, but that should be done in a private setting or else they cannot do their job. For this information to be put into the public domain is incredibly irresponsible and a threat to national security.”

As I understand matters, the information disclosed by Snowden reveals a tad more than this. Specifically, it reveals that NSA and GCHQ, via programmes Prism and Tempora, systematically (and almost certainly illegally, given current statutes) intercept and store colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by US and UK citizens.

Could you please explain how you reconcile invasion of privacy on this scale with the principles of “openness” and “transparency” that underpin so-called “liberal democracy”?

The accessing of mass data does not necessarily constitute an invasion of privacy of “ordinary” citizens. A computerised system might access the raw data and use some algorithm or process to refine that to a form or quantity accessible to human beings, who might then actively seek out the person whose communication they were looking for, and only then their actual communications content. No organisation could possibly be ‘intercepting’ 600 million communications in any meaningful sense. And it would indeed be unlawful if they did so.

Ok, just so I’m clear: if I were to intercept your post as it was being delivered to your home, copy it (without examining the content), then store it, you would *not* consider this an invasion of your privacy, right?

Tempting though it may be, I am not sure you can sensibly draw an analogy between a physical letter being opened by an individual and a bundle of data being electronically scanned.

The format of the communications is a red herring, David. What matters is that UK citizens’ private communications are being systematically intercepted, stored and scanned, without their consent. Do you/Martin agree that this represents an invasion of privacy?

Martin does not think that electronically scanning 600 million communications a day is an invasion of privacy

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On Ed Snowden and whistleblowing

The Echo article goes on to quote you as follows:

“I don’t think it has come as a surprise they use phone lines and the internet to gather intelligence. It is quite proper that questions are asked, but that should be done in a private setting or else they cannot do their job. For this information to be put into the public domain is incredibly irresponsible and a threat to national security.”

As I understand matters, the information disclosed by Snowden reveals a tad more than this. Specifically, it reveals that NSA and GCHQ, via programmes Prism and Tempora, systematically (and almost certainly illegally, given current statutes) intercept and store colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by US and UK citizens.

Could you please explain *how* disclosure of this mass surveillance system constitutes a “threat to national security”?

Disclosure of the activities and procedures of the security services is of potential use to those who threaten our security. Whistleblowers have internal and independent opportunities to blow their whistles discreetly, behind closed doors. Otherwise they are simply revealing things they have promised and agreed not to reveal, without any of the oversight or supervision required to make sure they are not damaging national security or even endangering peoples’ lives.

This is merely a reformulation of my question into a statement. *In what way* has the information published by The Guardian “threatened our security”? If you/Martin believe, for example, that the information has endangered people’s lives, please explain how/why, as it is anything but obvious.

Btw, on the issue of whistleblowers, I just caught Simon Hughes on Question Time saying that he supported the right to whistleblow, and that the Liberal Democrats as a party were *against* the “snoopers charter”, and more generally *against* handing further powers to the security services. This is at odds with what you’ve written above. Would you care to explain the discrepancy?

I don’t know if the information damaged national security, but as I say disclosure of the activities and procedures of the security services is of potential use to those who threaten our security. If you are ‘aggrieved by any conduct’ of the intelligence services you can take it to the Tribunal set up for the purpose (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, 65 (4).

I am afraid I gave up watching Question Time a long time ago and didn’t see Simon Hughes. In any case my email was a summary of Martin’s views on this, not necessarily Lib Dem policy.

But Martin didn’t say “potential threat”, he said “threat”. Can you confirm that he’ll be issuing a correction? And can you also confirm that he’ll be retracting the “totally irresponsible” charge, given it makes no sense alongside a merely abstract “threat to national security”?

[on Question Time] Oh I’m with you on QT – it’s a terrible programme that functions to buttress the status quo. Glad I caught Hughes’ comments though as they indicate the extent to which Martin has traded his liberal principles for (GCHQ) votes.

I don’t think he’ll be correcting or retracting.