back to article UK Parliament's back for Snoopers' Charter. Former head of GCHQ talks to El Reg

The UK Parliament has returned from recess for a fortnight ahead of the conference season. That's just long enough to squeeze in the House of Lords’ committee stage examination of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which resumes this afternoon. The upper chamber had been waiting for the publication of a review of the bill’s bulk …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They still don't quite get it..

    There is no problem with surveillance for the purposes as described - provided that is indeed the use for it.

    The issue is one of transparency and accountability, and the government scored a significant own goal when it retrospectively changed the law to legalise what GCHQ had been doing. As long as there is no transparency of the use of such powers, and no consequences for those abusing them there will never be trust, and the debate will never end.

    There isn't a problem with giving law enforcement and those tasked with protection of any nation access to the tools they need to do the job. The problem is that with such powers comes responsibility and accountability - if you're unwilling to accept that, you cannot have those powers.

    It's really no more complicated than that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They still don't quite get it..

      "There isn't a problem with giving law enforcement and those tasked with protection of any nation access to the tools they need to do the job."

      Yes there is, when it is the law enforcement agency that is saying what tools they need to do their job, when a home secretary is agreeing with those tools without asking pertinent questions, when an independent reviewer goes along with the status quo without playing devil's advocate and thinking about the two sides of the argument.

      So there is a problem when the tool may cause significant impact on a person's human rights and when the tool is not proportional to the task it is trying to achieve.

      And this doesn't even begin to address that "their job" is whatever is asked of them by the current government, which can change at any time. There's been plenty of regimes that have been quite open and transparent about what they were doing, it didn't help the thousands who ended up in "re-education".

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Corresponding with The Register, Sir David explained how in his experience such bulk hacking powers were necessary for law enforcement purposes on the internet, rather than just being necessary for national security reasons."

    His experience clearly doesn't include such legal concepts as the presumption of innocence or due process of law. Bulk surveillance runs counter to both. If we chuck them away just what sort of society are we supposed to be protecting? Not a free one.

    1. james 68

      There is no such thing as presumption of innocence full stop.

      I discovered this 20 odd years ago when the judge quite literally told me that "innocence until proven guilty has no veracity in a court of law, the onus is upon you (that being me) to prove your innocence by disproving the statements of the police officers".

      Of 9 charges being made against me, I was able to disprove 7, hell I wasn't even in the same country for 3 of them. I still got stuffed on the remaining 2 charges though, even after proving that the police were talking out their collective arses and had outright lied on a number of points and had zero physical or forensic evidence. I could not prove my location for the final 2 and was therefor charged as guilty on them.

      Do not EVER presume that innocent until proven guilty is a "thing". If you do then you're just begging for false charges to be levelled against you so that some corrupt cops can fill their quota.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So the police had no evidence at all and you were prosecuted beyond reasonable doubt. I would sack my lawyer if I was you, an appeal and a jury trial should have sorted that mess out quite quickly.

        1. james 68

          My solicitor was useless from the outset (Legal Aid only promises a defence council, not that they will be in any way competent), he pretty much just stood for the start of the proceedings to give the "Not guilty" plea and then the rest was up to me. After all the crap I had been through (a couple months where the cops would arrive at my home and drag me off to the station at any time of day or night, keep me awake for a couple of days at a time and repeatedly threaten to ruin my life and the lives of my friends if I didn't roll over and take it) a £50 fine and 6 month suspended sentence was like a release from hell for a 16 year old me.

          Appealing would have meant going through all of that again and depending on the judge I could have gotten an actual prison sentence, so no, no appeal.

          I am actually quite grateful to the judge (Or magistrate whatever they're called in a magistrates court), he was quite scathing to the police officers (even going so far as to fine one of them for lying in his statements) and gave me the absolute minimum that he could under the rules of the court. He was convinced that I was innocent but because I could not prove it to the level required by the court he did what he could to minimise the sentencing.

          1. alain williams Silver badge

            Re: lying cop

            even going so far as to fine one of them for lying in his statements

            If that cop lied he should have been sacked and lost his pension. The police are given certain privileges and powers so that they can do their job. If they abuse them then they show themselves not trustable to use them and so should no longer be allowed to use them ... which means that they cannot do their job ... which means that they get sacked.

            Lose his pension: reduce the temptation to finger some innocent sod as a way of getting an easy conviction to meet their targets.

            The same penalties should apply to those at GCHQ/... and their bosses: home secretaries and prime ministers.

            1. james 68

              Re: lying cop

              Unfortunately the old boys network that is the police force rarely lets their own take a fall.

              Especially in Belfast and even more especially prior to the "Peace process".

              The list of things cops have gotten away with in Northern Ireland is truly appalling and even then what is publicly known wouldn't even scratch the surface.

              There are good cops, I've known several who were the perfect example of what a good cop should be (and one who trashed his career by standing up to the assholes), but there are others who are the exact opposite, who should never have been given a position of power and who are actively covered for by the "old boys".

              And yes, my case was in Belfast. I now live in Japan, pretty much as far away from the whole twisted corrupt shithole as I can get.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "He was convinced that I was innocent but because I could not prove it to the level required by the court he did what he could to minimise the sentencing."

            An acquaintance had a similar experience. His less than competent solicitors advised him to plead guilty to what they considered an inadvertent "technical" offence. That would mean probation. They said if he went for a jury trial he would get a prison sentence under the mandatory "raising the stakes" rules.

            The Crown Court judge was very critical of the prosecution's minimal evidence - and apologised to the defendant for the minimum sentencing rules that he was forced to follow.

            It completely destroyed my faith in the police and CPS - especially when talking to a police officer who revealed that the particular police force took pride in being "hard men". Although other officers disapproved of their known unethical behaviour - they still closed ranks to protect their institution.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        The 1 is for effort.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "innocence until proven guilty has no veracity in a court of law, the onus is upon you (that being me) to prove your innocence by disproving the statements of the police officers"

        That sounds like instant grounds for appeal. It also sounds like a magistrate not a judge.

        [Edit. Just seen your response; it was a magistrate. This is a real cause for concern.]

        Apart from anything else, in a jury trial the jury is the tribunal of fact, not the judge. It's standard procedure for the judge to tell the jury that they must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, that it's up to the prosecution to prove its case, not the defendant.

        In the so-called Diplock courts in NI (i.e. trials without jury) the judge does become the tribunal of fact. In that case the judge gives a reasoned statement of how he reached his verdict, something that juries don't do, and in those I've heard the accused having to prove innocence wasn't a factor. And to forestall any comments on that I've heard both magistrates and judges dismiss cases.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          @Doctor Syntax

          "innocence until proven guilty has no veracity in a court of law" is not grounds for an appeal. A criminal court requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. A magistrate's court only requires the preponderance of evidence. If you are not guilty, but someone wants to abuse the legal system against you, then the accusation will change from crime (prosecution by the state in front of a judge with some legal qualifications) to civil offence (prosecution by an individual or company in front of a magistrate), and the evidence will be "because I said so".

          "Innocent until proven guilty" is the wrong target anyway. We should be aiming for "innocent unless proven guilty". In real life, we have bail conditions which are a sentence against the accused before any evidence is heard.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No sane person should accept a trial by a magistrate. Also, next time, ask to see the evidence against you before entering a plea. (You have that right.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "No sane person should accept a trial by a magistrate."

          Plead guilty immediately and get a minimal sentence - possibly a caution.

          Be found guilty in a Magistrates Court and get a higher sentence.

          Opt for a Crown Court trial and the minimum sentence increases again.

          Be found guilty in the Crown Court and the minimum sentence ratchets to a new level.

          Appeal that decision and you are getting into bankruptcy levels.

          It all conspires to persuade innocent people to admit to something that is a figment of the police's febrile imagination.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I would rather take my chances in a crown court with a jury, than fucking roll over in a magistrates court with a bunch of corrupt people who never went to law school and are too busy rattling the saber for their own selfish ends.

  3. not.known@this.address
    Big Brother

    "95% of the cyber attacks on the UK detected by the intelligence community in the last 6 months came from the collection and analysis of bulk data. Right now GCHQ is monitoring cyber threats from high-end adversaries against 450 companies across the aerospace, defence, energy, water, finance, transport and telecoms sectors."

    I'm not sure I understand that first sentence I've quoted - surely if 95% off attacks detected came from the collection and analysis of bulk data then they should be banning bulk data not encouraging it? That way they cut it down to 5% of the current levels and maybe then they will be able to find the real villains...

    And if GCHQ is really monitoring cyber threats from high-end adversaries then they won't need to spy on - sorry, collect data from the general public since they already know we are not the bad guys they are monitoring right now...

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "no proven case GCHQ needs to engage in bulk hacking "

    But this law will let them anyway.

    Since that's what they've been doing all along.

    And will continue to do so. Because that's what they want to do.

    "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something with which to hang him."

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A couple of points.

    * where is the oversight to make sure what GCHQ are doing is proportional. "Who watches the watchers?"

    and here is where I start to get properly worried about slippery slopes.

    " it is enough that the warrant be necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime, or (in some cases) preventing or mitigating death, injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health."

    So we go form on the one hand, "serious crime" which can have a nice definition that everyone can at least understand (if not agree) to "mitigating [.....] damage to a person’s [......] mental health" which can mean just about anything the state things is objectionable to just about anyone at just about any time !!.

    A complete cop-out

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "mitigating [.....] damage to a person’s [......] mental health"

      That bits good, because nowadays the special little snowflakes that make up a vocal minority of the internet literally everything is a threat to their mental health, including suggesting that there are threats to their mental health.

      I mean you had that MP reporting someone for threatening her life by telling her to get in sea and the momentum lot brining down momentumtrumpton because satire is painful.


    The role of mass surveillance in fighting cybercrime cannot be understated

    ... except where BT/Phorm is concerned.

    Then it is completely ineffective. There is no evidence. And nobody is ever prosecuted.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: The role of mass surveillance in fighting cybercrime cannot be understated

      Of course there is evidence. The purpose of legalising hacking for GCHQ is so they can plant their manufactured evidence.

  7. Oengus

    Be afraid...

    (in some cases) preventing or mitigating death, injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health.

    If I was in Blighty this law would be causing serious damage to my mental health as I am sure it is doing to any number of people who really understand the potential for misuse/overreach. On those grounds alone it should be thrown out.

    The chance of mass surveillance actually preventing any of this is miniscule. Surveillance like this can only be useful "After the fact" to show a pattern of behaviour. Good old fashioned police work is more likely to prevent incidents.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Be afraid...

      This is what they are currently doing, this 'law' is supposed to introduce greater oversight.

  8. Twinkle

    Who cares?

    Who cares? Mass surveillance is the norm commercially. for commercial advantage. When you browse you drag around loads of scripts. Some are poorly designed and do not complete leaving you with debug (waste of time) or stop options. Browsing is like walking though long vegetation and collecting endless burrs.

    Electronic surveillance by GCHQ does not worry me in the slightest. I am not a terrorist or a foreign country out to steal information from companies or bring down the internet.

    I suspect mass surveillance is working quite well in the UK as we have relatively few successful terrorist incidents though there is no way all can be stopped.

    As to how well GCHQ is preventing information theft etc- who knows?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who cares?

      1. There is no transparent oversight, so we may never know.

      2. Define 'Terrorist'

      In the mouth of a Politician/Solicitor everything is subject to interpretation.

      1. Twinkle

        Re: Who cares?

        Transparent oversight would mean the terrorists know. Its not like WW2 where you would be shot for being a spy or terrorist. You will still be living it up on benefits.

  9. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Oh dear.

    From the posts in this thread I predict Tescos will be out of tinfoil again.

    1. Twinkle

      Re: Oh dear.

      Costo has the thickest tinfoil and therefore best for preventing mind control or mind reading. Celebrate the next tinfoil hat day on 1st April 2017

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