25 October 2013

Would you trust Britain...............

Recently, whilst on holiday in Portugal, I struck up a conversation with two German women who were eating in the same fish restaurant as myself. The restaurant was interesting but far more interesting was the conversation, when it turned to politics and, in particular, the ongoing Edward Snowdon revelations.

What caught me off-guard was the annoyance and anger that these two Germans expressed about Britain's part in spying on Germans, and Germany, on behalf of the United States. Since that conversation, it has become evident that Britain has been spying on anyone and everyone: the Germans; Belgians; French and, quite probably, any individual, country or organisation of interest to Britain or, more particularly, the USA.

Its also strange how random conversations can offer insight into the activities of government. A few months back I was sitting in a Cafe Nero talking with friends about the impact of the digital revolution on photography. I'm very much an analogue person when it comes to photography and digital has been a money-pit for the last 10 or more years. Yes, digital does allow the creation of very glossy images but they are further and further away from any form of reality, certainly far away from the 'reality' of analogue imagery.

During this conversation, a passerby, lets call her Suzie, joined in the discussion, because they were also analogue and they enjoyed talking about the strengths and weaknesses of analogue as opposed to digital. At the end of our conversation, which, by that time, had strayed into the territory of Edward Snowdon and the security of digital information, Suzie recounted a tale where, in the 1980s, she visited an address in Bude, Cornwall. The address, at that time was GPO, Bude, Cornwall and it was the home  of some sort of listening station which was involved, not with satellites, but with undersea cables.

That caused me to have a look at Google Maps and its relatively easy to find the GCHQ Bude listening station, which is the installation that everyone knows about - lots of satellite dishes and large fences. But not too far away, at 50.797825,-4.539392, is a less well known installation which is a Cable&Wireless operation just inland from Widemouth Bay. And Widemouth Bay, I understand, is where a number of the transatlantic data cables come ashore.

It doesn't take much of a leap to see that, were the British government to put a clamp around these cables, all the information that flows through them, to and from Europe, would be available to HM Government and its friends and associates. (See this: The Creepy, Long-Standing Practice of Undersea Cable Tapping - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic)

But have a look at this map Submarine Cable Map and you'll understand that Widemouth Bay isn't the only UK location where the Government could put its ear to the wall. I would imagine that this idea occurred to them years ago and they've been listening in to everyone's conversations wherever and whenever possible and its only been Edward Snowdon's revelations that brought this to the attention of the wider public.

And think about the sort of information that the government might obtain. Not just emails, which are a relatively recent development, but telephone calls across Europe from financial centres to clients, from businesses to suppliers, from potential clients to potential investors. Forget the terrorists for a minute, there's lots of juicy info that the government could use to disadvantage the UK's competitors and provide serious advantage to, for example, the City of London.

Then Cameron says that he shares EU concerns over US phone tapping. You have to laugh.