The revelation in the Guardian that the US is co-funding GCHQ surveillance programmes comes as a surprise only to those who still believe the myth that we plucky Britons broke the German Enigma codes in on our own. Most books and films airbrush out the contributions of the French and Poles, who made the early break throughs and passed their material on to us. Meanwhile Hollywood’s hi-jacking of the story of U110 is a perversion of history that is almost as nothing compared to our ignorance of our dependence on the Americans for much of what is attributed to Bletchley Park: from their re-engineering and scaling up of the manufacture of the bombes to the traffic that was transmitted across the Atlantic for breaking in Fort Meade. It has been said that, at the height of the Cold War, the US picked up over half the cost of GCHQ. Even so, Harold Wilson (refusing to allow British troops to get involved with Vietnam) was no more a US poodle than Margaret Thatcher (blackmailing both the French and the US into supporting us over the Falklands).
None of this was secret. The sources I used in my blog entry, just over a year ago, on the need for us not to base surveillance policy on the mythology of Bletchley had been released in the US before most Britons had ever heard of Bletchley Park, let alone its importance. More-over those sources were not in the least coy about the debt they owed to “the geese who never cackled”. The only organisation that has been coy about its debt was Russia: which has never publicly honoured those who ensured that Stalin had access to the material in significant decrypts (e.g. those which helped turn the tide of war at Kursk) at the same time as Churchill and before Roosevelt.
The comments below the Guardian article are most interesting. It is as though most could not forgive Churchill for deciding to sell Britain to the United States and sacrifice the British Empire in order to stop Hitler’s unholy mix of nationalism and socialism in its tracks. Or is it that they feel betrayed by the discovery that their beliefs in the privacy and security of the Internet are based on similar fictions?
Meanwhile the more interesting question for the main board directors who read the Financial Times, not just the believers in a benevolent socialist state who read the Guardian, is “How many Bradley Mannings are copying your supposedly secure big data to publish to the world?”
Apparently 1.5 million Americans have similarly security clearances to Bradley Manning. Our processes appear rather less insecure but 600,000 NHS staff have access to your most sensitive medical records. How secure, in practice, are all those big data clouds to which your data, public or private, is being moved? Or rather, how do we ensure that they are indeed secure and that only those “we” trust have access? And who are we?
Public debate on privacy and data protection takes place in a surreal world, divorced from the interlocking realities of the Internet, Big Data and Information Insecurity, let alone how the people processes for access to data actually work. Forget “the right to be forgotten”. Your data, whether accurate or not, is already out in the wild in a global village – where nothing is ever truly forgotten. Where is the right for your youthful indiscretions to be forgiven – and by whom.
I plan to pick up on this topic later.