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Legislation is shortly to go before the UK Parliament allowing the intelligence agency GCHQ to monitor the phone and internet activity of everyone in the UK. They won’t be able to look at the content of calls, emails etc without a warrant, but they’ll be able to see who you’ve been in contact with. Similar legislation failed under Labour and was opposed by the Tories. Let’s see what happens now it’s the other way round.
The civil liberties groups are up in arms, but it seems like common sense to me. Through mobile phones and the internet, new worlds of communication have opened up and it is the government’s job to make sure they don’t become a secure haven for harmful activities such as terrorism, paedophile rings and organised crime.
It’s always been the government’s job to prevent criminal activity, and it would be failing in its most basic duty – to maintain an ordered, safe society – if it didn’t introduce such legislation.
You need to be able to look at certain activities in real time, and monitor extensive patterns of communication without having to go to a magistrate each time. Note the police won’t be able to do this, and even GCHQ won’t be able to look at content without a warrant.
It’s easy to react to this sort of legislation and feel invaded, but let’s imagine a real situation. You have Slimey the known paedophile. I would hope that GCHQ is already monitoring his electronic communications for signs of contact with other known paedophiles.
But supposing Slimey is suspected of being part of a paedophile ring with people who are not known to the police? What you need to do firstly is to monitor all his communications, and then those of all the people he is in contact with, and then all the people they are in contact with, and so on. It’s immensely complex. And what do you find? 3 steps down the line Gropey, another known paedophile, turns up. Gropey and Slimey are not stupid enough to contact each other directly, but who are these intermediaries? And one particular email or text was recklessly sent from Sri Lanka, hotspot for paedophile sex tourism. Dodgy. And all this is without even opening any texts etc.
Now I know very little about most of my Facebook friends (let alone my friends’ friends). For all I know, one of them could be Gropey. It’s perfectly possible. He just happens to be interested in astrology, for example. GCHQ would then need to monitor my electronic communications and those of all my other Facebook friends, and then their friends in turn, at least for a while, to see if a pattern emerged. And it probably wouldn’t be some prurient bureaucrat fingering through my messages, but a computer algorithm trawling through millions of connections and looking for patterns.
If you lived in a village 100 years ago – as most people did – everyone would have known your business. If someone did something, people would have a fairly good idea who did it. Nowadays we have people we don’t know – or maybe just computers – knowing some of our business, instead of people we do know – and may not like – knowing all of our business. I think I prefer it like it is now.
The issue is not the creation of these powers for GCHQ. It has to happen. The issue is ensuring the powers do not get abused. Spying on people for political reasons. Or being paid to by journalists: the recent phone hacking enquiry has proved what we all knew, which is that the police can be bought. Presumably, so can some people working at GCHQ.
And if the government didn’t introduce these powers, we’d probably find we were being snooped on anyway, but in an unregulated manner. So for this reason as well, the legislation is needed.
Of course there will be abuses, in the same way that the police will always do bad things, like framing people when they are under pressure to get a result, or being prejudiced against the minorities that many of us are also secretly prejudiced against, or taking bribes. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a police force.
This issue is current in the US too. 2 days ago, in the New York Times, a headlined article began:
Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.
And in yesterday’s New York Times we read:
The director of the F.B.I. said cyberattacks would soon replace terrorism as the agency’s No. 1 concern as foreign hackers, particularly from China, penetrate American firms’ computers and steal huge amounts of valuable data and intellectual property… the executive assistant director of the F.B.I. told Congress last week of an American company that had all of its data from a 10-year, $1 billion research program copied by hackers in one night. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the military’s Cyber Command, called the continuing, rampant cybertheft “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
Because it is fearful that government monitoring would be seen as a cover for illegal snooping and a violation of citizens’ privacy, the Obama administration has not even attempted to develop a proposal for spotting and stopping vast industrial espionage. It fears a negative reaction from privacy-rights and Internet-freedom advocates who do not want the government scanning Internet traffic.
Currently Pluto is stationing in Capricorn, just as the UK government has released these legislative plans. Government (Capricorn) control (Pluto) is an issue here, highlighted by Pluto’s being stationary. Whether you see the plans as the shadow side of Pluto in Capricorn – authoritarian, over-controlling government – or as a necessary exertion of power (Pluto) by the government (Capricorn) probably depends on your political position.
My opinion is that it is mainly the latter motive, though over time it will tend to shade into the former motive. But it would be wrong to try to use astrology to justify my opinion. Astrology doesn’t tell you what to think. It just indicates what principles, what archetypes, what gods are at work.
For the UK, Pluto is stationing at a very significant point, around 9.30 Capricorn: the UK IC is at 9.20 Capricorn and the UK Sun is at 10.11 Capricorn. What is happening with the GCHQ legislation is therefore very significant in terms of the government taking control. The astrology tells us that. What it doesn’t tell us is what value to place on it. We will each have our own opinion.
Something I object to is the reflex reaction against the legislative plans by the educated liberal consensus, that they are simply a bad thing, Big Brother, end of story. Like GM food is simply a bad thing to be opposed. Or nuclear power. Nothing is like that. It is unthinking. Being educated is unfortunately not the same thing as being able to think – being able to weigh up emotive subjects dispassionately and to question one’s own values and attitudes. I think these plans need intelligent opposition. There will be abuses, there will be too many of them at times, and governments have to be kept on their toes.