Thursday, 23 January 2014

What's It's Really Like To Be Under UK Government Surveillance

Our topic this evening, ladies, gentlemen and sleeper agents, is the world of government monitoring of their citizens.

There's clearly a lot of this in the news, with both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden playing a modern day Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes, and especially with the revelations of the extent of US and UK monitoring of their own civilian population.

Nobody seems surprised, of course, we all suspected it was going on (to various levels of tin-foil-hattery), but everybody's clearly annoyed that they've been covering up what we all presumed anyway.

At best, that's a big waste of taxpayer's money.

But let's flip it around, look at it from another angle:  My life since I was 16.

For the last 22 years of my life, I've let the UK government (specifically the military/intelligence networks) have privileged access to my life.  I signed up for a scheme that was (probably still is) called "positive vetting".  I'd applied to join the RAF and they obviously need to be able to check on applicants in some depth.  I essentially signed a bit of paper allowing them to spy on me to various levels without the whole court order thing required between the police and civilians, for example.  I don't remember the detail, but it was things like being allowed to monitor my communications (this was early 90s) and interview people who knew me.

Crucially, it doesn't expire.

My RAF career fell through just before I'd formally signed up and just after they taught me to fly, which was both disappointing and utterly exhilarating. But at no point since have I cancelled my permission for them to vet me.  I've never really felt the need to - bear in mind I was applying to this organisation knowing "fiery ball of death" was a realistic (but hopefully avoidable) part of the career ladder.

So for the last 22 years of my life "the establishment" have had legal permission to monitor me far beyond the levels revealed in the Snowden leaks, and I've been no angel.  I've not been an angel on the phone, at work, and I've not been an angel on the internet a LOT.

To be fair, I've never suggested actually overthrowing the government (in fact, I had to sign another piece of paper promising not to), but I've certainly had a good old bitch about various parts of the "establishment" over the years.

I'm into physics, and have done more than my fair share of searches on nuclear physics.  See also my interest in long term energy policy which involves the details of nuclear reactor design.

I'm a hacker.  I describe myself as such, specifically a white-hat but just being a hacker may raise a flag.  I'm interested in cryptography and the state's capabilities and/or denial of such. Quantum computing is a related interest.

I've smoked the odd joint. I've been involved in plenty of pub scraps and pickpocketings over the years - most of which I'm proud to say involved either people being mates at the end or thrown into police vans respectively, but working as a pub licensee is a really good way to stay on the radar.

My interest in science leads me to the science/religion debate, and that leads me to comparative theology, which ties in nicely with the current themes of terrorism and religion.  I've got one particular Muslim friend who loves cracking terrorism jokes with me. 

I'm quite honestly proud that the all-time most popular article on this blog is one of the top Google results for "how to destroy the universe."

You can see how that kind of thing can be read the wrong way.

I've got mates who are police officers, civil servants and serving members of the armed forces.

If people are going to be interrogated for their internet activities then I'm a prime candidate. 

But it's never happened.  

OK, if you want to get conspiratorial then my police/government/army mates are spying on me, but to be honest it's worth it if that's the case, they're genuinely lovely people.