Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A threat to freedom

The latest NSALeak: the NSA and its British proxy spied on people who visited

Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.

The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.

One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.

So basically "our" spies are spying on whether we're reading material embarrassing to them. Its a threat not just to freedom of the press, but also to freedom of expression (which includes the right to receive as well as distribute information) - and to democracy itself. And it raises several obvious questions.

Firstly, how far did it go? They collected IP addresses - did they try and link them to people? Have they been drawing up an "enemies list" of "subversives" who read material critical of them?

Secondly, what else are they spying on? Have they been abusing the powers given to them in the name of "national security" to spy on who is reading anti-spying articles in the Guardian or New York Times?

Thirdly, and locally: was GCSB involved? Was it given access to information about New Zealanders? Either would be a gross abuse of their powers, and of our democratic values.

And again: the evidence shows that the existence of these agencies is simply incompatible with democracy. We must shut them down. Vote out the spies!