Tuesday, July 15, 2014

GCHQ's bag of dirty tricks

The latest NSALeak: a look inside GCHQ's bag of dirty tricks:

The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has developed sophisticated tools to manipulate online polls, spam targets with SMS messages, track people by impersonating spammers and monitor social media postings, according to newly-published documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents – which were published on First Look Media with accompanying analysis from Glenn Greenwald – disclose a range of GCHQ "effects" programs aimed at tracking targets, spreading information, and manipulating online debates and statistics.


Among the programs revealed in the document are:
  • GATEWAY: the "ability to artificially increase traffic to a website".
  • CLEAN SWEEP which "masquerade[s] Facebook wall posts for individuals or entire countries".
  • SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE for "perfect spoofing of emails from BlackBerry targets".
  • UNDERPASS to "change outcome of online polls".
  • SPRING BISHOP to find "private photos of targets on Facebook".
The document also details a range of programs designed to collect and store public postings from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, and to make automated postings on several of the social networks.

This isn't just intelligence gathering - these are tools to allow GCHQ to manipulate society for the benefit of themselves and their political masters. Which raises the obvious question: are they already doing it?

With so much now done online, the idea that government spies are secretly intervening to shape our conversations and manipulate public opinion should be deeply troubling. These tools - or ones similar to them - could allow GCHQ to choose governments, topple uncooperative Ministers, and attack human rights groups who object to all this. This makes GCHQ a standing threat to the UK's democracy - and one which needs to be eliminated.