back to article Global spy system ECHELON confirmed at last – by leaked Snowden files

Duncan Campbell has spent decades unmasking Britain's super-secretive GCHQ, its spying programmes, and its cosy relationship with America's NSA. Today, he retells his life's work exposing the government's over-reaching surveillance, and reveals documents from the leaked Snowden files confirming the history of the fearsome …

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Fascinating.

An excellent article. More like this, please.

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Re: Fascinating.

The issue isn't heroes like this who speak up, it is the vast majority who are cowed into silence by jack booted tactics.

Security, more often than not, covers up ineptitude, bureaucratic mismanagement and wasteful spending rather that state secrets.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fascinating.

"Security, more often than not, covers up ineptitude, bureaucratic mismanagement and wasteful spending rather that state secrets."

Repeat a trillion times and it still won't be enough.

There's more and more muck emerging re ongoing child abuse in or near Westminster.

Today Ted Heath's name is back in the picture, indirectly. In his case and many much more recent ones, did the cops not know (in which case...) or did they not care because [?] (in which case...) or were they saving the information for a more important purpose (in which case...).

Yes I'm angry.

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

Hanlon's razor: "Never assume malice when stupidity is an equally probable explanation."

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Re: Fascinating.

"There's more and more muck emerging re ongoing child abuse in or near Westminster.

Today Ted Heath's name is back in the picture, indirectly. In his case and many much more recent ones, did the cops not know (in which case...) or did they not care because [?] (in which case...) or were they saving the information for a more important purpose (in which case...).

Yes I'm angry."

This...this is one of the main types of reason I am and always have been dead set against any country wide "think of the children porn filter"...

No way we'd get to hear about such things when governments can (and will) flick a switch at the drop of a hat and censor anything that they deem not to be in the public interest. It's why they fought so hard against the FOI requests about expenses.

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I always wonder

about the ones who weren't cowed, but we've never heard of.

Maybe nobody did get secretly caught and imprisoned though.. maybe.

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

>Hanlon's razor: "Never assume malice when stupidity is an equally probable explanation."

asdf razor (ok sure someone else said before but): Often assume malice with extreme prejudice to cover up what can be attributed to either or both stupidity and malice.

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Re: I always wonder

One had his wrists slashed. Nobody came up with the idea to CSI case the place the deadly deed was dun to see how fertile the ground had suddenly become. Wonder not for ever.

"Yo, Tony, get rid of him and I'll make you a multimillionaire when it's over".

Probably had to include an alcoholic in the contract, a potential whistle-blower with a photographic memory?

What could anyone rate his chances?

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

"Never assume malice when stupidity is an equally probable explanation."

s/equally probable/adequate/

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

If it's "equally probable" then why assume one over the other. "Hanlon's razor" is just a humorous meme (though it's less humorous after the fortieth time you've heard it). There are plenty of idiots in government, but there are plenty of smart people too - civil servants, intelligence bureaucrats and directors, private industry associates who make LOTS of money from the deals arranged and yes, even politicians are not necessarily the idiots they sometimes appear to be. These people have worked their way up to seize a limited number of lucrative positions against the competition - why assume incompetence or idiocy. All too often it's simply the case that their goals aren't the same as your goals. You might think the RIPAA act is stupid because it's chances of combating terrorism as stated are near nil. But so what, it's lets the busybodies follow you around or watch you on the CCTV which is what they _really_ want. So are they idiots for proposing an anti-terrorist measure that wont catch terrorists? Of course not - they just lied to get what they want. Not the same thing at all.

Hanlon's razor is a trite joke that some people appear to actually be thinking is some kind of real operating principle to work by. Here's a better operating principle: "Who benefits?" So long as the answer to that is 'someone' that's cause enough to suspect malice.

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

"Hanlon's razor: "Never assume malice when stupidity is an equally probable explanation.""

Heinlein's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice"

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Re: Fascinating.

The issue isn't heroes like this who speak up, it is the vast majority who are cowed into silence by jack booted tactics.

Security, more often than not, covers up ineptitude, bureaucratic mismanagement and wasteful spending rather that state secrets.

And of course you have the proofie-woofie to substantiate this! Jinkies that's good.

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Re: Fascinating.

If it is a politician doing something, it is probably malicious as well as mind-blowingly stupid.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fascinating.

"of course you have the proofie-woofie to substantiate this! Jinkies that's good."

Where are you posting this from, geographically?

In the UK this week we have the spectacle of a former prime minister's alleged sex offences being dragged out into the public domain. This was Ted Heath, PM 1970-1974. There have been unsubstantiated mutterings for a long time. Now it's starting to go public, and there is no way the police and intelligence services can come out of this smelling of roses, whatever the verdict on Heath turns out to be.

Whatever was or wasn't going on around Westminster and very senior Westminster people, the 'Intelligence' services were fully aware of it, as also in due course were the Parliamentary Whips.

Handy for the Whips in the case of a bit of potential dissent within the ranks. No need to let the criminal justice system in on the secret even where appropriate. Victims? Who cares, there are majorities at stake.

Don't take my word for it. See (e.g.) from July 2014 when Newsnight conveniently cut off the important bit of an interview with a former Whip (interview first published 1995), and the papers published the missing bit:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-whips-can-no-longer-maintain-westminsters-shroud-of-secrecy-9592971.html

Whip, talking about MPs: “They’d say ‘Now listen, I’m in a jam, can you help?’ It might be debt, it might be scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which...”

Newsnight stopped here.

Whip continues: “ … in which, erm, er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up, they’d come and ask if we could help, and if we could we did. And we would do everything we can, because we would store up Brownie points... And if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons, because if we could get a chap out of trouble, then he will do as we ask for ever more.”

And what the Whips knew, the intelligence services knew before them.

Proof? How much do you want.

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Re: I always wonder

A great number of people have been secretly imprisoned, tortured, and killed over the years, usually at small airports or allied military bases. If they survive torture, they usually get trialed by a secret court, happens abroad aboard aircraft, or in small dark, wet rooms the NSA rents out in military bases. It has happened, is happening right now, and will be happening tomorrow - that is the daily task of several forces of the iiiii.

There are countless reports of people being secretly withheld and tortured, some till death, happens mostly by the hands of US personnel in military bases in countries like Poland, Belgium, Germany for example - that is where most reports come from, at least.

Some people are taken into "custody" because they wear a type of watch - you won't believe me, that is fine, read wikileaks, it is all in there.

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Re: Fascinating.

>And of course you have the proofie-woofie to substantiate this! Jinkies that's good.

Said like a true AC who in the end sucks the system's phallus and tells everyone how just things are because they got theirs and that is all that matters.

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Re: Fascinating. @ NoneSuch

Robbed wholesale from Wikipedia:

Cui bono (/kwiː ˈboʊnoʊ/), literally "to whose benefit?", is a Latin phrase which is still used.

It is the key forensic question in legal and police investigation to find who has a motive for a crime.

In other words; when the Police investigate a crime, the position to take is not that of Hanlon's Razor and assume incompetence, but to look at who benefits. The corollary to this, is to 'follow the money', particularly when examining the acts and habits of British politicians. The assume they are not up to something is a nice thought, but possibly a little naïve.

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Re: I always wonder

none of this bothers me if it's genuinely for national security

It what conceivable sense can it "genuinely [be] for national security"? What kind of "security" can a nation offer to its citizens if it routinely oppresses them in secret?

Beyond that foundational principle, what sort of threat model justifies the behaviors you describe? Some existential threat is held back only by a regime of secrecy so frail that anyone who pierces it must be silenced? That seems extraordinarily improbable - and since the various governments perpetuating those regimes refuse to offer any evidence or substantial arguments for them, it's the height of foolishness to take it on faith.

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Re: Fascinating.

Whatever was or wasn't going on around Westminster and very senior Westminster people, the 'Intelligence' services were fully aware of it, as also in due course were the Parliamentary Whips.

Errrr, yep. It's called blackmail. If you work in the senior ranks of the police or the intelligence services then you always want to have some dry powder for the case when parliament is thinking of enacting something against your interests or wishes. At such point it may be intimated that you know things. Politics is a very dirty business indeed and I have no doubt that some absolutely disgraceful things have happened and been covered up, whether that be kiddy fiddling by grubby politicians, victims being ignored or silenced by the police or silent dirt-banking by the intelligence services. The good news is the internet. The internet sets all information free - it's why they're doing their level best to neuter it with various "because terrorists" laws.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fascinating.

"did the cops not know"

In case it's not obvious, "cops" here includes also the 'intelligence' services.

Who remembers Jeremy Thorpe, and all the allegations that surrounded his activities?

Widely respected BBC journalist Tom Mangold had a BBC Radio documentary on Thorpe, his clandestine activities, the involvement of police and intelligence services, and a conspiracy of silence protecting certain individuals, sometimes at the expense of others who were hung out to dry simply because they weren't "one of us".

The BBC sat on the documentary until shortly after Thorpe's death, when the ready-made documentary went out on BBC Radio 4, with a handful of minor updates to reflect developments in the years it had been on the shelf:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04wz633

These people are scum, as Duncan Campbell knows only too well. The more their activities come into the daylight, the better it is for the vast majority of us.

Robin Cook, RIP. New Statesman? Not what it was. Sad.

I can't help wondeering why this article is here, in what is (with greatest respect) a dark corner of the Intergeek, and not somewhere a bit more visible?

Presumably the Guardian (who brought us the Snowden files) are no longer in serious contact with DC and GG?? Or maybe they're just finding their hands full with attempted character assassination in a certain leadership election?

If not the Guardian, then is The Register really the best the UK has to offer?

Still, thanks once again to Mr Campbell and those who have helped. Best of luck with whatever awaits you.

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@goldcd

" Maybe nobody did get secretly caught and imprisoned though.. maybe. "

Imprisonment isn't an effective means of silencing someone. I suspect that the collapse of the ABC case resulted in an increase in "suicides" among troublesome types....

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An excellent article.

Problem is, everyone's doing it and to stop doing it would put you at a significant disadvantage, so it's not going to happen.

I think that it's vitally important for it to remain illegal though. Sure we know that it's going to keep on happening (intensify if anything); and nobody is going to get prosecuted...but that's what spies do. If Theresa May gets her wish and makes it legal though; that opens the gates for some potentially horrifying futures.

It's going to continue to happen -has to happen in a sense- but it is not, and never will be OK.

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"It's going to continue to happen -has to happen in a sense- but it is not, and never will be OK."

It may continue to happen.

It does not have to happen.

Experience shows mass surveillance results in a poor signal to noise ratio and the real targets, even if identified, are soon forgotten in the chase for more information.

Targeted surveillance with judicial authority independent of politicians is in my view acceptable.

I'm not exactly sure how you keep the idiots we elect out of the process, or even start the process of booting them out of the existing process, but it's worth aiming for.

And I also would like to say that it is a fine article.

You've got to brave, determined and clever to that kind of work, I take my hat off to those who did.

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I sort of agree with you; but mass surveillance is an emerging field and may yet pay dividends. It might be possible to -for instance- analyse the shit out of events leading to and surrounding things like Boston Marathon, Charlie Hebdo and the like and find common denominators or warning signs that could be flagged up; to let the relevant departments know where to point resources.

I like very much the idea of only targeted surveillance with judicial approval; but sometimes shit goes down too quickly for that.

I'm not pro-spook, by any means. I know I'm not a paedo-terrorist; I resent every byte they steal and they can -separately and collectively- go and fuck themselves. But this is not a nice world to live in at times. There are dangerous people out there and somebody needs to keep an eye on them...ideally before the bullets start flying.

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@moiety

> I like very much the idea of only targeted surveillance with judicial approval; but sometimes shit goes down too quickly for that.

And then, six months *after* the "shit goes down", we find out that the Security Services had the information all along, but it was buried in such a huge pile of other crap that it was overlooked or discounted.

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Marsden has hit nail on head

The info about pretty much every atrocity committed on USA or UK soil is in the databases of the American or British spooks, but they never spot it. If we simply shut down these operations, what exactly would happen? What aspect national or international security would be crippled? There are some sweaty-palmed types that like to listen. They used to do it with a glass pressed to the wall (with one hand) and now they do it with a web of tentacles that reaches into every single device we own. The only ones profiting from that are them.

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Re: @moiety

@Graham Marsden - Agreed. Like Charlie Hebdo where they called off monitoring 6 months before. But automated monitoring *could* become a powerful tool for good, if used properly. Could help relevant departments deploy warrants and resources where they are most needed.

I'm not privy to any secrets; but I'm pretty sure that the technology is still being developed, so the potential is there to be able to identify possible problems before they happen. Privacy is largely fucked anyway...the spooks aren't doing anything that Google aren't. It is as it is. So I can at least hope for a couple of silk purses out of the deal.

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Re: @moiety

"... but I'm pretty sure that the technology is still being developed ..." -- moeity

Trouble is ... the maths is already developed, so it really doesn't matter what you do with the technology. There are too many people and too few terrorists, so if your false positive rate is anywhere near the realm of the possible you will have far too many leads to follow (a "99.99% accurate" test would give you 3,000 leads in the UK alone - it would take something like 30,000 field operatives --- and probably another 10,000 support staff --- to keep an eye on them 24x7).

See base rate fallacy and/or paradox of the false positive

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Re: @moiety

Or that the uncovered information is well known would be "inconvenient" to disclose since there are ongoing operations...

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Re: @moiety

All true; but the phenomenon of everybody carrying round constantly broadcasting computers is relatively new.

Throwing some Big Data at things may answer some interesting questions:

What is the point at which someone ceases to be an internet blowhard and picks up a gun?

Are there any common factors in the cases? Environment? Circle of friends? Personality type? Media?

Is there any twiddling with environmental factors that would stop or lessen things building to a head?

...and so on.

The data-rape is going to continue regardless. We're dealing with the sort of people who -when caught- come up with bollocks like this to make it retrospectively 'legal'. (My keyboard doesn't have sarcasm quotes that are sarcastic enough for the word legal...please imagine them luminous and blinking). So I might as well point out some not-wholly-evil things that might work.

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Re: @moiety

"But automated monitoring *could* become a powerful tool for good, if used properly."

No, it couldn't. To be "used properly" you'd need somebody in a position of power who can be trusted. And that right there is the end of the discussion.

I find myself wondering which agency you work for.

Excellent article. A big thank you to all the whistleblowers and journalists who have the guts to bring the truth to light.

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Re: @moiety

"I find myself wondering which agency you work for."

Hahaha. No.

"you'd need somebody in a position of power who can be trusted"

Good point.

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If...

If any of this spying really did stop any bullets flying it might even be worth considering if it was valid. It isn't.

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Re: @moiety.... google et al

Google et al are probably even doing the spying directly for the nsa these days.

Microsoft and Apple are there too...put all your data on a US server and then the US have the right to read it... stick it on an Irish server and the Americans think they also have the right because it is an Amercian company... basically put it on the cloud and then the Americans will read it easier than they can with their viruses and backdoors. What they do with it is anyones guess but there have been rumours of American companies profitting from knowledge about what other companies are doing.

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The moment 'big data' reveals everyone wearing brown shoes is a terrorist they'll start wearing black shoes.

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Re: @moiety

@John H Woods: Thanks for introducing some mathematics! (I highly recommend everyone should read the Bayesian treatment).

El Reg, excellent article and makes me want to go and watch some Callan, Yes Minister, etc...

P.

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Big Brother

Re: If...

"If any of this spying really did stop any bullets flying..."

NO. The biggest fallacy of any and all discussions on the matter is the inevitable derailment into debating whether mass surveillance is effective at all - a fallacy because that's irrelevant. It would be wrong even if it could stop 100.0% of the things it is allegedly meant to stop - because it could also stop the other 1000% of stuff it never, ever should be able to stop. That's all.

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Re: If...

I fully agree with Dropbear. Pointing to attacks it stopped, or could have stopped is meaningless. More people die on the highways in the US and UK each year than have died from all terrorist attacks in both countries this century.

If we lowered the speed limit to 10 mph and fully enforced that through mandatory speed limiters in cars, we'd save all those lives. Why are lives lost to terrorism so much more precious that we should want to give up so many rights to save them, but giving up a comparatively tiny bit of freedom by restricting the speed of travel to save even more is rightly seen by everyone as ridiculous?

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Re: Callan, Yes Minister, etc...

"go and watch some Callan, Yes Minister, etc..."

In the current circumstances, you might find Channel 4's A Very British Coup particularly relevant. Book or TV series (apparently they don't quite match). Seems to be available at 4OD (as was) but registration required.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/a-very-british-coup/on-demand

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Anonymous Coward

If you are a government spook with toys

You essentially have two choices:

1) Monitor everyone (or try to)

2) Target the surveillance, legally.

The problem with 1) is that it appeals to idiots, war mongerors, fascists and other unsavory types as a system (sorry, am I being too harsh?)

The problem with 2) is that it takes more effort and energy. Oh and did I forget, respect for people's civil rights within a democratic society?

Until 2) becomes the preferred route (or something like it) we will always live in fear of our political and economic masters. So we need to fix this, really, before it gets out of hand.

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With all due respect....

If you are talking about post-forensics, I see no issue with that. I do see an issue with people who believe in a minority report, thought-crime approach to a new world order. Very dangerous, very stupid, very double plus bad, so don't get sucked into it. Your kids will pay the price

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There are devoutly religious men who can't or won't be silenced. These will either have god's protection or there is no god. For how else will both Muslims and Christians obey the prophet/son of god when he said what you hear whispered in secret, shout from the mountain tops?

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Quite right

The first thing Hitler did is compile a list. Stalin never bothered he just chose ratios of people depending on what mood he was in/how the trains were running. While it is always good to have a list it's just as good making it up as you go .

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Re: @moiety

@AC: you'd need somebody in a position of power who can be trusted

You'd need to trust the vast majority of people in positions of power - enough to flush out and deal with those who abuse the trust, early. On top of that, you also need those in position of power to be unusually competent.

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Agree but ...

I have to agree with what moiety posted:

"Problem is, everyone's doing it and to stop doing it would put you at a significant disadvantage, so it's not going to happen."

However, I disagree with moiety that "it's vitally important for it to remain illegal." Instead, what should be illegal is the use of the gathered information for anything but national security purposes. That way, the information can be gathered while private citizens can keep their private activities as secret as if the information had never been tapped, even if the private citizens were communicating moral failures, such as adultery, and even criminal behavior. Lawyers, medical doctors, psychologists, and other professionals already operate under similar aimed at protecting confidential client information. Spooks could operate under similar rules.

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Re: Agree but ...

@relmasian - That might work better than keeping the whole thing illegal - it's achievable and the spies wouldn't have to lose any toys.

But even there and even if the spooks agreed to abide by the rules; is there anyone capable of believing them? They've been feeding us a bunch of massive porkies since the 1960s, at least.

I don't believe the spooks are going to stop; become responsible; or limit their power in any way voluntarily. And before you all reach for the downvote button again (I took a bit of a panning up there) it's not because I approve of the fuckers, it's because of the nature of the beast. That's what they do - they break laws and lie about it afterwards.

"So we can bitch about it on the internet until they realise the error of their ways and become good citizens". Doubt it.

The only way to stop it is if we all habitually use enough encryption to make blanket surveillance uneconomic; but I doubt that'll happen either. Encryption is hard. And you only have to fuck up once and you're compromised...another of those "they only have to be lucky once whereas you have to be lucky all the time" things. In the absence of an easy-to-use encrypted comms package like in Cryptonomicon people just aren't going to bother.

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Re: @moiety

>>"I'm not privy to any secrets; but I'm pretty sure that the technology is still being developed, so the potential is there to be able to identify possible problems before they happen"

Like the Algorithm in the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, you mean? Absolutely the potential is there to identify problems before they happen, and by extension end them. The thing is, and one of the reasons you're probably getting so many downvotes, is the State's definition of problem is not necessarily the people's definition of problem and worse - the more power the state has of this kind, the increasing divergence between the two there will be. This latter is a fact.

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Re: @moiety

Yeah - analyse events in a "what the fuck happened there and is there anything that can be done to stop it happening again or even identify the conditions that can make it more likely?" sort of thing. Not seen the film, so can't say whether that's what I was thinking of. Definitely more forensic analysis with a side-order of "Welp. That's the problem. Do any solutions present themselves?" than pro-active Minority Report stuff.

I was going on the theory that probably most of the awful things you can imagine governments doing with the data are probably happening already. In, I expect, insanely well-funded and luxurious departments. So might as well try for a couple of socially-productive spinoffs for the £billions we are being charged to have the piss taken.

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Re: @moiety

>>"I was going on the theory that probably most of the awful things you can imagine governments doing with the data are probably happening already."

Uh, no. Crack open a history book if you want to see how bad things can get. You don't even have to go for the obvious Adolf Hitler stuff. Take a look at the Stasi, at North Korea, China through the twentieth century, Qatar today and plenty of others. If you think most of the awful misuses of the data are already happening, you're gravely misinformed. It can get a lot worse and the more information that is collated and available the harder it is to fight such abuses. Significantly so.

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