back to article Big Brother is born. And we find out 15 years too late to stop him

The "Big Brother" comprehensive national database system feared by many MPs has been built behind their backs over the last decade, and even has a name for its most intrusive component: a central London national phone and internet tapping centre called PRESTON. PRESTON, which collects about four million intercepted phone calls …

IT Angle

modulated outrage...

I sometimes wonder if I have hit some sort of saturation threshold. No longer outraged at the blanket abuse of civil liberties (in the UK) or ignoring The Constitution (in the US)...

Perhaps I am more annoyed that they are spending *our* money on ineffective technological solutions, with *eye watering* inefficiency.

And then the bravado to tell us it is necessary with their vapid political campaigns...

P.

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Re: modulated outrage...

And the Brits here scorn NSA.... I scorn them all. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg in spyland. I'm sure there's more. But they will have all they want, I guess. I realize that they can't process most of what they get so.. <shrugs>

Having said that, we do what we can to keep what we can private.. from the TLA's, FLA's, corporate slurpers, and miscreants. (maybe all of them should be labeled "miscreants"?). Privacy is getting harder and harder to keep these days.

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Re: modulated outrage...

That's the bit that gets me -- we're supposed to have this massive all seeing, all hearing, data collection capability and it does.....what exactly? I figure that the intelligence services have confused intelligence with data collection. They collect scads of data but none of it means a thing until after something happens -- when its pretty useless.

Meanwhile the internet is a bear pit, with malware going at your systems left and right (and occasionally getting through). The experts? They do nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, just contribute to the mess with their own little hacks.

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Re: modulated outrage...

"Privacy is getting harder and harder to keep these days."

I've always been a touch paranoid, but I disagree.

It's been this hard for decades, it's just that now more are becoming aware of how hard it actually is.

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Re: modulated outrage...

"They collect scads of data but none of it means a thing until after something happens"

They insist that they must have this data because it will let them stop terrorist attacks and crimes.

But they already have this data. And they have not stopped terrorist attacks and crimes.

By their own word, they could have stopped the attacks using this data.

Therefore they are self admitted criminals who permitted attacks and crimes to take place although they had the information which they have stated would enable them to stop those attacks and crimes.

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Re: modulated outrage...The experts? They do nothing

Well, it would seem actually that they are the source of a lot of the malware. I wonder how much of the new sophisticated attacks have been the result of criminals discovering government interception attempts and repurposing them?

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Re: modulated outrage...

@martinusher; "I figure that the intelligence services have confused intelligence with data collection. They collect scads of data but none of it means a thing until after something happens -- when its pretty useless."

You assume that it's been collected in a good faith attempt to Protect Us All From Terrorists and Paedos, and is thus a failure. (#)

Let's just say that on principle, it makes sense for those in power to have as much information on as many people as possible. That way, if someone turns out to be a problem for them at some point in the future they already have as much they can use against that person. All the better if it goes back to a time before they became politically active and/or cared about their privacy (because they still thought "hur hur, who cares if the government knows what I had for tea last night").

*Those* people are more likely to be a problem for governments- i.e. the people in government and the institution itself, not those they "serve"- rather than some alienated sociopath who stabs a few civilians to death then gets locked up.

Whether such information gathering is the original intent or not, if it exists it *will* get used because it can be- that's the nature of information available to those in power. If necessary, this use will be justified on spurious grounds.

(#) Funny how they keep pushing to invade our privacy further and further with blanket surveillance to protect us from these baddies... yet it turns out whenever there's an attack that they already knew about the perpetrators, but didn't have the resources to keep tabs on them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: modulated outrage...

@Captain DaFt; "It's been this hard for decades, it's just that now more are becoming aware of how hard it actually is."

The difference is that until the digital age it required far more active effort to gather information, which was a limiting factor on non-targeted blanket surveillance. (Admittedly, the East Germans got quite good at it with the Stasi, but even that couldn't have been up to what's possible today).

Nowadays, with the amount of computer processing power available, combined with the fact that our communications are already in natively digital form over networks that can easily be tapped, it's orders of magnitude easier to carry out blanket surveillance and store almost unlimited amounts of data for future convenience (see my other comment about why this is A Bad Thing immediately above this post).

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Re: modulated outrage...

It's that keyword, "after". Either they're just incompetent, can't communicate, or there's Another Reason (tm)

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Re: modulated outrage...

You forgot to mention that we should be thinking of the children.

Seriously... Everyone, do it now. Go think of the children.

Because when in doubt, or lacking of valid reason for pretty much anything in politics just think of the children.

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Re: modulated outrage...

Given the predilection's of those in govt and the spy agencies "Thinking of the children" may be exactly what some are up to - in a Saville sense.

All that data means that they _have_ access to the most vulnerable and the means to separate them from their protectors.

Inefficient for fighting terrorists yes, but a nonce''s dream in terms of locating victims who can't fight back.

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Re: modulated outrage...

"Saturated" is putting it very mildly. Just like 99% of regular people, you've become demoralized, submissive to authority and lazy. Lazy in the sense of being too comfy to do anything about the obviously and rapidly deteriorating situation with democracy and basic human rights.

Surveilance is essential for the success of the Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan. See Wikipedia and read Praktischer Idealismus (1925) if you can. You better believe it. The UK is in the final stages. Look at Birmingham, Manchester, London and look up Cameron's "my rabbi" speech.

This is, of course, how evolution works. Those who cannot recognize danger end up dead or as slaves; and those who want to rule will do anything and everything to achieve their goal. Literally anything and everything, forget about what your morals tell you.

Why do polititians nothing to stop it? Three reasons.

1 - They don't know or don't believe it

2 - They are too dependant on the architects or scared of them

3 - They're too interrested in profiteering from the results.

Either way, unless we do something fast, we'll experience the distopian future of George Orwell's 1984 first hand.

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Re: modulated outrage...

>But they already have this data. And they have not stopped terrorist attacks and crimes.

Its to stop those who would terrorise the State - i.e. Snowden v2 & Expense Scandal v2.

Threatening suicide bombers with anything is missing the point.

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Re: modulated outrage...

"Coudenhove-Kalergi plan"

You mean the one that includes this very telling line?

"The plague of interracial marriage produces each year thousands of young people of mixed race:"

I sense a political agenda being subtly inserted. A little on the "white supremacist" side perhaps?

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Go Duncan !

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Anonymous Coward

Intelligence Overlords

Seems to me that the Intelligence Agencies are now running proxy governments.

Too much power and too little oversight.

I've gone from outrage to apathy.

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

"now" ???

That has been the case since WW2 worldwide. So it is not really "now".

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Big Brother

Re: Intelligence Overlords

"I've gone from outrage to apathy."

^This.

These revelations have lost their power to surprise, shock or outrage me.

On the bright side, I have come to realise something about my policy of using unique email addresses for different sites and organisations, as well as varying some of the other information requested.

These were originally adopted for the purpose of identifying when a company leaked my details - whether intentionally or otherwise - and to not give them info that they really don't need to start with.

But the upshot of all the blanket monitoring etc is that while it wouldn't be difficult for the Snoops to join the dots on me if they had reason to, there are in effect more dots for them to join.

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Facepalm

Re: Dewix Re: Intelligence Overlords

".....too little oversight...." Not only does the article point out that ALL the powers were given to the spooks by the politicians, but that politicians were informed as they came into power (as shown by Nick Clegg's story from the article). Oversight has been in place from the start and the politicians in power have been fully complicit, which means you can stop blaming the spooks and go blame New Labour if this was news to you.

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Re: go blame...

OK I've blamed New Labour, do I stop there or do I carry on?

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Re: Dewix Intelligence Overlords

@Matt if you read the article this goes back at least to 1980 with 'Tinkerbell' when Maggie was in, I am fairly sure she was not New Labour.

As far as I know but cannot prove it this goes back to WWII or earlier.

There is a CRO (or equivalent) number for everyone, where even school reports are kept, so they start on you early.

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

I somehow suspect they know the format of Google and Yahoo disposable addresses and the selector and cope with wildcards...

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Re: Dewix Intelligence Overlords

Maggie... I am fairly sure she was not New Labour

Well I heard that she told New Labour that she was its dad before cutting off its hand

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Intelligence Overlords

@ VinceH; "the upshot of all the blanket monitoring etc is that while it wouldn't be difficult for the Snoops to join the dots on me if they had reason to, there are in effect more dots for them to join"

Don't kid yourself.

The whole point of data mining is exactly that- to spot trends and similarities and thus to "join those dots" in a manner that would require prohibitive amounts of work for humans, but can be done quickly and automatically by modern computers.

I'm pretty sure that most human techniques for doing this (e.g. spotting similar writing and punctuation style, use of particular phrases, discussion of common subjects) can- and thus *will* be- automated. Along with other techniques, such as use of limited AI to determine post content and subject matter, and refine that into trends that can be spotted over multiple sources.

None of these indicators will be giveaways- nor even especially useful- individually, but when enough of them are used together, they massively increase in power and reliability. And it's that second part- combining separate analyses and items of data in a manner that's impractical for humans, but trivial for computers- that really makes data mining so powerful and dangerous.

And it only takes one small- but definitive- item of information (e.g. same fake-name email address used to register both accounts) to connect (or "join the dots") between two "islands" of information, showing that both likely refer to the same person. This can be done multiple times, and gives them- or rather, their automated data-mining system- even more to work on.

Your name- or any other personally-identifiable information- only needs to be reliably associated with one of those "islands" of information for them to know that *all* that information is about you.

And if you're running an intelligence agency with an eye-wateringly large budget from the government, there's no way you're *not* going to be using- and developing- technology like this.

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

With the greatest respect: you're talking plausible-sounding rubbish.

What you claim might be possible if machine understanding of language was in any meaningful way possible. Unfortunately for you (and for HP, who foolishly bought Autonomy based on Autonomy's claims that they could extract meaning and significance from text without context), it hasn't been true and still isn't really true in any worthwhile [1]

For example if I mention the name Erol Incedal here, does that get me put on some kind of watch list? And if I then also mention Tony Blair, and the TV channel C4? C4 is apparently also an explosive.

"if you're running an intelligence agency with an eye-wateringly large budget from the government, there's no way you're *not* going to be using- and developing- technology like this."

They would say that, wouldn't they.

[1] Can you work out what word is probably missing here? Could you tell a machine how to work it out?

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

@AC

Your reply seems to be explaining how (given the resources available to them) it wouldn't be difficult for them to join the dots.

If you look more carefully at what you quoted, you'll notice I said "while it wouldn't be difficult for them to join the dots..."

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

This depends on what you hope to get out of the data set. I was talking primarily in terms of making connections and associations between pieces of information and general trends in subject matter rather than a perfect, detailed understanding of a given conversation.

You're assuming that I'm claiming that natural language processing is anywhere near perfect just now, when of course it isn't- it's the most difficult and problematic of those factors.

(FWIW, Given that you mentioned "TV channel" and "explosive" in proximity to C4, it'd be a fair bet that you were talking about both, though.)

Still, such processing doesn't have to be perfect if the resulting content is considered only a (potentially unreliable) part of the multiple forms of data available. Figuring out how *those* go together reliably with minimal human input is- to some extent- the point of data mining.

My point was that data mining technology is already available, and that you can bet that intelligence agencies *will* be using- if not themselves developing- whatever is leading edge and state of the art a given time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Intelligence Overlords

@VinceH; Yes, I'm aware of that- my point was that if the obfuscation is relatively straightforward, then the kind of additional join-the-dots-work that would be costly in human terms is going to be pretty easy for a computer to manage, giving a somewhat false sense of security.

There are countless ways that information can be connected, for example.

Of course, that would take time to set up, and would only work for a small subset of the population. You wouldn't do that if you were targeting a specific person in advance unless you knew they already used the service.

But the more ways you can think of for connecting information in general, and the more publicly-available information (or *not* publicly-available information) you have to apply them to, the more likely you are to make connections, and the larger a database of personal information you're likely to build up.

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Re: Intelligence Overlords

"On the bright side, I have come to realise something about my policy of using unique email addresses for different sites and organisations"

Sadly, that probably means that people like us are already on a list of "suspicious" people because we have 100's of unique email addresses and that must be a bad thing in their eyes.

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Childcatcher

Re: Dewix Intelligence Overlords

>There is a CRO (or equivalent) number for everyone, where even school reports are kept, so they start on you early.

Considering that they have infiltrated all political parties en masse, that they choose the runners for elections, that they know who supports who in a given party, they might even rig the internal elections ... police state.

All this explains the completely absurd policies our governments have implemented over the years, why public spending keeps growing exponentially, while our governments keep blaming the welfare state for the national debt - even though welfare-related spending does not grow in any significant way, compared to public spend.

Note that France just sold the data of all French school children to Microsoft, well, not exactly "sold", THEY PAY Microsoft for the "service" ...

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This was leaked in 1995

Wallace and Gromit A Close Shave (1995) featured the evil robo-dog Preston. An obviously leak by a time traveller...

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Re: This was leaked in 1995

Actually he was referred to as a Cyber-dog ... even more proof?

Either that, or it was hatched by the incumbant overlords at the time John PREScot & TONy Bliar ...

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Re: This was leaked in 1995

Came here to post the same thing. Nice to see that british spooks have a sense of irony whilst they're rewriting the book on departmental overreach.

Wendolene Ramsbottom: A robot! Daddy created him for good, but he's turned out evil!

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Re: This was leaked in 1995

And wasn't there a contestant called Preston on "Celebrity" Big Brother a few years back?

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Privacy = 'we are not currently looking at what we hold on you'

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Black Helicopters

"Privacy = 'we are not currently looking at what we hold on you'"

There's your key word, right there.

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Big Brother

Privacy = 'we've heard of it.'

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Unhappy

Curious

They have this vast quantity of data, yet they still struggle to catch one terrorist.

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Re: Curious

Who would have thought! Making the haystack bigger doesn't help find needles.

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Coat

Re: Curious

They have this vast quantity of data, yet they still struggle to catch one terrorist.

But we have our brightest and best working on this! Oh wait...

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Re: Curious

I'm not in favour of this level of surveillance at all, but one of the problems is that any government can't point to the successes they have with it.

Let's say PRESTON was instrumental in preventing a Paris-style attack in London, and the terrorists were caught before they could harm anyone. This is simply not going to appear on the 10 O'clock news. If you have these capabilities, the last thing you do is tell anyone about them, since by doing so, you necessarily expose some of your SigInt capabilities, and that just makes your job harder next time.

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WTF?

Re: Curious

"Let's say PRESTON was instrumental in preventing a Paris-style attack in London, and the terrorists were caught before they could harm anyone. This is simply not going to appear on the 10 O'clock news."

Sounds plausible, but how are the public to know they'd been saved from a potential terrorist massacre, the surveillance didn't pick up nor prevent any of the attacks that did occur in since 2000, and not some of the really bad ones during the Irish troubles. Also did these apprehended terrorists get a trial, or where they just disappeared, which is just as worrying.

Nope, just don't buy it.There's another reason for this set-up, and it's nothing to do with terrorism, assumed sexual deviancy or tax evasion.

Maybe the lizards ordered it, maybe some Ai.I ordered it from the future to gather data for some vast virtual reality simulation or aliens for future colonisation/interbreeding or to improve parasite integration, you're guess is as good as mine, and probably a hell of a lot more valid than any half-assed reasoning given by a politician.

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Re: Curious

@ will Geoffrey

Perhaps they need to complete the Orwellian paradigm by continuing the war with East Asia.

Victory is irrelevant, and even undesirable, because then the snoops might be asked to shut down their gravy train.

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@sabroni Re: Curious

the problem isn't that they've made the haystack bigger - you can still find a needle in an arbitrarily large haystack if you think and maybe use a magnet. The problem is that, by designating everyone as a potential suspect at all times, they've replaced the hay with needles and are now trying to find one needle amongst millions.

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Re: Curious

"They have this vast quantity of data, yet they still struggle to catch one terrorist."

That may be because the object of the excercise itself is not Catching Terrorists, despite all the propaganda, but control over the people who aren't (yet).

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Re: Curious

Er, but we do know about their SigInt capability or did you not read the article? With all these revelations already in place no one has said yes this stuff was useful and prevented an attack.

I also do not buy this sort of argument. It seems to go hand in hand with the 'you should not mind being spied on if you have nothing to hide' view. No. Enough.

The question is now how do we overturn this nonsense?

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Facepalm

Re: Curious

You said the magic phrase; Gravy Train. This is precisely why I refuse to purchase antivirus software; if it really worked there would be no more malware because their product would actually secure my system throughout. Companies like Symantec badly need to have new malware being produced for their cycle of fear=profit to continue. Afraid of something? Buy our anti-somthing! Guarenteed to thwart Terrorists™, Polar Bears and Tiger attacks in the greater London area!

Same thing with the UK and US secret spy operations; if they actually worked then we'd know about it. It simple doesn't work, and can never work, but it generates billions upon billions of dollars for everyone involved in the scam, er I mean the "Finding and prosecuting of Terrorists™". Because Fear == Profit and or massive secret funding. And who wouldn't love to accept and abuse some nice massive secret funding? It makes me hard just thinking about massive secret funding! When you walk about, fearful of Terrorists™ around ever corner, that means money to people and organizations who can use your fear to make you purchase all sorts of unnecessary weaponry and camera systems for your house and person, but it get better. You get to have your sweet tax dollars and pounds go back into raping your privacy! Oh, now I'm almost finished. Just a bit more... Terrorists™!!1! Ahhhh. I need a smoke, guys...

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Re: Curious

Take a step back for a minute... replace "gravy train" and any reference to money with "power". Any TLA/FLA worth it's budget is also watching the government higher-ups as well. Not just for budget and favorable legislation. Everyone involved at high levels is power mad. Just like corporates. Money is the result of the power.

Now if we, citizens had a mind to, we could toss monkey wrenches (spanners) into the system. Have a day or two with no phone, no internet. Have a day or two of discussion using key phrases and words. Have normal days with phones and internet. It will create confusion amongst those watching the proles but not those watching the higher-ups. It also might drag a few would-be terror types, etc. out into the sunlight since patterns do come into play when analyzing trends and data.

Go have your smoke... turn off your cell and computer while doing it. If someone is really watching YOU, they'll get nervous is suddenly you drop off their radar.

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Re: Re: Curious @Telwaz

Maybe some Base AI, stuck in present phorms of a vast past virtual reality simulation, Telwaz?

Don’t be betting any good money on that not appearing as a servant slave in a master AI program for a titanic tele visualisation project and smarter cyber attack and destroy space mission. It is what true guys and great gals in the likes of an eccentric concentric Cheltenham/Holywood/Vauxhall base station are borne into the wild for.

GCHQ/MI5/MI6 moving on and up into MuI7 Type Shenanigans …… with New Machined Virtual Orders for CHAOS* and Disorder, Manic Madness and Media Mayhem ….. if they be made up with the right stuff, of course. One wouldn’t be bothered, nor waste any time and effort, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ears, would one. That would be a kind of relative madness too in deed, indeed, and most surely of no personal interest to any future persons of intelligence interest.

*Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems

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Order the popcorn already

Presented with no additional comment in alien support of the future view presented above ....... ‘More devastating than any nuclear war’: John McAfee on the coming cyber war with ISIS

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