back to article Evil US web giants shield terrorists? Evil spies in net freedom crush plot?

Evil US Internet companies are shielding terrorists plotting our destruction! Woo! Evil Tory bastards are using the Woolwich Report as an excuse for a further crackdown on the Internet, muslims and ultra-left Guardian columnists.* Woo! Or, perhaps, neither of the above? All the shouting is based on the parliamentary …

  1. btrower

    Faulty reasoning

    Faulty reasoning leads to faulty analysis and unless cooler heads prevail, immoral overreaches.

    If the apparently wayward companies being mentioned were to hypnotize or even poison all of their users it would stop all kinds of mayhem from happening. Facebook offing its billion odd users would measurably reduce all manner of crime statistic. That does not justify that action.

    Do the police have the right to inspect people's communications and personal material without a warrant? No. No they do not. There is a reason for that. It is clearly a reason they do not understand.

    The people in the UK government bleating endlessly about this should be relieved of duty until they become fully clued.

    Companies like Facebook do not need any more excuses to spy on people.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Faulty reasoning

      On the other hand, if as a company you have had to close someone's account 7 times for "terrorism", at what point should that information should be passed along?

      "Never" doesn't seem like the right answer to me.

      1. Phil Endecott Silver badge

        Re: Faulty reasoning

        > close someone's account 7 times for "terrorism"

        Did they know at the time that those 7 accounts belonged to the same person, or only afterwards?

      2. Graham Marsden
        Facepalm

        Re: Faulty reasoning

        > you have had to close someone's account 7 times for "terrorism", at what point should that information should be passed along?

        Yes, after all, you never know when someone is *actually* planning to blow up Robin Hood Airport...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The article below explains more of the rationale behind blackmailing private companies into becoming state surveillance tools:

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/26/campaign-shame-social-media-companies-acting-spy-agents-national-security-state/

    Conservatives/Labour/UKIP/Liberal: "The public don't need no stinkin' civil liberties - they'll have to make do with the privileges we allow them." And "If you're not with us you're against us", ie human rights activists.

    Bottom line, if you vote for any of these parties, you're part of the problem. Unless a totalitarian state is what you really want. I thought Remembrance Day was all about the people who had made the ultimate to prevent this from happening. It would be a shame if it turned out they wasted their lives...

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Apples and oranges

    Saying that because the technology exists to identify images of child abuse and therefor we should be able to identify posts containing text that is considered as terrorism is nuts.

    However, what is indeed interesting is that this individual got himself banned a number of times for terrorism posts. That begs the question of how they identified those posts (were they flagged by a moderator ? Another user ? Complained about ?) and whether or not such a thing could be automated.

    And, as AnonCow said above, once you've banned someone for terrorism a half-dozen times, it might be time to think about telling someone about it ? Don't tell me that Facebook didn't know it was the same person - FB is renowned for cross-referencing everything it can and getting as accurate an image of its users as it can. FB had to know it was the same guy.

    Analyzing intent is not easy. just ask that guy who tweeted that he felt mad enough to go and bomb an airport. Stupid to say something in public like that these days, but I'd wager he won't try to pull that stunt again.

    So no, automated analysis of "terrorism" posts ? I doubt we'll see that tomorrow.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Apples and oranges

      Saying that because the technology exists to identify images of child abuse and therefor we should be able to identify posts containing text that is considered as terrorism is nuts.

      Particularly since reasonable human judges cannot agree on what constitutes "text that is considered [by whom?] [to be] terrorism". The SCOTUS justices can't agree on under what conditions Facebook posts might lose free-expression privileges (and their disagreements don't fall easily along party or ideological lines) - and they're the people we in the US have appointed to make precisely that determination.

      Facebook can, of course, suppress whatever speech it likes on its site; Freedom of the Press applies to the owners of the press, not the people writing for it. So if Facebook wants to train some ML model to recognize "terrorism" or whatever, it's free to do so. Ultimately, though, any training mechanism, supervised or not, relies on some set of subjective evaluations by one or more humans as to what constitutes "terrorist" speech.

      And, of course, what Facebook might do after identifying such speech is a rather different question. I'd don't believe anything useful is accomplished by suppressing such speech in public forums, except when it attacks individuals; and I have doubts about the ethics of automatically alerting police, though if the postings are public then the authors have no presumption of privacy.

  4. Tom 35 Silver badge

    but it is not entirely nonsense.

    Yes it is.

    1. Do you want (or expect) Google to be snooping through all your stuff, and deciding if maybe they should rat you out, and just who they should rat you out to?

    2. Are UK companies going to respond to US warrants, or warrant-less demands if that's ok in the US? How about all the other countries in the world?

  5. Tim Jenkins

    Terrorist / Freedom Fighter?

    I'm sure Uncle Vlad would be delighted to find out who chatters on FB from a Russian I.P. about his little incursion into Ukraine, just so his chaps can pay them a visit and make sure they are not planning anything naughty, like disagreeing with it in any way. Likewise the Chinese and those misguided HK democracy activists, Free Tibet campaigners or followers of religious 'cults'. Then there's the current Thai regime and the rabble-rousers making dangerous gestures from a bad sci-fi movie, various Gulf States regarding the promotion of womens rights and religious tolerance, the caring and sharing rulers of assorted 'stans and anyone they're not actually related to, geriatric kleptocracies across Africa and local LGBT campaigners....

    All those potential 'terrorists'; it's going to get busy out there....

  6. TonyWilk

    A Turing Test for the 21st century

    Behind all this lies the technical question of whether some AI could read a thread and decide, at least as well as some level-headed human, that a 'terrorist discussion' is taking place.

    If that were possible, reliable and well-controlled, I reckon there would be a good argument for snooping on lots of communications.

    Practically, that is simply not the case.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: A Turing Test for the 21st century

      Behind all this lies the technical question of whether some AI could read a thread and decide, at least as well as some level-headed human, that a 'terrorist discussion' is taking place.

      That's the wrong question. Human judges cannot agree, in general, on that sort of evaluation - we have many methodologically-sound studies demonstrating that in various domains. So the test is not "can a machine accomplish this task as well as a human"; there's no standard human to judge it against.

      The only relevant tests are "can a machine accomplish this task well enough to achieve our purpose?", "what should our purpose be?", and "is our purpose morally justifiable?".

      Note that answering the latter two before the first can be a handy optimization.

    2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: A Turing Test for the 21st century

      "Terrorist Discussion" ~ any dialogue, in any media, that the state deems as a terrorist discussion.

      Pretty easy to find when defined in such a manner, no?

  7. Funky

    Best not to mention GCQG already had access.

    No mention of GCHQ possibley having access to this data using the Tempora system they implemented to read the internet, seems probable now tempora is actualy on a par with the universal credit system.

  8. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    What is terrorism ?

    Maybe animal rights activism ? Nothing *illegal* (but it might be)

    How about campaigning against TTiP ? Again, not *illegal*. But people who protest are probably more likely to be terrorists ?

    Pro life ?

    Pro choice ?

    Stop the War ? Almost definitely.

    The problem - and fears - about having these powers is not having them now. It's (still) having them in 10 years time. When voting Green, or UKIP is a "terrorist" offence.

    There is no recorded instance in history of the state giving itself more and more powers over it's people that hasn't ended - eventually - with the guillotine working overtime, or the bodies swinging from the lamp-posts.

    1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: What is terrorism ?

      "There is no recorded instance in history of the state giving itself more and more powers over it's people that hasn't ended - eventually - with the guillotine working overtime, or the bodies swinging from the lamp-posts."

      Very good point to which I will only add the thought that it was, in both your examples, the leaders of society who most notably suffered those punishments. Perhaps there is yet hope.

  9. Jon Arden

    Anyone else notice this snippet on the BBC news coverage of the whole saga:

    "The UK authorities became aware of the exchange only in June 2013, a month after Fusilier Rigby was murdered."

    "After the murder of Fusilier Rigby an unidentified third party provided a transcript of the conversation to GCHQ."

    So, who provided them with the message from Facebook? Sounds to me like GCHQ/NSA had access to this message all along....

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30206359

    1. Bloakey1

      <snip>

      "So, who provided them with the message from Facebook? Sounds to me like GCHQ/NSA had access to this message all along....

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30206359"

      They did have the data well in advance but it was buried in amongst a load of old crap. It took a few weeks to search for it and recover it, then a further 6 to 10 days to clear it for release.

      The problem with harvesting everything is that you are not targeting or searching in a discriminate manner. Once you have this monolithic chunk of data you then have to mine it and in this case it was not done in a timely efficient manner (too much to do real time and hey, we want everything anyway). All in all I feel that there approach to collecting everything means that they are less likely to get any positive hits.

      Ask any of those people that download any and every program / film /MP3 they can from 'warez sites' . It is not long before you can't see the woods for the trees.

    2. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Sounds to me like GCHQ/NSA had access to this message all along....

      Every time the government (of any stripe) has wanted more data, and people protest, I have pointed out that my stance is the opposite. Give it to them. Give them EVERYTHING. And then watch them learn about "signal to noise ratio".

      They may have already reached the point where they simply cannot process the data they *do* have. Let alone more.

      As things stand, it's a fair suggestion that simply by dint of the volume of data they are slurping, they are missing more than if they actually did some legwork.

  10. Brent Longborough
    Big Brother

    After all, we're only human

    TL;DR:

    "Well, we made a number of mistakes, but not making them couldn't have prevented anything. On the other hand, Facebook is a Terrist Communication Platform"

    Yeah, sure.

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: After all, we're only human

      Do not forget that terrorists use the phone, they use mobiles to detonate bombs, they wear clothes, eat in restaurants, buy food from shops etc. We should ban the lot, giving support to terrorists in the form of food, transportation,communications, allowing them to integrate wearing western clothes etc.

      Modern life supports terrorism, let us ban the damn lot.

      What happened to "common carrier status"? I remember Demon fighting under this banner in court way back when along with quite a few others.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: After all, we're only human

      More significantly, the fact that Theresa May signed off a surveillance warrant for Michael Adebowale a month after it was applied for (and ironically, after Lee Rigby had been murdered)!

      Surprised she's not trumpeting it as "record time" for a civil service response.

      But it's not her fault apparently, the Daily Fail quotes "In its report, the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee said there was no excuse for the delay, though it conceded it did not have an impact on the final outcome."

      No impact? the fact he wasn't under surveillance due to Home Secretary inaction had no impact?!?

      It must be someone else's fault. Look over there, it's Facebook. Blame them. Almost like it's straight out of Vlad's playbook...

  11. Funky
    FAIL

    No mention of GCHQ possibley having access to this data using the Tempora system they implemented to read the internet, seems probable now tempora is actualy on a par with the universal credit system.

  12. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    FAIL

    What I don't understand...

    Is how British security services can explain away not maintaining surveillance on two "low threat" persons who previous surveillance had not found anything incriminating, and then argue that they need more surveillance on people who are even lower threat levels (namely you and I).

    And with the wide range of areas that the government might be willing to consider "terrorist" or "anti-social", asking Facebook/Twitter/whoever to report on speech in those areas is going to cause a serious infringement on the right to free speech.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What I don't understand...

      Clue: It's not about terrorism. It really isn't.

      Or the children.

  13. Misky
    Big Brother

    So Mr Snowden

    It would appear that you are correct that the spy agencies have these lovely data collecting tools, and do it would seem, use them. Just a shame for them that it’s pretty much impossible to collect ALL the data flowing on the internet (They’d have to turn the UK in to one massive SAN) and have no real means of searching that little bit of data they do scoop up.

    It seems that the chances of some nosy bod in GCHQ having read your latest twitter update about the yummy sandwich, is practically zero.

    Big Brother simply isn’t big enough or bothered enough to be watching you.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: So Mr Snowden

      So if you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry, eh?

      /sarcasm

  14. Misky
    FAIL

    In fact....

    All the Government and huge media outcry has manage to do is tell terrorist exactly how TO communicate. Forget encrypted email, keep lowkey and use Facebook, we'll never find you then.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Double standards

    So GCHQ, which presumably has the leading experts in finding terrorist needles in random chatter haystacks, says it can't find them because the signal is so small compared to the noise, but somehow Facebook should be able to accomplish this feat of natural language processing?

    How?

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    The paradox

    We can't find bad guys in the mountain of s**t we collect (mostly because we can)

    So we want to collect even more.

    Spoken like a true data fetishist.

    You say "terrorist network"

    I say "Couple of saddo nut cases who didn't want to be nobodies anymore."

  17. ratfox Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Of course… But maybe.

    Of course it's a terrible tragedy that a Fusilier Lee Rigby got assassinated by terrorists. Really!

    But maybe it's not worth letting go of our freedoms and privacy rights for the chance to maybe – maybe! – save a few lives. The Benjamin Franklin quote comes to mind.

    The number of people who die of terrorism is similar or smaller to those who die from snake bites, or from lightning strikes. It is vastly inferior to the number of people who die of car accidents. It is dwarfed by those who die of cancer.

    So my message to the authorities is: Stuff it. Look at the numbers. Look how much your war on terrorism costs. Look how much good it does. Look how many soldiers got killed in wars you started, compared to the number of people who got killed by terrorists attacks.

    And stop asking for extraordinary powers to fight a shadow threat.

  18. DougS Silver badge

    Will Royal Mail open all letters?

    Otherwise they're supporting terrorism by not monitoring postal correspondence.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To illustrate how scary this is simply swap internet companies for hotels and cafes.

    It's unacceptable that those cafes and hotels failed to record their customers' conversations! They're harbouring terrorists by failing to implement in-bedroom and at table voice recording facilities.

  20. Suricou Raven

    Passing blame.

    This all seems a lot like the government trying to pass the blame on to Facebook.

  21. depicus
    Mushroom

    The naked truth

    The thing with terrorist acts is if you really want to commit one, even if you were under surveillance, it's quite easy to accomplish if you so desire. We used to have one of the largest terrorist surveillance systems in the world active in Northern Ireland and yet were incapable of stopping many terrorist groups from killing and bombing. In Afghanistan the Green Zone was said to be one of the most secure places on earth yet had many terrorist attacks.

    Maybe the security services telling us they need more money to combat so many attacks is just bullshit and in reality just job creation for the security sector.

  22. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    But... but...

    ... I have had it on *good* authority (well, he thinks he's a good authority on the subject) that the only way to make us safe from terrorism is to make the haystack even bigger so we can get *more* information about everyone!

  23. HAL-9000
    Flame

    In case no one's said it already

    Bollox

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm...

    This is our Ship the Nebuchaunezzer and it's from here that we broadcast our pirate signal and hack into the Matrix!

    Mark chapter 3 verse 11 is: “Whenever the evil spirit saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”

    Over time, Lucifer lured many heroes to Hell to try and free him, including Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Odysseus (also known as Ulysses), and Lancelot. However, their souls were not black enough to free him from his prison.

    As Dante left Hell, the last thing he heard was Lucifers laughter!

    Windows = the sign of the Cross

    Apple = the Garden of Eden

    Oracle = the Sun (the light bringer)

    Unix = Kerberos - Hound of Hell // Inferno // Limbo // Charon & the River of Styx!

    Welcome to the Underworld...

    The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

    1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: Hmm...

      Wow... just wow.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And now it turns out the security services were lying.

    To Parliament and the British public:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/lee-rigby-murder-were-we-told-the-whole-truth-9893247.html

    Quote: "A government spokesperson said: "The ISC's report is the most open and transparent review ever undertaken into the actions taken by police, security and intelligence agencies. ...snip".

    You couldn't make it up. (Well, they could).

  26. enlightened

    I say Let the Revolution begin so we can punish these MP`s and their equally nasty friends investment bankers, filled with paedophiles, murderers and thieves!......full redistribution of all wealth! in the UKs case some 15 to 16 trillion pounds divided equally amongst all men women children some 200 thousand pounds apiece....

    I would rather see this than what any political party has to offer as none have ever really delivered.

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