Mass Surveillance has failed us yet again




Today in Manchester life seems to be going on as normal - well, as normal as it can be with armed officers and army personnel seen in places such as the Arndale Centre and at public transport hubs. This is a result of the despicable acts committed by the Manchester bomber. 


Nevertheless, we have these heavily armed officers on the streets not just because there are people who want to destroy our way of life, but also because our police service is stretched very thin by cuts to policing numbers, and by the sheer enormity of trying to trawl through masses of data collected from all corners of the UK and overseas. 



 The Investigatory Powers Bill (the so-called 'Snooper's Charter') is, we are told, in place to protect us from those that wish us harm - yet time and time again we are faced with the very real fact that some of those who want to harm us simply slip through the net and commit acts, such as those on London Bridge ( and this week's Manchester Arena bombing. 


 If the IP Bill is there to protect us, why do these attacks still happen?


 The simple answer is that a truly determined person will find ways to get around the mass surveillance we have put in place. The IP Bill collects data from around the Internet but, as we have become painfully aware, those with a determination to harm us simply have not been caught by these measures. Furthermore, if the measures were in any way effective, anyone wishing to do us harm would just stop using the open Internet, effectively removing themselves from the very system set up to find them.


 A more complex reason in fact is that the IP Bill's scope is far too broad to be in any way effective. Collecting network and Internet usage information from everyone in the UK will result in an unimaginably large volume of data - the enormous task of analysing all this data is simply too onerous. As Mark Chapman, Pirate Party UK candidate for Vauxhall, said about mass surveillance in a recent interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil, "It's like putting more hay on the haystack to find the needle.". 


 The impact of all this wasted effort is even more deadly when coupled with the irresponsible cuts to police numbers that have been made in recent years. There are now 34,000 fewer staff working in policing than there were in 2010, including 19,000 fewer police officers. The amount of money available for policing has also reduced over time. resulting in us now needing army personnel on the streets so that more police are able to trawl through the endless troves of data that have been collected. Not only this but the Home Office has alloted a mere £174.2 million over the next ten years to implement its plan, which, according to Mark Hughes (BT) when talking to the Joint Commission, would barely cover BT's costs. It is clear that once again this is badly thought out, badly planned and, more than likely, badly executed.


 We at the UK Pirate Party are often asked ''Don't you think being against surveillance is unwise?"  In actual fact, we are not against surveillance when used correctly, but rather against indiscriminate mass surveillance and in favour of targeted surveillance. Pervasive monitoring is invasive and inefficient; targeted monitoring makes wise use of scarce resources. Targeted surveillance is a much more effective way of combing through the "haystacks" of data for those few individuals who are planning to do us harm. Essentially, you start with small, organised haystacks and can work on them much more efficiently. We have heard in recent days that both the Manchester bomber and the attacker in London were known to UK Security Services and that there had been several opportunities to act to prevent these acts of terrorism. Information about the Manchester bomber ranged from tip-offs from Intelligence sources in Lybia about him and his brother, to fellow students from years ago who say that they reported him to the Terrorism Hotline after he claimed that suicide bombing was acceptable. These were all missed chances to save lives.


 We are not criticising the work done by our Security Services under very difficult circumstances. However, had our security services not been stretched to breaking point by the cuts and the enormous task of trawling through your personal data and mine, perhaps they would have had more resources to either watch him more closely or indeed arrest him before any attack took place. If our security services had a far more targeted approach to identify and monitor suspects; if they had the resources to collaborate with intelligence services around the world; if they didn't have to waste manpower and money going through all of our emails; then, maybe, the Manchester bomber would not have had the chance to carry out these atrocities.


 We have been told that most of the people in the network behind the bomber have now been arrested and the police have done a sterling job in accomplishing this. Nevertheless,  this is of no use to the dozens of injured, let alone those who sadly perished. The network has been discovered retroactively. This reminds me of the Sylvester Stalone film "Demolition Man", where the police chief's approach was to wait until the bad guy killed someone else in order to find him. For the victim, this definitely wasn't the most effective approach!


 This is exactly what the situation is today. It seems that people have to die first, before a terrorist network can be found, using evidence collected after the event. Mass surveillance simply doesn't work. Targeted surveillance will not only save scarce resources, it will also save lives. 

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