Tuesday 3 April 2012

Surveillance State

I'm not at all paranoid. Not a conspiracist and in fact, some would say I'm ridiculously naive. If I weren't I would never have taken on the Responsible Reform report (Spartacus Report) for a moment.

Hubby and I had a few conversations about potential Armageddon scenarios - would the Daily Mail train their telephoto lenses through our bay window? Would the DWP go rifling through our bins for something to shut me up? Would shadowy blokes with curly wurly earpieces show up at the door to make me an offer I couldn't refuse? We always decided not. I mean, why would they? What could they do? Discredit the poorly girl in the papers? I didn't care. Lock me up? It would be PR hari-kari.

I am a realist though, and to be honest, I always assumed that if the Government wanted to know what was in my emails, what I was saying on the phone and to whom, they could. I mean it's not difficult I believe?? I'm about as techy as your 86 year old Nan but lots of my friends have had their emails hacked by far lesser organisations than the UK Government. (After all if it's good enough for News International.....) If the combined talents of MI5 and other assorted letters and numbers can't keep an eye on the likes of me, I would in fact be worried for our national security.

Well, here's a little story for you. Kaliya Franklin and I talk on the phone most days for a good hour or so. We plot and strategise, plan and moan, put the world to rights, diagnose our various ailments and gossip.

As soon as I posted the appeal fund to raise money for "research" into DLA our phones went all funny.

At first we thought it was her phone line. Then we wondered if I was chatting too far from my home hub. Thing is, it couldn't have been because for weeks it only ever happened when I was on the phone to her. There would  be a click, then the phone would go all echoey.

It became so normal, that we would stop talking about anything interesting and starting flirting with the "Men in Black".

We asked if they could pop up to the Wirral and help Kali move her fridge, we would ask them who shot Kennedy and whether Diana was really bumped off. Generally, we'd ask them to make themselves useful and come and help one of us out with jobs we couldn't manage - taking the rubbish out, clearing up the cat sick Kali's puss produces far too regularly - that kind of stuff.

As the report took shape, I was on the phone all day every day to journalists, charities, researchers and designers. I started using my mobile if I wanted to have a private conversation and stopped emailing details of the report.

A few weeks before the launch, other calls started to go all funny - only to other campaigners - never to my Mum or the doctors or my little boy's school. In the end we all laughed about it - except one Secret Spartacus who likes to be anonymous and who found it utterly terrifying.

The night before we launched the report, hundreds if not thousands of "Spartaci" were ready to go. They had preview copies of the report, an agenda for the next day and the excitement was palpable. I imagine the email traffic and behind-the-scenes activity spiked like a spiky thing - if you happened to be watching of course.

For 12 hours before the report "went live" I got messages popping up on my laptop - "The security of your network has been breached. Other users may be able to access your data" This has never happened before or since and maybe happened 5 or 6 times.

On the morning of the launch, my home phones went completely dead. For about three hours, no-one could contact me at all. According to our provider there was no regional fault.

It might sound crazy, but I was very, very busy and barely really registered these glitches. Looking back, I don't really care and still accept it could have been a string of "coincidences". It could have been anyone listening in of course. The DWP are not the only organisation who probably don't want a light shone on the incredibly murky world of welfare-to-work. And boy is it murky in places. And dirty.

The point is, I never for one moment doubted that the Government could and would find out what I was up to if they wanted to.

I think if we're all going to lament and wring our hands over a Surveillance State or becoming more like China by the day, that ship has already sailed.


By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I triggered a Russian Security alert? Yes, really, I did.

I put up an article entitled "Warning : Purnell Contagion, stay in your Homes" after the ultimate snake charmer, James Purnell had oozed all over our TV screens the night before.

I was leaving for Cambridge that morning, but just as we were set to go, I checked my blog stats and there was a sudden spike - 150 people or so all read my post at exactly the same time. That had never happened before. I thought it must be a mistake, but a minute or two later it happened again. It was as if a whole bank of computers all got my post at the same time and opened it together. Odd.

I took the laptop with me in the car to investigate, and when I checked where the hits were coming from, they were all from Russia. I hadn't been blogging long and by then, I was really very freaked out indeed.

It happened 4 times in all - all due to sudden interest from Russia. I was mystified - was Purnell secretly a Russian spy? Were the KGB on the way to my house? (Unlikely, but ya know....)

After a while the penny dropped - I'd posted a contagion warning on the UK internet - presumably the entire world is on red alert for deadly biological leaks or sudden unexplained epidemics. I can only assume that for a few minutes my attempt at satire was mistaken for a global health alert.

Whoops eh?


  1. Check out what happened not long after the New York event eleven years ago in September, when some politician made a comment to some constituent about his rubbish bins and triggered an alert in the halls of power.

    I think the offending phrase was something like "a wheelie bin laden with rubbish," or some such.

    If you want to muck around with them all, put all the key words into a line at the bottom of signature or one hot word as a hashtag, so even if you're sending someone a text from the shops asking if they want Walls or own brand sausages, you could write something like "You want the cheapo soss you like cos they've got packs of the Walls ones at sell by date for 49p here #mi5 #assassination #terror"

  2. Great reading as always Sue! I think we can all agree that the world is very corrupt. Scary to think of what lays ahead for our children! Hope all went well at the Dr's for you yesterday.

  3. Just because we know the surveillance is already happening doesn't mean we shouldn't scream about the latest proposals.

    By the way, we used to test the buggers in the seventies by just a couple of us (who were definitely not grasses) chatting on the phone about organising something - an anarchist picnic in the park, say - and then watch the massed ranks of coppers waiting for someone to turn up...

  4. I'm reading 'The Strange Death of David Kelly' Very disturbing stuff.

  5. 1984, Orwell, it's not just on it's way!

    When I was at school it was a craze to write to the Chinese embassy in London & ask for a copy of "The Little Red Book".

    They sent them out & lots of us had them. A few years ago I discovered that anyone who did that was checked out. Now, I don't think anyone is really interested in me, are they, but............

  6. I guess the Tories feel they can do pretty much what they like to us now, most people are just sheep - seems only a few people are actually capable of thinking for themselves, and drawing their own conclusions. Thats even more worrying.

    There are already ways and means to intercept anyones communications if they have a reason to suspect illegal activity - THEY may make out they can't do it, or can't do it properly, but thats just a smokescreen to fool us into thinking we must support their idea for our own safety. Its too easy now to scare people about the threat to the nation from within and beyond - there's never any specifics, no tangible evidence, we just have to trust them. The more they crank up the rhetoric, the more scary the world seems - but its all an illusion to keep us on side. Sure, there are terrorists out there - I defy anyone to prove there isn't - but taking away all our freedoms is just feeding terrorism not preventing it. Anyway, they spy on terrorists all the time (so they say) so they don't need more powers. There is more to this than protecting our national security.

    I'm afraid that these plans are going to sneak through and be used to squash activism or anti-government protests, legal or otherwise, and our data will be sold to private companies to do as they wish.

    The right to peacefully protest was lost a long time ago.
    The right to free speech is being lost.
    The right to privacy WILL be lost.

    Wait, surely the Human Rights act will save us! This is a breach of our human rights, the right to privacy? These plans are illegal right, on so many levels? You'd think so, but I imagine 'the threat to national security' overrides any legal challenge that can be laid before it!

    These plans are stupid anyway, those that are up to illegal/terrorist activity will just hide in the 'dark web' where its nigh impossible to know what they are up to - its already happening. Sure, the state can find out if you are using the 'dark web' - thats another reason I guess, to establish who is on the 'dark side'.

    Soon we will have 'minority report' style police using psychics to predict offences long before they happen and prevent crimes/terrorism from taking place!

    The ironical farce about the whole thing is that at a time when the government and police are being exposed for all kinds of dirty dealings and corrupt goings on, they both have an agenda to spy on us to know what we are up to! Who needs spying on the most?

    Come on people, enough is enough...

  7. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/true-stories-taking-liberties/


  8. My blog was hacked a few weeks ago. Foolishly I used the same password for a few different thing so it was easy to get hold of. Someone used it to put a tiny bit of code which was linked to a site known as one which gives viruses - so whenever someone tried to go to my site they got a message not to proceed or your computer could become infected.
    Wordpress and Google were both very helpful and I found the bit of code, deleted it and all was well again.
    The question remains - why would someone want to sabotage my blog - it's political I know but consists of very silly satirical bits of nonsense. Not a threat surely?
    Looks to me like it's not us who are the paranoid ones - it's whoever the people are who think people like us are a threat.

    1. You are not the only one. so many blogs and sites have been hacked or taken down,during the welfare reforms. several anti atos sites were hacked or threatened with legal action. Black Triangle were taken out as was Calum's List and had to move to Icelandic hosting.
      Anti worfare sites have been hacked.
      Numerous facebook sites were taken down during the Royal wedding.
      Even the Petition to the Queen site, not to give consent to the welffare reform bill, was taken out.

      Could be just trouble makers in some cases but in others,who knows? I am surprised Sue's is still standing! Can't bee too careful about what a bunch of cripples might do if they get really pissed off!

  9. Did the withdrawal of your benefit entitlement coincide with the 'funny phone' business? I can't remember.

  10. Frankly, I am not scared of Al Q'aeda. I'll take my chances.(apologies if spelling is wrong, but dare not put it into search engine, in case the police kick my door in) But I am absolutely terrified of this government and have been on a daily basis since their campaign against anyone on any benefits began in the Emergency Budget in June 2010.

    Sleepless nights, nightmares, anxiety, depression, even suicidal thoughts. Yet my health problems are/were then solely "physical". Not knowing if I will pass the magic test that will grant me permission to live. Albeit a basically crap life.

    I lived in London through many years of attacks by the IRA.I was out shopping nearby when the Harrods bomb went off. My boyfriend worked in a hospital which treated the victims of a bomb in Kensington. I travelled over a bridge daily, that had apperently had a bomb planted under it. Tubes were plastered with messages about reporting unattended bags etc. But the public just got on with it. No fuss, no "terror", no panic. No armed police, or random street searches. Nothing like the hysteria there is now, yet the possibility and number of attacks was a far more realistic and common event.

    This is just a scare tactic to persuade people they are in so much danger, they must give up all their freedoms, in exchange for "protection". Cobblers.

    Democracy and freedom - Isn't that what we are meant to be fighting for? The UK and US applaud the use of Twitter and Facebook in bringing about the Arab Spring and the "fight for democracy" there. But, somehow here, it is the biggest threat to our safety and must be logged.

    They already have the powers they need to prevent crime and terrorism. This is just an excuse so they can monitor everyone who comes on sites like this. Political dissent will not be allowed.

    The biggest threat to our safety is if the internet ceases to be freely available and protest squashed.

    Since this government came in,one thing has been glaringly obvious. If you want to find out what is really hapening in this country, you can forget most of the mainstream news. The internet is the only place to find out what is really happening. Whether it is welfare reform changes, workfare, who said what in parliament, unreported protests, like the ATOS ones or the NHS, or Occupy or UK Uncut. To listen to the media, they are already portrayed as "terrorist" organisations. Not just a bunch of ordinary people, trying to make others aware of what is going on.

    Frankly I am bloody sick of having to go on the internet, which causes me loads more pain and exhaustion, just to stay informed about issues that will affect me profoundly, while I have to pay the BBC £150 a year for the privilege of keeping me in the dark.

    Those like my father who fought against fascism in WW2 and my mother who lived through constant bombing raids and food shortages, think we are pathetic at best and worse, giving up all the freedoms they fought for this country to have.

    1. British people just don't terrify that easily, not when it comes to bombs and the like anyway. Call it the cumulative effect of thousands of years of invasion and subsequent adaptation, just call it Blitz Spirit if you like, but as a nation we get up the next morning and keep going. Since 7/7 in particular, Governments have tried to whip up the kind of panic seen in America after 9/11, so useful for getting the population to go along with anything from Big Brother to redition flights, but they haven't managed. We just aren't buying it.

      "Frankly I am bloody sick of having to go on the internet, which causes me loads more pain and exhaustion, just to stay informed about issues that will affect me profoundly, while I have to pay the BBC £150 a year for the privilege of keeping me in the dark."

      Very well said.

  11. Ah Sue your humour shines through still. Hope hospital tests are going well
    The government have been doing this for years my friend whose hubby was working in Russia in the early 90's remembers ringing him and the click on the phone and the echoy souund she would ask the eavesdroppers to "go away" as all she wanted was a private conversation with her hubby who was in Russia for a perfect legitimate working visit.
    Any request for "funds" will be investigated could be used for
    Please be under no illusion that this is not happening already

  12. Good news everybody!!!

  13. Sue. If govt agencies are intercepting your phone calls and internet traffic you will no nothing about it. If your phones are going "weird" it's far more likely to be tapping/hacking by private detectives on behalf of someone else.

  14. Well its an uncomforatble truth folks but the govt has always tapped phones....ask any miner who was in on the big strike for one example.
    GCHQ have been running project Echelon for decades now and it monitors every phone call,fax,or email going in and out of the country and looks for key words,all shared with the americans.As we all know from the hacking scandal its EASY to intercept mobile calls (digital signal remember)so any private talk you might think you had was probably not private at all if someone wanted to listen .
    Have you got a baby monitor.....EASY to listen in on as another example.Buy a scanner and see for yourself....and no i dont have one but i know if you ask a radio ham they will tell you how easy that is.
    ANY phone line can be clipped in to and anything that transmits any signal can be intercepted and recorded.NO exceptions.
    Ask any telephone engineer how easy it is .If you see one up a pole or at the roadside working in a cabinet ask him what a butt phone is.They use these to clip on to a line to check it and they can use it to phone anywhere using that line so thats how easy it is.Easy enough to clip it in to a recording device wouldnt you think .They can do it at the exchange all day long and you would never know.iIf you phone line goes dead well ts easy to put a line on fault so you use your mobile instead.
    Now think about those mobile phones, laptops ,tablets..remember that digital signal.All available anytime you use them to anyone with the tech...
    Now the new bill wont make any difference to how the security services use this tech it just makes it less accountable than at present and that is the real scary thing thing.No court order no record equals the real big brother state and THATS what we must be scared of and oppose.
    Govts should always be fully accountable with no exceptions.

  15. We write, talk and act, they spy, we protest the spying but we can't let it stop us. If we stop, they win.

  16. You're far from paranoid. I'd be surprised if we hadn't all been spied on by some sinister government agency. The NHS, banks, government all hire companies to ensure that their lines of communication are running smoothly and not being hacked into. It's no great shakes for them to listen in and monitor what's been sent along those channels and they probably have every little detail of your life tucked away neatly on file. But the point is, you're not conspiring to cause harm, nor are you threatening to overthrow those 'so called' democratically elected representatives. Can you be arrested for being compassionate and troubling yourself to care and make a difference when people are receiving a rough deal? The day that happens then we will be no better than China and Iran and in no position to preach to them about human rights as our politicians do currently. It's all rather hypocritical.

    Watch this space. What's the betting that they've conveniently foiled a terrorist plot in the coming weeks to scare us into sacrificing our privacy to them?

    Just try not to upset the Russians in future! Priceless :)

  17. Just to add to the good cheer......apparently A4e are looked on as the preferred bidder to replace the former public service the Equality and Human Rights Helpline which is being abolished in its current form. And it's not even April Fool's day any more..:


  18. by Dr √Čoin Clarke (PhD)

    You think ATOS are bad, wait until Serco get a hold of you

    As we all know the Welfare Reform Bill is now law. The 2012 budget showed that excluding the extra set up costs for the Universal Credit, there is £5.5bn of savings (read cuts) on top of the CSR £13bn cuts in Welfare spending. George Osborne also signalled that a new Comprehensive Spending Review would be tasked with finding between £10-11bn more 'savings' in Welfare spending. So, yes things are bad, and yes things are about to get a whole lot worse. But guess what, when all that is absorbed, all hell is going to break loose.

    By common consent the much maligned ATOS are unscrupulous in their obstruction of disability campaigners efforts to highlight their wrongdoing. Last week's conference showed how ATOS have switched all of their appeals to a judiciary style format of court room & judge. Well, guess what? The Tories have drafted in ATOS's larger and uglier big brother to cause more misery on benefit claimants.

    News has emerged that Serco have been asked by the DWP to conduct an investigation into how more ways to cut benefit claimants' funding can be found. One recipient of a cold contact email from Serco was so incensed at Serco's efforts to rope him into the process that @AlexSmithNP got in touch to show me this letter (here). It clearly shows an increased role for Serco in finding more ways to cut welfare spending. Recently Serco have been scandalised throughout the developed world for their ill treatment of child detainees and their involvement in Nuclear proliferation. They are on a banned list in Norway from applying to the Norwegian Fund that invests in long term infrastructural projects. This is because the Norwegian government has declared them 'unethical'. The news that this company will be increasing its £4.5bn profiteering operation in the area of disability assessments will cause serious alarm among the sick and disabled.

    at 20:41 0 comments
    Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

  19. oops not sure what happened there lol

  20. People who work in accounting / business fraud forensics teams KNOW that this sort of thing is already going on.

  21. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-17480489

  22. I don't doubt for a minute that the current Government would love to have the capacity to spy on everyone.

    However, the technology to allow them to monitor all communications and hold them in a readily accessible form does not exist. Even if it did and they contented themselves with just spying on 10% of us, the storage capacity to hold such a gargantuan quantity of data would be larger than any single data repository in Europe. Currently, the plan is to make the service providers pay for that, but I can't see them stumping up the cash somehow. It rather smacks of yet another ill-conceived, but fatally flawed plan from people who have yet to come to grips with sending their own emails.

    Most people who are interested in keeping their business their own have already downloaded and use readily available software based on Private/Public Key encryption that no-one can currently crack. They use pay-as-you go SIM cards, and hotmail accounts set up from internet cafes, or from hacked accounts. It's easy to do and used in conjunction with IP aliasing software, you can't even tell in which country they are based, let alone tracking them to an address.

    When you add the technical difficulties to the sheer numbers of people who would be required to sift and collate this information, it becomes clear that it would be utterly impossible to implement. How many systems do we currently have for managing state benefits? Do any of them talk to each other? Having said all that; one day, the technology will exist to allow this to happen, so drawing a line in the sand now is no bad thing.

    1. "How many systems do we currently have for managing state benefits?"

      Under Universal Credit all benefits will be put through a single computer,being developed now (apparently known as the Beast) It will link up with HMRC records. The only way to apply for most benefits is going to be online. Working tax credits etc will all be linked to HMRC records weekly and need updating weekly. All employees data will be input weekly too. Supposed to prevent fraud but as we all know that's just an excuse to keep shed loads of data on everyone, including your medical history.

      It is also going to have Voice Print recognition technology. so any phone call you make for any reason could be identified just by your voice.

      Big Brother is already here and being made even bigger by IDS. Our only hope is, it is SO big it won't work, like every other government IT project. Looks like it's being outsourced to India too, so no Data Protection Act.

      This blog covers it in detailand was written before the recent announcements on keeping emails etc.


    2. This is very interesting. Two things spring to mind for me here: I see very little actual factual evidence that these noises you hear are definitely phone-tapping. Have you googled what people experience when they are being bugged? I wonder this because like with science sometimes it really is best to try and stick with facts as much as possible. I am not necessarily saying I doubt you but I see a lot of assumptions in the comments too...

      Also, I have experienced weird-phone-ness too, I wondered if people were listening in on my calls (and I admit that I do suffer with paranoia) but I take part in no activism (apart from writing occasionally to MPs and retweeting articles). I don't talk with other activists or know any in real life... I don't attend group meetings/protests or have ever done really, I don't even write a political blog that anyone reads or anything... In fact, I deleted my old Twitter account with all the political stuff. But I certainly have experienced weird echoey-ness, muffledness, strange noises from time to time. I suppose I have communicated with 'high-target' people online so if there was a link that probably is it. Who knows!

      I find one thing glaringly obvious about people being afraid of being spied upon and a surveillance state though, and that is that it might will be a tool to scare people out of action.

      p.s. sorry if this comment is in the wrong section!

  23. Most people who work in and for the government are themselves deceptive so you need to bear that in mind as they to will get caught out as and when they do wrong

  24. Don't we all live in a Surveillance State anyway? The newspapers are all hacking peoples phones left right and center, then pay out compensation when caught.

    Probably went on for years too.

  25. From what you say, you are definitely under surveillance. In the 80s, I wrote a letter to a national daily, and one to my local paper, then a couple of follow-ups in reply to replies. And MI5 were on to me. They sent an operative to my house to make sure I lived there, and a few weeks later they sent another one who pretended to be a customer of my business, but who was so incompetent he gave the game away big-time! My phone was bugged, and I got all the symptoms you are having now.

    That was the extent of my activism (oh, and ONE CND march in central London), yet I was a threat to people in power. As you are now. Your ideas and influence could bring down the governement and ruin careers. If you were to hit on a way to galvanise support for disabled people, you could destroy the ruling elite, and they will not for a moment want to let that happen.

    Watch out for things happening that will take your time and energy -- mysterious damage to your car; a burglary perhaps; things lost in the post; strange letters from banks and credit cards withdrawing services; mortgages that must be paid immediately.

    If the Enemy thinks you are a threat, they will deal with that threat. Expect the worst. Keep a log, and send it everyday to anyone who is sympathetic -- such as the Guardian, and other activist groups.