Sharing is caring: Obama backs Cameron’s push for social media access

21 Jan 2015

US President Barack Obama

The US and UK don’t have enough information on their citizens, or those of other countries. They want more.

Following UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls for access to social media messaging providers’ network of information, US President Barack Obama has claimed doing so is for the greater good.

Clearly both men want their state surveillance programmes to acquire more information than they already do.

This thirst for more information is understandable, as both the National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – the surveillance behemoths behind the US and UK, respectively – clearly have an acute addiction to ingesting meta data, with sides of private correspondences, washed down with anything else they can snaffle.

What to do with all this stuff?

However, it’s odd in that the very collection with which the two organisations/states specialise in is so vast that it hinders the ability to react to threats, takes incalculable amounts of time to collate, and drains resources away from genuine security operations.

The NSA is drowning in useless data, which harms its ability to conduct legitimate surveillance, claimed William Binney, author of some of the organisation’s spying computer code, a little over a year ago.

“What they are doing is making themselves dysfunctional by taking all this data,” he is quoted as saying, in a Wall Street Journal article at the time.

Former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has consistently pointed this out, with his lawyer Ben Wizner speaking in Ireland last year about that very topic.

Wizner said the NSA has been sending thousands of referrals to the FBI and not one has led to a lead. He said the FBI pushed back and said it was sending agents on wild goose chases when in fact it would prefer to apply boots and leather to real investigations.

Needle in a haystack

Meanwhile in the UK, the GCHQ’s expert ability to mine for swathes of data poses a similar problem. As we reported last year, the GCHQ’s actual defence for grabbing anything and everything in the name of ‘state security’ undermines the whole ethos in a ridiculous way.

In a report on the intelligence relating to the murder of fusilier Lee Rigby, GCHQ’s limitations on what it can actually process, of all the information it gathers, is revealed – very little.

Extract from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Report on the intelligence relating to the murder of fusilier Lee Rigby (UK)

Indeed the US appear to be fairly up on North Korea’s cyber projects, specifically monitoring them for awhile now. Yet still, even with this information, it’s difficult to work out what is going on, where, when and how in any timely manner. Thus, the US missed the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has been linked to the reclusive state.

More, more, more. How do you like it?

But Obama and Cameron are unperturbed, hankering for greater access, greater co-operation and greater mounds of data.

“Social media and the internet is the primary way in which these terrorist organisations are communicating,” Obama said during a press conference with Cameron last weekend.

“That’s not different from anybody else, but they’re good at it and when we have the ability to track that in a way that is legal, conforms with due process, rule of law and presents oversight, then that’s a capability that we have to preserve,” he said.

‘Oversight’ and ‘due process’, now these are two phrases that scream PRISM, the NSA and the GCHQ, right?

David Cameron

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has his eye on social media following the shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris

Following the shootings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris recently, Cameron was quick to warn social media companies against blocking state spy agencies from monitoring anything and everything.

“We’re not asking for backdoors,” he said. “We’re asking for very clear front doors through legal processes to help keep our country safe.”

Same old, same old

This is nothing new, and it’s something the GCHQ has been pressing for, for quite awhile. Back in November, Robert Hannigan, who had just been installed as the new head of the GCHQ, claimed tech giants unwittingly help foster terrorism around the globe.

In a strange attack pinning partial blame for terrorism on social media services rather than, you know, terrorists, Hannigan claimed “that some technology companies are in denial” about their misuse by certain terrorist groups, most notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

It’s becoming tiring hearing powerful people from powerful states looking for more information, meaning more power, but it’s nothing if not expected.

As already stated, the US and UK don’t have enough information on their citizens, or those of other countries. They want more.

There’s something quite Gordon Gekko about the whole thing.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic