How much do they have?
On 12th February 2016, the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) ruled that the hacking of computers, networks and smartphones in the UK and abroad by GCHQ staff did “not breach human rights” (Bowcott, The Guardian) and was “within the law” (Wheeler, BBC News). The ruling came after the campaign group Privacy International and seven other international internet providers claimed the hacking operations were too intrusive and broke European law. In the trial, GCHQ admitted that it “carrie[d] out CNE [computer network exploitation] within and outside the UK,” for the first time. They stated that “in 2013, about 20% of [their] intelligence reports contained information derived from hacking.” Despite calls from large swathes of organisations, such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo! The Law Society and Bar Council and the National Union of Journalists, to curb the extent of disproportionate surveillance and the introduction of a new surveillance bill (dubbed the Snooper’s charter) later this year, these demands have been met with a silent ear. These revelations and the possible instigation of this new bill will ultimately bring the death of cyber security in the name of national security.
In an attempt to address this issue, I wanted to look at the content that was available to GCHQ through CNE, as well as directly confronting the practices that they engage in. I created a short video (shown above) depicting the capturing of my information and the methods that are readily available for the security services. The video shows a computer hacking into my iPhone, listening in on an actual phone call with my dad (that he did not know was being recorded), watching my activity on the phone and spying on a conversation between my flatmate and I (a conversation that he also did not know was being recorded). Prior to hacking into my phone, the video provides a profile of all the information that GCHQ has on me, based on data revealed by Edward Snowden and articles regarding the extent of surveillance prior to 2013. The profile names everything from my full name and birthday to frequently used apps, active social media accounts and education history. All the information provided is easily available through CNE and depicts the extent to which GCHQ can snoop into people’s lives.
What is most shocking for audiences experiencing the piece is the extent to which they can discover things about me. Through accessing my screen, viewers can gage my popularity, how active I am on social media and who I talk to, whilst also having the ability to read my messages amongst other things. Through hearing a conversation with my dad, viewers have the capacity to snoop in on my life and get a sense of the relationship I have with my family (the fact that I am thanked for buying flowers on mother’s day suggests a healthy relationship). What’s more, through listening in on a conversation with my flat mate, viewers can discover my opinions, the things I discuss with my flatmate and the activities that he and I get up to (in this case, it is him smoking marijuana). All of these small bits of information help audiences gage more about me and give them a certain power over me. As was written in a Guardian editorial on 1 March “Knowledge is power, and the number of fallible human beings who possess it – and perhaps misuse or mislay it – could soar.” Giving the audience this power over me as a member of society depicts the very dangers of GCHQ’s powers over the citizens it is seeking to protect. As Carly Nyst writes: “that privacy will be eroded as a result of a process that flaunts democratic tenets serves only to add insult to injury. It is not only democracy that the government has treated with contempt but the British public.” The piece furthermore shows how hacking into people’s phones can provide an incredible amount of information in such a short space of time.
The aim of the piece, like my work from last term addressing similar issues, is to make people aware of the dangers of mass surveillance; to enable and start a debate about an issue that has been hidden under the rug for an extended period of time. The piece acts like a visualiser for the notion that Edward Snowdon put forward: that of an open debate between the government and the people. By making students aware of these spying techniques and providing them with the tools to construct their own opinions and arguments, they can choose whether to fight for their privacy in the political arena, or to step back and make clear that it is not an issue that bothers them. The latter is something I have surprisingly come to expect from my course mates.
The piece was created as a video as this medium is able to capture and display the key elements of phone hacking: phone calls (audio), microphone hacking (audio) and screen capture (visual). The piece was created using Final Cut Pro X. The phone call with my dad was recorded using the Call Recorder iPhone app. The app does not have the ability to record calls to landlines, so all calls were made via mobile connections. This created limitations as I received a number of calls from landline phones over the course of the recording week. All working calls, however, are genuine and recipients did not know they were being recorded. The iPhone screen was recorded using Quicktime Player. The date was reset to coincide with the two audio recordings, but the clock reset itself to 9:40 when being recorded. There was no way for me to change this. The audio recording of my flat mate and I was recorded using the voice memo app on my iPhone and is a genuine conversation. All of the information provided in the profiles at the start are genuine. As a result, the video is listed on YouTube as ‘Unlisted’, meaning only those who view this blog are able to watch it.
Below are two more calls that were recorded on the same day but failed to connect.