Tag Archives: spying

On being a domestic extremist in the UK

Written for Open Democracy and first published here.

After the news emerges that Green Party Assembly Member and peer Jenny Jones has been monitored by the Met for 11 years, it’s time to question what it means to be a domestic extremist.

Kirsty Styles: domestic extremist

I’m not sure how long I’ve been a domestic extremist, or even whether I really am. But if my name has made it onto Scotland Yard’s list, I’ll be therealongside Green peer and London Assembly member Jenny Jones. And no doubt the information compiled about me would be nothing a seven-year-old couldn’t find in 10 minutes using their mum’s tablet.

I may have set alarm bells ringing when I arranged for Guardian journalist David Leigh to come and speak at my university, which is heavily linked to BAE, about dodgy arms deals during the 1980s and 1990s. Or it could have been when I entered the public ballot for a ticket to see my arch nemesis Tony Blairgive evidence at the Iraq Inquiry in 2010. Or maybe it was when I joined the Green Party last year and ran in the most recent local election in Hackney.

For, as the Guardian outlined this week, this is a database filled with names of people who have never been arrested. They simply “seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process.” I admit it. That’s me. But, police explain, in Minority Report pre-crime-style, these people may be planning to break the law…

I’ve just got back from a weekend of talks, workshops and even a wonderful ceilidh, a well-known extremist pastime, with Friends of the Earth at their annual Basecamp. There, we heard about the genuinely scary TTIP policy, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, that seeks to bring in unparalleled deregulation that could see food standards, workers’ rights, the environment and just about everything in between ripped up in the name of free trade between the US and the EU.

Everyone at Bascamp was also worried about, and organising around, fracking. At its worst, many campaigners believe this could kill people and animals. At best, it’s investors trashing our natural environment and prolonging our reliance on fossil fuels, all in the name of profit for the few. Friends of the Earth has just launched its own Run on Sun solar campaign for schools, which could save them up to £8,000 per year on fuel bills. The stuff that only radical fanatics could dream up.

While at the event, I also dared to speak to strangers and had a very interesting conversation with a fellow ‘extremist’ about SLAPPS, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which are legal proceedings that are increasingly used to prohibit dissent among the UK population. The criminalisation of protest. Along with the Gagging Law, Boris’ unsanctioned purchase of water cannon, the Bedroom Tax, and the list goes on and on, over the past few years, we have faced an onslaught of transformative legislation from government, all of which politicians had to no mandate to bring in. And we, the people, are the extremists.

Everyone’s secret best friend Wikipedia says that extremism is an “ideology considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of a society”. I don’t see my very varied campaign work as part of any ideology, but it seems like arranging discussions about the UK government’s involvement with selling weapons, attending public inquiries on war crimes and standing for the Greens could count as extremism. Green attitudes in general – anti-war and for social and environmental justice – hardly sound like ideas that stray too far from popular opinion.

Our political system is derided by almost everyone you come across in near-equal measures for being out of touch, serving vested interests and scrabbling for the middle-ground, for greed, hypocrisy, elitism, cheating, lying or incompetence. There are probably many more accusations besides. But, after people get over the shock of meeting a young person, any person, who is deeply interested in our democratic process, they commend me for bothering to get involved. They feel like they should, but they just can’t overcome the feeling that it’s a waste of time, that things won’t change.

When I’m not peacefully involving myself in campaigns that I feel passionately about – local youth unemployment and community energy are two recent developments – I write about technology. Here is where activists, politicians and the general population need to focus more of their attention.

The government and its spies knew they would never be able to get the entire population to wear an electronic tag or carry an ID card, to be tracked. But now they know they didn’t need to. We’re all wandering around working as a band of gullible voluntary agents. Checking in, taking snaps and tagging. Spying on ourselves. And as Google’s helpful search algorithm ‘gets to know you’ it shows you more of what you like, which means you’re less and less likely to happen upon things by accident, like grassroots campaigns. What member of government has ever asked: ‘how we do democracy in the digital age? How do we empower people to act, what part do corporations play and how do we make powerful groups accountable?’

So I’d rather be considered a domestic extremist than indifferent, but actually I’d rather my government supported my right to have ideas and my passion for being involved in building a good society. Jenny Jones is a democratically-elected person who dares to think differently and has been monitored, just like thousands of other normal people, who are being watched and having their groups infiltrated by police even today.

I believe that the world can be different and it doesn’t matter if I can’t change it, at least I gave it a shot. I want to make sure that more people feel the same, because we have to work together if we want to make a real difference to our future course.

And, if they are monitoring me, I truly hope GCHQ enjoys trawling the Manalogue group, something one of my friends created on Facebook where we used to post pictures of ‘fittie celebrities’. Needless to say Tony Blair did not make the cut.

‘Leaky Apps’ Scandal: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Apps stock imageThis week’s revelations about the role that app developers and advertising networks may have (potentially accidentally) played in UK and US government spying raises very important questions for the mobile industry.

Aside from Rovio, which released a comprehensive statement assuring its users that it does not give data to spying agencies, and levelling blame at third-party networks, the silence from the industry has been deafening.

Google’s Doubleclick ads are among those served within Rovio’s Angry Birds, which implicates the company in this alleged haemorrhaging of personal details. Google is also an app owner, with its suite of productivity apps among the most widely used in the world, giving it even greater visibility of data and relevant security issues.

Google: No comment

Asked what the company made of the Wikileaks information, a Google spokesperson said: “We don’t have a comment on this.” When pressed on its responsibility to its users, Google added: “No one’s available for comment.”

Ad networks including Millennial Media and Nexage also serve ads within Rovio’s apps. Millennial Media’s EMEA content and communications manager Dave Ross-Tomlin, made a short statement yesterday. “There has been reporting over the last 24 hours about the collection of mobile data by government ‘spy’ agencies,” he said. “Let us be clear: Millennial Media has not and does not work with, nor pass information to, the NSA, GCHQ, or any other such agencies.”

The company said that it uses non-personally identifiable data provided by publishers – in this case, app developers – with the permission of users. It then adds additional filtering for regulatory compliance, relating to laws like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. We were directed to their privacy policy but Millennial could not give any more detail about whether data could have been collected without them knowing and, if so, how this could be stopped in the future.

MMA: We take privacy seriously

It is not entirely clear within whose jurisdiction this lies and who should be held accountable if consumers’ privacy is infringed. While the Internet Advertising Bureau said it is unable to comment, Stephen Upstone, UK chair of the Mobile Marketing Association, a trade body for the industry, said that his organisation and its members take the issue of consumer privacy very seriously.

“I am not aware of any companies sharing of customer data accidentally or deliberately,” Upstone said. “The MMA takes an active role in encouraging regulation and best practice with the mobile marketing and advertising industry globally. We consult with brand marketers, advertising agencies, publishers, software and service suppliers on behalf of the industry and consumers.”

When asked who could be held responsible if data has been handed over to security services, purposefully of not, Upstone added: “Individual companies that handle data are responsible for ensuring it is properly handled, securely stored and that the laws and regulations are being respected. App developers who work with third-party suppliers and manage data are responsible for choosing vendors who are managing data properly.”

Rovio has said that it is now re-evaluating its work with ad networks as it considers how to ensure that data is not made so freely available in future, but without clear evidence of who has done what, many in the industry face having this key app ad inventory removed from their arsenal. And with little response from app developers and the ad networks they work with, it is difficult to know how the industry can stop this happening in the future.

ICO: We have raised concerns about US spying

We got in touch with a number of consumer protection organisations, including Consumer Future and Which?, but they were unable to comment as they did not have the relevant expertise. An Information Commissioner spokesperson said that app developers must comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act, including being open about how data will be used and that data collection is not excessive, on which the organisation has created guidelines.

On the NSA and surveillance, the ICO spokesperson said: “There are real issues about the extent to which US law enforcement agencies can access personal data of UK and other European citizens. Aspects of US law under which companies can be compelled to provide information to US agencies potentially conflict with European data protection law, including the UK’s own Data Protection Act. The ICO has raised this with its European counterparts, and the issue is being considered by the European Commission, who are in discussions with the US Government.”

This is just the latest in a long list of examples of government infringing on civil liberties, so are people right to ask whether privacy itself is a thing of the past? Online security firm Bitdefender says that users who embrace privacy are ‘denied access to modern technology’.

Bitdefender: Internet is a pool of data waiting to be mined

“Many of the apps that we install on a daily basis are paid for with our private details,” said Alexandru Catalin Cosoi, chief security strategist at Bitdefender. ”On one hand, advertisers are becoming greedier and greedier, because the more personal information they get, the more accurate their profiling, and on the other hand, developers are better paid if they accept the task of getting more information for the advertiser.

“It looks like a win-win situation, but the end-user has the most to lose in the case of a data breach, and what’s most harmful is that most of the time they aren’t even aware that their private information is being harvested. Social networks are booming and a good chunk of users either have no idea how to, or do not care about, safely using these. The internet has become a pool of personal information ready to be mined.”

It was announced yesterday that Ed Snowden, the man who did some data mining of his own when he leaked documents about government spying to Wikileaks, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. But the prize is not without its critics, with past nominees including Joseph Stalin.

In an interview in December Edward Snowden said: “I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” These revelations look like a good opportunity for the mobile industry to do some soul-searching of its own.

We reached out to a number of ad networks, including Nexage and Medaiplex, who did not get back to us. Adblock, creators of software to stop ads, declined to comment and App Annie, the app data analytics platform that tracks 3.9m apps, said it ‘may be next week when they engage with the question’. We are awaiting further comment from a number of other organisations. 

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here:  http://mobilemarketingmagazine.com/leaky-apps-scandal-where-does-the-buck-stop/#vouAJQ4eioHpUut1.99