The disgraceful act of bastardy that was the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 exposes the underside of the rocks being hurled in the intelligence gathering versus privacy debate.
Within hours of losing the plane the Ukrainian security services, the SBU (a NATO-aligned military and intelligence partner), released audio recordings in which we heard the perpetrators of this act describing the scene, and admitting to the fact they had just shot down a civilian airliner. In the ongoing investigation this is a vital piece of evidence that warrants further examination.
If we consider for one second how that evidence came about, it is obvious it was possible only by continual and ubiquitous access to the civilian mobile phone network by a technically capable intelligence service. It is also reasonable to assume that same intelligence service was watching many other alternative forms of electronic communications these rebel groups may utilise such as Facebook, email, the TOR network, SMS and Twitter (a Twitter feed is de rigueur now by rebel and terrorist groups around the world).
Ever since the Snowden revelations the so-called libertarian movement has decried governments around the world for facilitating these kinds of accesses, as authorities seek to flush out networks of extremists, drug traffickers, paedophiles, organised criminals, and terrorists.
The argument against this intelligence gathering hangs on four main principles:
* Governments should not take everything from these networks ‘just in case’: that is overkill – access should be targeted (using warrants to access only suspected individuals communications.
*Completely innocent, private individuals have an unassailable right to privacy: the individual should be in control of their use of communications networks.
*The incidence of illicit use of communications network is not sufficient to warrant the response: i.e. terrorism is rare.
*It is illegal in modern democracies: the government is breaking its own laws.
All four of these arguments are over-simplified, utopian nonsense. Of course it would be great if we could abide by those principles in modern life. I wish the government could just leave me alone, that I could have a private identity, and that nice, neat legal frameworks could be drawn up that have me, my privacy and innocent life on one side, and all the evil scumbags of the world on the other. The government could then just deal with them, and leave me the hell alone.
But as the downing of MH17 so horribly demonstrates, the world does not work that way. Innocent civilians should be able to travel on an airliner without the threat of being randomly targeted by trigger-happy war mongers; yet 13 years after 9/11 – and despite billions of dollars of new security and increasingly tight airport controls – the flying public are still not safe.
So we must examine again the benefits that stem from our allied governments’ capability to monitor the networks that we know are 100% being used to facilitate the worst actions humanity is capable of.
More recently, regarding the stream of obscenities released on the internet by Islamic State, it is vital that we are able to track and trace the lifecycle of the digital media that depicts the sadistic, broad-daylight torture and murder of civilians. These videos contain intelligence value not only in their content, but in their travel history. Once a ‘hash’ value has been determined to establish the unique fingerprint of such a file, the global internet should be able to be searched to recreate the timeline of where it originated from, who handled it, and when. Only then might we be able to trace it back to its origin and identify the perpetrators and their online facilitators.
For this to happen we must allow, and indeed encourage, our governments to obtain and retain pre-emptive access to the logs and history of these digital transactions in order to better protect all of us. To not do so would be a disgraceful dereliction of their law-enforcement responsibilities.
Do I want to live in a ‘Big Brother’ world where my online life is part of a global surveillance system? No, I’d much rather not. But even less do I want to live in a world where sadistic psychopaths can humiliate and butcher my fellow mankind in the streets of major towns, and feel confident enough to brag about it using electronic media that might encourage others to follow suit. I’d also like to take my next flight knowing that as many threats against that plane are being actively monitored as possible, increasing my chance of arriving safely. I don’t want a nervous law enforcement agent waiting for a warrant to be signed before they will flick the switch that might reveal communications taking place that may be putting my life in increasing danger.
Our online life is becoming part of our individual DNA – it now describes who we are, how we are likely to act, and what our preferences and dispositions are. And just like I would be willing to contribute my physical DNA to assist a murder enquiry in my street, I’m willing to let my digital DNA be used to bring bastards to justice. More of us should.