Two articles linked via BoingBoing.net have my ears pricking today … actually there are four, but I’ll save the other two for another post.
In an unusual move the British Government has asked MI5 to break the BBM encryption that has kept rioters in the UK one step ahead of the constabulary. MI5 is usually tasked with the job of protecting against external threats, so this is treading into the realm of domestic policing. The original report from the Guardian is here. As the Guardian notes, while the move is unusual it is not outside the ambit of MI5:
However, they have a statutory right to target criminals or those suspected of being involved in crime, officials have said.
MI5 will be working in conjunction with the UK’s electronic ears: GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). GCHQ’s mandate is
to monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment …
Governments have always had the ability to spy on those within their borders, however, wiretapping has been one of those areas of ambiguous moral standing. The reason it is so thorny is that without much of a stretch, monitoring of private communications for security reasons can become an Orwellian nightmare, as one gentleman in Essex found out this week in the second story to grip my attention.
The second story concerns a man arrested by police in Essex. The accused was clearly guilty of perpetrating the organization of a serious crime over BBM – a water fight.
I’ll say that again: A water fight. For this a 20 year old was charged under the 2007 Serious Crime Act with “encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence”. Mien Gott! What the hell is going on over in the UK?