That’s what Julian Assange told The Times magazine in an exclusive interview splashed in the Daily Mail article below.
I told whistleblower Edward Snowden to escape to Russia or risk being kidnapped and killed, claims Wikileaks founder Assange
- Assange claims he advised Snowden to choose Russia over Latin America
– Snowden was apparently concerned over the PR implications of Moscow
– Wikileaks founder has been hiding in Ecuadorian embassy since 2012
– He now claims he can no longer use the balcony for fear of assassination
By Flora Drury For Mailonline
Published: 09:23 GMT, 29 August 2015 | Updated: 12:17 GMT, 29 August 2015
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has revealed how he told Edward Snowden to flee to Russia – saying otherwise he risked being ‘kidnapped or possibly killed’.
Assange claims he told former NSA contractor Snowden to choose the controversial destination after he leaked details of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging surveillance programme to the media in 2013.
Snowden had apparently mooted Latin America as a possibility, but Assange feared it left him vulnerable to being kidnapped by the CIA.
The Wikileaks founder, who has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy since June 2012, told Giles Whittel in The Times Magazine: ‘Snowden was well aware of the spin that would be put on it if he took asylum in Russia.
‘He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk of being kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders.’
Questioned further, Assange added he feared Snowden could be ‘kidnapped or possibly killed’.
Snowden has been living in exile in Russia ever since the documents were revealed by The Guardian, who met the American in Hong Kong.
The newspaper claims he was en route to Latin America when the U.S. government revoked his passport, trapping him in Moscow.
Assange, meanwhile, was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador under the 1951 Refugee Convention in 2012.
He believes he risks extradition to the U.S. from the UK and Sweden, where he is under investigation for his involvement with Wikileaks. He also faces extradition to Sweden for an investigation into an alleged rape.
Over a period of nearly five years, he has been detained without charge in prison, under house arrest and inside the embassy, with round-the-clock police guard thought to cost more than £11million.
Assange revealed to The Times he no longer likes to even go out on the balcony, saying there have been ‘bomb threats and assassination threats from various people’.
Swedish officials are set to meet their Ecuadorian counterparts on Monday to find a way for Swedish prosecutors to question the Australian over the allegation.
‘It is the first time that we are going to meet and we will discuss a general agreement for judicial cooperation between the two countries,’ Swedish justice ministry official Cecilia Riddselius said on Friday.
The program collected information from billions of calls made by Americans.
—By Edwin Rios | Fri Aug. 28, 2015 3:18 PM EDT
A federal appeals court in Washington, DC, on Friday tossed out an injunction over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of American’s phone records, but left open the question of whether the program itself is legal.
The three appeals court judges assigned to the case splintered, with each writing a separate opinion. But they overturned a key ruling from December 2013 that critics of the NSA program had used to advance their claims that the collection of information on billions of calls made and received by Americans was illegal.
That ruling, issued by Judge Richard Leon in Washington, sent shockwaves across the legal landscape because it was the first in which a federal court judge sided with critics who questioned the legality of sweeping up data on vast numbers of phone calls–nearly all of them completely unrelated to terrorism.
The new decision Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit did not kill the lawsuit brought by conservative gadfly Larry Klayman. The appeals court voted, 2-1, to allow the lawsuit to proceed in the district court, but the judges left doubts about whether the case will ever succeed.
In June, Congress phased out the NSA’s controversial program with the passing of the USA Freedom Act. The new law forced the NSA to obtain private phone records for counterterrorism investigations on a case-by-case basis through a court order. After the law mandated a six-month transition program for the new program, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA could continue its existing bulk collection program through November.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed an injunction to block the program, arguing that the surveillance court should not have reinstated the program after a federal appeals court in New York found it to be illegal.
Personalized OOH: Precision targeting comes to China Post screens
by Jenny Chan Developed by Omnicom and Heli Media, screens spread across nation will gather data on passersby to target ads
SHANGHAI — China’s official postal service has deployed a comprehensive upgrade of its 20,000 outdoor smartscreens with new facial-recognition capability, mobile interactivity, data management and campaign-optimization features.
Cameras attached to China Post screens across the top 20 cities in the country will track the directional movements of eyes, the number of glances passersby give and the dwell time of each glance while also judging the “biometric signature” of each individual.
The system takes 60 images per second and compares these against a database of biometric signatures, then marries the assigned signature of the viewer with programmatic-buying information such as audience type, demographic targets and location-specific filters.
This in turn triggers dynamic content. Take, for example, an automobile ad. A brand may choose to show male consumers what’s under the car hood, while female audiences see information about fuel efficiency and safety.
The personalization of the ad also allows the public to scan QR codes or tap NFC interfaces to receive e-coupons from the advertiser along with instructions for conversion online or offline to result in a closed sales loop.
Omnicom Media Group in China has been working with Heli Media for the past two years in a go-to-market partnership for this deployment, the first ahead of another 60,000 screens committed for 2016 with other partners including Longfan Media.
This digital out-of-home automated advertising platform is known as IMON, for which Heli (which uses the technology of Quividi) owns an exclusive worldwide distribution license. The screens will be further enhanced in later phases with through-screen payment and augmented-reality features.
To date, the IMON system has a bank of over 5 billion biometric signatures stored by race, age and gender in 50 countries for comparative refinement, said Jason Perry, group operations director of Heli Media Group.
The system does not store actual images of the audience members, so there is no privacy infringement, according to Perry, who said the biometric signatures provide no knowledge of what the individual looks like or who they are.
Chinese laws are very clear about taking a person’s picture without permission. Paraphrased below, from both the “General Principles of Civil Law” and “The Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation of the Implementation of the General Principles of Civil Law,” the use of a citizen’s portrait for profit without his consent shall be prohibited and identified as invasion of right of portrait.
According to Doug Pearce, CEO of Omnicom Media Group Greater China, the system offers the screen owner, the media buyer, the ad agency and brand advertisers an upgraded solution to overcome historic OOH inadequacies.
“There was a real lack of understanding who your audiences are, but now you can put a number to it, say, 5,800 people have seen your ad — definitively. You’re not buying general headcounts,” Pearce said. “Bad programmatic buying is a race to the bottom with real-time bidding. Good programmatic buying is when you can quantify and qualify your audiences. In the past, there were no set rules for tagging data and so no way to cross-reference different datasets,” he said.
The capability to buy outdoor ads programmatically also levels the playing field for smaller screen owners who have been operating in the shadow of larger ones, Pearce said.
This will probably cost more in the short term in terms of media rates, but almost zero waste makes up for the higher pricing, he pointed out. There will be no “bad spots” because the system programmatically chooses the best screens across the entire network to suit specific goals.
“Locations with low audiences will simply never be chosen by the system for ad placement,” added Perry. Heli Media charges a service fee (percentage of total ad cost) onto the inventory pricing placed by the screen owners, going beyond charging advertising by time or traffic estimates.
“I call this bringing truth to advertising,” Perry said.
This article first appeared on campaignasia.com.
HSBC, Stan Chart’s compliance expansion scuppered by junior churn
by Simon Mortlock
HSBC and Standard Chartered are trying to up their compliance headcounts in Asia, but a tight job market and junior job seekers who look to leave after a matter of months mean expansion is far from straight forward.
Last week Standard Chartered – which was fined $300m in the US in 2014 for compliance lapses and faces ongoing American regulatory scrutiny – made two senior compliance appointments and announced a fivefold increase in its financial-crime headcount. Stan Chart is now set to continue its compliance hiring spree, which is focused on Asia, where the bank employs most of its staff and generates about 75% of its revenues.
“SCB is driving the recruitment of about 200 financial crime hires with the larger part of them based in Singapore given its position as a regional HQ,” says a recruiter in Asia with knowledge of the bank. “About 50% of these jobs are for Singapore, 25% for Hong Kong and the remainder are spread across other global locations.”
Fellow Asia-focused British bank HSBC revealed earlier this month that it hired 2,200 compliance staff globally in the first half of 2015 alone. While the firm didn’t provide a regional breakdown, Asian recruiters say it and Stan Chart dominate the compliance job market in Singapore and Hong Kong. “HSBC and Stan Chart are constantly hiring and candidates know they are the banks to approach should they be looking for a new role,” says Daniel Warwick, Singapore managing director of recruitment firm Eames Consulting Group.
But with many other banks also wanting to grow their Asian compliance units – recruiters tip Barclays, BNP Paribas, DBS and J.P. Morgan to expand – HBSC and Stan Chart may find it tough to both recruit and retain enough compliance staff to meet their needs.
“There has been constant growth in demand in compliance in Asia, so the available talent pool has become comparatively smaller and this has created a strong candidate-driven job market,” says Warwick. “I know compliance positions that have been open for eight months or longer, and due to this competitive market there’s now more ‘replacement’ hiring happening as people move on.”
Building out compliance teams in Hong Kong and Singapore is becoming less viable because junior recruits, who make up the bulk of new hires, aren’t sticking around for long enough. “Attrition of junior candidates is a big issue in Hong Kong,” says Kate Reid, Asia Pacific associate director of risk, compliance and audit at recruiters Eximius. “Large firms bulking up in areas like AML are offering pay increments well above average for candidates with only six to 12 months’ experience.”
Junior compliance professionals are taking advantage of the money on offer by moving banks twice or even times within two years, says Reid. “The challenge for banks who want to expand is retaining these staff – in this buoyant compliance market it can be only six months before new graduates are seen as valuable by rival big banks and are snaffled up with a 20% to 30% salary rise.”
At the mid to senior level, while there are still skill shortages in Asian compliance, people stay in roles for longer. “And hiring from overseas is also a practical option, albeit a most costly one,” says Stella Tang, managing director of recruiters Robert Half in Singapore. “We’re seeing shortages across anti-money laundering, surveillance and regulatory compliance,” she adds.
“The underlying challenge in Asian compliance is that global banks are committed to achieving the highest regulatory standards here, but these are often set in their home country,” says Reid from Eximius. “We have a smaller, less mature workforce in Hong Kong so it’s difficult to ask this workforce not only to meet their local and regional regulations but to also adhere to regulations set in mature markets.”
Well, hackers have figured that out: use their hacking skills to grab hold of corporate press releases before they become public and optimize the information for insider trading. Why didn’t anyone think of that earlier?
Find out more about this case from the following New York Times article.
Above photo: From left to right Duncan Campbell, Crispin Aubrey and John Berry in the ‘ABC’ case (Source: The Intercept – ANL/Re/REX Shutterstock)
The Register: Special Report Duncan Campbell has spent decades unmasking Britain’s super-secretive GCHQ, its spying programmes, and its cosy relationship with America’s NSA. Today, he retells his life’s work exposing the government’s over-reaching surveillance, and reveals documents from the leaked Snowden files confirming the history of the fearsome ECHELON intercept project. This story is also published simultaneously today by The Intercept, as is – at long last – Duncan’s Register Christmas Lecture from last year.
(Above) Photo credit: Max Whittaker for The New York Times.
Below is a New York Times article on a China matter widely quoted by the Chinese media.
And here are some additional background coverage on the case:
China Seeks Businessman Said to Have Fled to U.S., Further Straining Ties
By MICHAEL FORSYTHE and MARK MAZZETTIAUG. 3, 2015
LOOMIS, Calif. — China is demanding that the Obama administration return a wealthy and politically connected businessman who fled to the United States, according to several American officials familiar with the case. Should he seek political asylum, he could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic.
The case of the businessman, Ling Wancheng, has strained relations between two nations already at odds over numerous issues before President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States in September, including an extensive cybertheft of American government data and China’s aggressive territorial claims.
Mr. Ling is the youngest brother of Ling Jihua, who for years held a post equivalent to that of the White House chief of staff, overseeing the Communist Party’s inner sanctum as director of its General Office. Ling Jihua is one of the highest-profile casualties of an anticorruption campaign that Mr. Xi has made a centerpiece of his government.
The Obama administration has thus far refused to accede to Beijing’s demands for Ling Wancheng, and his possible defection could be an intelligence coup at China’s expense after it was revealed last month that computer hackers had stolen the personnel files of millions of American government workers and contractors. American officials have said that they are nearly certain the Chinese government carried out the data theft.
Mr. Ling’s wealth and his family’s status have allowed him to move freely in elite circles in China, and he may be in possession of embarrassing information about current and former officials loyal to Mr. Xi.
Mr. Ling appears to have evaded the Chinese authorities. He is now in the United States, according to several American officials and his next-door neighbor here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where property records show Mr. Ling owns a 7,800-square-foot home, which he bought from a professional basketball player for $2.5 million.
The Chinese government in recent months has been raising pressure on the Obama administration to return Mr. Ling, according to the American officials. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss a delicate diplomatic matter that has already complicated an arrangement made in April between the Department of Homeland Security and China’s Ministry of Public Security.
Under that arrangement, signed during a visit to Beijing by Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, the United States would be able to repatriate many of the tens of thousands of Chinese currently in the United States awaiting deportation, some in American detention facilities. In return, the United States would help the Chinese track down wealthy fugitives from China living in the United States who might also be breaking American laws.
Several American officials confirmed that Mr. Ling is in the United States, but they would not say publicly whether Mr. Ling had applied for asylum or give information about his whereabouts. The Department of Homeland Security, which handles asylum cases, does not comment about specific cases because of privacy laws.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not comment after being sent a faxed request for information on Mr. Ling’s case. Press officers for the White House, State Department and Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.
Three telephone numbers that people in California used to contact Mr. Ling all had Dallas area codes. Mr. Ling, whose English is said to be poor, did not respond to text messages in Chinese requesting an interview. Two of the three numbers are no longer in service, and no one answered the third number.
Christopher K. Johnson, a former C.I.A. analyst focusing on China, said the Chinese leadership might want Mr. Ling’s assistance in prosecuting his older brother. And, Mr. Johnson said, it would want to prevent the “treasure trove” of knowledge he has about Chinese politics from passing to United States officials.
“The leadership would want this guy badly,” Mr. Johnson, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “There’s no question that he would have access to a lot of interesting things.”
While it is unclear how much Ling Wancheng knows, the Communist Party itself has revealed some tantalizing clues about his brother Ling Jihua’s behavior, claiming that his corruption was a family affair. Last month, the party announced that Ling Jihua — a loyalist to the previous president, Hu Jintao — had been expelled from the party and would be tried, saying that he had “accepted huge bribes personally and through his family.”
Ling Jihua, 58, rose through the Communist Party’s Youth League under Mr. Hu in the 1980s and eventually served as either deputy or chief of the Central Committee’s General Office from 1999 to 2012. He was Mr. Hu’s personal secretary and closest protégé, and his position came with great powers: the ability to control the guards who protected the senior leadership, a significant voice in top personnel appointments and a central role in carrying out policy.
“It’s really the nerve center for the entire system,” Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University who focuses on Chinese politics, said of Ling Jihua’s former position. “This is the essence of power politics.”
Ling Jihua was expected to advance to the elite Politburo, as every person who previously held that position since 1942 had done, including former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
But on March 18, 2012, Ling Jihua’s son was killed when the black Ferrari he was driving crashed in Beijing. One of two women with him in the car later died.
Ling Jihua’s botched cover-up of the episode helped lead to his political downfall. He was denied a spot on the Politburo, demoted to a less important post and, in December 2014, officially put under a corruption investigation.
But the corruption inquiry into Ling Jihua goes far beyond the Ferrari crash, and his younger brother, Ling Wancheng, may have played an important role.
As a senior official, Ling Jihua had his moves monitored. But his brother, as a private citizen, was far less constrained. He built a fortune as the chief of a Beijing-based investment company, which bought well-timed stakes in companies that went on to hold successful initial public offerings, earning the firm $225 million, according to a report in Caixin, a respected Chinese news media company. A company using the same California address that he used to buy his home in Loomis also bought at least two golf courses, one near Loomis, the other in Carson City, Nev., property records show.
Ling Wancheng is one of several Chinese citizens in the United States whom Beijing has requested be returned to China. A forum has been established to discuss these cases, called the U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation, where the Chinese regularly press their case to Obama administration officials.
However, Ling Wancheng, who is believed to be in his mid-50s and goes by the name Wang Cheng or Jason Wang, was not on the publicly disclosed list of 40 fugitives believed to be in the United States that was released by the Chinese government this year, indicating how delicate the case may be to the senior leadership.
Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said the department “has repeatedly shown that it will vigorously pursue prosecutions in the United States where there is alleged money laundering or other criminal activity in this country by fugitives sought by China.”
But, he added, “it is not sufficient to simply provide a list of names.” The department has urged China to provide evidence, Mr. Raimondi said.
In late 2013, Mr. Ling, using the name Wang Cheng, and a person using the name Li Ping, the same name as a former presenter on state television whom the Chinese news media have identified as Mr. Ling’s wife, bought a house in a gated community in Loomis from a National Basketball Association player, Beno Udrih, real estate records show.
Ray Matteson, Mr. Ling’s neighbor in Loomis, and his wife soon became friends with the couple next door, who introduced themselves as Jason and Jane Wang. The Mattesons invited them over for dinner or drinks at least three times. Mr. Ling offered gifts, once giving them a bottle of liquor from the family’s home province, Shanxi, and on another occasion two magnums of California wine.
The Mattesons said their neighbor had given no hints about his family’s high-level political struggle, the arrest of Ling Jihua and another older brother or the death of his nephew.
“In my mind, there’s no question he was a gentleman,” said Mr. Matteson, who, along with another person who met him in Loomis, confirmed that Jason Wang was the man identified in the Chinese news media as Mr. Ling. Neither person, however, could match the woman introduced as Jane Wang with pictures of Li Ping, the former Chinese television presenter.
Mr. Ling would send text messages to his next-door neighbors. His English was poor, so he often used emoji, like a thumbs up or a happy face. He would send links to videos he found funny, and he asked for advice on where to find people to clean his windows.
Mr. Matteson said he had not seen Mr. Ling since October, when the two couples had dinner at Mr. Matteson’s home. But if Mr. Ling was in hiding in the United States, the prosaic details of maintaining a California estate kept him tethered to Loomis: There were homeowners association fees to pay, and a gardener had to keep the bushes trimmed and the lawn mowed.
Mr. Matteson’s last contact with Mr. Ling was in May, when the alarm system in Mr. Ling’s house was activated and the security company asked Mr. Matteson to contact Mr. Ling to obtain the code to enter the gate to his home.
The Mattesons said they had never seen any unusual activity in the neighborhood, except for one visit several months ago by officers from the Department of Homeland Security, who said they were trying to contact Mr. Ling.
Ling Wancheng’s visa status is unclear. Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of Homeland Security, said that it usually took one to three years for an asylum case to be settled. During that period, he said, the asylum seeker is allowed to stay legally in the country.
Michael Forsythe reported from Loomis, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
Google contests global ‘right to be forgotten’ order Don’t make us apply European laws around the world, Google pleads.
By David Meyer
30/7/15, 5:59 PM CET
Updated 31/7/15, 5:38 PM CET
Google is appealing an order from the French data protection authority to apply the “right to be forgotten” on a global basis, the company said Thursday.
The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) said in June that, when Google receives requests for the delisting of personal information from its search results, it should remove links to that information from all its sites around the world, including google.com.
The search giant currently only removes such results from its European domains, as the “right to be forgotten” stems from a ruling by Europe’s highest court.
Google has now formally asked CNIL to withdraw its order for global delisting.
“We’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten ruling thoughtfully and comprehensively in Europe, and we’ll continue to do so,” said Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy chief, in a statement. “But as a matter of principle, we respectfully disagree with the idea that a national data protection authority can assert global authority to control the content that people can access around the world.”
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in May 2014 that EU-wide privacy legislation applies to foreign search engines operating in the region. It said search engines must take down links to information that is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” upon request, as long as there are no good reasons to keep them in its results.
Google went on to comply with the ruling, though a dispute remained between the firm and privacy regulators over the scope of the delinking.
Internet regulation is inherently complicated by the fact that the Internet does not naturally respect national borders. This leads to a tension between those who want to see national laws respected in the countries where they apply, and those who see international enforcement as the only way to make that happen.
While it is relatively easy to apply rules to country-specific versions of a website, such as those with addresses ending in Germany’s “.de” or France’s “.fr,” there is nothing to stop people visiting other versions of the site to find missing information.
The Article 29 Working Party, the umbrella group for EU data protection regulators, wrote in November that “limiting delisting to EU domains on the grounds that users tend to access search engines via their national domains cannot be considered a sufficient mean to satisfactorily guarantee the [privacy] rights of data subjects.”
This stance was the basis for CNIL’s order in June, which came with the threat of a fine of up to €150,000 for non-compliance.
However, a Google-convened panel of privacy experts said in February that the rights of EU citizens had to be balanced with those of people in other countries, who may have the right to see the offending information under their own national laws.
Americans accessing google.com, for example, live in a country whose legal system broadly prioritizes freedom of speech over the right to privacy.
Google built on this theme on Thursday, arguing that global delisting would risk a “chilling effect” on the web as many countries around the world have their own national speech restrictions.
The firm cited several national examples: Turkey criminalizes some criticisms of Kemal Ataturk; Thailand does the same for its royalty; and Russians are banned from disseminating “gay propaganda” online.
“If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom,” Fleischer wrote in a blog post. “In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”
CNIL said it had received Google’s appeal and would “look at the arguments,” though it claimed those arguments were “in part political” whereas its own reasoning was “strictly legal.”
The regulator added that it would respond within two months.
Spies helped build Silicon Valley. Now the tables are turning
David Cameron wants US tech sector companies to do more to fight terrorism. But they’ve grown too powerful to listen
Wednesday 29 July 2015
If you want to understand how modern British and American intelligence services operate, you could do worse than visit the new exhibition that opens at Bletchley Park this week. It tells the story of code-breaking in the first world war, which paved the way not just for the better-known success story of world war two, but also GCHQ and the NSA’s modern day bulk interception.
A century ago, just as today, intelligence services and network providers used to enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Britain, for example, exploited its dominance of the telegraph system to spy after its companies had built an imperial web of cables that wrapped itself around the world. Britain’s first offensive act of the conflict was to cut Germany’s own undersea cables and install “secret censors” in British company offices around the world that looked out for enemy communications. A staggering 80m cable messages were subject to “censorship” during the war.
In recent decades the US has enjoyed a similar ability to spy on the world thanks to its role in building the internet – what the NSA called “home field advantage”. This worked via two channels. The first was fibre-optic cables passing through either American or British territory, allowing intelligence agencies to install the modern equivalent of secret censors: computerised black boxes that could filter data to look for emails based on “selectors”. The second channel was Silicon Valley – which had thrived thanks to massive Pentagon and NSA subsidies. People around the world sent their communications and stored their data with American companies, whose business model often involved collecting, analysing and monetising that data. This attracted spies like bears to honey. And so Prism was born – requiring the companies themselves to run selectors across their own data. 45,000 selectors were running in 2012. Put together with cable-tapping, this meant that nearly 90,000 people around the world were being spied on.
Building the internet allowed the US to export its values, import other countries’ information through spying and make a lot of money for American corporations along the way. But the relationships have fractured. The Snowden disclosures were one reason – exposure led tech companies to back away from quiet cooperation and make privacy a selling point (even competing with each other as seen in Apple’s CEO blast against Google recently).
At the same time, Isis’s use of social media has increased the state’s desire to get more from these companies, leading to growing tension. It was notable that David Cameron’s speech on extremism last week singled out tech companies for criticism. When their commercial models are built around tracking our likes and dislikes, why do they say it’s too difficult to help when it comes to the fight against terrorism, the prime minister asked.
A big problem for the spies is that during the first world war the cable companies that helped Britain knew who was boss. Today it is more complex. An angry Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook told President Obama that his administration “blew it” when it tried to defend Prism by saying it was only used to spy on foreigners. After all, most of Facebook and Silicon Valley’s customers are foreigners.
The British government criticised Facebook for not spotting private messages from one of the men who went on to kill Lee Rigby. This is the kind of thing Cameron wants the companies to do more on. But whose job is it to spy? The companies are nervous of signing up to a system in which it is their job to scan their customers’ data and proactively report suspicious content, effectively outsourcing the act of spying (and not just the collection of data) to the private sector. Such a deal, tech companies fear, could set a dangerous precedent: if you help Britain when it comes to national security, what do you do when China or Russia come knocking?
On his first day as director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan launched a volley against Silicon Valley, accusing it of acting as “command and control” for groups like Isis. But since then, the tone has been more conciliatory. What Hannigan may have realised is that companies have the upper hand, partly because the data is with US companies that are subject to US laws. To avoid the Russia and China issue, they assert their co-operation is voluntary and there is not much the British state can do about it.
It was notable that in his speech, Cameron didn’t threaten new legislation. Why? Because he knows that power relations between governments and corporations have shifted since the first world war: modern tech firms are too big to be pushed around.
If they have a vulnerability, it’s their dependence on customers: verbal volleys from politicians and spies are a sign that the real battleground is now public opinion. Companies are gambling that focusing on privacy will win them the trust of the public, while governments in London and Washington are hoping that talking about terrorism will pressure companies to cooperate more. Who wins this tug of war may depend on events that neither party can control, including the prevalence of terrorist attacks. Whatever the case, the old alliance between Silicon Valley and the spies is no more.