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We're being spied upon. But then, we made it so easy.

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The most surprising aspect of the Edward Snowden case and the revelations about GCHQ is that anyone is surprised. Did we really imagine our 'lords and masters' had such respect for our privacy and dignity that they would resist the temptation to monitor our calls, emails and text messages? And, if so, what on earth gave us such confidence in the integrity and honour of governments?

Of course, various civil rights treaties are in place to prevent the modern state from directly prying into our personal communications, and they may well be responsible for the confidence with which we've been conducting our personal conversations. However, we were naive indeed when we ignored the likelihood of authorities simply outsourcing this mass spying to each other and concocting a system whereby the USA peers at us and the UK reciprocates. I mean, why wouldn't they?  As soon as a government realises it can do something to their advantage, it never takes long for them to put it into practice - roughly covering their tracks as they go and depending on  public apathy to complete the deception. When and if the truth is ever discovered it is usually on somebody else's watch and some sort of inquiry will be the worst outcome they can expect. Unless, I suppose, you happen to be Richard Nixon.

So, here we are, at one of those intermittent watershed (Watergate?) moments where the scales temporarily fall from our eyes and we catch a glimpse of the way things really work. And we reel and stagger in horror at tales of the mass interception of internet traffic. We gasp and choke at the suggestion those with power and status may be prone to examining our interactions in order to protect their positions. How did this happen? Indeed, how could this happen?

Well, I'm sorry, but we made it so easy it has been like placing a hungry Labrador in a sausage shop and trusting it not to touch the stock.
Freedom has always been the philosophy underpinning the internet. From its earliest incarnations, it was a new form of media in which everyone could participate, the artful, the literate, the dull and the nuts. Like a massive, pure white wall accompanied by an endless supply of aerosol paint, we have spent the best part of fifteen years spraying our thoughts, feelings, advertising messages, wayward political views and photographs of our cats on this vast digital edifice. 'Read this!', 'Listen to me!', 'Look over here!' - however subtle the content we've created was intended to be (and in the case of that great internet engine, pornography, how blatant), in our millions we've begged the attention, interest, admiration and money of other users.  And, guess what? The great, glowering beast of the state was listening. Quite intently, as it turns out. Initially, it almost certainly struggled to keep up, barely able to scan these new fangled web pages with anything more than puzzled bemusement. But once it had recruited a sufficient quantity of suitable brains, I don't doubt the curiosity grew alarmingly rapidly, to the point where everything incoming and outgoing was logged and stored.

There's still some debate as to whether the US National Security Agency could possibly have the technological capability to store the actual content of every email, SMS, tweet and phone call - but it's likely the meta data (the patterns created by the use of these systems) has been captured and exchanged between agencies  and agents.

For what it's worth, I think this reprehensible. The Data Protection Act has had the marketing industry tied up in knots with double opt-in email systems and the like, while it appears HM Government played fast and loose with public communications for at least a decade.  What's more, governments tend to be horribly clumsy. Time and again, they've proved themselves, at  best unreliable custodians of confidential data, so this has catastrophe written all over it.

'If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear' - William Hague actually trotted out that old canard last week. Hopefully the reverse is equally true. If HM Government has done nothing to compromise us, it will fearlessly detail exactly what it has been doing.
All that said, if we considered our privacy to be so precious and our intimate lives so sacrosanct,  perhaps we shouldn't have spent so much time posting our every breakfast Twitter and ever-changing relationship statuses on Facebook.

Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and consultant

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