Speaking a few weeks before the Snooper’s Charter is set to be pushed into Parliament, Government Communication Headquarters director general for cyber security Ciaran Martin claims reports on the power of the intelligence agency are greatly exaggerated.
“We're simply not big enough to put a big cyber umbrella over the entire country,” said Martin at the InfoSec conference in London. “Our focus has to be on the high-end attacks: risks to national infrastructure, securing defence assets and assisting government departments making the transition to digital services."
Martin claims the GCHQ sets targets with extreme caution and focuses mainly on defense, despite overwhelming evidence from Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks—published by The Intercept—showing the GCHQ’s aggressive home surveillance programs and hacking attacks on corporations in allied countries.
These leaks not only portray the GCHQ as a more aggressive intelligence department than the National Security Agency, but place the GCHQ as the head a few major attacks on European companies working in the encryption, security and mobile market.
Martin called for the private and public sector to come together and share with the GCHQ all details on security, in order to create a stronger network inside the UK. Even though the sound of everyone working in unison sounds great, it more than likely means the GCHQ is allowed backdoor access to servers.
Martin did make a good point about the UK tech boom potentially limiting the amount of trouble the GCHQ and UK government can cause. “It is not our aim to slow or shut down the march of tech and, even if it was, we wouldn't be allowed to,” he said. Hopefully that is the case, and the government will leave tech companies alone.
The Snooper’s Charter would force Internet service providers inside the UK to hold all information for 12 months on every single citizen in the country. This information would only be metadata for now, although the idea that the government is able to store that much information is scary enough.
It could also lead to a knock on effect, where the government continues to expand the amount of data it can keep stored. This is especially worrying when the Conservatives are claiming issues may arise if someone does not show “British values”, as it attempts to push new anti-porn and anti-legal high laws into effect.
The Conservatives have also made no attempt to hide the fact they attack journalists and activists speaking against the government. Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was held on accounts of “national security” at Heathrow airport and had all of his electronics taken due to his relationship with Greenwald and Snowden.