An 18th-century Mansion in England hosted an unlikely meeting of spy chiefs from seven countries and representatives from tech giants last week. According to The Intercept, the meeting at Ditchley Park was held to discuss the topic of government surveillance and was an opportunity for the countries to discuss the reluctance of Apple and Google to allow access to their confidential servers.
Command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals
The three day conference was attended by spy chiefs from the CIA, GCHQ, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Sweden and was chaired by former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett. Alongside the chiefs, the other notable attendees included senior policy and legal staff from Google, Apple and Vodafone along with a handful of academics and journalists. The presence the Chief of the British electronic surveillance agency Government Communications (or GCHQ), Robert Hannigan, was certainly interesting given that he publicly accused the US tech giants of being “command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals”.
One attendee was veteran journalist Duncan Campbell – who has reported on British spy agencies for several decades – who said the event was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden”. He added:
“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay.”
“Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”
Edward Snowden revealed that British and American spies, along with some of their allies, were guilty of extensive Internet surveillance and since the revelations, Google and other companies have begun enforcing their own privacy policies. As a result of the revelations, requests from spy chiefs for co-operation and assistance have been met with resistance but the meeting suggests that co-operation may yet be a possibility.
The net neutrality movement has arguably been one of the hottest topics in technology over the past year and has wide-reaching ramifications for all. Co-operation between the giants could mean access to all or some of information stored on your smartphone and given that it was recently revealed the NSA planned to use Google’s Play Store to add malware to suspects’ handsets, it’s clear that anything could be possible if co-operation does indeed happen.