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'You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back'
Plus: 'Google will only play or pay on their home turf'
Quotw This was the week when Britain discovered that its spooks were either seriously inept or specialising in some sort of double-bluff, Pink Panther-style posturing to throw everyone off the real scent.
This feast of spoof spying was kicked off when the bit of the UK police force that helps its intelligence agencies decided to detain and question the partner of a Guardian journalist, ostensibly under the Terrorism Act.
In what came as a surprise to absolutely no one, this kicked off a cry of outrage across the internet that resounded as far as Brazil, where the detainee, David Miranda, was born. The Brazilian foreign ministry said:
The Brazilian government expresses grave concern about the episode that happened today in London, where a Brazilian citizen was held without communication at Heathrow airport for 9 hours, in an action based in the British anti-terrorism legislation.
This measure is without justification since it involves an individual against whom there are no charges that can legitimate the use of that legislation. The Brazilian government expects that incidents such as the one that happened to the Brazilian citizen today [are] not repeat[ed].
While Miranda's partner, Glenn Greenwald, who wrote a multitude of stories on the files of the NSA PRISM project leaked by Edward Snowden said:
To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ.
The US admitted to knowing Miranda would be stopped and questioned beforehand, but claimed it didn't request it. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said:
There was a heads-up that was provided by the British government. This is something we had an indication that was likely to occur, but it's not something that we requested, it was something that was done by British law enforcement officials. The United States was not involved in that decision or in that action.
While Miranda said that he was forced to hand over the passwords for his laptop and mobile phone after British police officers threatened him with prison if he refused, along with an external hard drive, two memory sticks, a games console and two newly bought watches and phones which were still in their packaging:
They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate. They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK ... It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong.
They even asked me about the protests in Brazil, why people were unhappy, and who I knew in the government.
It was ridiculous. First they treat me like a terrorist suspect. Then they are ready to release me in the UK.
Not content with the ill-advised detention of the partner of a journalist, GCHQ apparently compounded its NSA-related idiocy with a raid on the offices of The Guardian. According to the paper, editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger refused to comply with demands to return material leaked to the newspaper by Snowden. He claimed:
The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of [the UK] government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more.”
I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London … The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
A follow-up story from the Graun indicated that either the GCHQ spooks were even more inept than previously thought possible, the whole thing was a load of old cobblers, or the paper reckoned a bit of "truth" needn't get in the way of a good photo opportunity. The paper happily ran a picture of the allegedly smashed up MacBook Pro that wasn't – instead it appeared to show the casing of a Mac Air and its motherboard, a MacBook Mobo, an old graphics card and another motherboard. Rusbridger later tweeted that the photo showed a "mix of smashed up macs and pcs" – most odd.
In other NSA-related news, blogger Pamela Jones has said she will shut down her award-winning legal news website Groklaw over email snooping. She said that the closure of encrypted email provider Lavabit, used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, had prompted her decision:
The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can't do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.
Meanwhile, Private first class Bradley Manning, another whistleblower, was sentenced in the US this week to 35 years in prison. With three-and-a-half years off for time served plus his "illegal punishment" while he was held at Quantico, the sentence comes down to around 32 years, of which he will serve a third before he becomes eligible for parole.
However, Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, is planning to ask for presidential intervention to reduce the sentence or pardon Manning, who was convicted in military court for leaking hundreds of thousands of military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. Coombs said:
When I hear the sentence '35 years' I think to myself, I've represented hundreds of clients and my clients have ranged the full spectrum of offenses from people who've committed murder to people who've molested children. Those types of clients receive less time than Pfc Manning.
And top Wikileaker Julian Assange sees the case having the opposite effect to what the government is hoping for:
Mr Manning’s treatment has been intended to send a signal to people of conscience in the US government who might seek to bring wrongdoing to light. This strategy has spectacularly backfired, as recent months have proven. Instead, the Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle. As a result, there will be a thousand more Bradley Mannings.
In other news, Google has said that a privacy lawsuit brought by Brit Safari users over the firm's slurp of their browsing data shouldn't be bothered with because UK courts have "no jurisdiction" over it. The company refused to be served in Blighty and told the complainants to try filing in California instead, their law firm said. One complainant, Judith Vidal-Hall, said:
Google’s position on the law is the same as its position on tax: they will only play or pay on their home turf. What are they suggesting - that they will force Apple users whose privacy was violated to pay to travel to California to take action when they offer a service in this country on a .co.uk site? This matches their attitude to consumer privacy. They don’t respect it and they don’t consider themselves to be answerable to our laws on it.
And finally, Steve Wozniak has rubbished the movie formerly known as jOBS, now known as Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher. In an impromptu review in the comment section of a review on Gizmodo, the Woz said:
I saw Jobs tonight. I thought the acting throughout was good. I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie. One friend who is in the movie said he didn't want to watch fiction so he wasn't interested in seeing it.
He also pooh-poohed the idea, proposed by Kutcher himself, that he didn't like Jobs because he was consulting on another movie about the Apple founder:
I suspect a lot of what was wrong with the film came from Ashton's own image of Jobs.
Ashton made some disingenuous and wrong statements about me recently (including my supposedly having said that the 'movie' was bad, which was probably Ashton believing pop press headlines) and that I didn't like the movie because I'm paid to consult on another one.
These are examples of Ashton still being in character. Either film would have paid me to consult, but the Jobs one already had a script written. I can't take that creative leadership from someone else. And I was turned off by the Jobs script. But I still hoped for a great movie.
Kutcher had told the AP:
Steve Wozniak is being paid by another company to support their Steve Jobs film. It’s personal for him, but it’s also business. We have to keep that in mind. He was also extremely unavailable to us when producing this film. He’s a brilliant man and I respect his work, but he wasn’t available to us as a resource, so his account isn’t going to be our account because we don’t know exactly what it was. We did the best job we could. Nobody really knows what happened in the rooms. ®