‘GCHQ's Cryptoy app designed to bribe hearts & minds of young people’
RT:British surveillance agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) has launched an app teaching children to understand “basic encryption techniques.” Do you think they designed this app so that young users could avoid the agency's own mass surveillance?
Tony Gosling: Definitely no. It’s quite amusing that GCHQ has taken this approach, rather than bring[ing] themselves back within the law. We’ve had many years, it seems, of warrantless surveillance by GCHQ, planting Trojans and all sorts of malware on people’s computers. For example, as [people] are on the way to their house even, intercepting them and compromising computers over the years. They have rather taken the approach of sorting out this...the public relations style approach…
...I personally would not recommend young people to be using this software, simply because I’d expect that since GCHQ’s track record is pretty dodgy on all these, there will be some way that the app will be able to be used for some kind of surveillance. It is not just the way of teaching young people about encryption [and] what it all means. There is likely to be some kind of Trojan horse on this software too, as much of the software we install on our phones, on our tablets, and on our laptops, desktop computers does contain malware of some sort. And I will be surprised if there was nothing involved with this new piece of software called Cryptoy.
RT:GCHQ says the app is aimed to encourage the young generation's interests in subjects such as science, math, and technology. Why do you think GCHQ decided to take on the education of British youth?
TG: One of the purposes of the new app Cryptoy is to try to win back the hearts and minds of young people. Because one of the things that GCHQ, the secret services...and the government realizes [is] that a lot of young people don’t trust them – not just [because of] the involvement of spying on citizens, but just generally. So much of what comes out of the GCHQ nowadays is bad news.
What we really need is some kind of proper admission of guilt, which might mean that some of the senior people at these spy agencies must go to jail. But then they don’t want to do that, do they? They would much rather spend a few hundred thousand pounds or whatever it takes on something which is going to be good public relations. And this is supposed to be teaching young people about encryption-- that [it] is a lot of fun. We often like to decrypt codes and that sort of thing. Millions of people every day around the world do code puzzles in the newspapers, in crosswords, in these kinds of things which are a kind of decryption.
But the authorities don’t like you communicating securely and secretly, as we found out a decade or so ago with the program PGP which stands for “pretty good privacy.” When this was released as a genuinely secure way of communicating, the US government and the Pentagon actually prosecuted the people that made it, saying this is a weapon of war. And that is, I'm afraid, the attitude we are getting wide across the Western world from our spy agencies: if people are going to communicate secretly or in an inscriptive way privately with each other, that is considered to be a weapon of war. That is why I don’t trust GCHQ on this. I think they want to see everything that we are doing, literally everything, including sniffing our passwords, etc. This is just a simple PR move and an attempt to win the hearts and minds of young people, many of whom have been lost over the last 18 months or so since the Edward Snowden revelations.
RT:Some say the revelations that America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ are spying on their own citizens have significantly decreased the interest of young hackers and computer wizards to work for these agencies. Do you think this app is an attempt to regain trust and to recruit more people?
TG: The fact of the matter is that the NSA and GCHQ want to dominate the internet. They want to be able to read all traffic going from every person to everybody else. Almost everything they say in the other direction is just spin or PR...for example, with this idea of saying that there are terrorists out there, therefore we must read everything…there are plenty of existing laws which enable them to stop terrorists. If there are terrorist communications, if they suspect our terrorist communications, they can get a warrant to riddle those communications, and if necessary arrest people. So this is really effectively a kind of gigantic – maybe the biggest ever in the history of the planet – fishing operation. So they can go around basically invading everybody’s privacy.
We recently had a case here in Britain against GCHQ under the European Convention on Human Rights. They are breaking article 8 and article 10, both of which do with personal privacy...and their own little tribunal which always finds in their favor says: “Oh, isn’t that amazing?” All of the surveillance GCHQ have been doing up till now, even knowing it might have been illegal, none of it was, it is all about the law. I don’t believe them. I think what they have done is basically captured the regulators. Many people in this country have no faith in that court system because nobody has been called to account for it.
Let’s have another look at those 9/11 attacks, because nobody is entirely sure what really happened that day. It is being used as a blanket way of stopping and putting domestic decencies under surveillance. That is not what these laws were really ever intended for. Those who are completely legitimately going about their business, as we have seen with the environmental campaigners, for example, here in Britain, as well as the campaigners on the internet, individuals who are doing a very good job one way or another, environmental campaigners, and civil liberties campaigners. GCHQ is putting more and more people under surveillance, and they don’t have to go to a judge to do so. What they are saying is that there is a threat to national security. I would turn it right around and say, actually, GCHQ – the almighty GCHQ in Cheltenham – is a much bigger threat to national security than those campaigners, for example environmentalists, that are trying to troll. And this is our idea of Cryptoy. This app is just a cheap attempt to bribe the hearts and minds of young people. I don’t think they will buy it for one minute.
RT:Robert Hannigan, an executive at GCHQ, recently blamed several companies for adding encryption systems in their products, and now they are releasing an app to teach encryption. Isn't that contradictory?
TG: That would be a bit strange, wouldn’t it? Say for example, if the police started giving school lectures. I don’t think it is just children and the schools that won’t like it if GCHQ is coming into our schools to do a public relations exercise. I don’t think the children and the parents will like it either; this is not their job. What it proves is how desperate they have become in trying to salvage their dreadful name. Effectively, GCHQ has now become a really bad word here in Britain. For most [citizens], it is the people who are spying on us without a real right to do so – intruding in our living rooms, spying through computer cameras. This kind of thing is what they now are known for. So the idea of them going into schools...shows how desperate they have become and also their complete failure to deal with actual criminality. That is surveillance which they are not entitled to do without going to a judge to get a warrant, and that is a sign of desperation. That is why if you are going to go into schools...that is not a place for a secret state to be lecturing our children.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.