They could have told us!
A report into the killing of a soldier outside his barracks points the finger of blame at an unnamed foreign Internet company, where one of the killers had apparently made comments about wanting to kill a British soldier. The BBC tells us it’s Facebook, so let’s go with that, though really the identity of the company in question is neither here nor there.
The implication that Facebook should have told the security services and are to blame for not doing so is just too bizarre to be credible. The authorities would of course be deluged with millions of notifications every day of threats of violence from whatever automatic tools might analyse Facebook posts, and of course spammers have proved (if proof were ever needed) that all such tools have a significant failure rate. Of course 100.00% (to the nearest 0.01%) of those threats could be dismissed as completely non-serious given a bit of context, but digging up that context would be far from straightforward, even given all of today’s state-of-the-art Big Data and NLP tools and a layer of sci-fi on top.
Wouldn’t it be good to kill a politician by burning at the stake? Now, WordPress, you’d better report my death threat to the spooks. What, you mean you don’t read my every post? How remiss! Perhaps Google might also get blamed for failing to report it. At least this one should be easy to analyse: it doesn’t need cross-referencing to any wider discussion to get the context!
So what’s it really about? The report coincides with another Orwellian surveillance bill coming from the government. Or rather, as the report’s authors point out, the 1984 bill coincides with the long-scheduled publication of the report. Yes, how jolly convenient. Dammit, have I admitted yet in this blog how comprehensively wrong I was when I thought the current government would roll back some of Blair’s police state, or even just halt the advance of it?
But I’m uneasy about even that explanation. This particular finger of blame is just too absurd to stick. The meeja, of all political persuasions, will surely tear it to shreds once someone gives it a moment’s thought (the techie media already have). The government’s case based on this – if such it be – is surely too weak to be credible even with supporters of a surveillance state. How could anyone suppose otherwise?
So what’s really afoot? What are we being distracted from? I fear I don’t know that. I may have missed some clues whilst at ApacheCon. I may pick up some clues as this plays out. Hopefully at least someone in the mainstream meeja will take an interest and not be too intimidated by Leveson. Or maybe it really is nothing, and they just misinterpreted whatever they may have known or expected of the report? Or maybe the reports to date are just misleading?
On the subject of this soldier’s killing, it’s not just Orwellian surveillance at issue. We also have a heavy dose of Orwellian Newspeak, with two words being corrupted: terrorist and murder.
Terrorist? Back in the days of the IRA, that word implied a threat to innocent civilians. Yet the killers in this case went to great lengths to make it clear that they were absolutely no threat to civilians, including those who looked on in horror and went to the aid of the dying soldier. If the IRA had committed no worse atrocity than that, they might just have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – widespread support amongst their community and respect outside it. An act of War, but not of Terror.
And murder? That’s at least supportable, but if killing a soldier is murder then it’s not just many of “our” soldiers who are murderers, it’s also those heroic but now very old men who defeated Hitler back in an era when we stood for Freedom. The right word for the crime – executed with precision against the arm of the State – is surely Treason.
 Lest it be thought mine is a knee-jerk libertarian reaction, let me add that I think it entirely plausible that there is a valid case for updating police powers, of which the Home Secretary and her department obviously know far more than I ever will. And the current bill isn’t really about surveillance so much as Blaming Facebook or the above post might suggest. It’s just that the coincidence with the “Blame Facebook” report suggests it might be yet more sinister when it claims to be too weak on the subject of Internet surveillance!