Privacy advocate and security expert clash at debate over mass surveillance

If you ask Harmit Kambo about the privacy rights of UK citizens, he will describe an opaque system of spying as GCHQ and the NSA collect billions of personal emails and online communications. Kambo is a director at Privacy International, a London-based NGO that fights for the right to privacy across the world, and he is outraged that billions in taxpayer dollars are paying for the UK government to weaken Internet security. He said the government has pushed the narrative that privacy and security are binary opposites, a concept with which he vehemently disagrees.

Anthony Glees takes the position that privacy does not trump security and in a world threatened by terrorism, pedophiles and sex traffickers, we should be willing to sacrifice our privacy so the government can keep us safe.

The director of the University of Buckingham Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies said: “Privacy is not an absolute right, security is an absolute right.”

Kambo thinks NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero. Glees thinks he’s a traitor and “a creep.”

The dramatically opposing positions made for a lively and at times heated debate on Thursday night, organized by the LSESU Amnesty International Society as part of the Anti-Mass Surveillance Campaign.

To support his point, Kambo highlighted some of the stories published by the Guardian after Snowden, a former NSA contractor, went public with his concerns over the massive amount of data being collected and stored.

There was the story about a program called Optic Nerve, which allowed GCHQ to intercept millions of Yahoo webcam images over a six-month period, capturing often sexually explicit images of people who were not suspected of wrong doing.

He also pointed to the mass surveillance program by GCHQ called “Master of the Internet,” which he said sounds like it’s been ripped from George Orwell’s 1984.

“How much privacy do we have to give away before we are safe?” Kambo asked. “What’s their calculus for that? They don’t have a calculus, they just want access to as much information as they can and screw privacy.

Top officials at both the NSA and GCHQ have been caught lying about the type of information being collecting, Kambo pointed out.

“I do not call these minor infringements, these are two governments colluding and working around their own legal systems by invoking the other to spy on their behalf.”

Kambo said authorities in the UK and US have not made the connection between how mass collection of data thwarts terrorist attacks. He also said the government has a “woeful” track recording in protecting the data that’s been collected, which is at risk of being hacked by cyber criminals.

Glees said it’s ridiculous to think that the Internet should be an unregulated space where criminals can operate with impunity.

Students in the audience pushed back at Glees, pointing to examples of journalists who were placed on terrorist watch lists not for committing crimes, but for publishing stories critical of the government.

Glees said he’s in favour of more oversight for intelligence agencies and has recommended the creation of an independent intelligence and security committee.

He echoed the argument of Home Secretary Theresa May, saying the government’s intelligence gathering does not constitute mass surveillance because intelligence officers aren’t looking at every piece of data gathered.

Glees said in 2013, only 3,500 people had their private communications read by GCHQ.

“Yes there is mass data out there but there is not enough intelligence agents out there to read all this stuff. What they’re doing is collecting it and then filtering it,” Glees said.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found that 53 per cent of British citizens support increasing the security services’ access to public communications in order to fight terrorism.

“Good security does not undermine liberty, it sustains it,” Glees said.

Katie DeRosa, Staff Writer

Featured Image Source: AP/Francisco Seco


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