#TweetlikeanMP?

A year or two back, the hashtag #TweetlikeanMP trended – and it was fun. Inane tweets about meeting and greeting constituents, about party loyalty, about attending crucial meetings with business groups, lovely photo opportunities and so on. It was funny because it was, to a great extent, true – and because it revealed something about the way that our politics works. It also showed how badly MPs generally used Twitter – how they missed the opportunities that Twitter provides, opportunities to genuinely engage with their constituencies, to listen as well as to broadcast to the populace how wonderful they are. Opportunities to show that they’re human – and not just this remote, elite group looking down on the rest of us.

In the last couple of years, I’ve ‘met’ a fair few MPs who have been able to do it differently – to understand how Twitter can really work, and to engage with it. My own MP, Julian Huppert, is one of them – in practice, tweeting ‘to’ him is the best way to engage with him. I get answers – and real ones – most of the time, and I get the sense that he’s actually listening.He’s not alone – and it’s not been, so far, a party thing. I’ve engaged with MPs of all parties online, and of a wide range of views within each party. Michael Fabricant, Jamie Reed, Caroline Lucas amongst others – and members of the House of Lords from Ralph Lucas, Meral Hussein-Ece, Steve Bassam. I’ve even exchanged tweets with Nigel Farage. It felt as though twitter gave an opportunity to reach out to politicians, and to actually engage with them…

….which is one of the reasons I’m deeply saddened by what happened to Emily Thornberry last night. It’s not that I think her tweeted picture was anything but foolish, ill-judged, insensitive and revealing. It was all of those things… but the consequences are likely to be that MPs will retreat into their shells on social media. The way that she resigned just a few hours after ‘the’ tweet will have sent shivers down the spines of MPs across the spectrum – and party whips will be, well, cracking the whip, to keep their MPs in line for these next six months. We’ll see less humanity, less engagement, less humour – and much more ‘tweeting like an MP’ from everyone. An opportunity for politics to become more engaged will be lost – and at a time when the detachment of MPs from ordinary people is one of the main problems in politics, as Thornberry’s tweet sadly shows.

Of course there are other reasons to find yesterday’s turn of events saddening – from the level of abuse that Thornberry got on Twitter (regardless of what you think of the tweet, abuse like that is deeply unpleasant) to the fact that we’ve lost another woman from frontline politics, and another of those increasingly rare lawmakers who actually understands law has departed for the backbenches, at a time when parliament is trying to put through legal absurdities like Chris Grayling’s ‘Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill’ (SARAH).

Don’t misunderstand me – in the circumstances I’m not at all surprised that Thornberry resigned, and I do understand why Labour MPs like Chris Bryant were so sure that she was right to do so. I do, however, think that the consequences may be wider than we suspect – and one part is that we’ll see far more MPs just tweeting like MPs, not like human beings. That, regardless of the rest, is sad.

Surveillance, power and chill…. and the Chatham House Rule

Yesterday I attended a conference at Wilton Park about privacy and security – some really stellar people from all the ‘stakeholders’, industry, government, civil society, academia and others, and from all over the world. A version of the Chatham House rule applied, making the discussion robust and open…. something to which I will return.

At one point, in a conversation over coffee, one of the other delegates asked me a direct question: had I seen any evidence of the ‘chilling effect’ of surveillance. They’d been told the previous day by someone from civil society that in the US there had been a direct chill – in particular of advocacy groups – as a result of the Snowden revelations, something that has been reported before a number of times, but that it’s hard to ‘prove’ in ways that seem to convince people. As I sipped my coffee I thought about it – and realised that I, personally, had seen two different but very graphic and direct examples of chill in the past few weeks, though I hadn’t thought of either of them in that kind of a direct way.

The first was the Samaritans Radar debacle. Not just theoretically, but individually I had been told by more than one person that they were keeping off Twitter for a while as a result of feeling under observation as a result of Samaritans Radar. Their tweets could be being scanned, and by people who they didn’t trust, and who they felt could do them harm. The second was even more direct, but I can’t give details. Another person, who felt under real, direct threat – their life in danger – told me they would be keeping offline for a while.

In both cases they felt threatened – not just because they felt under surveillance, but because they felt themselves under surveillance by others who have power over them. The power, it seemed to me, was one of keys – and one of the reasons that so many people, particularly in the UK, don’t find surveillance threatening. Where Samaritans Radar was concerned, a lot of the people affected were the sort of people who are vulnerable in various ways – partly because of their mental health issues, but more directly because they were under threat, whether from trolls and stalkers or from certain people in positions of authority. Some have very good reason to worry about how the local authorities or even mental health services might treat them. Or how their relatives might treat them. For my other friend, the threat was even more direct – and proven.

So yes, the chill of surveillance is real. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s real for precisely those people that need support in freedom of expression terms. People whose voices are heard the least often – and people who have the most need to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that our modern communications systems offer. The internet can enable a great deal, particularly for people in those kinds of positions – from freedom of expression to freedom of assembly and association and much, much more – but surveillance can not just jeopardise that but reverse it. If it only enables freedom of speech for those already with power, it exacerbates the power differences, and makes those already quiet even quieter, whilst those with power and voice can get their messages across even more powerfully.

…which bring me back to the conference, and the Chatham House Rule. Even the existence of the rule makes it clear that we understand that the chilling effect exists. If we know that for people to really speak freely, they need to know that their comments will not be attributed to them – the essence of the rule – then we must make the leap to recognise that surveillance chills. Surveillance is precisely about linking people’s communications to them as individuals – not just what they say, but what they seek out to read. At our conference, we gave ourselves – the vast majority of us people with at least some power and influence – the benefits of this. Surveillance, and mass surveillance by others with power over us – whether that means our or other governments, massive corporations (Google, Facebook etc) or others – denies that benefit to us all.

So who’s breaking the internet this time?

I’m not sure how many times I’ve been told that the internet is under dire threat over the last few years. It sometimes seems as though there’s an apocalypse just around the corner pretty much all the time. Something’s going to ‘break’ the internet unless we do something about it right away. These last few weeks there seem to have been a particularly rich crop of apocalyptic warnings – Obama’s proposal about net neutrality yesterday being the most recent. The internet as we know it seems as though it’s always about to end.

Net neutrality will destroy us all…

If we are to believe the US cable companies, Obama’s proposals will pretty much break the internet, putting development back 20 years. How many of us remember what the internet was like in 1994? Conversely, many have been saying that if we don’t have net neutrality – and Obama’s proposals are pretty close to what most people I know would understand by net neutrality – then the cable companies will break the internet. It’s apocalypse one way, and apocalypse the other: no half measures here.

The cable companies are raising the spectre of government control of the net, something that has been a terror of internet freedom activists for a very long time – in our internet law courses we start by looking at John Perry Barlow’s 1996 ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, with its memorable opening:

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” 

Another recent incarnation of this terror has been the formerly much hyped fear that the UN, through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was about to take over the internet, crushing our freedom and ending the Internet as we know it. Anyone with real experience of the way that UN bodies work would have realised this particular apocalypse had next-to-no chance of every coming into fruition, and last week that must have become clear to most of even the more paranoid of internet freedom fighters, as the ITU effectively resolved not to even try… Not that apocalypse, at least not now.

More dire warnings and apocalyptic worries have been circling about the notorious ‘right to be forgotten’ – either in its data protection reform version or in the Google Spain ruling back in May. The right to be forgotten, we were told, is the biggest threat to freedom of speech in the coming decade, and will change the internet as we know it. Another thing that’s going to break the internet. And yet, even though it’s now effectively in force in one particular way, there’s not much sign that the internet is broken yet…

The deep, dark, disturbing web…

At times we’re also told that a lack of privacy will break the net – or that privacy itself will break the net. Online behavioural advertisers have said that if they’re not allowed to track us, we’ll break the economic model that sustains the net, so the net itself will break. We need to let ourselves be tracked, profiled and targeted or the net itself will collapse.  The authorities seem to have a similar view – recent pronouncements by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and new head of GCHQ Robert Hannigan are decidedly apocalyptic, trying to terrify us with the nightmares of what they seemingly interchangeably call the ‘dark’ web or the ‘deep’ web. Dark or deep, it’s designed to disturb and frighten us – and warn us that if we keep on using encryption, claiming anonymity or pseudonymity or, in practice, any kind of privacy, we’ll turn the internet into a paradise only for paedophiles, murderers, terrorists and criminals. It’s the end of the internet as we know it, once more.

And of course there’s the converse view – that mass surveillance and intrusion by the NSA, GCHQ etc, as revealed by Edward Snowden – is itself destroying the internet as we know it.

Money, money, money

Mind you, there are also dire threats from other directions. Internet freedom fighters have fought against things like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA – ways in which the ‘copyright lobby’ sought to gain even more control over the internet. Again, the arguments go both ways. The content industry suggest that uncontrolled piracy is breaking the net – while those who fought against SOPA etc think that the iron fist of copyright enforcement is doing the same. And for those that have read Zittrain’s ‘The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It’, it’s something else that’s breaking the net – ‘appliancization’ and ‘tethering’. To outrageously oversimplify, it’s the iPhone that’s breaking the net, turning it from a place of freedom and creativity into a place for consumerist sheep.

It’s the end of the internet as we know it…..

…or as we think we know it. We all have different visions of the internet, some historical, some pretty much entirely imaginary, most with elements of history and elements of wishful thinking. It’s easy to become nostalgic about what we imagine was some golden age, and fearful about the future, without taking a step back and wondering whether we’re really right. The internet was never a ‘wild west’ – and even the ‘wild west’ itself was mostly mythical – and ‘freedom of speech’ has never been as absolute as its most ardent advocates seem to believe. We’ve always had some control and some freedom – but the thing about the internet is that, in reality, it’s pretty robust. We, as an internet community, are stronger and more wilful than some of those who wish to control it might think. Attempts to rein it in often fail – either they’re opposed or they’re side-stepped, or they’re just absorbed into the new shape of the internet, because the internet is always changing, and we need to understand that. The internet as we know it is always ending – and the internet as we don’t know it is always beginning.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for what we want – precisely the opposite. We should always do so. What it does mean is that we have to understand is that sometimes we will win, and sometimes we will lose. Sometimes it will be good that we win, sometimes it will be good when we lose. Whatever happens, we have to find a way – and we probably will.

Samaritans Radar – underestimating people…

Yesterday, after a huge struggle, Samaritans finally decided to suspend its new app, Samaritans Radar. It took them a long time to do it, and there was a lot of pain on the way. The Samaritans have lost trust, and a fair number of people respect them less than they did before the saga began – not least because, even now, the Samaritans don’t seem to have grasped what has gone on. They still seem to think the app has had to be pulled because of the way that privacy concerns were raised – the implication being that a bunch of activists on the internet derailed a valid and important project. Very much the opposite is the case: Samaritans Radar had to be pulled because the app, and those behind it, misunderstood the nature of the very people they should have been helping.

In a wide range of ways they underestimated those people. They underestimated how much people care about their autonomy (and related to that, their privacy). They underestimated people’s ability to work out what was going on, to analyse and understand not just how the app worked but what the impact of the app might be. They underestimated people’s ability to organise, to bring in experts to support them, to work with the media – and to support each other. They underestimated people’s ability to achieve something.

The campaign that eventually led to the suspension of Samaritans Radar was led by what is an active and very positive ‘mental health community’ on Twitter. This isn’t a bunch of out-of-touch ‘keyboard warriors’ as some people seem to have suggested. It’s remarkably varied: people who have or have had mental health issues, people working in the field of mental health, privacy advocates, social media professionals, academics, media people – and many people who have a complex mixture of all of these. Many of those now working as mental health professionals have also had mental health issues themselves. It’s not an ‘official’ campaign of any kind – it’s a bunch of people who connect with each other on an ad hoc basis (one of the best things about Twitter) and who coalesced around this issue. I was brought into it by someone I know only through Twitter – but someone who I respect very much for his views, his perspective and his understanding. That’s the thing – respect. And that’s where Samaritans let themselves down so badly. It looked as though they didn’t respect exactly the people they should have respected.

People who have suicidal thoughts, people with mental health issues and so forth don’t have any less desire for autonomy than other people. They don’t have any less need for autonomy than other people. They don’t have any less ability than other people – because they’re people! They come from every walk of life, and have every range of skills. Of course there are people here who care about this kind of thing who also have huge amounts of ability to express themselves, to campaign, to investigate and respond – and Samaritans as much as anyone should know that. They should have understood that before they developed the app – and should have been able to anticipate the issues, and avoid them.

“Privacy, particularly in its aspect as a protector of autonomy, is something that people want and expect. When it is invaded, when people’s autonomy is overly restricted, people react and dislike it. One common thread of the case studies throughout this book is that it appears that the more people know about how, when and where their privacy has been invaded, the more they want to protect that privacy. In the end, businesses need to understand this if they are to meet consumer desires.”

That’s a quote from my book, Internet Privacy Rights: Rights to Protect Autonomy - from the first chapter (p21). It’s referring to businesses – the case studies in the book are mostly business-related – but it applies equally directly to charities like the Samaritans. The issue of autonomy is the key – people want autonomy, they think they have a right to autonomy, and they will fight to protect that autonomy. In the case of Samaritans Radar, they did fight to protect that autonomy.

So what can Samaritans do now? They’ve taken the first step by suspending the app. Next, they need to think a bit harder about why that had to happen – and not try to pretend it was a fine app brought down by unnecessary complaints. Then, most importantly, they need to consult much more widely – and in particular, they need to talk to the very people who brought down the app: the campaigners, the Twitter activists and so on. They need to face up to the concerns that people have – and understand why people care about their autonomy and their privacy. It’s hard to see a future for the app – but if they are going to try to resurrect it, they need to understand why the people on Twitter fought so hard against it. They didn’t do it out of perversity, out of some theoretical and misplaced belief in privacy: they did it because it threatened their autonomy, their agency, something that everyone holds very dear.

If the Samaritans don’t understand this, and try another relaunch along the same lines as before, it will be fought again. And it will lose.

Samaritans Radar: understanding how people use twitter…

On the Samaritans website, in a recent ‘update’ on Samaritans Radar, they note:

“We understand that there are some people who use Twitter as a broadcast platform to followers they don’t know personally, and others who use Twitter to communicate with friends. Samaritans Radar is aimed particularly at Twitter users who are more likely to use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and people they know.”

So the people behind Samaritans Radar – and I don’t believe for a moment that this is the Samaritans as a whole – think that there are basically two modes of usage of Twitter: broadcasting information to people you don’t know, and communicating with friends. Now I’m a pretty prolific Twitter user – I’m closing in on 150,000 tweets – but I would say that even now I’ve only scratched the surface of the possible uses of Twitter, and the possible ways to use Twitter. I’ve developed my own way of using Twitter – and I suspect pretty much everyone who uses Twitter has done the same. Indeed, that’s one of the great things about Twitter: it’s relatively non-prescriptive. There’s no particular ‘way’ to use twitter – there are an infinite number of ways. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a whole number of distinctly different reasons that I use twitter.

  1. To keep up with the news – people I follow post links to fascinating stories, often far faster than mainstream media news
  2. To get updates from people I know in a professional capacity – I’m an academic, working in law and privacy, and there’s a great community of legal and privacy people on Twitter.
  3. To publicise my blog – it’s the best way to get readers (and yes, that fits the broadcast platform idea)
  4. To make contacts – some become friends, some are professional, some both
  5. To exchange ideas with people that I know – and with people that I don’t know. These may be work ideas, or just general ideas
  6. To live-tweet events that I’m attending, to allow those not present to learn what’s happening
  7. To have fun! I play hashtag games, watch silly videos, make jokes and so on.
  8. To follow live events and programmes – following BBC’s Questiontime via the #bbcqt hashtag is much more fun than watching the real thing
  9. To have political arguments – some of my ‘favourites’ at the moment are fights with UKIP supporters…
  10. To let off steam – when I’m angry or annoyed about something
  11. To express pleasure – if I’ve enjoyed something, I like to say so! Watching a good TV programme, for example
  12. To access and read material about subjects I’m interested in
  13. To follow my football team (the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers)
  14. To support people I like – whether they’re friends or not
  15. To Retweet tweets or links to blogs from people that I like – and new blogs that I’ve not found before. A kind of ‘blog-networking’
  16. To spread interesting stories to the people that follow me
  17. To keep in touch with friends (yes, that fits the Samaritans idea) and to be there when they need support
  18. To feel in contact with current events and issues – not just news, but the ‘buzz’
  19. To experiment with ideas…
  20. To crowdsource the answer to questions – ‘ask twitter’
  21. Creating online performance art! (h/t @SusanhallUK)
  22. Just to see what happens – something wonderful might! Serendipity (h/t @LizIxer)
  23. Getting helpful corrections to blog posts!
  24. Receiving/conveying first-hand information from people ‘on the scene’ regarding events in the news (#Ferguson, say) (via @Doremus42)

This is only part of it – the ones that I could think of in a few minutes – and they overlap, merge, combine and produce new things all the time. I have around 9,000 followers, and follow around 7,500 people, and the relationships I have with each of them vary immensely. Some I know in ‘real life’ and consider my friends. Some are colleagues. Some I know well online but have never met. Some I have no idea about at all, but it seemed like a good thing at the time to follow them – or, presumably, they thought it might be interesting to follow me. Some are my political ‘allies’, some very much my opponents. Some I will tweet personally with, others I will just exchange professional information with. Some I will tease – and some I will offend immensely. I try to be sensitive – but often fail. What I do know, though, is that there’s no one way to use Twitter. There’s no prescriptive model. Twitter is particularly adaptable…

…which is one of the reasons it’s particularly suitable for many people with mental health issues. People can use Twitter as they want to, and find a way that suits them, and their own personality, their own views, their own way of being. And that’s one of the many reasons that ideas like Samaritans Radar are misconceived. As set out on their update, they have a particular model in mind – and have not properly considered that this model is only one of a vast range of possibilities. Their idea fits their preconception – but it doesn’t fit the ways that other people use Twitter. And when those other people – particularly people who are vulnerable – have other ways to use Twitter, their ideas don’t fit, and end up being potentially deeply damaging. Further, when Samaritans fail to listen to exactly those people when those people say ‘that’s not how it is for me’, they make things worse. Far worse.

Again, I’d like to appeal to the Samaritans to reconsider this whole project. Withdraw it now, and have a rethink. An organisation that listens should be able to do that.

Samaritans Radar is not a ‘privacy’ story!

The story of the Samaritans Radar app continues to rage on. I’ve written about it before, and how it demonstrates a misunderstanding of privacy – but that doesn’t mean that it’s really a ‘privacy’ story at all. Quite the opposite. Privacy is largely incidental to the story of Samaritans Radar, and not even close to the central problems with the system – and I say that as a privacy scholar and a privacy advocate.

This has come out twice for me during the day. Firstly, when I was accused by one of the supporters of the Samaritans Radar app of being one of a handful of privacy advocates trying to derail an app that will save lives. Secondly, when one of the opponents of the app pointed out that the mainstream media seems to be treating this primarily as a privacy story, and suggesting that the main problems with the app relate to privacy.

Now privacy is an important part of the problem with the Samaritans Radar app – but only in an instrumental way. As I see it, the real problems with the app are that it makes already vulnerable people more vulnerable, that it disrupts what is, for many people, a really positive community online, a place where they can find support in a natural, human way, and that it breaks down trust. It is the trust is critical here, not the privacy.

I was alerted to the existence of the app, and to the problems with the app, by Tweeter @latentexistence, an activist in mental health and disability – and it’s important to understand that the first people concerned with the app were people who are part of the mental health community on Twitter, not the privacy advocates. They remain the core to the ‘resistance’ to the app – privacy advocates like me are supporters of theirs, not the instigators of the resistence. I’ve worked a bit in the mental health field, but peripherally – I was the finance director of a mental health charity. Enough, though, to recognise the importance of trust, and how privacy is critical for that trust. If vulnerable people are to feel safe, they need privacy – not as some abstract or airy-fairy right, but as something to protect them.

There’s a strong and effective community of mental health professionals, and people who have mental health issues, on Twitter. Twitter offers some significant advantages to some people with both physical and mental health issues – that’s why things like the remarkable ‘Spartacus Report’ happened. I’ve been deeply inspired by them, and feel happy to support them in any way that I can. That’s why I got involved in the campaign against the Samaritans Radar app – not just because it fits ‘my’ privacy agenda.

…and anyway, the way that I see privacy is primarily instrumental. My book is called ‘Internet Privacy Rights: Rights to Protect Autonomy’, because that’s what I see as the most important purpose of privacy. To protect our autonomy, as much as it can.  Vulnerable people, people who might potentially be the kind to contact the Samaritans, need that autonomy. They want that autonomy – and the Samaritans, in their non-online form, respect that absolutely. It’s up to people to call them – and when they call them they are listened to and respected, not judged. The Samaritans Radar app reverses that – the fact that it invades privacy in order to do so is not nearly as important as the way that it breaks their trust and disrespects them and their autonomy.

GCHQ: I’m not charmed yet….

A little over a week ago, GCHQ gave us a show. A giant poppy, part of the 2014 Armistice Day appeal. It was spectacular – and, for me at least, more than a little creepy.

GCHQ poppy

The poppy display seems to have been part of something bigger: the term that immediately sprang to mind was ‘charm offensive’. GCHQ has, over the last year or so, been trying to charm us into seeing them as purely positive, despite the revelations of Edward Snowden. They’re trying to appear less secretive, more something to be admired and supported than something to be concerned about and made accountable. The poppy was an open symbol of that. Look at us, GCHQ seemed to be saying, we’re patriotic, positive, part of what makes this country great. Support us, don’t be worried about it. Love us.

I assume that the speech by Robert Hannigan, the new Director of GCHQ, was intended to be part of that charm offensive. For me, however, it had precisely the opposite effect. The full speech was published in the FT here – but I wanted to pick out a few points.

Privacy an absolute right?

The first, which made the headlines in the Guardian and elsewhere, is Hannigan’s statement that ‘privacy is not an absolute right’. He’s right – but we all know that, even the staunchest of privacy advocates. Privacy is a right held in balance with other rights and needs – with freedom of expression, for example, when looking at press intrusions, with the duty of governments to provide security and so forth. That’s explicitly recognised in all the relevant human rights documents – in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, for example, it says of the right to a private life that:

“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”

So we already know that privacy is not an absolute right – so why is Hannigan making the point? It’s hard to see this as anything but disingenuous – almost as though he wants to imply that foolish privacy advocates want to help terrorists by demanding absolute privacy. We don’t. Absolutely we don’t. What we want is to have an appropriate balance, for the interference in our privacy to be lawful, proportionate and accountable. At the moment, it’s not at all clear that any of that is true – there are legal challenges to the surveillance, deep doubts as to its proportionality and little evidence that those undertaking the surveillance are properly accountable. On the accountability front, it’s interesting that he should make such a speech at a time when the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, are undertaking a consultation – it made me wonder whether he’s trying to steer the committee in a particular direction.

Facebook – a tool for terrorists?

The other headline from the speech is the way Hannigan seems to be attacking Facebook and others for being too helpful to terrorists – which is an interesting reverse from the more commonly held view that they’re too helpful to the authorities. The argument seems to go that the ‘old’ forms of terrorists, exemplified by Al Qaeda, use the ‘dark web’, while the ‘new’ forms of terrorists, exemplified by IS, are using the social media – Facebook, Twitter and so forth. It’s an interesting point – and I’m sure there’s something in it. There’s no doubt that ‘bad guys’ do use what’s loosely called the dark web – and the social media activities of ‘bad guys’ all around the world are out there for all to see. Indeed, that’s the point – their visibility is the point. However, on the face of it, neither of those ‘facts’ support the need for the authorities to have better, more direct access to Facebook and so forth. Neither, on the face of it, is any justification for the kinds of mass data gathering and surveillance that seem to be going on – and that GCHQ and others seem to be asking us to approve.

By its very nature, the ‘dark web’ is not susceptible to mass surveillance and data gathering – so requires a more intelligent, targeted approach, something which privacy advocates would and do have no objection to. Social media – and Facebook in particular – don’t need mass surveillance either. To a great extent Facebook is mass surveillance. All that information is out there – that’s the point. It’s available for analysis, for aggregation, for pretty much whatever the authorities want it. And if Hannigan imagines that the secret activities of IS and others are undertaken on Facebook he’s more naive than I could imagine anyone in the intelligence services could be – they can’t have chosen to use Facebook and Twitter instead of using the dark web, but in addition to it. The secret stuff is still secret. The stuff on Facebook and Twitter is out there for all to see.

What’s more, there are already legal ways to access those bits of Facebook and Twitter than are not public – which is why the authorities already request that data on a massive scale.

Charming – or disarming?

Hannigan must know all of this - so why is he saying it? Does he think that the charm offensive has already worked, and that the giant GCHQ poppy has convinced us all that they’re wonderful, patriotic and entirely trustworthy? They may well be – I’m no conspiracy theorist, and suspect that they’re acting in good faith. That, however, is not the point. Trust isn’t enough here. We need accountability, we need transparency, we need honesty. Checks and balances. Not just charm.