Sunday, September 14, 2014

My experience in "mass" surveillance

Following on from my post below, I have some personal observations and experiences in surveillance that I want to share.

During my time in the police, I trained as an electronic monitor.  This meant I was the "eyes and ears" on operations where we had authorised bugging devices in the houses, phones and cars of suspects of organised criminal enterprises, or drug syndicates.  On some occasions, there were discrete cameras placed on or near the property.

It was very hard to obtain these warrants.  The OC's had to obtain sufficient evidence to satisfy a High Court judge that there was an organised criminal enterprise going on, or a drug operation in existence (for Class A & B drugs).  There were a few occasions where the judge knocked us back, and the threshold to obtain a surveillance warrant was extremely high.  Once it was obtained, I came into the picture by recording what I was hearing and seeing with each phone call, conversation, or happening.  It was a 24/7 operation.  I worked often through the night without sleep.  On some occasions I was very close to the actual property/s concerned, and on others, it was done from a distance.

During the monitoring and recording, there were a lot of occasions where I heard and saw stuff from innocent parties.  Phone calls were made by people who didn't have any idea I was  listening to them. People visited properties who had no connection to the dregs who were involved in the crimes we were investigating.  I was, in a funny way, involved in "mass surveillance" of entirely innocent people.  Some operations went on for months, and so I came across hundreds of people who had no connection to the crime/s being investigated.  They were "innocent" bystanders.  I heard their conversations.  I knew who they were.  They weren't "persons of interest", but their movements were monitored and they were "surveilled".

Although this was on a much smaller scale to the 5Eyes network and alleged mass surveillance that Greenwald, and to a lesser extent Kim Dotcom allege, the principle they are complaining about is the same.

Did I feel uncomfortable about recording and monitoring innocent people?  Nope.  Do I feel bad about it now?  Nope.  Did anything ever happen to the information recorded from them?  Nope.

And, do I think these innocent civilians were "wronged"?  Nope.  And that's simply because of the "A Few Good Men" argument.  What's that you ask - oh, simple.  From one of the greatest movies ever, expertly acted by the best actor ever, Jack Nicholson:
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
That might be melodramatic, but the tenor of it is apt. 

It's for the greater good I did that stuff, and 5Eyes is no different.  And you just have to trust those that have this power to administer it properly.  That doesn't mean there should be checks on that power, but the balance has to be in favour of the greater good over civil liberties - and I am very much in favour of civil liberties.  After all, I consider myself to be (practically) a libertarian.

Those who complain about this evil necessary can't complain about the "greater good" argument because it's exactly the argument they use for the hacking of Cameron Slater's computer and leak of his private correspondence over six years.  

Yes.  They bleat and moan about mass surveillance on the one hand, yet on the other hand they partake in it against the "enemy" over a prolonged period and publish the result in a book just before an election.

Mass state surveillance = bad.  Private surveillance/hacking to usurp democracy in an election = good.    


Marc said...

Nick, thank you for posting this - from the heart. I have a friend who's garage was used as a surveillance centre to catch a group using a property opposite as a chop-shop. I was most impressed with the professionalism of those doing the surveillance, and they did get convictions. The gang never found out where the evidence was being gathered, and I won't let on, but it was very clever where the devices were concealed.

I despair at times at the way some people discredit the work done by our police, and wonder how they get on when they need help.

Thank you.

Nick K said...

And thank you to your friend who assisted people like me to catch bad guys. I too used a garage once, and no one would ever have known. We just slip in quietly, do our job, and drift off afterwards.
Cheers, and thanks for your kind words.

Psycho Milt said...

So far I've yet to meet a non-criminal who has a problem with the surveillance methods you describe. Now let's take a hypothetical in which the Police don't need to suspect any criminal enterprise or apply for a warrant - they just set you to work monitoring everybody, all the time, to see if you come across anything suspicious. How proud would you be of the 'blanket of freedom' you'd be providing by doing that?

Also: if the person who hacked Cameron Slater's messaging accounts is caught, they'll deservedly be charged with criminal offences. And if it turns out John Key has had an organ of the state hacking all of our messaging and phone accounts, it would be nice if he met the same fate. And Clark, if it turns out she did the same.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this.

B. Whitehead