Wednesday 4 December 2013



The OECD has just released the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores for 2012 ( and as is to be expected England languished down in 26th place. This caused some debate on FaceBook, reactions ranging from the usual ‘hang Groves’ to the ‘well, all Asians are automata who’ve never had an original thought in their head’ rationalisations.

I’ve always been of the opinion that in a meritocracy (even a would-be one like the UK) the primary aim of the government should be to provide kids with the very best education possible in order that he or she can fulfil all their potential. And I don’t subscribe to this simply for altruistic motives: I’ve always believed that the better we educate our kids today, the wealthier we all will be tomorrow.

A neat, logical idea, but one which I’ve never stopped to prove.

So I got to thinking that a better educated population will produced more good ideas and as these ideas are often protected by patents it seemed logical (that word again!) to me that as a country’s education improved so too would the pace at which it filed patents. Fortunately thanks to the US Patent and Trademark Office ( it’s one that’s pretty easy to check.

I looked to see if the PISA rankings correlated with the increase in patent filings 2012 vs 1999. I had to do a little shuffling around: Macau which appears as number 6 on the PISA list is lumped in with China for patent purposes and I eliminated Lichtenstein, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia and Vietnam because they file so few patents that one either way skews things horribly. I also included the USA even tho' it came 34th on the PISA list. So this is the 22-country list (post amendments) I came up with:
COUNTRY                    PISA   RANK       PATENT RANK

CHINA                                   1                              1

SINGAPORE                        2                              2

HONG KONG                      3                              9

TAIWAN                               4                              5

SOUTH KOREA                   5                              3

JAPAN                                  6                              13

SWITZERLAND                   7                              17

NETHERLANDS                  8                              14

FINLAND                              9                              12

CANADA                              10                           10

BELGIUM                              12                           20

GERMANY                           13                           15

AUSTRIA                              14                           8

AUSTRALIA                         15                           7

IRELAND                              16                           4

DENMARK                           18                           11

NEW ZEALAND                  19                           6

FRANCE                               20                          18

ENGLAND                            21                           16

USA                                       22                           21

There seems to me to be a good correlation at the top and the bottom of my 22-Country table (i.e. the better educated countries do well and the poorly educated countries do badly) though the Antipodes and Ireland seem to do much better with regards to filing patents than I would have expected. Unfortunately what this also tell me (if patents today = jam tomorrow) is that England’s woes aren’t going to get better any time soon.

Monday 18 November 2013


Interesting piece from a Demi-Mode reader, Claire Loughran …

Recognising Psychological Conditions in Literature

There are a great many novels and works of literature which deal with psychological conditions. Many modern works, such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl, Interrupted and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time are attempts to interpret and document psychological conditions suffered by the characters. In these instances, the psychological conditions are among the chief concerns of the piece and the novels are excellent means of understanding characters who are somewhat defined by the conditions which they bare. But what of other characters? Many of the greatest heroes and villains have possess some hint of a psychological condition; it is often what makes them so compelling. More often than not, a subtle facet of character can be an introduction into a psychological condition which is only ever examined in the subtext. Whilst these novels rarely focus on the psychological conditions of the characters, every characterisation and subtlety goes another step towards creating and sustaining a real and functioning personality. So what are some examples of psychological conditions throughout literature?

The First Case

Psychological conditions in literary characters can be traced back all the way to the very first stories and myths. As such, it was these myths which first gave many of the psychological conditions their names. When proposing theories, Sigmund Freud would often use literary characters as a reference point. Freud’s Oedipus and Electra complexes both stem from traits recognises in people which bore some similarity to traits shared by characters in classic Greek mythology. As psychoanalysis was first becoming a formalised medical practice, it was the characters themselves which leant their names to the numerous conditions. In order to define and explain complex psychological conditions, doctors used literary characters as explanative tools; their conditions were thought to be pre-existing and universal as such that the characters themselves could come to define the conditions. Freud’s Oedipus complex is perhaps as famous as the story of Oedipus itself, and to some extent, the relationship which many readers have with the character is viewed through the eyes of psychoanalysis. Whether the theory itself is correct is irrelevant – the theory has had an impact on the manner in which Oedipus as a character is read and understood, and the character of Oedipus now carries a greater cultural baggage.

Infiltration and Understanding

Psychological conditions have existed for as long as the concept of the self, but it was only at the turn of the twentieth century that we began to document, name and investigate these numerous conditions. Once the conditions themselves had names and could be organised away into neat little character holes, they began to emerge in recognisable personality traits in many of the great 20th century characters. Yossarian, of Catch 22, and Holden Caulfield, of Catcher in the Rye, both exhibit notable traits of one of the most scarring of psychological conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can emerge in many different contexts and as the result of any number of incidents; learning how to deal with PTSD can be incredibly difficult. What sets these characters apart is the subtlety in which it is woven into the makeup of the personalities. In many respects, both Yossarian and Holden are avatars of 20th century life: Yossarian is a reflection of the horrors and idiocy of war, while Holden is one of the first major examples (however tragic) of that invention of the 1960s, the teenager. That both have experienced tragedies in their past is a key aspect of their character, and the traits of psychological scarring are often made apparent. Throughout both Catch 22 and Catcher in the Rye, we witness the subtleties of psychological conditions make themselves apparent without ever being truly and explicitly mentioned.

An Addictive Plot Device

It is dystopian fiction, however, that has perhaps best incorporated psychological conditions into the framework of literary fiction. William Gibson’s famed novel Neuromancer features a character driven by addiction. Case, the chief protagonist, is a man hindered by addiction. As well as being a drug addict, former hacker Case finds himself cut off from his ability to access the global cyberspace network. Not only is his drug addiction driving him to commit foolish acts, but his addiction to the cyberspace network - and the information and freedom it provides – becomes a compelling character motivation. Gibson uses addiction not only as an understandable aspect of a flawed protagonist, but uses the audiences engendered knowledge of the psychological issues behind addiction in order to drive the plot forwards. Similarly, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World features a society built on the pillars of chemical addiction. Huxley examines and incorporates a great many psychological conditions into the novel, but one of the major plot points centres around an addiction to the hallucinogen Soma. Rather than a single character suffering from addiction, Huxley proposes an entire society suffering, their brave new world built on the back of a synthesised chemical reaction. The society’s addiction, their psychological condition, is one of the key concerns which must be overcome if they are ever to escape the dystopian future. Rather than a single character afflicted by addiction, Huxley allows psychological conditions – and the audience’s understanding of their perils – to be the platform for his social commentary.

What Does it all Mean?

Many novels are written about characters struggling to come to terms with psychological afflictions. But such is the diaspora and dissemination of public awareness when it comes to mental health, we are able to recognise psychological traits in character for whom mental health is not necessarily their driving force. While all character are built on the back of personality and individuality, it is now possible for the audience to recognise - and to some extent diagnose – certain conditions within the world of fiction. Thanks to the heightened public awareness, these facets of characters, and the manner in which an audience will understand and comprehend them, is another tool at the author’s disposal.

Sunday 17 November 2013



An interesting article in this week’s The Economist’s entitled ‘Ubiquitous Cameras’ ( which discussed the implications of the widespread use of Google’s Glass headset.

Google Glass Explorer Edition.jpeg

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display which can also take pictures.

Now most of the debate about Glass has centred around ‘oh, won’t it be terrible all these Glass-equipped people going around taking surreptitious photographs of us and invading out privacy’ this countered by the inevitable, ‘if people don’t want their business archived in a photo, don’t do guilty things in public’.

To me what Glass exemplifies is the increasingly rapid miniaturisation of surveillance equipment and the thought that in a few short years it won’t just be photographs the Glass-of-the-future is taking but videos (and probably constant-stream videos at that, then we’ll all be ‘life loggers’). And once this is teamed up with facial recognition we will truly be in a PanOpticon society, where everyone will be able to see what we were doing at any moment in our public life.

The result will be a radical change in how we disport ourselves in public. Since the Rialto police in the USA began using body cameras to record incidents in February 2012 public complaints against police officers fell a staggering 88% and the use of force by officers by 60%. Body cameras, it seems, incentivise people to conduct themselves in a more civilised manner … nobody wants to see themselves looking and acting like a total prick on YouTube.

But (and I think it’s a pretty big but) what this will provoke is a massive experiment in social re-engineering with people being obliged to act in a more censured way. They will know they are being watched and will act accordingly. A good thing, you might suggest, but the upshot will be that life, I suspect, will become even more boring than it is today.

As Jenni-Fur says in Invent-10n:

I am fed up enduring the claustrophobic, cossetted tyranny of the nice.

Fuck nice.




Agent Elli and the Tricky Language that is Russian

(Part 2)


There are four important points to note about the manner in which Gouzenko came to learn about Agent Elli: one, Gouzenko and Luibimov would have been speaking in Russian; two, in all probability their command of English would have been basic at best (certainly Gouzenko’s was); three, these conversations took place at night when people are tired (and maybe even a little drunk?); and four, I suspect in a beleaguered and blacked-out Moscow the lighting in their office (candles? oil-lamps?) would have been inadequate. The upshot is that this is the ideal environment for mistakes to be made.

So what did Gouzenko learn about Agent Elli during these night time chats? Well, I guess the most basic is that the Agent’s codename was ‘Elli’. Everyone has assumed that Gouzenko got this right: unfortunately I don’t think Gouzenko (or Black) did!

In 1942 when they were discussing ‘Elli’, Gouzenko and Liubimov would have been speaking in Russian and when he came to be debriefed by the Canadian authorities three years later it is highly likely that Gouzenko would have used the same Russian pronunciation for the name he saw on Liubimov’s decrypts, Элли. In fact this is the Cyrillic rendering of the English word ‘Ally’ but as Gouzenko’s English was poor he wouldn’t have known the word and would have pronounced it phonetically as Elli. This mistake was not picked up by Black and is one which created a lot of subsequent confusion.

Professor Christopher Andrew in his authorised history of MI5 (The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5) states that that ‘El’ is the Russian pronunciation of the letter ‘L’ (correct) and hence that ELLI in Russian translates as the plural of the English letter ‘L’. I am reliably informed by a native-speaking Russian linguist that this is ‘nonsense’: no Russian would ever refer to double-L as Elli. Moreover, I doubt the Soviets would have been so stupid as to give such an important agent a code-name made up of his initials. Unfortunately Professor Andrew uses this ‘ELLI = Russian double-L’ hypothesis to corroborate his contention that Leo Long (who I’ll return to later) is the real identity of Agent Elli. Understandable I suppose: without this supporting ‘evidence’ the Leo Long surmise seems somewhat threadbare.

Of course, my Agent Ally hypothesis might be wrong and there are other possibilities. If, for instance, the decrypts shown to Gouzenko by Liubimov had been handwritten – a strong possibility given that most of the documents Gouzenko took with him when he defected were handwritten, making them difficult to decipher – and remembering that this was taking place at night in an ill-lit room it could be that the agent’s name wasn’t Elli (Элли ) but the similar-looking Eppi (Эппи). The one other possibility (the one my own Agent Elli refers to in ‘Faktion’) is that Elli was simply a shortened form of ‘Elijah’!

However I am as confident as anyone can be the Agent Elli was actually Agent Ally, a very apt cryptonym for someone as highly placed and as committed to socialist revolution as this spy.

This ‘Agent Ally’ contention is reinforced by there being two Agent Ellis.

Elli is recognised in Russian as being a woman’s name and, interestingly, the codename ‘Elli’ (sometimes rendered as ‘Ellie’) had already been assigned to one of the Soviet’s female spies in Canada. Gouzenko identified two agents called Elli, the first of whom turned out to be a woman, Elli (or Ellie) being the cryptonym of Kathleen Willsher, who worked as a confidential secretary to the British High Commissioner in Canada, Malcolm MacDonald (Willsher was subsequently identified and arrested). That the Soviets used the same code name of two agents (one a man and one a woman) has generally been dismissed as ‘just one of those things’, but I don’t think it was: the names weren’t the same. There was an Agent Ellie (female) and an Agent Ally (male). Different names but rendered in exactly the same way in Russian.

The final piece of mal-translation confusing the search for Agent Elli is the phrase used by Gouzenko: ‘ou nego shto-to Russkoe’ which Black translated as ‘having something of the Russian about him’. This has been used to suggest that Agent Elli had Russian antecedents, but in fact the phrase is so vague as to be almost meaningless and should have prompted Black to ask for clarification. Unfortunately he didn’t. Nelli’s translation would have been the much more general ‘had a Russian connection’.

The journalist Chapman Pincher presents a coherent set of arguments when he suggests that Elli is Roger Hollis – Hollis worked for MI5 from 1939, eventually becoming Director-General in 1956 (see Pincher’s Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage Against America and Great Britain for details). Pincher refers to the ‘ou nego shto-to Russkoe’ description of Elli and suggests that it indicates that Elli had pre-Revolutionary connections with Russia (Nelli disputes this: in her opinion the phrase is so ambiguous as to invite several, equally plausible, interpretations). Apparently the Hollis family is able to trace its lineage back to Peter the Great. The difficulty here is that Hollis’s Russian antecedents were tenuous to say the least and I am doubtful they would have stimulated gossip in the GRU’s Moscow headquarters.

But my biggest problem with the ‘Hollis is Elli’ hypothesis is that Hollis would have been too junior in the period running up to 1942 (when Gouzenko first heard of Elli) to be regarded as the Soviets’ most important intelligence asset in Britain.

These pieces of mis-translation and mis-interpretation have confused the hunt for Agent Elli with none of the proposed candidates quite fitting the description provided by Gouzenko: that he was a man; a committed Marxist; recruited by the GRU not the NKVD; had a strong Russian connection; had, from early 1942, access to Britain’s most sensitive of secrets; and was ready and willing and able to provide the USSR with these secrets. A man who truly warrants the cryptonym Agent Ally.

There’s only one man who fits the bill …



Agent Elli and the Tricky Language that is Russian

(Part 1)

‘Faktion’, my alternate-history story set in a very different world of 1947, went out to publishers last week. It uses as a backstory the search by MI5 for the various ‘moles’ that the Soviets had infiltrated into the British establishment and it was while I was doing my background research I became fascinated by the mysterious Soviet agent, Agent Elli whose information was of such importance that his messages were hand-delivered to Stalin immediately they were received in Moscow. To add to the intrigue the identity of Agent Elli has never been definitively established, the two leading candidates being Leo Long (proposed by Professor Christopher Andrew) and Roger Hollis (proposed by journalist Chapman Pincher). Despite the efforts of various historians and journalists the question, ‘who was Agent Elli’ remains hotly debated to this day.

‘Faktion’ delivers my own, somewhat left-field, verdict on who was Agent Elli much of my surmising turning, as does the plot of ‘Faktion’, on the difficulties faced when information is translated/interpreted from Russian into English. This is based on my own experiences living and working in Russia: really good translators are rare as hen’s teeth and most have a real reluctance to raise their hand when they don’t understand what they were being asked to translate. This caused no end of muddles though I was lucky to always have Nelli by my side who is a fanatic for accuracy (and a highly qualified linguistic to boot).

Virtually all our knowledge regarding Agent Elli comes from the testimony of Igor Gouzenko, a 26-year old cipher clerk who was posted to Canada in June 1943 to work in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. In September 1945 Gouzenko gave himself up to the Canadians rather than be shipped back to the USSR bringing with him a collection of files and code books and an insider’s knowledge of the extent of the Soviet Union’s espionage efforts in Canada, the USA and in Britain. Such was the brouhaha caused by Gouzenko’s revelations (especially regarding Soviet Intelligence’s penetration of the Manhattan Project) that he is often cited as the man responsible for initiating the Cold War.

Given how important he is to the story of Agent Elli it is perhaps worth spending a moment considering just what sort of a man Gouzenko was (for this I mostly reference Gouzenko’s biography This Was My Choice). He was born in the village of Rogachov, ‘not far distant from Moscow’. His father was killed soon after his birth (in 1919) fighting in the civil war raging in Russia at that time (for which side he was fighting remains tantalisingly unclear). His mother, a teacher, seems to have been a woman of some influence because she managed to move herself and her family to Moscow (moving towns in the Soviet Union was a considerable feat which would have required the pulling of any number of strings), Gouzenko entering the prestigious school named in honour of Maxim Gorky and from there going to study at the Moscow Architectural Institute. Whilst Gouzenko claims that his family had no blat – influence – I doubt this is the case: his mother’s move to Moscow and the quality of the schools where Gouzenko studied give the lie to that. This is confirmed by his being transferred to the Kuibyshev Military Engineering Academy in Moscow where he trained as a cipher clerk in Intelligence Administration run by the GRU, a very cushy, a very safe and a very well-paid job. Although ranked merely as a lieutenant his salary was an astonishingly high 1,200 roubles (in 1940 the average salary of an engineer was R696 and a worker R324).

By his own account Gouzenko was a dedicated student, a diligent officer, a loyal Communist and a devoted husband to his wife, Anna. He does, though, seem partial to a drink noting in his book that ‘I never allowed an opportunity for obtaining vodka or wine to pass’ though whether he was the alcoholic claimed by John Cairncross I couldn’t confirm. As a cipher clerk most of his work seems to have been on telegrams from and to Germany and Switzerland (again, given that Germany was invading Russia at that time, this was a prestigious appointment).

In June 1943 (the pivotal time in the fighting on the Eastern Front) he was transferred to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. That Gouzenko had precious little English (he describes himself as having only a ‘fair foundation in the language’) this seems an unusual appointment, and being such a plumb (and very safe!) posting again smacks of prodigious amounts of blat.

Gouzenko quickly became enamoured of life in Canada and when he was advised that he was to be transferred back to Moscow decided to defect which he and his family did on 5th September, 1945, being taken into custody by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (En passant, I have my suspicions regarding Gouzenko and his motives for defecting. This man wasn’t what he appeared. I just wonder …)

So the Gouzenko who defected was young, of junior rank (he was still just a lieutenant) and possessed of pretty shaky English (despite twenty years of living in Canada, during the CBC television interview of March, 1966 Gouzenko still answered questions in heavily accented English). The upshot is that all of Gouzenko’s interviews with the RCMP had to be made using an interpreter, which, I believe, accounts for some of the problems historians have had in recent years. The interpreter the RCMP used was Special Constable Mervyn Black and, as with Gouzenko, it's worth taking a closer look at Black. According to Gregory S. Kealey who has made a study of the RCMP's Security Bulletins Black was born on 31st May 1890 in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) to Scottish parents, his father being Managing Director of the D.N. Lebedeff jute mill. After being schooled in Belfast, Dundee and London, Black returned to Russia in 1914 as manager of the Riga Textile factory. He left Russia in 1921finally coming to rest in Canada where he farmed in Saskatchewan until 1932.
This doesn't seem to have been a successful endeavour because in 1933 he joined the RCMP as a civilian translator though his duties also included him working as an undercover agent spying on Communist agitators ... again not very successfully. As Black is reported to have said: 'My connections with the working class of various countries have been very close and intimate but always from the standpoint of the employer, not as a fellow worker on the same step of the social ladder'. Thus Black's background and feelings apparently deprived him of the ability to make a successful secret agent. Mervyn Black was obviously something of a snob who probably regarded his having to work as a translator (and as an agent rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi) as somewhat beneath him. He certainly railed about never being commissioned into the uniformed branch of the RCMP (apparently his age was against him) so I have the suspicion that Black was an embittered man.
So we have a translator who although )probably) fluent in Russian is not a native speaker nor a linguist and whose snobbishness might have prevented him admitting he didn't understand what Gouzenko was saying. This is especially the case given that Black must have recognised the opportunity Gouzenko presented him with to impress his superiors.
My suspicions regarding the difficulties Black faced in accurately interpreting what Gouzenko said when he was being debriefed by the RCMP are reinforced by a letter written by RCMP Inspector George McClellan and dated 11 October, 1945 which notes: ‘I would like to point out that under the living conditions in Rexall (Camp X) at the moment, Black (the interpreter) laboured under much difficulty in obtaining the statement already submitted herewith … this is due to the fact that Corby (Gouzenko’s codename) has somewhat of the dreamer mentality and it is extremely difficult to pin him down to the business at hand’ (Amy Knight: ‘How the Cold War Began’).

Amongst the revelations Gouzenko made during these somewhat tortuous debriefings was that there was a Soviet agent – codenamed Elli – operating in Britain. Gouzenko had learned of Elli’s existence when chatting with a fellow cipher clerk called Liubimov during the night-shift at GRU headquarters in Moscow in 1942. Apparently Liubimov even went so far as to show him deciphered messages relating to Elli.

(En passant, it should be noted that there has been some suggestion that Gouzenko fabricated the existence of Agent Elli simply to enhance his importance to the Canadians. I doubt this. On 24 November, 1945, the Soviet Commissar for State Security, Vsevolod Merkulov, sent a personal message to Stalin and Beria confirming that Gouzenko had betrayed the existence of the GRU agent inside British intelligence, Elli. The inescapable conclusion is that what Gouzenko said was fact.)

Monday 11 November 2013



In reading the ‘Comments’ made following the report of the BBC on the public interrogation of Britain’s three spy chiefs on 7 November ( I was struck by how many times the adage ‘you’ve nothing to worry about surveillance if you’re not doing anything wrong’ was brandished in defence of what the British Security Services are doing.

The problem with this argument is that ‘wrong’ is a very mutable concept which is apt to change – often quite radically – over a surprisingly short period of time. Considering that the last SUCCESSFUL prosecution for blasphemy was in 1977 (just thirty-six years ago!) tells me that the (relatively) liberal country we live in is a recent construct. Fifty years ago it was a crime to bad-mouth God or to be a practicing homosexual, and the law (and much of society) was unconcerned about those who penalised or persecuted others for being black or female.  Fifty years ago what was considered ‘wrong’ was profoundly different from what we consider ‘wrong’ today.

'Wrong' is an ever moving target. What is perceived to be ‘wrong’ today may not be ‘wrong’ tomorrow.

And how quickly the mood and sensibilities of a country can change is, I would suggest, illustrated by the growth of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement in the USA and the emergent of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece. These exemplify how quickly the political and moral outlook of a country can alter (especially as a result of economic set-backs). To my mind this is what makes the collection and storage of so much information by our Security Services (and by other organisations) so worrying.

Let us say that for some unknown reason Britain in twenty years makes a sudden shift to the right or the left and a new, more draconian ethos takes hold when homosexuality is seen as a bad thing or that Jews were once again branded as untermenschen. Then it would be a relatively simple task for our Security Services to access their databases and identify those who had bought Gay Times or Diva, or to make a search for those who had attended a synagogue.

THAT is what makes the collection and storage of surveillance information so troubling: not how it IS being used but how it MIGHT be used. It is not the present we should be worrying about but the future and that is why the debate about what is collected by GCHQ, how long it is stored and how it is managed is so important.

Sunday 10 November 2013


The recent appearance of the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ on television has centred everyone’s attention on the scope and the dangers of State surveillance, but what commentators have forgotten is that surveillance conducted by those not belonging to the Secret Service community is much more ubiquitous and, in many ways, much more disturbing.
And the reason for this is simple: we are willing participants in this Surrogate Surveillance.
Take, for instance, the loyalty card phenomenon. At first glance the reason why Tesco and all the other big stores provide loyalty cards is simply to reward those who shop regularly at their stores and by doing so to encourage them to keep coming back. But there is another reason why these stores are so keen on promoting their loyalty cards: the vast quantities of information they acquire about their customers enables them to profile them. A shopping cart reveals a great deal of information about you: whether you have children or live alone; whether you drink (and how much); whether you have a pet; how clean you are; whether you are environmentally conscious; and (from the papers you buy) what your political views are likely to be. All these data are stored (for how long?), analysed and used to develop a portrait of you useful in tailoring adverts directed at you. Bespoke promotion … you can see it on the side of your Facebook page.
Not that the stores are stopping there. The news that Tesco will be installing face-recognition equipment in its petrol stations ( is just the next step: Tesco aims to put faces to data. I’m guessing that soon we’ll be in a ‘Minority Report’ type world where adverts are tailor-made for each potential customer passing them by. Of course, it will also enable Tesco to refuse entry to known shop-lifters and serial-complainers but that’s by-the-by (unless you happen to have the misfortune to look like a shop-lifter!).
What is important about this development is the vast amount of data that Tesco have to store and process in order to make their face-recognition initiative work. This is just a STORE when all said and done, not GCHQ or the NSA.
Which brings me back to my central point. Around the country (and on-line, Amazon must be awash with data) there are hundreds of stores doing pretty much the same thing as Tesco and warehousing copious amounts of data. And these databases are supplemented by those holding the information hoovered up by official surveillance devices operated by the police and local authorities, and the information held by the Inland Revenue, local GPs, the rating authorities, the police, by the Congestion Charging centre in London, by the DVLA in Swansea and, of course, by the banks. Moreover if Tesco is using facial recognition you can bet your bottom dollar that the police and GCHQ are way ahead of them. Even the Inland Revenue is using Google Earth (
This is what I call Surrogate Surveillance.
The Snowden brouhaha focussed attention on how the internet and cell phone service providers co-operated (or didn’t co-operate, depending on who you believe) with the GCHQ/NSA to facilitate their tapping into our e-communications but what was forgotten was that there is this mass of Surrogate Surveillance data collected quite openly that could provide very interesting information about us. Nobody seems interested in it.
Nobody, I suspect, apart from GCHQ.
Now with all this data lying around neatly warehoused I would have thought it beyond belief that GCHQ wouldn’t be accessing it. After all it has been acquired quite legally (and often with the surveillee’s co-operation) so no one can criticise GCHQ for using it. Now I’ve never made a bomb but I suspect that the ingredients are pretty standard and need to be bought by any would-be bomber. Analysing data held in a store’s databases would reveal who was buying this stuff (presumably terrorists have credit cards) and hence who was worth MI5 taking a closer interest in.
Forget Tempora and worry about Surrogate Surveillance ...