Tuesday, September 22, 2015

GCHQ wants your Radio Dial

The media excoriates the NSA and the CIA for spying on "every day Americans" and rightly so. The action is expensive, morally vacant, and grotesque. But across the Atlantic a similar government agency of the British government, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) has managed to crawl to the top of a the manure heap.

In 2009 GCHQ launched a mass surveillance operation code-named "Karma Police".  (Apparently named after the Radiohead song?) In September of this year, RT News called it an "Illegal GCHQ operation to track every visible user on the Internet." The description wasn't hyperbole. The Guardian newspaper compared GCHQ to the Stasi; the secret police of East Germany during the cold war. The Karma Police operation was constructed between 2007 and 2008 and launched without any public debate or parliamentary consultation. GCHQ themselves referred to it as the "world's biggest" Internet data-mining operation.

But part of this is about radio. The one thing we know about radio in meat-space, is that it has strong and consistent demographics. Whether you look at it by age, education, income, gender, race, or media... it breaks with some consistency. This is something that radio has been doing to itself to half a century. We know the average Rush Limbaugh listener is Caucasian, male, Republican and over 65 years old. [SOURCE] But you can make the same breakdown for every program, and every station and every format. GCHQ found this very exciting.

So in 2009, when GCHQ launched a top-secret operation to collect intelligence about Internet users who listen to radio online. to radio shows. Their software was code named "Blazing Saddles." (You can't make this up.) You can however read one of their reports here.  They looked at a quarter million unique listeners, and about 7 million meta data records over a period of just 3 months spying on citizens in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Their conclusion?   Radicals might "misuse" Internet radio.  What barmy nosey parkers.