Comment: Let's point a satellite at GCHQ, to see how they feel: George Clooney's done it in Sudan. Turning the tables on the spy agencies would be a fitting form of radical retaliation
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Psssst! Wanna come in on a private satellite with me? They're available, and they cost about $2m a year to run, so it would need an awful lot of us to club together via Kickstarter or some such.George Clooney's got one. He trains it between Sudan and South Sudan, keeping a particular eye on the Hague-wanted president Omar al-Bashir, and uses the footage to draw attention to human rights violations. But in the wake of news that the Optic Nerve programme targeted and retained the webcam images of 1.8m UK internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, I'd like you to consider pointing ours somewhere pointed, such as the NSA or GCHQ. Just their car parks would do.
You wouldn't get a squiz at much, obviously - it would have the flavour of one of those live feeds that put you right inside the action of what's happening right now on Dartmoor or a commuter town square. But it would make both agencies rather cross, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
And the times do feel increasingly desperate. Alas, though it would be nice to think the webcam revelations were the "Milly Dowler moment" of the NSA-GCHQ scandal - the instantly relatable revelation that finally triggers the unstoppable wave of mass revulsion - instinct suggests it may be more of a "Leslie Grantham moment", named after that Unfortunate Business with the webcam in the former EastEnders actor's BBC dressing room. More's the pity.
But it's one thing for a bunch of people to go public about the personal details whipped off their voicemails, and quite another to reveal that footage of oneself masturbating into chopped liver or apple pie or whatever may have found its way into Allied hands. While I enormously admire the rare victim who would waive their right to onanistic anonymity for the greater good, you sense that, for all the clear moral rectitude of the cause, the majority of potential Optic Nerve targets may want to sit this one out and wait for a privacy crusade their grandma could be proud of.
For those of us increasingly tired of waiting, however, the idea of radical retaliation grows more enticing by the hour. Clooney was thinking laterally when he came up with the idea of his private satellite surveillance, declaring himself inspired by the paparazzi who scrutinise his own movements. "[Bashir] put out a statement saying that I'm spying on him, and how would I like it if a camera was following me everywhere I went, and I go: 'Well, welcome to my life, Mr War Criminal.'"
At this stage of the spying revelations, plenty of us must be feeling hospitable enough to welcome GCHQ and the NSA into our lives, if only via some eye-catching stunt. Thinking laterally ourselves, might it not be possible to bring to the surveillance culture even a token smidgen of what the camera phone has brought to police culture?
Sousveillance, they used to call it, back in the technological middle ages of about 15 years ago, when some techno-visionaries thought that we underlings might wander round with great big wearable CCTV cameras hung round our necks to record the attentions of the state. As it has turned out, the altogether more convenient mobile phone camera has mounted some of the most effective challenges to police impunity in recent years, with footage such as that used in the Ian Tomlinson case already changing the shape of policing - although you may recall that one of the many liberties triumphs of the New Labour years was to make it a potential crime even to take a photograph of a police officer.
So, needless to say, it would need some radical hotshot international lawyers to assist in the possibilities of where we could get away with pointing our satellite - but Clooney managed to find some. And it goes equally without saying that the agencies would manage to disable it remotely in some way. (In the event of similar tampering, Clooney can always send Sandra Bullock up to fix his - so I'll make a mental note to get in touch with her agent and see if she'd do ours for a competitive rate. Sandy's always seemed a good egg, so she might even do it for love of the cause.) In fact, it would probably get shot down within a fortnight. But at the right price point, wouldn't it still be nice to have been along for the ride?
Clearly there are ethical issues, but let's choose to get as unbogged-down in those as Clooney. He's widely acknowledged to be using his powers for good, even if surveillance by rich folks is not necessarily at all preferable to surveillance by governments, and I think our own view should be that all's fair in love and war.
As for where we'd put the footage, the underling's guide to realpolitik suggests that this might be one of those occasions to seek out our enemy's enemy and make him our friend - or at least an acquaintance who agrees to host the website. As far as enemies who might be receptive to the idea go, you'd think Pyongyang might be up there - perhaps we could get the basketball star Dennis Rodman in on it?
As I say, I'm still feeling around on this one. The first things to do are to raise the cash and find the lawyers. But do just re-read the Optic Nerve passage that frets about the sensitivity of spies exposed to explicit material, as opposed to that of the innocents being unwittingly monitored in this way, and say you'll at least have a think about it.
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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