Annie Machon — former MI5 agent who blew the whistle
Annie Machon is ex-MI5: “I was the person sitting behind a desk deciding who should be listened to.” Then she blew the whistle. This is a short summary of the keynote speech she held at the “Internet Days” conference.
Annie Machon has a deep knowledge of how far the surveillance in MI5 can go and for her it was way too far. Machon also knows that, even though governments might claim that “we know what our spies are doing”, they don’t really have a clue. At first concerned agents tried to raise their apprehensions internally but were told to follow orders instead. This caused them to become whistleblowers and go to the press, forcing them to leave the UK.
Machon said that whistleblowers would always speak out, no matter how severe the punishment, and that more supporting structures are needed for the ones brave enough to blow the whistle.
Machon talked about operations bypassing laws. The “Five Eyes” panopticon would always get the information they wanted. If barred by some national law they could always get someone elsewhere to get it for them. The British GCHQ told the American NSA: “Come and use us. We’re not regulated as you, we can do your dirty work”. The optic nerve will get information where least expected.
The press was the outlet Machon used to release information, but she also claimed that in general the “mainstream media is ill-informed and not asking the right questions”. Journalists can be controlled through “soft power.” Feeding them “nice stories” will make them feel indebted, tip off spies, or even avoid certain news. Another option is more direct: using anti-terrorism laws to stop journalists through injunctions and other forms of gagging.
During her time at MI5 Machon saw how easy it is to put together a clear picture of someone’s life purely through “metadata.” Privacy is disappearing, and she said that we need to take it in our own hands:”We need to activate a campaign against the survelliance on Internet”.
Without privacy we all self-censor, which causes great damage to freedom of speech and other liberties. One of the things that was put in place after the Second World War was the right to privacy: “we need to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself”.
Watch the full keynote speech.
Featured image: Screenshot from keynote speech