Vordick durch Sprungtek


by David Moss
August 2008


Dateline 15 January 2008, London, England – for no obvious reason, the FBI reveal exclusively to Owen Bowcott of the Guardian that they are working on a new system – codename "Pie in the sky" (or "PITS", for short) – which will tell them everything about everyone, see 'FBI wants instant access to British identity data'.

Then the EU said they wanted a pie in the sky, too, and, not to be left out, so did the UK. Our very security depends on it.

But where do you buy a PITS system? You can't just walk into Fortnums and tell them to put it on the account.

Thanks to the New Scientist's 'Surveillance made easy' (and thanks to Dr Wibble of Utrecht, whom God preserve), we now know one answer:

German electronics company Siemens has gone a step further, developing a complete "surveillance in a box" system called the Intelligence Platform, designed for security services in Europe and Asia ...

Once a person is being monitored, pattern-recognition software first identifies their typical behaviour, such as repeated calls to certain numbers over a period of a few months. The software can then identify any deviations from the norm and flag up unusual activities, such as transactions with a foreign bank, or contact with someone who is also under surveillance, so that analysts can take a closer look.

It's not just Siemens. Nokia have contributed to the Intelligence Platform product, too:

Included within the package is a phone call "monitoring centre", developed by the joint-venture company Nokia Siemens Networks.


And it's selling like hot cakes (another thing you can't get at Fortnums):

[Nokia Siemens Networks] has already sold the system to 60 countries.

Don't run away with the notion that they've only sold 60 copies, though. Oh no. They've sold a lot more than that.

Who are the licenceholders? We don't know:

Nokia Siemens says 90 of the systems are already being used around the world, although it hasn't specified which countries are using it.

But hang on a minute – why don't we know? After all, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. What do these 90 licenceholders in 60 countries have to hide? What do they fear?

In pursuit of the answer to these questions, consider two matters.

Firstly, induction.

Nokia Siemens are offering a pattern-matching solution to the problem of detecting criminal and terrorist activity. I.e. a geometrical solution. By one transformation or another, the observed data can be mapped onto a suspicious pattern, so that the two are congruent. At which point in the sales presentation, most civil servants and all politicians will switch off.

By contrast, geometrical transformation is included in the GCSE maths syllabus, and thousands of the UK's more switched on 16 year-olds can handle it.

How many possible transformations are there? An infinite number – as the 16 year-olds can tell you. So how many sets of observable data can match the suspicious pattern? All of them. There's bound to be some transformation somewhere that can project any set of co-ordinates onto the offending pattern.

And how many patterns can any given set of data match? An infinite number. Of which, how many are suspicious? An infinite number.

So how much use is this if you face a clear and present danger? None. Everyone is a suspect. And it would take forever to exhaust the potentially suspicious matches.

Second, self-contradiction.

The problem is supposedly that criminals and terrorists don't stand out. The solution is supposedly to buy Nokia Siemens's system. Why? Because criminals and terrorists stand out.

So, it both is the case that criminals and terrorists stand out and it isn't.

Anyone capable of believing that is capable of believing anything – even that using taxpayers' money to acquire one of these pies in the sky is a slam dunk way to buy security.

In short, the decision to purchase the Nokia Siemens Networks system is being made by people who believe in what Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom GCMG KCVO* refers to gnomically in his monograph on confusion centres as "the ring of astral soup". No 16 year-old with GCSE maths would fall for it.

And that's what these 90 licenceholders in 60 countries have to hide they've been had. They fear that their identity will be revealed, that they will be identified as nothing better than nave and credulous tourists in the geometrical casbah.

Obviously they can't all be the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in the University of Cambridge – that would be silly – but WIBBI** the civil servants and politicians responsible for procurement at least had GCSE maths?

* "Sometimes he is the government" (anon.)

** wouldn't it be better if

David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

2008 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd

20 September 2011: UK firm denies 'cyber-spy' deal with Egypt (Cyber Spies podcast)