Life in GCHQ: form-filling, bulk interception and internal emails

The Edward Snowden files provided a lot of material on GCHQ. Some of it, such as the existence of a chess club, a social media service called SpySpace and in 2011 a sports day at the Civil Service Sports Club in London, was fairly innocuous. Some of it was explosive, and the detonations continue to this day with the disclosure that parliamentarians are not exempt from bulk surveillance.

What the Snowden material couldn’t provide was any kind of overview of life in GCHQ; that isn’t what you get from a dump of documents. Neither could it provide information on whether a practice had stopped, given the UK government’s neither confirm nor deny policy.

On The Register today, I have pieced together material that comes from the recent reviews of government surveillance, primarily drawing on the report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC (PDF). These got most attention for their recommendations, but they also provided quite a lot of insight into how GCHQ works. Continue reading

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Plymouth Community Healthcare: happy outside the NHS

Guardian Healthcare Professionals Network has just published two articles by me. The first is on Plymouth Community Healthcare, an expanding healthcare company running NHS and social care services in and around the city.

The organisation argues that its status as a not-for-profit, no-shareholders community interest company is better than being part of an NHS trust. It reckons the services it runs are often lost within trusts focused mainly on acute or mental health; that it is more flexible and in tune with local needs; and that it is able to focus its spending on its local area, which NHS trusts can’t do. Continue reading

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Visit to the Spaceguard Centre in Powys for the Register

The Register has published my article on a visit to the Spaceguard Centre, near Knighton in Powys. This privately-run observatory is Britain’s only facility dedicated to monitoring Near Earth Objects (NEOs), large Earth-bound asteroids and comets that could do anything from blow out thousands of windows (as happened in Chelyabinsk in 2013) to taking us the way of the dinosaurs.

The good news, according to Spaceguard founder Jay Tate, is that unlike the dinosaurs we have a space programme, and are perfectly capable of spotting and moving any rogue NEOs before they hit. Best not to nuke them like Bruce Willis – turns out you can simply nudge them on to a different course.

We do need to get better at the spotting part than at present, which is where Tate and the Centre come in, through educating visitors and using the entrance fees, donations and gift shop receipts to fund more spotting.

Continue reading

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Cameron, the EU and Scotland and the NHS internet of things

It would be interesting to see all of these topics into a single article, but this is to cover two recent articles. The first, for Beacon, looks at the two big gambles for David Cameron’s government over the next five years: Britain’s place in Europe or Scotland’s place in Britain.

Sex, Lies and the Ballot BoxMy guess is that Mr Cameron is more likely to win than lose on both (in the case of Scotland, through avoiding another referendum) by the time he stands down, but neither are anywhere near a safe bet. Continue reading

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The revolutionary Thomas Rainborowe

I have just completed Kindle and CreateSpace production of a new book by journalist Stanley Slaughter on Colonel Thomas Rainborowe (often spelt Thomas Rainsborough).

He was a celebrated member of Parliament’s New Model Army, but then became a radical politician. In 1647, he called for one man one vote; a year later, he was dead. One man one vote would not come about in Britain until 1918 (and for women, it would take a further decade). Continue reading

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