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Inspector Gadgets: New Technological Challenges for British Spies

By Ana Fumurescu

The motif of the suave spy in an impeccable tuxedo has long been associated primarily with British intelligence, but it now looks as though the Bonds of this world will have to spend a bit less time cultivating their irresistibly secretive demeanors and a bBondit more time navigating today’s landscape of highly advanced technology. According to the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera, Britain’s spies now face new and complex challenges. Gone are the days in which an expertly disguised lipstick pistol or a poison dart umbrella would extract a spy from a tricky situation. Today’s technology, especially in the realm of intelligence, is so advanced and rapidly-changing that keeping up with it—and guarding it—requires increasingly more care and energy. The new heads of Britain’s Government Communication Services (GCHQ), who work alongside Britain’s Security Service (MI5) and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), must continue to deal with the legacy of the Snowden revelations, among other security breaches, in order to assure the safety of its spies and their ability to carry out their missions undetected. Of primary concern is therefore the safeguarding of British technology, so as to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. In a time in which Russian soldiers are fighting to divide Ukraine and Islamic extremists are trying to establish an Islamic Caliphate, concerns regarding the safeguarding of potentially dangerous technology are foremost on the agenda.

However, the tasks of the GCHQ are not quite that simple. Following the WikiLeaks scandals and the Snowden affair, the British public, much like its American counterpart, became increasingly more suspicious of its national intelligence branches. This has prompted calls for greater openness and transparency regarding government operations and surveillance, which in turn has made the jobs of British intelligence even more complicated. According to Corera, the GCHQ must now find a balance GCHQbetween safeguarding technology so as to ensure the success of its own missions at the detriment of enemy operations and being open enough with the British public so as to avoid future public outrages. Technology in government intelligence is therefore a sharp double-edged sword and must be wielded with incredible care. While government secrets are necessary for the public’s safety in today’s increasingly technologically-advanced world, too much secrecy could not only prompt public fears regarding the government’s intrusion into individual privacy, but could—and certainly already has—given those government employees in intelligence an unsavory amount of power over regular citizens. Although safety is likely the primary concern for all individuals, it is necessary for the preservation of a (relatively) free society for citizens to have a bit more exposure to their government’s operations than what they see in Bond films. Without some kind of public awareness, the move from government protection to covert Big Brother-type surveillance would be but an imperceptible step.



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