Damian Green, the Met, and the BBC

From the BBC:

A former Scotland Yard detective has told BBC News he was “shocked” by the amount of pornography viewed on a computer seized from the Commons office of senior Tory MP Damian Green.

Neil Lewis examined the device during a 2008 inquiry into government leaks and has not spoken publicly before.

He said “thousands” of thumbnail images of legal pornography were on it.

I think this says far more about the Metropolitan Police and the BBC, who are running the story on their front page. One thing that was blindingly obvious about the Leveson Enquiry was that the practice of policemen dishing up gossip on prominent people to journalists was widespread and well-known, but the political establishment and their supporters needed an excuse to try to break Rupert Murdoch’s media empire so they grabbed one where they could.

That we now have ex-policemen engaged in selling information – none of which concerns illegal or even immoral activities whose exposure serves the public interest – and the likes of the BBC are falling over themselve to publish it only confirms what most sensible people already knew. Any government worth its salt would come down on this ex-policeman like a tonne of bricks, give the Met a thorough and public dressing-down, and revoke the BBC’s charter.

If the Theresa May’s Tories are too piss-weak to do this then perhaps they deserve to be gossiped about. It’s about all they’re useful for.

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26 thoughts on “Damian Green, the Met, and the BBC

  1. “He said “thousands” of thumbnail images of legal pornography were on it.”

    That tells us everything we need to know, about the technical competence of the police officer and his motives. As they were thumbnails that’s almost certainly in the browser cache ( who the hell deliberately saves thumbnails). So based on thumbnails no evidence that any porn was actually watched just that some porn sites were browsed and the thumbnails cached, given modern browsers sometimes pre-fetch pages it might not even have been that many pages/sites browsed. Again given it’s thumbnails a typical page could easily have 100 thumbnail images so if there’s pre-fetching going on you could be talking about having browsed just a handful of pages without having fetched a single thing.

  2. To be fair, plenty of employees get sacked for using computers provided by their employer for such purposes, even if legal.

    Something you didn’t mention, though, but which I think you absolutely should have done – when these stories first came out, they suggested that Green (or whoever was using the computer at the time) had not simply been browsing bog-standard porn but that it had been “extreme”. So extreme, in fact, that following changes to the law shortly after the event, that had it been discovered only slightly later he could have faced jail time and the sex offenders register.

    So what is now being alleged is far less serious, with the policeman involved refuting all claims of “extreme” porn. I find that really troubling – misreporting, an exaggeration, an agenda? A perfectly plausible interpretation is that the original allegations seems designed to either bounce Green into a denial (for which he would have to be drilled out if it transpired to be a lie) or an admission that “I did watch porn but honestly it was not as extreme as reports have you believe” (for which he’d be crucified anyway). Moreover, the BBC reports that:

    The pornography was not “extreme”, as some reports have suggested, and did not contain images of children or abuse, said Mr Lewis, who previously served in the Met’s obscene publications unit and carried out investigations into paedophiles.

    The matter was not referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

    The former detective, who spent 25 years with the Met, said after the leaks inquiry ended he was ordered by the force to delete the data on the computer copies he had made.

    “Morally and ethically I didn’t think that was a correct way to continue,” he said.

    The officer erased the data, as instructed, but kept the copies knowing experts could retrieve the information if they had to. However, he now believes the items may have been destroyed.

    What kind of “erased the data” is this? It certainly doesn’t seem “as instructed”. I can understand the police officer’s concern that higher-ups might be imposing a politically-driven cover-up on him, but if the data was useful for blackmail purposes yet did not serve as any evidence of criminality, then on what grounds did he think it was suitable for the police to keep it? On what grounds did he even think it was legal or authorised to keep it, bearing in mind the chain of command had passed down strict orders for its destruction?

    Then if anything, this gets worse:

    When he left the force after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Mr Lewis said the only police notebook he took with him was the one he had used during Operation Miser.

    The notebook, seen by the BBC, contains a reference to pornography.
    “This one case, Operation Miser, I have never been comfortable with,” he said, claiming the Parliamentary authorities should have been informed about the “extensive” time Mr Green allegedly spent looking at pornographic material.

    “If a police officer does that, or anyone else, you’d be dismissed, you’d be thrown out.”

    This suggests the main source of his frustration was that he was that there was no crime to prosecute and he had wanted to act as the morality police, not the legal police, and had been forbidden from doing so. I am decidedly not comfortable with the police acting as moral guardians.

    On top of that, retaining a police notebook, so as to ensure that he will always have enough proof to be able to blackmail a prominent politician over non-criminal matters he unearthed while performing a supposedly confidential investigation … this has to be a terrible idea, surely?

    I’ve got some mixed feelings about this case. If an employee is discovered by his or her employer to be using its computer equipment in a manner that is generally legal but against the employer’s policies, then that strikes me as usually best handled as a disciplinary matter between employer and employee. Though the public interest creeps into things when the employee is a senior politician, and the employer is Parliament. But the behaviour of the case is something I find startling and, frankly, utterly terrifying – in terms of what it tells us about how the police treat our privacy, how the police treat our data, and how the police treat our democracy.

    I’m not even sure which of those things terrifies me more – as data explored and privacy erodes, the police are going to be getting their mitts on more and more of our stuff, with the potential to intrude deeper and deeper into our lives, and this episode suggests you’d be mad to trust what they might do with it, even if you’ve never broken the law. But if that’s bad news for us all on an individual scale, then the politicisation of the police is a terrible prospect on the social and democratic level.

  3. Owning a PC is like being responsible for the contents of a large warehouse full of stuff you don’t understand and to which other people have access.

  4. “Though the public interest creeps into things when the employee is a senior politician, and the employer is Parliament.”
    No, the employer isn’t parliament, not least because MPs are not employees. But I agree with most of the rest of the post.

    And, having done many employment investigations in computer abuse, finding thumbnail images is, as Giolla suggests, hardly evidence of intent.

    Browsing some of the more fan-driven F1 sites can do as much.

  5. Owning a PC is like being responsible for the contents of a large warehouse full of stuff you don’t understand and to which other people have access.

    Ain’t that the truth?

    Reminds me of a type of news story that comes up with surprisingly regularity. Some guy (almost always a guy, seldom a lass, quite often a minor “celeb” you’ve never heard of before) gets done for possession of child porn. Serves the evil bastard right, fine, no problem with that, but then the police thank the “vigilant” PC Service Centre employee who alerted them to the haul after Evil Celeb Bastard brought the laptop in for repair. Often for some minor hardware issue utterly unrelated to the hard drive or its contents. And Vigilant Hero Geekboy nevertheless just so happened to stumble across, just so happened to accidentally decrypt if necessary, the obscure/hidden/encrypted folder where the illicit material lay. Such geekery! Such heroism! Such vigilance!

    At this stage I still have zero sympathy for Evil Celeb Bastard, but I’m pretty sure that Vigilant Hero Geekboy is neither my friend nor yours. He wasn’t psychic, he wouldn’t know what was there until he looked (though he may have guessed it would be some “juicy stuff”), and what did he have to gain by looking? What if the contents were not illegal, but merely bad enough to blackmail with? What if inside the encrypted folder he had found confidential information about personal data, finances, or commercially sensitive activity; information with value to a newspaper gossip column or card scammer or a competitor? What would he unearth on my laptop, or on yours?

    What if, ten years later, you do something that ticks Vigilant Hero Geekboy right off, and you get a surprise message concerning some beans he’d like to spill his secret copy of, if you don’t watch it, to your wife or employer or the papers – or the police …

    Now this seems to me to get a squillion times worse if Vigilant Hero Geekboy actually is the police. And he turfed through every crevice of your computer not because you were mug enough to hand it over to some acne-ridden nosey parker in a repair shop, but because it formed part of an unrelated investigation and they had the legal right to take it from you. And they’re quite happy to keep hold of stuff that is neither authorised for them to hold, nor is it evidence of illegality, provided it is evidence of “immorality” they can later use against you at a personal rather than criminal level. And it is not just you, o random oik, they are prepared to inflict this upon, but they are quite happy to pull it on the bleeding First Secretary of State. Even the highest power cannot protect you!

    Am I joining the loony frothers here, or is this not absolutely terrifying?

  6. “Though the public interest creeps into things when the employee is a senior politician, and the employer is Parliament.”
    No, the employer isn’t parliament, not least because MPs are not employees.

    You are absolutely right. I meant it in the sense “if you replace the word “employee” by “senior politician”, and replace “employer” by “Parliament”” in that their positions are somewhat analogous in this case. But there are some important distinctions, not least the whole line manager/HR/disciplinary/firing process that the policeman was so adamant would happen to people working a “normal” job, and which he was so keen to see inflicted on the MP, doesn’t really exist there.

  7. “Am I joining the loony frothers here, or is this not absolutely terrifying?”

    No you are quite rational, they always have had a licence to fit you up.

  8. There is some human decency and common sense emerging. According to the Guardian, Lewis is under investigation for going public. More importantly, David Davis is threatening to resign if Green is stitched up on this. It might be an escape route from the Brexit torture, of course, but more probably a principled stand.

    Also in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins seems to be earning his salary for once:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/01/damian-green-porn-work-police-mp

    “The idea that the police, on the orders of an opposing political party, can invade an MP’s office and seize and disclose to the public any material it hopes might blacken his name is worthy of a totalitarian regime. Even if there was cause to suspect document theft, the purloining of unrelated material against a rainy day is hardly ethical policing. As Stephenson says, there is nothing in the Green case to suggest any harm to anyone, beyond the possible misuse of a parliamentary computer in office time.”

  9. IMAO this whole story is only being pushed to further destabilise the government, in the hope that May falls and her sucessor puts a halt to the Breixt process.

  10. “and revoke the BBC’s charter”

    Think there are many reasons to do that, not just this one.

  11. Rather scarily, the chap in charge of ethics at the Met has said on a BBC radio interview that he cannot of any way in which this former plod has breached the code! This is looking like an organised attack on the government

  12. “Rather scarily, the chap in charge of ethics at the Met has said on a BBC radio interview that he cannot of any way in which this former plod has breached the code! This is looking like an organised attack on the government”

    Bollocks. Confidentiality is in the code.

    To follow up on Tim’s point, the problem is that Tory wets are just cowards. They won’t take anyone on, won’t start a fight, because they fear losing. But they don’t see the long-term problems, that not taking on necessary fights allows your opponents to grow their power.

    And they have no idea of playing numbers, or focussing on votes. There is no point sucking up to the “more foreign aid” crowd because they all vote Labour. You could slash that budget by 3/4 and lose no votes at all. In fact, with the tax cut you could give in exchange, a few floating voters might consider voting for you.

    At some point, they’re going to have to go. I think a radical right party will appear sometime. It’ll actually be more successful than this lot.

  13. “Rather scarily, the chap in charge of ethics at the Met has said on a BBC radio interview that he cannot of any way in which this former plod has breached the code! This is looking like an organised attack on the government”

    Bollocks. Confidentiality is in the code.

    To follow up on Tim’s point, the problem is that Tory wets are just cowards. They won’t take anyone on, won’t start a fight, because they fear losing. But they don’t see the long-term problems, that not taking on necessary fights allows your opponents to grow their power.

    And they have no idea of playing numbers, or focussing on votes. There is no point sucking up to the “more foreign aid” crowd because they all vote Labour. You could slash that budget by 3/4 and lose no votes at all. In fact, with the tax cut you could give in exchange, a few floating voters might consider voting for you.

    At some point, they’re going to have to go. I think a radical right party will appear sometime. It’ll actually be more successful than this lot.

  14. It’s worth pointing out that Plod is engaged in a campaign to extort more funding from the government…

  15. @MyBurningEars

    “And Vigilant Hero Geekboy nevertheless just so happened to stumble across, just so happened to accidentally decrypt if necessary, the obscure/hidden/encrypted folder where the illicit material lay. Such geekery! Such heroism! Such vigilance!”

    If something is really “encrypted” the kind of IT chap that does PC repairs won’t have the resources to “accidentally decrypt” anything, that’s not how encryption works.

    “At this stage I still have zero sympathy for Evil Celeb Bastard, but I’m pretty sure that Vigilant Hero Geekboy is neither my friend nor yours. He wasn’t psychic, he wouldn’t know what was there until he looked (though he may have guessed it would be some “juicy stuff”), and what did he have to gain by looking? ”

    When I do data recovery for folks with dead PCs I usually end up having to open some files to check that A: I have the correct user account and B: that the files/images on the drive are readable. Do I keep a backup copy of what I’ve recovered? Only for a few weeks in case the new drive fails and I don’t want to bother with recovering everything all over again, then it gets binned.

    As for “going looking for stuff”, think of it as a plumber in your house lifting the floorboards to find a leak. If while doing so he finds a stash of something clearly illegal (drugs/guns etc.) what is he to do? Move them out of the way and say nothing? Lets be honest, if you’re dumb enough to take a PC full of illegal child porn in to PC World for repair then I doubt file security is top of the list…

  16. The good news is that at least some Tory pols have found enough backbone to fight back. I think the former copper should be prosecuted for breaching confidentially regulations and possibly the DPA. I also think the “journalists” who decided to let this bitter former cop have his say should also face some sanctions – https://ombreolivier.liberty.me/the-internet-is-for-porn/

    Regarding Paedo Celeb and Vigilant Hero Geekboy, as far as I can tell the vast majority of these paedos don’t actually do their encryption right and forget about (say) clearing the browser tabs so that when VHG turns on the fixed PC to verify that it works he ends up getting a screen full of nasty.

    The ones have done encryption etc. properly only get caught when they trust (say) Tor and don’t realize that someone has put trackers in to the stuff they are downloading.

  17. Rhyds;

    If while doing so he finds a stash of something clearly illegal (drugs/guns etc.) what is he to do?

    Should read;

    If while doing so he finds a stash of something clearly legal (but otherwise a bit embarrassing) what is he to do, particularly if it has bugger all to do with plumbing?

  18. “Any government worth its salt would come down on this ex-policeman like a tonne of bricks, give the Met a thorough and public dressing-down, and revoke the BBC’s charter.”

    The police hate May and Green; and I would expect her to move against them once the dust has settled on this matter, as part of the long war between the police and the Tories.

    As for the BBC charter, no chance. Governments must choose their targets very carefully, or see their energy dissipated – by civil service resistance, judicial activism, media hysteria, parliamentary manoeuvres and extra- parliamentary protests, etc. Which is why initially Mrs Thatcher (pbuh) wisely focussed on the unions, even though she was urged to tackle education, the NHS, the BBC, etc. To put it crudely, a government can only fight on one or two fronts; and this government has its hands full with Brexit.

  19. I have known a few ex- and serving police officers, and I’ve observed:

    1. Police officers tend to think everyone is a bad ‘un, so informally collecting ‘intelligence’ on people they consider potential criminals is just fine.

    2. Police officers never forgive or forget anyone who criticises them or the service.

    3. Police officers are very prone to confirmation bias.

  20. Rhyds;

    Well, I suppose in the general case, the plumber will report it to Our Brave Boys In Blue, or face the risk of a ‘failure to report’ charge. Of course, if the spanner monkey has buggered up the DI’s central heating, they’ll fit him up with a conspiracy. Or he’ll fall down the stairs at the nick. The runners are always loose, don’t you know.

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