Sunday, August 11, 2013

Black Rooms and the ancient art of mail interception

I realised it's been over four months since my last blog post. In that time the world has come to know the names of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. 

The true extent and intent of western governments to intercept, snoop and generally read your supposedly 'private' emails and internet postings has become evident.

Here in New Zealand, the so-called GCSB Spy Bill is poised to become law, thanks, in part to the support of MP Peter Dunne who himself was recently the victim of leaked emails which resulted in his resignation as a minister.

But why are we so surprised our leaders are so keen to take advantage of so much information being available at the click of a  mouse?

Whilst researching 'Milkshake' I wanted to (fictionally) install a phone interception device in the telephone exchange situated in the Nelson Post Office Building. I came across the concept of the 'Cabinet Noir'  or 'Black Room'.

The following quote, written over six years ago, is based on fact and shows the idea is not new...

The concept of a ‘Cabinet Noir’ or Black Room dated back to the reign of Louis XIII. It was the office where letters sent by suspicious individuals were opened and read by public officials before being forwarded to their destination.

The practice was adopted during the First World War when the New Zealand Government employed the tactic as a means of censoring mail  in order to protect and maintain the morale at home, shielding it from graphic and depressing correspondence sent from the front line thousands of miles away in Europe. 

No doubt different versions of 'Black Rooms' continued to exist throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. But has the room now evolved to incorporate the entire internet?