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Under The Radar – 29 October

By Christian Wiediger for Unspash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Amazon Win MI5 Contract

  2. Eurostar London-Paris Route Faces Competition

  3. Survey Finds Public Wants Net Zero Referendum

Amazon Win MI5 Contract

What Happened? The UK’s three intelligence agencies, GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, have reached an agreement with Amazon to host classified material on its cloud. The deal is estimated to be worth up to £1 billion over the next decade.

What does it mean?

In the new deal, Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing arm, will be used by UK security services as well as other government departments for purposes such as speech recognition. The CIA signed a similar $600m contract with Amazon in 2013.  The partnership will allow the agencies to use applications, such as speech recognition, that would be able to pick up specific voices from intercept recordings, thereby massively speeding up the ability to search for suspects. Ciaran Martin, Head of the National Cyber Security Centre said agencies would be able to retrieve information “in minutes, rather than in weeks and months.”  The tie up has not been without its controversy, however. Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, called it “yet another worrying public-private partnership, agreed in secret”. Conor McGinn, the shadow security minister, has written to his government counterpart, demanding a parliamentary statement from Priti Patel to explain the possible security implications. Increasingly we are seeing a trend of big tech companies providing services to crucial state apparatus and departments, especially security and law enforcement. A question to consider is what the threshold is for when private involvement in public services becomes a security threat and what are the consequences? 

Eurostar’s London-Paris Route Faces Competition

What happened? Spanish train operator company Renfe plans to compete with Eurostar to operate trains running in the Eurotunnel between London and Paris.

What does this mean?

Eurostar has not previously faced competition to operate the route, despite the fact that they do not have a monopoly. However, with Renfe’s bid, an improvement in the service itself and revision of prices, could be on the table.

Prior to the pandemic, up to nine million passengers were travelling between London and Paris with Eurostar, however, train traffic declined sharply when lockdowns were implemented.

According to a Spanish news agency, the British owner and manager of the stations and track, HIS, and the British-French operator of the channel tunnel, Getlink, have both welcomed the prospect of Renfe putting in a bid. The company plans to use seven of its own trains, and hopes to operations to be profitable within four years.

Renfe’s bid comes at a time when the UK is looking to project the image of an economy focused on sustainability and climate consciousness. While Renfe is a Spanish company, HSI, Getlink, and the UK Government could leverage this opportunity to promote their climate-focused agendas. Additionally, improving train services between the UK and the continent would be good for UK-EU relations in a post-Brexit world, especially with the recent Budget’s focus on infrastructure investment in the economy. 

Survey Finds Public Wants Net Zero Referendum

What happened?

A new YouGov poll suggests the British public is in favour of a referendum on the Government’s net zero plans. The survey showed that, of those who expressed a preference, more than 50% of every category polled supported a referendum. What does it mean?

With Cop26, and the possibility of a more comprehensive global action plan on the table, much of the focus on net zero has understandably been geared towards achieving buy-in from other world leaders. The gravity of the changes required at a domestic level, however, means a political consensus on net zero may not be all that it seems.

Few will dispute that achieving net zero by 2050 will involve the implementation of significant measures, drastically impacting the daily lives of every voter in some way. Invariably, many of the measures will be widely unpopular. And that’s before tackling the considerable likelihood of further tax rises to fund such an undertaking.

Tory MPs have already expressed scepticism about the Government’s recent strategies, with the Net Zero Scrutiny Group already boasting roughly 40 MPs. Even if a strong level of parliamentary support enables the Prime Minister to push ahead with his green plans, the universal consensus from mainstream parties on net zero is arguably masking what is a more complex and fragmented public perception.

With YouGov’s poll showing support for a referendum from every group surveyed, could a new political battle soon be upon us?

This week’s must reads

  1. ‘Why there could be trouble ahead for Rishi Sunak’ by Stephen Bush for The New Statesman

  2. ‘This will end with President Tucker Carlson’ by Helen Lewis for The Atlantic 

  3. ‘Facebook cannot moderate itself – its problems have only just begun’ by Chris Stoker-Walker for The Guardian

  4. ‘The Tories are in serious danger of misreading the national mood’ by Janet Daley for The Telegraph

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