Technology may be changing, but should be moving further away from the basic principles of a democratic society as a result?
On the one hand, it’s argued this is an essential tool needed to protect national security. So surely the Government should have moved to ensure it is in place before the Olympics?
On the other hand, today it has been presented as a tweak to existing laws, updating them to reflect modern communications. Strange then that a technical legislative revision is being given prime billing in the Queen’s speech.
The Home Secretary and her ministers have been invisible, either incapable or unwilling to defend a policy that has caused concern and dismay from ordinary members of the public and civil liberties campaigners alike.
Many will be surprised that a Government supposedly committed to protecting civil liberties is discussing policies it branded as unacceptable when Labour were in power. Unfortunately, this is the latest such area of policy where the Home Office is presiding over such a U-Turn, following broken promises over the DNA Database and the powers officials have to enter our homes.
Indeed, we still do not know the full detail of the proposals, forced to rely on snippets leaked to newspapers or briefed out by concerned civil servants. While the Government believes if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear, it seems that does not apply to their own policies. What we do know is that not only does this involve more data being retained, but ‘black boxes’ run by the security services being installed onto networks. Given that Google last year refused 37% of the applications made to it for user data, how will any check or balance operate when we have allowed the spooks to build a back-door into our communications networks.
The plans also carry an economic cost. The cost to businesses of storing vast quantities of data is not insignificant, while start-up companies may regard the burden as simply too great to bear, taking their innovation and jobs elsewhere.
Equally, service providers will be hit with new costs at a time when they are also being asked to invest in new, high-speed fibre optic and under this scheme, the greater the volume of data they carry, the greater the cost to their business. Investment, innovation and growth will all suffer.
Finally, it is far from clear that the policy will actually improve public safety, with serious threats driven underground and technical evasion becoming common place. Given the importance of encryption and private networks to ensuring data protection, it is unclear how this policy with deal with legitimate and necessary – and legal – measures to protect the privacy of communications.
While it is important to keep pace with internet connections arguably the most pressing issue for our security is the continued availability of unregistered, pre-pay mobile phones. As recognised in the 7/7 Inquest, increased surveillance does not automatically yield better results, and the way these ‘operational’ phones were used was found to render enhanced surveillance of little use in preventing the attack.
There is also the potential of a ‘honey pot’ effect, with foreign governments and malicious individuals focusing their energy on gaining sight of the data collected. Privacy and security do indeed go hand in hand.
Britain is already one of the most spied on countries off-line and this is a shameful attempt to watch everything we do online in the same way. The vast quantities of data that would be collected would arguably make it harder for the security services to find threats before a crime is committed, and involve a wholesale invasion of all our privacy online that is hugely disproportionate and wholly unnecessary.
Freedom of speech and association requires the ability to communicate in private. Logging who you are talking to, when, for how long and where is the kind of monitoring that chills freedoms, not defends them.
In a democratic society, it is not for innocent civilians to justify why the Government should not spy on them.
Categories: Campaign Issues, Government IT, Political campaigning, The Internet, civil liberties, nick pickles
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