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Snooping law – Why be concerned? Its the UK Government!

Probably one of the most hotly debated topics which has raged on in respect of the net for many years is privacy.  On one hand people seem to want transparency, sharing of data, collaboration and openness, yet on the other want all that wrapped up in a package that allows them to retain their privacy whilst blindly throwing their family history and pictures onto Facebook.  Moving out of the wibbly wobbly world of the mainstream consumer or user lets consider an article written by the BBC (how those words feel wrong on my lips, there’s rarely anything worthy of consideration coming from the BBC)

The BBC “reports”:

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.

Which sounds very much like one minute youre surfing in cyberspace, the next you have a virtual snooper looking over your shoulder courtesy of the UK Government.  This might work well in a piece of Sci-fi literature but lets consider the reality – after, that is we skim down the BBC article and read this:

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long.

So now we start getting some of the actual facts and not the bold headlines or the wishy-washy text from the BBC.  So it appears, no, your actual data activity will not be monitored in real time, just your affiliations whilst in cyberspace.   So the requirement of a warrant still is in place for anything more and I’d suggest that if an intelligence agency has a level of interest in you which would have your affiliates logged, then there would be a warrant on the cards anyway.  A lot of fuss from the average user about nothing and a good way for the UK to look as if its not completely lost on its tech vision.  Remember “digital Britain”?  And how about your digital contract with your ISP? If I interpret mine correctly, I’ve already agreed for them to give my particulars away to any law enforcement agency if so requested – without warrant.   In respect of my ISP, no new law or even warrant is required to get this information.  More likely this is a good chance for the UK Government to pretend they are doing something.

In the UK we’ve seen the expertise the courts and the criminal/civil justice system operate under – dealing with a chap who recorded a movie on his phone in a cinema in order to post it on the net for nothing but having an “image”, blundering through a circus like the ACS:Law case, where in the end, it was the law firm itself (not the alleged File-sharers) that ended up with big problems.

A Home Office Spokesman said:

It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,

So I wonder, does “serious crime” include recording films in cinema’s with your phone? ;) Or how about sharing a file on a tracker, private or otherwise?  But it matters not, mention the “T” word and it makes everything justifiable.

What these tech Heretics forget is that some of these people who actually don’t want to be detected, do understand (and in rather more detail) things such as encryption or…. Tor… and whilst our budding UK Tech Sleuths may be monitoring things at an ISP level, its rather moot if the data is encrypted with a key so strong it would take years to break.

On a serious note though, here is the worry – its what this would be a precursor to.

Whilst I’m not with most on the “fear” of this particular “law”/scheme, I have often written about the way in which our laws are introduced and the covert way they “introduce” the silly, in order to later hit you with the serious.  Let me give a few examples of a few possibilities once the average user becomes accustomed into Government delving into your online world:

An offence of having failed to take reasonable steps to secure your router –  A great law (for those in power) which would make it an offence for the user to not to take “reasonable steps” to secure, so, when the Copyright parasites come knocking and complain to the government about doing little to stop “piracy” then they can fire back with this.  Also a nice little earner by way of fines et al.  Law loves the word “reasonable” since it is so ambiguous.  Think this is unlikely? We already have a similar law, try leaving the engine running on your car with the keys in.  There’s a law/fine for that!

When an online copyright infringement is found to be the responsibility of a child – hold the parent responsible! – Think this won’t happen? Look at what happens to parents whose kids don’t attend school.  Currently, (in respect of copyright) I don’t believe its been tested in a court where a child has been found guilty of a copyright infringement and the parent has been held responsible, I think in respect of the speculative invoicing scheme, many parents would have merely “paid up” settling the matter out of court.

Of course all these scheme’s and scams are going to have two results (in my view).  The first being that people actually using the net and up to no good will make things even harder to detect and the second being that the costs to the ISP (and the tax payer for the subsequent plethora of think tanks, new agencies as a result of their tot) will see us with larger bills in a few years time.

Why should any Government be given any credibility with tech “crimes” or issues when they haven’t even managed to shut down the PirateBay? – Doesn’t give much credibility to anything digital suggested by any Government, does it?

What would the Government do If Fidonet and the dialup BBS ever made a real comeback?  The worrying thing would be that their in-house staff are not experienced enough in my view to deal with tech matters, so they will further outsource – and that comes with a massive price tag.  A price tag I hasten to add that won’t be met by these people proudly announcing new schemes/laws, it will be met by me and you.

Source for the quotes in this artice: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17576745

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
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I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.
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About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Snooping law – Why be concerned? Its the UK Government!

  1. ADDITIONAL:

    After reading other reports on this news, it seems to be that others have the impression the law will allow the actual interrogation of users data (other than that of who, where and when)

    Maybe this confusion as to what exactly is being proposed (since even the BBC News report seems to conflict with their own article) is a good indicator of the planning of the aforementioned law the Government are talking about.

    Like Microsoft with its competitors, Government slinging mud in every direction in the hope something will stick?

    I suppose ultimately it matters not what the government plans to introduce, its got “costly #fail” written all over it anyway.

    Posted by openbytes | April 1, 2012, 7:12 pm
  2. You forgot about Sneakernet. It still exists, and is incredibly efficient.

    Wayne

    Posted by Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter | April 1, 2012, 8:02 pm
  3. What’s really interesting is that these governments are never pressured by the media to explain WHY they are trying to pass these draconian laws. It has absolutely nothing to do with making anyone safer in the aftermath of 9-11 or in the era of internet child porn or identity theft. If anything, I feel a lot less safe because absolutely NO ONE — politicians, government employees, or govt-contracted companies — should be trusted willy-nilly with that kind of sweeping power. And as you so correctly point out, those who are up to no good on the internet will simply find more ways to avoid being detected and consumers will end up paying more. It’s so blood obvious.

    Posted by Dai | April 14, 2012, 6:44 am
  4. Hi!
    I think the concern is for government that they have a society, a medium, a world if you will which they don’t have influence over. In cyber-space their little tactics and fud don’t work which is why I would assume they would seek to control it with legislation.

    Its very much like the fines for minor offences here in the UK, they are not meant to catch the criminal as they will evade and not pay, they are aimed at the law abiding public..

    Posted by openbytes | April 14, 2012, 8:17 am

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