Goodbye to online privacy

In the UK, plans are afoot for the law enforcement forces to have unlimited access to someones online activity. To keep things legal, a warrant must be issued, which is reassuring as police force has ever done anything without a warrant.

What exactly would become daily reading for Scotland Yard? Your emails, websites you visit, comments you leave on forums, your friends on facebook. You name it, they will have access to it. The only limitation will be the systems the police will be looking at. Due to security and privacy measures, some websites do not store data past a certain date. Facebook, who has often been accused to flaunting privacy, requires a court order before they give any access to private messages.

Bypassing the arguments of ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear‘ and ‘they can take my personal data when they pull it from my dead, cold keyboard’, the issue is a huge step into the unknown in so many ways. Yes, there will be many references to 1984 and Big Brother but before we get ahead of ourselves, how likely is it that this new system will even work?

To accommodate the data gathering, there is the size of the data, and the number of storage systems available to handle it. If you are talking several petabytes (a petabyte is only a thousand terabytes) looking for precise items of data will be similar to looking for a needle in a haystack while looking through a keyhole. It will take years to develop a data system that can keep track and catalog all the data.

The plan proposes that the ISP‘s themselves record this information. That is right, the Internet Service Providers, the once that often bill you different amounts each month, the ones that have breakdowns in connectivity, the same ones who are unable to stop you from downloading the latest Justin Beiber album illegally. This should end well.

As with nearly everything in life, there are ways to subvert, avoid and ignore the rules and the internet is no exception. Anonymous proxies, off shore services, encoding emails with a 256 character encryption, the ways are numerous if not readily available to your average internet user.

If nefarious groups wish to pass messages to one another, there are so many ways that it seems impossible to intercept or translate them. With law enforcement looking for Reds under the beds, to coin a phrase, the chances are they will find patterns where there aren’t any and messages that are as innocent as they really seem. A new kind of analyst will have to be trained, in methods not yet created, in order to be able to interpret information correctly. Software will require almost AI advancement to be able to understand the data.

Yes, this is a serious move in the UK, one that undermines privacy of citizens as well as their rights. No, it will not be stopped as the magic phrase of ‘fight against terrorism’ has been invoked. Yes, this does mean that soon the UK will be on a similar footing to Syria, China and Iran. No, this doesn’t mean that

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  1. Spot on Nathan.

    The fact is that freedom is messy; bad stuff happens. It doesn’t mean the system is broken, but rather in a system where individual freedom is fundamental, freedoms will collide at times. It’s unfortunate but it happens.

    A woman in Toronto is killed by a blown truck tire, and the clamour begins to have ALL trucks install some kind of safety device to prevent a recurrence. It’s a genuine tragedy for the woman and her family but STUFF HAPPENS. As sad as it is, we have to measure the severity of an incident against its frequency because, statistically, every now and then this kind of tragedy – and many others – will happen.

    The alternative to accepting some risk in our lives is the way we’re heading where, by trying to reduce the chance of anything bad happening to as close to zero as possible, we also reduce our freedom, trusting to the authorities to protect us.

    As many recent incidents have shown, our authorities are as human as us and as likely to make mistakes. I prefer to accept some increased risk in my life, rather than give up my freedom to choose, including the freedom to choose to screw up and pay the consequences.