I am very surprised at how muted the response in the UK is over this, but then again if things are like they are in Canada the main stream media is so in bed with big business and the government that they will refuse to report on anything that could impact their advertising dollars (or pounds in this case I guess).
Jesse Kline: Britain’s government chooses security over liberty with Internet spying plan.
By Jesse Kline Jun 13, 2012 – 9:55 AM ET | Last Updated: Jun 13, 2012 10:42 AM ET
In the 2005 movie V for Vendetta (based on the comic book of the same name), the Conservative Party in the U.K. cements its hold on power following a terrorist attack, which turns out to be an inside job. In order to maintain control, the government institutes strict censorship laws and sends secret police — known as “Fingermen” — out to patrol streets in surveillance vans that allow them to listen in on the private conversations taking place within people’s homes. Apparently, British Prime Minister David Cameron saw this work as a policy document, rather than dystopian science fiction.
In 2010, the U.K. government expanded its existing Internet censorship apparatus, which was originally designed to block access to child porn, to include websites that contain adult content considered criminally obscene (whatever that means). Now the government is expected to unveil a new surveillance proposal that will vastly expand its ability to snoop on Britons’ private lives.
Under the new proposal, the government would have the ability to monitor and track everyone’s Internet and phone usage, including the web sites people visit and who they communicate with. Although police and intelligence agents would not have the ability to eavesdrop on conversations directly, they would be able to compile data on who they contact and what they do online.
People in the U.K. spend approximately four-billion hours on the telephone and send some 130 billion text messages and one trillion emails each year. Combined with other technologies like Internet telephony and e-commerce, this would allow the government unprecedented access into the lives of ordinary citizens. And unlike the Fingerman in V, who had to cruise the streets listening for key words in private conversations, modern technology allows all these data points to be stored, catalogued and analyzed by computers. As one senior Liberal Democrat official put it, it’s “a big battle between those in favour of security and those in favour of liberty.”
Britons have a history of passively accepting an ever-increasing surveillance state. The country already has more closed-circuit cameras per capita than anywhere else (including one monitoring the former residence of George Orwell). If the proposed legislation becomes law, the state will have the ability to track someone’s movement in both the physical world and in cyberspace.
When a previous government introduced a new ID card program, which included storing biometric data on all citizens in a centralized database, people were not happy: The program was scrapped by the current Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2010. But the government has obviously not maintained its commitment to privacy, and the current proposal threatens to draw divisions within the coalition. “We didn’t scrap ID cards to back creeping surveillance by other means,” said Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.
Not all the Tories are on board with the proposal. “The security case for mass surveillance and data mining has not been made out,” Conservative MP Dominic Raab told The Daily Telegraph. And he’s right: The government certainly has not explained convincingly why it needs to keep tabs on the entire online population. Even if it tried to, it is not worth sacrificing basic freedoms and the right to privacy in the interest of some undefined security threat. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
This determination to tame the Wild West by imposing harsh regulations and advanced surveillance systems on the Internet is not limited to Great Britain. Canada’s own government faced significant public opposition after tabling its own online spying bill in February. Although there were reports last month that the bill would be killed quietly in committee, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tried to put those rumours to rest, insisting the government is intent on moving ahead with the legislation in the fall. In response, the Vancouver-based advocacy group OpenMedia has launched an online campaign to challenge the bill, and compiled a list of all the MPs who have come out against it.
People in both countries still have time to send a clear message to their political leaders: That personal communications are none of their business. It’s becoming clear, however, that governments around the world are intent on monitoring online communications. Many encryption technologies, which allow people to thwart surveillance and censorship, have been available for years, but they’ve always lacked a critical mass of users: Unless everyone is using the technology, it becomes incredibly hard to communicate with one another.
Perhaps now people will begin to take responsibility for their rights online, and show governments that we value privacy, and freedom.