Last October Jaqui “Big Brother” Smith wanted to force the monitoring and storage of all internet and communications traffic into a single government database. The plan was described at the time by the BBC as “Giant database plan Orwellian”. Industry and politicians spoke out, liberty groups clamoured in concern, and those of us working in the tech industry wondered how the hell it could be done without creating a single point of failure that would be the dream target for hackers world wide.
Over the last few weeks we’ve seen interest in this topic rise again, when desperate to make up for a flotilla of failed policies, poor management, and economic idiocy the Labour bandwagon decided to keep pushing the “It is to keep you safe from terrorists” button (after all it worked so well for George Bush).
Fortunately for the people of Great Britain this new half baked plan has failed, and Jaqui Smith has launched a dramatic U-turn (The Telegraph – Jaqui Smith scraps plan for email database) but don’t start cheering yet. She is instead suggesting that the communications companies keep these records for her (BBC News – Plan to monitor all internet use). So look forward to higher internet and phone bills as the firms have to invest in massive data storage facilities to securely hold all the details of your phone conversation with Aunty, or your emails to your school friends.
We’ve moved one point of failure to many privately owned points. Will the phone company hold your records safer than the Government, who knows, possibly they are less likely to leave laptops in trains or taxis, but that is only because you’d get fired for that kind of idiocy in the private sector. That being said, if Jaqui Smith faced the wrath of Donald or Alan on “The Apprentice” she’d have been fired in week 1!. This “save everything” solution doesn’t address the real problem, that intelligence gathering is becoming more complex in the digital age and without serious investment in both technical solutions and sensible legal checks and balances you rapidly create more problems than you solve.
Question: Why are these records really being kept?
If it was phrased as
“the British Government plans to tap every phone in the UK”
there would be far more outrage, but this is indeed what they are suggesting. The only differences are they’ll be bugging your email too, and they’ll let the private sector keep the tapes! What happened to innocent until proven guilty?