Orwell got the date wrong

June 1, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Kim Photo -- MushroomsGeorge Orwell simply got the date wrong. He should have written 2008 not 1984. Sure, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but when you consider the UK Government’s latest bizarre plans to surveil, snoop, prod and poke into people’s lives, well 1984 is here already. What is wrong over there in the UK? Something in the water? The Government continues to be obsessed about collecting massive amounts of information on its citizens, along with “in your face surveillance” as ThinkingShift reader, Brad, alerted me to recently.

Are you aware of the latest draft legislation – Communications Data Bill? If not, let me tell you about it. I’ll save you the legalese, the bill gets down to this – the UK Government is considering a central database of all UK communications data. This will include phone calls, the times and durations of those calls, emails and internet access for every British citizen. Now, any UK reader probably heard about how the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, had to admit that the details of everyone claiming child benefits seemed to go Whoosh, off into the dark night somewhere, lost, AWOL. So the idea of a mega central database stuffed full of private data would surely make a few UK citizens uneasy. Can such a database be safeguarded against unauthorised access or hackers given the track record of losing data here, there and everywhere? (remember how the details of 3 million UK learner drivers also went AWOL).

Of course the usual mantra is trotted out: collection of such data is necessary in the ongoing fight against terrorism. Given the very suspect security measures protecting UK data, I’m sure any terrorists are rubbing their hands together in glee plotting how easy it will be to hack into the proposed central database.

The Communications Data Bill would extend the powers of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), which allows Government agencies access to communications data. As I understand it, such agencies still have to request access to any information from communications providers. But if you have a central database that aggregates all the stuff, then hey, no permission needed!

I need to investigate this Bill further. I’m wondering whether, for example, ISPs will be required to collect data (like email transmissions and internet access information) and send it to this central database. This might breach, for example, the contract between Joe Citizen and the ISP, ergo it would be an illegal act on the part of the ISP.

Let’s recall these words of wisdom from the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (super smart dude IMHO):

“My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries than British society would feel comfortable with…Some of my counterparts in Eastern Europe, in Spain, have experienced in the last century what can happen when government gets too powerful and has too much information on citizens. When everyone knows everything about everybody else and the Government has got massive files, whether manual or computerised…”

“I don’t think people have woken up to what lies behind this. It enables the Government of the day to build up quite a comprehensive picture about many of your activities”.

I am constantly amazed at how most people I meet are in fact sleepwalking into a surveillance society. They are not querying Why? The usual response is the drivel: “If you have nothing to hide, then why worry?”. Yeah, sure agree with that but….that’s putting an awful lot of faith in Government to:

  • protect your private data from unauthorised access or misuse
  • not to stuff it up and leave CDs lying around or lose laptops containing private data
  • not use the data to build up profiles that could target people (for whatever whim of the day)
  • ensure identity theft doesn’t happen
  • ensure that cases of mistaken identity doesn’t happen

When and why did our relationship with the State change to the extent that it is intruding into our lives, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and fear (with the old chestnut of terrorism being waved in our faces)? I think citizenship is to be taken seriously – ask yourself why this is all happening. Are we happy to just go off like submissive sheep into the surveillance society?

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Entry filed under: Reflections, Surveillance society.

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