And that is an ‘our’ that does not extend to those inside Westminster, because with a few notable exceptions, MPs have shown an almost complete lack of understanding of the internet and how it works.
Guess what’s back from the dead? Our old friend, the Intercept Modernisation Plan.
Between this crazy “log everything” scheme (in the name of combatting terrorism, naturally) and the barely-debated Digital Economy Act, the previous Labour government’s approach to technology and the internet was at best misguided. And though I’m generally left-leaning, I found some promise in the Tories’ and the Lib Dems’ pro-freedom, anti-surveillance agenda.
This makes it all the more sad that the new government has gone against its coalition agreement and chosen to resurrect the Intercept Modernisation Plan as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. (Hey, at least I got my submarines.)
Let’s rehash some old arguments:
Überdatabases are expensive. Even if the effort of maintaining them is farmed out to ISPs rather than central government (and it will), the cost will be enormous. The ISPs will protest, and if they end up having to pass that cost on to their customers, we will protest too. It’s your Orwellian plot, if you’re going to introduce it, at least have the decency to pay for it.
Who has access? That our ISPs can, to some extent, log our communications is something we sign up to in our service agreements. Who could ask for these logs under the Intercept Modernisation Plan? Police with a reasonable suspicion, fair enough – it’s no different from the circumstances under which they could get a search warrant for your house. But when it’s all digital, how do we ensure that ‘reasonable suspicion’ is never abused? And who else is allowed access? Government departments? Civil servants? Schools? Hospitals? None of this is rigidly defined, and it needs to be.
Data Mining is Evil. Can the police, or whoever, request only specific data from specific times, or can they request all your data? All of several people’s data? At what point does it stop being a proper investigation and start being data mining for ‘crime prediction’?
Ph34r t3h haxx0rz! The more data you put in one place, the more interesting a target it is. And in the real world, enough civil servants leave confidential material on trains already – they’re sure to download some of this data to a memory stick and lose it somewhere.
Signal-to-Noise Ratio. This is the internet. According to one estimate, 97% of e-mail traffic is spam. And most of the rest must be from Zynga. How much of our Twitter bullshit and LiveJournal angst are you going to read? How much crap are you going to go through to find the super-secret terrorist plans, and at what point does applying Bayesian analysis to our web traffic start to fall under the “Data Mining is Evil” heading (protip: really quickly).
Terrorists are Smarter than You. And so am I. So are most 14-year-old kids. We know all about SSL, PGP, proxies, VPN tunnelling, TOR, IPREDator, darknets and all the rest. And god forbid the terrorists do their business in real life, in a basement somewhere, rather than on Facebook. Because if they do (spoilers: they do), this whole plan is a giant money-pit that robs us of our privacy and achieves nothing.
So Cameron, Clegg et al, please just let this one die. It was a bad plan to begin with, that’s why you promised not to do it. And before you come up with the next plan to foil online terrorist collaboration, please learn what how the internet works and what is and isn’t sensible to do to it.
For anyone who’d like to sign another petition against the Intercept Modernisation Plan, the Open Rights Group campaign is here.