As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (proverbs 26:11)
I notice with alarm a return of proposals to allow the state to monitor Internet packet data, which represents a vast intrusion into people’s daily lives. The “terrorism” argument won’t wash. Network analysis can be already be achieved on suspects with a judge’s say so, and there have been almost no successful terrorist outrages outside Northern Ireland for a good few years. Clearly then, no further powers are needed as the security services have successfully thwarted several plots. I have no problem with the police or GCHQ monitoring e-mails if there is a reasonable suspicion that someone’s up to no good, but this proposal leaves open the option of trawling operations which will capture jokes (I’m going to blow this airport sky high), metaphor (put a bomb under…), simile (as popular as a terrorist…), exaggeration for comic effect (I’m going to f*****g kill you!) and end up putting everyone with a moderately colourful turn of phrase into terrorist networks that don’t exist.
The concept of “packet data”: where, to and from whom, etc is one from the early days of digital telephony. In the Internet, it is not separated in any meaningful way from “content”. With e-mails for example, the ISPs will be forced to capture everything (content included) then throw away that which they don’t need. This will, of course be recoverable. Packet data IS content with Internet browsing history. If you have access to a browsing history, you have a pretty good window onto a man’s soul, one I certainly don’t wish the state to have.
With too much data from too many non-suspects, the temptation for the authorities to trawl rather than search for information and turn it into intelligence, will be great. False positives will mean real terrorists will find it easier, not harder to evade capture. These measures will be easily circumvented by web-literate bad guys with a modicum of trade-craft. They will use public WiFi hotspots and an anonymised browser like TOR for example.
These proposals were dropped as too unworkable and illiberal even by the last Government. Which civil servant thought he’d have another go at turning this emetic proposal into law and what can you do to ensure he gets the message the second time?
This is the text of a letter I wrote to my MP. Feel free to copy and paste, if you want to send one to yours. E-mail addresses can be found here.