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Data Is A Rich Harvest for Governments

The airwaves and cyberspace have been hot since it was leaked/announced that May’s Queen’s Speech, which is the Government’s law-making agenda for the next year or more, will contain new plans to harvest still more data from citizens.

These plans go further than anything yet dreamed of. If they are approved as reported, then emails, texts, website visits and even online games from every single user in the UK will be stored. That data will then be available to all and any law enforcement agencies (police, local councils and benefit officers, anti-terrorist agencies and big crime fighters).

Within hours of the issue going live, the Government said it was backtracking somewhat and matters would merely be put out for consultation. All it wanted to do was toe secure the ability of the state to keep and beat the cyber-warriors intent on stealing data and destroying life as we know it.

The Trade Off

That sounds very reasonable, and people in a modern democracy accept that in return for security from crime and terrorism, they give up a certain amount of personal privacy and freedom of choice. However, most campaigners feel this is too high a price.

It is suggested that content of emails and texts will not be recorded, just the people talked to, the sites visited, frequency of searches, interests people exhibit. That may be so at first, but how long before they want to extend powers to know what you said as well as who you spoke to?

As things stand the Government’s spy post at Cheltenham, GCHQ, monitors cyberspace picking up ‘chatter’ with keywords used by terrorists and cyber-criminals. Their fear is that technological developments mean they cannot rely oin this as a source of data access.

Most car journeys, car parks, schools, public buildings and shops are opportunities to record people taken enthusiastically by the CCTV systems Britain has allowed to develop.

Financial transactions, medicines prescribed and health treatments, holidays, major purchases, encounters with officialdom in any form are logged. The car is rapidly becoming the least private place with the police automatic police number recognition system and the advent of black boxes monitoring driving.

Critics say that ‘state snooping’ has already become unacceptable. Indeed, it is now widely accepted that Britons have become the most watched in the world.

The Cost

It is being suggested that the cost of installing probes in all ISPs’ systems will be around £200 million a year (or £138 a minute), but that seems modest given the usual outspend of public data systems. Inevitably the taxpayer will be invoiced for it and even enthusiasts of the plans admit that higher costs are certain.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned that the data has clear commercial exploitation opportunities in building personally targeted advertising. He also said that the identification of people through digital monitoring is not a science and  the opportunities for mistaken identities are large.

Some critics are saying that the real cause of all this snooping extension is in fact the European Union which dreams of a Euro-wide monitoring facility in the not too distant future. If that is so, then these plans make sense in that context, if not in any others.

The whole issue is either a worrying big step in the advance of Big Brother or a sensible updating of Government’s ability to fight crime and terrorism. Either way, it is the case that web anonymity has long been a thing of the past.

What do you think?

Let us know. We won’t keep your response forever and will not pass it on unless you want. At least we wont until we are told we have to!

Further Reading:

Personal Privacy: The Next Big Debate the UK Should Have?

Image: Brian Forbes