Thursday, October 09, 2008

The End of Privacy.....,

In yesterday's Guardian, further thoughts on the Every Call and Every E-Mail project unfolding in the U.K. Plans for a vast central database of emails, phone calls and texts will see everyone monitored as a potential suspect. First, what the authorities want;
In the name of the fight against crime, and the fight against terror, we are all to be monitored as if we could be suspects. Computers will analyse our behaviour for signs of deviance. The minute we become of interest to anyone in authority - perhaps because we take part in a demonstration, have an argument with a security guard at an airport, spend too long on a website, or are witness to a crime - the police or the security services will be able to dip into our records and construct a near-complete pattern of our lives.

The shocking element to the new plan is that the authorities want their own database only because they find the current limitations frustrating. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act rules, the 700 or so bodies already licensed to watch us must make a certified request to phone or internet firms for individual records. More than 500,000 such requests were made last year. But the companies are reluctant to hang on to the data, and the security services would find a single, accessible database so much more convenient.
Then, a meditation on the possibilities which inhere to such a capability.

Stop and consider this for a moment. Think about how happy any of us would be to have our lives laid out to official view. All our weaknesses, our private fears and interests, would be exposed. Our web searches are guides to what is going on in our minds. A married man might spend a lot of time on porn websites; a successful manager might be researching depression; a businessman might be looking up bankruptcy law.

We all have a gulf between who we really are and the face we present to the world. Suddenly that barrier will be taken away. Would a protester at the Kingsnorth power station feel quite so confident in facing the police if she knew that the minute she was arrested, the police could find out that she'd just spent a week looking at abortion on the web? Would a rebel politician stand up against the prime minister if he knew security services had access to the 100 text messages a week he exchanged with a woman who wasn't his wife? It isn't just the certainty that such data would be used against people that is a deterrent, it's the fear. As the realisation of this power grew, we would gradually start living in the prison of our minds.

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