It’s disturbing to read about the intention of the British Government to create a database to record every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public as part of “the fight against crime and terrorism”. It’s this kind of mindless sleepwalking into a surveillance society that reminds me of Orwells 1984. Conrad’s The Secret Agent and V for Vendetta. There’s a necessary debate on how much of our civil liberties we need to sacrifice in the name of public security, but this is surely a nonsensical overkill? As reports indicate, it’s also fundamentally a problem of data analysis and storage.
“About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated 3 billion e-mails are sent every day.”
How on earth the government is going to extract from this information the semantic connections necessary to identify that which threatens the British public is not entirely clear. Or it’s ability to keep these records securely. Or the period of time it will keep these records. Or who exactly will have access to them. Or as the opposition noted succinctly,
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Given [ministers’] appalling record at maintaining the integrity of databases holding people’s sensitive data, this could well be more of a threat to our security, than a support.”
It’s also unclear as to how invasive this technology will be. Clearly, if it only records emails SENT or RECEIVED, there’s huge gaping security loophole in the form of DRAFT emails. Simply share an account / password combination over coffee and voila, you have a totally secure form of email communications without ever sending an email (simply update each other’s drafts). It’s also unclear whether this database will tap into instant messaging and if so, just how? What about Skype VOIP that’s encrypted? And how about Blackberry’s? Or the walled gardens of social networks and the IM systems they employ?
For a country clearly obsessed with surveillance, this latest and incredibly absurd step in the guise of “public security” is itself a terrorist’s dream. How many masterminds does the British Government actually think it will take to break into or disable the database in a day and age where DDOS attacks can actually be bought over the web?
To borrow a phrase from Conrad, the future of the proletariat seems very bleak indeed!