If reports are to be believed, the Orwellian society is being embraced by the Government of the United Kingdom. Often the crux of horror stories from imaginative science-fiction writers, a privacy-invading, technologically-advanced police state seems to be on the cards for the people of Britain.
According to new proposals, it will be suggested that every phone call, e-mail and voice-over-internet transmission in the UK will be monitored, recorded and placed in what will have to be a whopping massive database for later use. This data could then be queried by the police in order to “help prevent terrorism“.
Let’s skip straight to the main (and blindingly obvious) problems with this so-called protection policy.
- Technical Feasibility
The computing requirements to store and query a database of this size are absolutely enormous. If you consider that fifty-seven billion text messages were sent in the UK last year, it quickly becomes clear that this database would require wads of HD storage.
With a database of this size, clocking up possibly trillions of records a year, the processing power required to query this kind of data is frightening. Supercomputers upon supercomputers. How’ll the UK government afford it? Through taxpayers money.
- Security Issues
The Labour Government has deep-seated issues with data security. On the 4th March this year, it was revealed they lost 1,000 laptops from various departments, including 500 missing from the Ministry of Defence. At least laptops are portable; the MoD lost 23 entire PCs as well. This figure was an absolute minimum, with many, many more likely to have disappeared. How did the government afford so many laptops in the first place? Through taxpayers money, again. Well-spent.
With this in mind, are the UK government really the people you want to handle a detailed record of all your electronic communications? Your mobile phone details, addresses, private correspondence, could all, in theory, be stolen or simply lost to the great shadowy underworld.
- Protection from what, anyway?
In the United Kingdom since 2001, there have been 47 terrorist related deaths. That averages out at about 7 terrorist related deaths a year. At the same time, 33,000 people die in the UK from alcohol related illness every year.
Since 9/11, and the spectacle that accompanied it, terrorism is the Western government’s buzzword. Not to negate the tragedies of 9/11 in any way, for they were terrible events; we must nonetheless truly consider whether the risks and loss of freedom this database would entail is truly worth it, especially in light of the following:
- Any self-respecting terrorist…
Terrorists aren’t stupid. Can you see al-Qaeda cells in the United Kingdom e-mailing one another at their @al-qaeda.com addresses? Or texting one another casually about where next to bomb?
Terrorist cells will avoid this scheme entirely, utilising satellite phones, anonymous public internet or even, as one sharp-minded commenter at The Times suggested, Royal Mail postal service. What’re the government going to do next? Open every letter in Britain, photograph it, then send it on its way?
- I don’t mind – I haven’t done anything wrong.
A man is badly beaten on a sidestreet, in an area without CCTV (unlikely in Britain these days, I’ll admit, with more CCTV than any other European country; 4.2 million at recent estimates) and where we’re caught on camera on average 300 times a day (and that was in 2002!).
Anyway, so the man is badly beaten and his assailant flees undetected. You were in the adjacent street, unaware, but you texted your friend on the way to their house saying where you were, and that you’ll be there shortly. With no other leads, the only evidence of anyone being nearby is you, and you were inexplicably late for an engagement.
This new surveillance has potentially mind-boggling ramifications for personal freedoms.
- What’s actually going to be placed in the database?
If the Government want to place every e-mail into a database, they’ll have fun wading through the 90% spam content. Aside from this, the messages and internet access of every innocent citizen in Great Britain will be up for analysis by any suspicious officer.
Assuming terrorists are crafty enough to use the traditional post, what the database will instead contain is details for your night out, what’s for dinner tomorrow, or last week’s vicious argument with the girlfriend. A riveting read, but clear violation of Human Rights; Article 8 of which clearly state we all have the right to a private life.
What benefit can this new proposal, bordering on insanity, truly have. Is the prevention of some alleged terrorism truly worth the massive loss of freedom it would entail? Absolutely not.
Presumably, this new “idea” will be shot in the foot before it can stand by ministers who have a shard of sanity inside them, but given the Labour Government’s track record, it’s hard to know for sure.