Back to Posts

Britain: Blind, Baffled and Blissfully Ignorant - The Snooper's Charter

Joe Brailsford in United Kingdom, Snoopers Charter, Legistlation, Internet, Censorship, Security

Close friends will know that when it comes to politics, I have a tendency to lean to the right, it’s developed as a result of growing up in an age where liberalism is being pushed to such extremes that it’s becoming less about equality and nice ideas and more about conversion, conversion to the "right way" of thinking - and eviscerating anyone who happens to disagree. Of course, that’s not representative of all people of a liberal mind set, just my experience of them. Now, as much as I do support the right way of thinking (see what I did there?) there is one thing that I do take quite an issue with, and it’s that very thing that the "government" of the UK is about to impose on it's citizens; the Draft Communications Data Bill aka the Snooper’s Charter.

For those unfamiliar the bill is quite straightforward, the current Conservative government have, like most governments globally, suddenly become aware that they have near to no (if any) control over the internet - and that’s a problem for them, it’s something they can’t regulate or in most cases even understand, and they’re scared of that. This bill is an effort to change that, it’d give them indefinite control over digital communications within the UK. The bill is very similar to CISPA and PIPA, two bills the American government attempted to pass that would give them similar powers over its citizens, the main point being to retain data on what people are doing online, and spy on people in the name of, wait for it, counter terrorism. Without sounding too much like a foil coated leftie, that’s basically what they’re pitching this as, a means to counter terrorism in the UK and abroad, you know, by suspecting everyone of being a terrorist. Over the past 3 years, every time there has been an act of extremism our supreme demigod of a leader, David Cameron, has appeared on TV citing a need for further powers for intelligence services to monitor people's online activity.

That’s quite ironic really, because historically in those extreme acts, the individual's communications had been monitored, and as a result they were deemed to be low risk. Take a look at the tragedy that was the beheading in London, the extremist in question had been monitored, and had been deemed low risk. If memory serves, there were similar issues around 9/11 - the extremists were being monitored, but were not deemed flight risks. So what do the government really gain from monitoring everyone? Debt and an Orwellian nightmare. The latter speaks for itself, but maybe I should address the former. Based on common usage, the average person in the UK will use 40-80GB of data per month, let’s call it 60GB, and according to the Office for National Statistics 43.5 million Britons had internet access in 2014, so per month, that’s about 2610 petabytes (2610000000 gigabytes) of data - and that’s not including businesses. So the debt: where are we going to put it all? The government wants all of this data retained by internet service providers for a minimum term of 12 months, and based on the average cost of a gigabyte - £0.02 - that’d cost taxpayers a minimum of £52,200,000 per year for the privilege of having their lives monitored.

I say minimum for many reasons, every day more people use the internet, every day the internet uses more data than the day before, more storage is needed, and thus more money is needed. Oh, and let's not forget we’d be paying someone every day to sit and pry into our private lives. The government isn't just going to sit on the data, they’re going to actively trawl through it (er, you know, counter terrorism remember), and if the government (taxpayers) pay them the average UK wage, that’s another £26,000 per number of people they employ per year, and they’d have to employ a lot.

That’s not the only cost to consider, what about the economy? You see the bill covers a lot more than just data retention, under it VPN’s would be completely outlawed and encryption would have state mandated holes. For those unfamiliar, VPN’s are a mechanism by which one can connect to another network and can be used for anonymity, however their primary use is to allow business to give their employees access to their intranet when they’re out of the office. Encryption, quite self-explanatory, is just a means of protecting data during in transit and whilst it is in storage by making it unusable without proper authentication, such as a password or certificate. The latter especially, is the sort of thing that is critical to online banking, communication, and just about every website that stores data about you. For a lot of business this would mean completely removing themselves from the UK (Cloud Pro, Eris Industries, Ind.ie...) because what business in its right mind would ever agree to leaving holes in their security so the government could come and go as it pleased? Other than Google of course, but even they, along with Facebook, Apple and Twitter have jointly condemned the charter. This starts to push the cost of the charter from a few million to a few billion.

All of that, when combined leads to the most obvious levels of hypocrisy that only the government could miss it. They want to store everyone's details, in one big database, but leave security holes in everything - I’d imagine certain foreign nations are rubbing their fingers together already, just look at the OPM hack in the US (and that data was ‘secure’). The plans are completely un-viable, the resources aren't there, the technology isn’t there, and the money certainly isn't. I agree with monitoring individuals who pose a risk, but under these plans it seems the government views us all as a risk, because, as I said, they’re afraid of something that’s changing so rapidly that they just can’t keep up, they’re clutching at straws in an effort to gain some control, but ultimately, it’s just not feasible.

The fact of the matter is, this bill would be a major intrusion into everyday Britons’ lives in clear disregard of the Human Rights act and the only thing the government would gain from it is almost totalitarian control. Imagine how much Facebook knows about you because of the pages you like and what you post - multiply that by 10000 and that’s what the government could know about you, they could potentially profile everyone, not unlike the Stasi. What happens when the next general election comes, and the party currently in government knows everything about every voter - and their opponents? I shudder to think.

Britain’s motto has long been “Dieu et mon droit” - God and my right, and if this bill does pass, it will send one clear message to the world: Finie est mon droit - Gone is my right.

Just another guy who happens to be into tech & current affairs.