The British government, acting out of a mixture of malice and incompetence, is proceding with several measures to curb civil liberties, which could also have the effect of seriouesly harming UK-based online industries. Mike Butcher at Techcrunch reports:
From March this year all ISPs will by law have to keep information about every e-mail sent or received in the UK for a year. It will cost between £25m and £70m.
Dr Richard Clayton, a security researcher at the University of Cambridge’s computer lab, points out that this will include all the spam out there and would rather see more focused online policing than catch-all initiatives like this. Of course, once the government has this power, they will not draw back from it, and most likely extend it once again, as governments are want to do.
This is not all.
The government has plans for a bigger data retention scheme called the Interception Modernisation Programme involving one central database, gathering details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited. Consultation on the plans is due to begin later this year.
At the same time, this week, culture secretary Andy Burnham suggested “unsuitable” websites be given cinema-style ratings, a move which played well with some parenting organisations – but as most people who know anything about how the Internet works know, this idea is unworkable.
But with one hand the government seeks to lock down the British Internet with an iron fist, while at the same time telling us it is boosting innovation and business online.
It is quite clearly blind to the fact that one affects the other.
Are we also expected to think that the consumers using online services are not going to be put off from engaging in the boom of “sharing” that Web 2.0 created? How would you feel if every Twitter you sent, every video uploaded, was to be stored and held against you in perpetuity? That may not happen, but the mere suggestion that your email is no longer private would serve to kill the UK population’s relish for new media stone dead, and with it large swathes of the developing online economy.
These proposals will affect both the blooming of online culture in this country, the development of the innovation economy and its civil liberties – all in one fell swoop.
What is to be done about this?
Well, one approach might be a coalition of civil liberties campaigners, digital rights groups and business. The Open Rights Group is a key thought leader in this. There is also an interesting looking event on soon: The Convention on Modern Liberty. But I also hope that more mainstream figures who are in some way associated with tech, perhaps Stephen Fry, can be persuaded to join.
Butcher is right, of course.