Britain’s war on civil liberties will harm online businesses

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.

This entry was posted in Britain, censorship, computers, digital rights, human rights, open source, war on civil liberties. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Britain’s war on civil liberties will harm online businesses

  1. George Carty says:

    In your view, how many of the authoritarian policies of NuLab are motivated by an urge to appease the tabloids?

  2. cabalamat says:

    George Carty: In your view, how many of the authoritarian policies of NuLab are motivated by an urge to appease the tabloids?

    I don’t think they are, mostly. The tabloids aren’t pressing for ID cards or monitoring all emails — indeed to some extent they’ve been against.

    The tabloids have, however, supported the law banning “Extreme Porn”.

  3. scarf says:

    The U.K. is the country that put two men into prison, for six years i believe, for consensual
    s & m…. the spanner (?) case, some 20 years back.
    Now there is a land of liberty.
    Tabloids are always delighted with mom and apple pie issues, and, for them, anything called ‘extreme porn ‘ is that, automatically.
    As ever, one person’s extreme porn is another’s slight titillation or required foreplay; no doubt the govt will decide for everyone, as usual, what the true meaning of that term is, and having decided, they will then change and rechange that definition.

  4. cabalamat says:

    Scarf: The U.K. is the country that put two men into prison, for six years i believe, for consensual s & m. the spanner (?) case, some 20 years back.

    That’s true. And it demonstrates hoew there have always been a thread of illiberality in the British media, public, and establishment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s