Sam Holman - coder, gamer, geek.

A Drip Or A Puddle

As I type this, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill is going through the final stages of its fast-track "emergency" process through the Commons.

What I hoped for this morning was that MPs might understand that they don't necessarily understand enough to pass this legislation in a day. Especially considering the concerned voices from Internet companies and some very distinguished IT professionals and academics.

This doesn't seem to be the case, as barely anyone turned up, and the vast majority of MPs voted in favour of the timetable and have now passed the bill, which will see it continue onto the House of Lords tomorrow. Is this really a democracy?

I enjoy technology, communication devices and the Internet. I don't currently take extra steps to secure my own communications, location data, etc - beyond what the average person does, but the point is that I could.

I do know enough to be able to encrypt a lot of my data - in use and in transit, to use tor, set up anonymous alias accounts for email and services, and to remove myself from social networks, or at the very least avoid using them for anything important - but I haven't to date bothered to do any of these things, and even now I'm not sure that I necessarily will. I have literally nothing to hide - certainly nothing criminal. I'm just a regular guy who's creeped out by the potential for government to spy on my private business. Or for my communications to be caught up in some bulk search for someone else. This latter point is actually fairly likely, considering what we know about GCHQ and NSA. Hey, I read Wikileaks and Linux Journal after all... And that Linux Journal is a veritable hive of scum and villainy.

As Charlie Brooker eloquently put yesterday - there are always those "few chirpy types" who pop up to say "Hey, I don't mind if the government wants to spy on me - I've got nothing to hide and I'm quite boring really.", and that is fine if you really are so blasé about your business, but you really don't speak for everyone, and we're all entitled to privacy, whether we value it or not.

Anyways, re: encryption, etc - what you can be damned sure about is that if I were doing something illegal, I would definitely be taking those extra steps to protect myself.

I mean this in no way to imply that everyone who is securing their data is doing something wrong - I'm merely making the point that innocent people are the ones most affected by this Bill, and by government surveillance in general.

It's like the old DRM argument, pretty much won by this point. If you're not familiar with that term, DRM is Digital Rights Management and refers to a means to "protect" digital content - music, movies, games, etc. There was a time that all of these things were infected by DRM software - which is why you couldn't transfer your MP3s purchased on iTunes onto a non-Apple device, for example. Eventually the rights holders cottoned on to what people had been arguing all along - that pirates were just stripping off the DRM and doing what they had always been doing, while the only people really put out by it were the honest customers who had purchased their content in good faith and couldn't necessarily use it as they wished.

The parallels here are obvious. Any person carrying out criminality is surely taking steps to secure their communications and cover their tracks, or getting help in doing so. Someone might get careless on one occasion, or some two-bit criminal might not take adequate precautions - I concede that occasionally surveillance powers such as those being legislated in DRIP might be useful, but a vast majority of the data caught up in dragnet collection is that of you and I. How exactly is this "proportionate"?

I'm annoyed that I might have to make extra effort and take extra steps to secure my privacy from my own government - not because I have to, but because I just don't like the alternative, and it's getting worse. This shouldn't be necessary, and it isn't fair.

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