Civil Liberties

My Contribution to a LinkedIn Discussion in Conservatives started by Luke Mathewson entitled:

Do we really want the Government knowing what we get up to on the internet?

1. This is appalling. I’m really worried about the direction this debate is heading in. When people seek to justify invading our privacy and diminishing our freedom by suggesting there is a hidden elephant in the room and that its name is “ever present danger” I really begin to worry. In suggesting that an individual must perpetually justify himself to the state goes wholly against the presumption of innocence. Crimes will still go undetected no matter how much electronic evidence one gathers. We have to be honest about the ramifications of adopting such an approach and its impact on civil liberties.

I encourage everyone to read about U.S. Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame. He played the opposing force commander, and easily sunk a whole carrier battle group in the simulation with an inferior Middle-Eastern “red” team in the first two days of the exercise using old methods such as carrier pigeons, motorcycle couriers and messangers on horseback and donkeys to evade sophisticated electronic surveillance network and to transmit orders to front-line troops and World War II light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications.

The Danger is that an overly large and incredibly expensive amount of resource will be spent on combatting electronic warfare which could be side-stepped by a back-to-the-future adoption of more primitive communications technologies which are much more difficult to monitor and prevent.

In the meantime an unwarranted level of personal intrusion will be felt to be wholly unreasonable by a large number of conservative voters who will find such an authoritarian approach loathsome and the inauguration of an excessive security culture deeply worrying.

People are entitled to live without being suspected of being criminals when they have done nothing wrong. We need to maintain a sense of perspective here – what is being proposed represents a fundamentally drastic step.

Are we really saying that we want to create an omnipreseent surveillance state?

2. I am reminded of an old aphorism that I have taken with me from a previous existence as an academic when I wrote a small number of articles on terrorism. That was that in intelligence studies it is more important to understand what is not being discussed as much as what is being discussed here. The question I would ask is why the urgency to pass this serious of measures.

The elephant in the room of course is the Olympics. Recent events such as the threatened Strike by Tanker Drivers and the City Centre Disorder and Looting have exacerbated Moral Panics on behalf of our Middle Class Constituency (by no means a cohesive or coherent group).

The danger is that we create Folk devils where there aren’t any. I am not suggesting that there aren’t groups of outsiders and deviants who are to blame for terrorist activity, organised crime or other sorts of social problems clearly there are and they represent a very real threat but we should be careful what we wish for.

If recent events have demonstrated the inadequacy or rather the potential inadequacy of security planning for the Olympics then this is a very real cause for concern. This will be the first Olympics in the Modern era which will take place in a mature European Democracy at the height of the Social Media Revolution. One would expect massively heightened security and intelligence monitoring activity during the 6 weeks of the Games and the period either side of it. Perish the thought that any terrorist activity should take place during the games.

My concern is that the potentialities for electronic terrorism and warfare are too little understood and that a blanket approach is too unsophisticated an approach to tackle this problem. We know from the Arab Spring and the difficulties experienced by the Chinese in controlling the internet traffic that it is “virtually” (sic) impossible to control the spread of mass movements when they arise.

More important, as a self denominated Big Data Strategist I can tell you that the amount of data that will have to be monitored is utterly overwhelming.Do we really want to build a surveillance state bigger than that which existed in the Former Soviet Union to monitor the browsing habits of the population because that, potentially, is what we are talking about. What we need to put in place are emerging and precision detection monitoring technologies. Recent Security failures and even the inability of some of the most powerful shopper data companies to preserve the hoped for exponential growth rates of our biggest supermarket shows just how difficult this actually is. Ultimately there is a human element involved and tracking and monitoring is not only as good as those that are and will be employed in examining the data but also the organisational processes and procedures that are in place to channel data to key decision makers. My fear is that recent events have spooked some of these decision makers into believing that the systems currently in place for the Olympics may be inadequate. If this is so it is a bit late in the day to come to this realisation. The changes that are being suggested to put such systems in place in the timescales required will I believe present insuperable challenges.

3. I agree with Mark Gilbert that this is turning into a pervasive campaigns of hostility on behalf of the government. The urban legend that this campaign is being directed against seems somehow stronger now that the media has been the subject of such virulent criticism for its behaviour. Is a nervous government in some way over-reacting and overcompensating through an unnecessary blind moral panic now that investigative media cannot play the intrusive role that it used to? Is the government deliberately creating controversies where it doesn’t need to and why? Rather surprisingly a cowed and quiescent press is taking a strong stance against the politics and legislation that is being played out – I suspect to portray the Tory Party elected on a small state pro-individual liberty agenda in a negative and hypocritical light. Similiar manias of persecution are present throughout the course of history. Or maybe this has a lot to do with the depths of pessimism (and dark thoughts) that we have sunk to during the deepest recession in history. In more optimistic times against a backdrop of optimism and growth would we be so worried about seeking out the enemy within/ What we need is a sense of perspective. Things are not as black as they are painted. The problem is that if those at the top perceive the reality to be so bad there is a real and inherent danger that the reality will become self-fulfilling. Personally, I maintain a much more optimistic outlook and have faith in the good in human nature. Yes, I am a believer in the Big Society and believe strongly in what groups of people collaborating together can achieve. This is why I find this so frustrating as it appears that the Big/Good Society rhetoric will become increasingly empty if powerful governmental institutions seek to displace social resort to unneccessarily illiberal means. I don’t want this turning into the witchhunt it has the potential to become. I would rather not live through a McCarthyist era in Britain where a distrust develops of even what one’s neighbours or work colleagues are doing. I thought Labour went far too far with its Anti-Terrorist Legislation. I had hoped the lesson had been learned. We appear to be making the same mistake.