While the ITU is busy behind closed doors trying to take away Internet freedoms on a global scale, the UK government brazenly announced plans to give wide-reaching Internet monitoring powers to various British agencies as well as increasing the amount of retention time of data ISPs must store.
Although the so-called “web snooping” plans have been met with widespread criticism and the Prime Minister has announced they would need to be adjusted, the UK government is insistent that some form of monitoring powers will be enacted, as they are “increasingly neccssary to tackle extremists, paedophiles and fraudsters”.
As it stands, the proposals for those Internet monitoring laws are as follows:
- ISPs must keep records for 1 year of all data transmissions including time, duration, originating device, and recipient.
- ISPs must record browsing history, emails, VOIP calls, gaming activity and social media messages.
- Police would not need permission to access basic details of this data, but they would need a warrant in order to get at the actual content of the message or data in question.
Bear in mind these are due to be rewritten somewhat, but the core principles will stay; and while this may be UK-specific, you can be certain the US government is planning something similar.
So, What’s The Problem?
I’m not even going to touch upon the obvious invasion of privacy that these new laws represent. We all know that any form of stored data can and will be hacked, but there are others are out there to fight that particular battle.
Let me then preface this by saying that I’m certainly not a “privacy nut”. I don’t think you should break the Internet by blocking advertising cookies, and I’m actually in favour of making ID cards mandatory for everyone in the UK. But these web snooping laws pose a clear danger to society, and here’s why - they will have the opposite of the intended effect.
I posit that by giving law enforcement agencies broad reaching powers to examine web records, the criminals will get smarter; it will be harder to catch them, not easier. At the moment, police already have the power to subpoena information on criminals if they can justify it to a court; and they do. And right now, I suspect that not all criminals are smart enough to hide their tracks properly, to use secure protocols and encrypt data transmissions.
But anyone who reads this blog will know about such simple technologies like VPNs, which encrypt traffic and prevent even your ISP from having the slightest clue what you’re doing online – so keeping a year’s worth of ISP records would be worthless. I know, because I use one myself. If the government had the power to snoop on any of our web traffic, it’s reasonable to assume that the usage of such services would skyrocket. It would suddenly become a necessity rather than a luxury for using the Internet at all, and this applies to criminals as well as the public.
Not just VPNs either, but all manner of existing encrypted protocols and secure transmission methods would become public knowledge out of sheer necessity. If you know for sure that someone is staring through your windows, you buy curtains.
The Evolution Of Protocols & Software
Not only would everyone use existing technologies and services to further enhance their privacy, the Internet itself would evolve to support even greater levels of privacy than currently possible – for both you and I – as well as the paedeophiles, the terrorists, and the scammers.
There is a precedence for this form of protocol and software evolution. Remember Napster? It was a pretty slow and laborious way of sharing songs with a few friends; the music industry was quick to shut it down, and piracy was once more erased from existence. The problem of copyright infringement was solved!
Please forgive my droll British sarcasm, because as we all know, the problem was not solved. Far from it – piracy got worse. New software was developed which not only shared music, but movies too. Then they shut that down. The Internet evolved again, moving beyond simple one-to-one file sharing to developing the distributed download torrent protocol. It was now faster and easier than ever to share an entire collection of GBs of files with anyone – potentially millions of people at the same time.
So now they set to work on shutting down the sites that “host” these torrent files; and look what that did! The sites gained exposure – the PirateBay’s traffic actually went up – and the torrent protocol evolved again to no longer require hosting sites or trackers. Time and time again, it has been proven that tackling piracy only made the problem worse.
I think the exact same process will happen when these laws come into play. The Internet will evolve – again. New protocols and easy to use encryption services – virtualy uncrackable – and the widespread proliferation of VPNs that securely hide your traffic and keep no records – will become the norm. Will VPNs become illegal too?
As a technology writer, I’m at the forefront of technology – I’ll make sure that myself, my family and my readers are well versed in securing their online activities. We don’t have anything to worry about. But I believe the police do actually have enough powers to catch online criminals already. Moreover, I’m afraid that by enacting these catastrophic Internet monitoring laws, the UK government will forever make Britain less safe and online criminals harder to catch. We won’t know about the next homegrown terror plot to blow up London, because they’ll be using a VPN.
Do you agree or disagree? Let us know your views on the subject in the comments below.