Friday, July 11, 2014

Mass surveillance and scared politicians

So the latest UK government shambles on communications surveillance is the emergency Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill to be rushed through next week in a single day. "Explanatory notes" on the draft Bill are available here.  The official text of the Home Secretary's statement in Parliament yesterday about the Bill is here.

In short, the latter says -
Be AFRAID... terrorists... child abusers... serious criminals might get away... because of those idiot European Court judges ... BE AFRAID ...Our data retention regulations are A1, super duper, OK ... but just in case they're not we need to pass this new emergency law... just to let us do what we've always been doing... BE AFRAID... but don't worry we'll protect you with this new emergency law that even that Labour gang agree is wonderful... oh and just in case I didn't mention it... BE VERY AFRAID!
Prior to that David Cameron and Nick Clegg had made a big announcement about it at an earlier specially trailored press conference. The telling point for me in this session was when the BBC's Nick Robinson, generally totally clueless about digital rights whilst on air at least, decided to go for the standard journalistic trolling approach, perhaps since he didn't really have any informed questions to ask. Mr Robinson accused Mr Cameron of rushing through an emergency law in haste which we would all repent at leisure. To which the Prime Minister responded with a cracking voice and a face like a toddler on the verge of tears -
"I am simply not prepared to be a prime minister who has to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it."
There you have the whole story of the political interest in the construction of our mass surveillance infrastructure in a single sentence.

Our political leaders are scared.

They are not scared of the terrorists.


They are scared that the next time there is a terrorist attack they will be accused of having not done enough to prevent it.

So they have to DO SOMETHING.

It doesn't matter if that something causes untold damage of immeasurable proportions.

In fact it is better if it is immeasurable, preferably complex, costly, involving computers; and accompanied by a selection of misleading 2 to 3 second soundbites carefully crafted for promotional purposes which come with bonus points if they can include sniping at Europe or human rights.

That way critics cannot easily pin them down.

But they must, at all costs, DO SOMETHING.

It is also better if that something involves everyone, plus large sums of public money, plus computers.

Then when the inevitable happens they can hit the broadcast circuits with pride "We did everything we could and we're going to try harder and spend more money on high tech security and never let the terrorists win..."

And you know what's so sad about this disastrously damaging cycle? The fear driving the politicians to get things so completely wrong will not save them from accusations of incompetence. When the time comes the media will still attack the government for not doing enough.

The parliamentary debate on DRIP yesterday was a parody of itself (Begins at 11:18:53)

TheyWorkForYou have the transcript of the debate.

Analysis of DRIP later if I get the chance but what is very clear is that it much more than a re-assertion of the data retention regulations.

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