The British government recently unveiled a plan to monitor its citizens’ digital communication. There has been something of a small uproar against it, with companies and individuals speaking out against it. Let’s take a look at the proposal, the technical details of it and what the concerns regarding it are.
The Government’s Plan
The proposal currently being discussed in Britain would give the government the ability to monitor emails by citizens and postings made on social media sites. Security minister James Brokenshire was quick to point out that this kind of access wouldn’t be broad and unrestricted. He shot down the Big Brother comparisons that immediately came up in criticisms surrounding the plan.
Instead, Brokenshire likened the government’s plan to the laws that are already in place regarding phone call surveillance. That is, just as the government is able to issue warrants and monitor phone calls, the same would be true for monitoring emails and social media postings. Any monitoring would require an intercept warrant in the same way that such a warrant is required for monitoring phone conversations.
Implementation of the Monitoring Tools
The details of the plan did not specifically address what ISPs would have to do in order to comply with the new proposal if it becomes law. Some systems do offering packet sniffing, which would let security officials monitor traffic on the Internet. This implementation would likely be a point of heated discussion should the government’s proposal move forward.
Reaction to the Plan
There has been a great deal of backlash to the proposal ever since its unveiling. Internet firms have been particularly outspoken, although none have been willing to go on record with a criticism. Instead, different figures involved in the industry have spoken out anonymously to voice their concern.
The most significant criticism levied against the proposal is that it may lead to state surveillance in other countries. As one official put it, offering monitoring services in Britain means that companies will be easily pressured to offer the same services in more repressive countries. Even though Britain’s plan isn’t one of unregulated monitoring, that’s exactly what could happen in other countries should the proposal make it through.
Other reactions have been aimed more at the domestic effect of such a regulation. Thousands have already put their signatures on a petition to stop the government’s plan from moving forward any further. Others have spoken up over the potential for the proposal to restrict free speech, as citizens will have a constant concern that they may be under surveillance by the government. While the government’s current proposal would render these concerns invalid, since not everyone is under surveillance, most still view it as the beginning of a path down a slippery slope.
The Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers issued statements highlighting the need for the proposal to go through. Predictably, both statements on the ability to be able to thoroughly investigate crimes. Neither truly addressed the massive trade-off of privacy for the potential to solve more crimes. Without any hard data on just how beneficial monitoring emails and social media can be, this might be the start of a long back and forth for Britain and its people.
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