Blown To Bits

Meanwhile, on the Big Brother Front

Thursday, October 16th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The British government is proposing to log every telephone call, the address of every email, and every web site visited by everyone in the UK. To fight terrorism, of course.

Bits like these should be regarded as toxins. In theory they can be confined, but the public should be alarmed that so many are being kept, and so little reassurance can be provided about how they are to be contained. As a nice example to ponder, the Washington Post reported yesterday that the Maryland State Police had classified 53 nonviolent protesters as terrorists and entered their identifying information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects. What one police official called “fringe people” who needed to be tracked were activists against the death penalty, with no history of violence.

But here’s the best part. Police stated that “the activists’ names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries.”

We’ve all experienced that. Press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for a third thing, and what you actually want is none of the above, so you are forced to pick one of the other options. Sometimes this is just bad user interface design; sometimes it is a way of encouraging people to select an option for which you are trying to drive traffic, for commercial reasons, for example. Intentionally or not, this interface bloated the national count of terrorism suspects, at the cost of the personal liberty of innocent people, who are now likely to get shaken down at airports.

And no one can say how many other databases may have been infected with this bogus information.

British civil liberties groups are protesting the data-logging plans, and the government is trying to reassure folks by saying that it’s “only” the addresses and phone numbers that will be recorded, not the contents.

1984 is here to be sure.

3 Responses to “Meanwhile, on the Big Brother Front”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Eric Holder on Privacy and Data Retention Says:

    […] All that seems to have been gathered from inspecting the computer itself, but the same information might have been obtained from an ISP if it had retained the information, as the British are now proposing to do. […]

  2. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Bill Would Require Logs of Internet Use Says:

    […] As we have said before (here and here, for example), the Internet threats to child safety have been mischaracterized and exaggerated, and spending resources on programs like this draws resources away from places where they are badly needed, helping troubled children from troubled families. Bills like this are transparent attempts to exploit the child safety issue to ramp up government data collection about innocent citizens, data that will be repurposed and abused once it has been collected. It’s the kind of Big-Brother surveillance proposed in the UK, as we discussed last fall. […]

  3. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » “Mistakes Happen” Says:

    […] I’ll bet these data breaches are no more common in the UK than in the US, but they certainly have had a bad run of them lately, and you can see why the MP is worried about the government’s plans. […]