Blown To Bits

Internet Fear Strikes India, England

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Because the Internet is like so many different technologies in different ways, it incites a variety of anxieties, and a corresponding variety of responses. Governments’ responses are often poorly thought out over-reactions — poorly thought out and little discussed. The past week’s news gives two astounding examples.

In India, a law innocuously called the Information Technology (Amendment) Bill 2006″ allows the government to intercept any form of electronic communications — email, text messages, or cell phone conversations — in order to investigate “any offence.” This is a post-Mumbai anti-terrorism measure, but like the USA PATRIOT Act, it is utterly lacking in provisions that would restrain the abuse of government authority. It was passed quietly, after little debate. Here is a blogger’s account of the bill (India sleepwalks to total surveillance”), and here is an editorial from the Times of India that backs up the blogger’s horrified reaction (“License to Snoop,” which begins, “Big Brother could¬†really¬†be watching”).

Meanwhile, the Times of London reports:

THE Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant.

Now it’s not clear what that actually means (are the police going start sending malware via email, just like the bad guys do to steal your account information and passwords?). But the trend is unmistakable: Even in major democracies, law enforcement so fears what people are saying over the Internet that it wants complete access to all of them, with only the cops deciding whether the surveillance and searches are justified.

The price is too high for such measures to be adopted without public discussion. In the U.S., let’s hope for better.

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