I do get worked up about the government and it's towering ignorance about computers, networks and encryption. As far as I can see the spooks and police advising the government don't have a clue, or, more likely, are put up to the job by the ISPs and software industry here which expects big contracts for building yet another electronic white elephant.
The latest in this series is the new Communications Data Bill. The more I see of it, the more I don't like it.
The argument is that the access that the authorities have to existing telephone records should be extended to corresponding records involving any sort of electronic communication. The argument is that the phone records are useful and therefore the email records will be equally so.
This simply will not work, any more than the Digital Economy Act had any impact on the use of the Pirate Bay bittorrent server.
English: I took this picture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I see a lot of problems with this:
- it's just too easy to circumvent, by going abroad, setting up one's own email server (five minutes work on most PCs), using one of the many proxy server services,
- building a database of all users and dates and times of all exchanges of information between any pair of them will cost billions and end up not working,
- just creating a database of all electronic identities creates a huge privacy problem and a target for cybercriminals who will, in time, gain access to it,
- ISPs will use compliance with this act to build barriers to entry from other players in the market. The oligopoly in broadband provision in the UK is bad enough already, but expecting a new entrant to monitor all email (and other electronic) traffic as the bill would require will be a huge additional barrier to entry,
- ISPs will use the cost of compliance with this act as an excuse to ratchet up fees even higher,
- ordinary citizens will be forced to route their email traffic through servers provided by organisations who are willing to defy the law and not comply with the act, purely to get affordability and performance. Their own private data will then be much more vulnerable than at present, when they use Google or Hotmail.
We don't make it a criminal offence not to report every conversation we have with our neighbour when we meet him in the street. We take the same approach with the electronic equivalent,