Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Investigating tittle tattle

I sent an email to a Lancashire County Councillor on Sunday. I was told, before I sent it that it might be read by council officials. I suppose this is alright. I did send it via the official council website and if I had sent a letter it may have been opened by an employee of the council. If I had something private to say then I could have sent a letter to his private address. And at least there was that advance warning. But what if all our communications were accessible to officials, and we had no warning about it?

On Sunday there was a news article about two Gulf states, UAE and Saudi Arabia, banning the sending and receiving of emails on the Blackberry mobile phone, as well as internet access, because they are unable to monitor these things. Other mobile brands are no problem because their services can be tapped into locally, but the Blackberry services are encrypted and are processed in Canada.

This makes me wonder what the situation is like in other countries. I've found that a bill was introduced in the Canadian parliament last year to require wireless service providers to make the service easier to tap. I don't know if that bill has passed or not. Finding details of such things is surprisingly tricky, since they tend not to make a big splash on the front pages. But I remember one Barack Obama, prior to his inauguration as US president, vociferously defending his right to keep his Blackberry. I wonder what the White House reaction would be to the US president's communications being subject to covert surveillance by shadowy Canadian organisations.

At the other end of the scale, it seems that in the UK, surveillance can be requested by a vast number of organisations, from the Charity Commission to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Schools, and there are maybe a thousand instances per week. In one well known case three children and their parents were put under surveillance to check if they were in their school's catchment area, while other cases involve under-age smoking and drinking. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000

The original motivation for all this may have been to combat terrorism, but it has spread far beyond that, and in any case real terrorists would presumably be smart enough to encrypt their communications. I don't know if surveillance does help in the war against terrorism but, in the words of John Prescott, we may find out mor tittle tattle.

Change the World.

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