By bblfish on May 20, 2009
Every country in Europe seems to be on the verge of introducing extremely powerful legislation for state monitoring of the internet, bringing us a lot closer to the dystopia described in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty Four. Under the guise of laws to help combat terrorism or pedophilia - emotional subjects that immediately get everybody's unthinking assent - massive powers are to be given to the state, which could very easily be misused. As internauts we all need to make it our duty to follow very closely these debates, and participate actively in them, if we do not want to find ourselves waking up one morning in a world that is the exact opposite of what we have been dreaming of.
In Germany a new Data Retention law passed already it seems in 2008, allows the state (quote)
to trace who has contacted whom via telephone, mobile phone or e-mail for a period of six months. In the case of mobile calls or text messages via mobile phone, the user's location is also logged. Anonymising services will be prohibited as of 2009.To increase awareness of this law Alexander Lehmann put together this excellent presentation, with English subtitles, Du bist Terrorist!:
The passage of the hadopi law in France, will create a strong incentive for citizens to place state built snooper software on each their computers in order to make it possible to defend themselves against accusations of copyright infringement. But that is nothing compared to the incredibly broad powers the state wishes to give itself with Loppsi 2 law (detailed article in Le Monde, and Ars Technica) which would give the president the power to insert spyware onto users computers (which could record anything being done of course), create a very large database of people's activities, help link information from various databases, and much more... The recent case of the sacking of the web site director of the once national, now private, TF1 television channel for having communicated his doubts on Hadopi privately to his Member of Parliament - as reported on Slashdot recently - does not give one much faith in the way privacy is being handled currently by the government.
The United Kingdom
In the UK the Home Secretary Jaqui Smith had proposed to create a database dubbed Big Brother to log every single activity of every one of it's citizens - in order of course to root out the very 21 century crimes of pedophilia and terrorism (did the IRA not operate before the internet? Are pedophile rings something that only emerged with the internet, or is it that they just became more visible?). She had to pull back somewhat from the initial proposal, and now wishes all that information still to be tracked, but only to be kept on the service provider's databases as reported by the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Independent...
So are we now all suspected terrorists, pornographers, pedophiles, murderers, subversives, ... that the governments must know all about us? We may have voted for the current government and have complete faith in their use of these tools. But what when the opposition comes in, and takes hold of those same powers? Will we be as comfortable then? The excellent 2006 film The Lives of Others shows just how intrusive the East German state was on its own citizens during the cold war - and that with the very limited tools they had available. With modern computing tools, that type of spy operation could be done at much much lower cost and so perhaps even be viable for the state.
If you feel things just can't go this wrong, then I would also recommend watching Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespear's Titus Andronicus. It really is important to realize that things can go badly, very very badly wrong. Ignoring a problem, not taking responsibilities in fighting them will lead to disaster, as the current economic crisis - predicted years before it occurred, but without any action being taken - should have amply proven by now. Sadly for people who predict danger, if people do act on the danger and avoid it, nobody may even notice how close to danger they really were. So our actions may remain unsung. But at least we may put some chances on our side not to wake up in a new form of dictatorship, worse than any ever dreamed of by our those who helped forge our democracies.