There was a story today on the one o'clock news that the UK Government wants to give security officials the power to monitor telephone, email and internet use. The idea is that it will help combat terrorism. My immediate question is . . . how? Is it really likely that terrorists will allow their location or identity to be discovered online when there are easily available - and perfectly legal - ways of masking one's IP address? Is it likely that it will be possible to monitor who is calling whom when one can buy a mobile 'phone for under £15, buy £10 worth of calls, pay for it all with cash and chuck the 'phone away when one has finished with it?
Maybe I'm missing the finer points of the proposed legislation - although Heather Blake, from Reporters Without Borders, is quoted as saying "Those who commit these crimes, will find other ways. They always do." She has called on the government to release any data it has which shows that increased web monitoring will help in the fight against terrorism and has pointed out that, if the legislation goes through, countries such as Syria and Iran, will make what we do in the UK and excuse for the surveillance that they use.
Trefor Davies, a member UK's Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) board, doesn't seem too enthusiastic about it either, pointing out that more people are likely to use free proxies, many of which are infected with malware. And the icing on the cake is that the monitoring is likely to cost around £2 billion pounds to run for 10 years.
Over and above all this, though, my main concern is for people who have a legitimate reason for keeping private who it is that they are 'phoning or emailing. As a doctor and counsellor, I'm thinking particularly of those people who contact crisis helplines or specialist counselling agencies. Making that first contact is hard enough without the thought that somebody, somewhere might just happen onto the fact that you have been ringing the Samaritans or an agency that offers rape counselling.
I have a feeling that this 'brilliant idea' is going to go the way of that other 'brilliant idea' which was also going to cost the taxpayer a small fortune - the ID card. As I remember, it was proposed by the last Government as a sure way of combatting terrorism and illegal immigration, was vigorously opposed by large sections of the public . . . and was then quietly dropped. I hope I'm right.