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Good bye Privacy

Don’t forget your password

by JohnC

Readers of these renowned columns may like an update as to the continuing plunge of the UK into the abyss of the Orwellian State.
Britain has now been transformed into probably the most snooped on country in the world this side of Pyongyang. They have more CCTV cameras than the rest of Europe put together. Speed Cameras are now being linked to number plate recognition databases and the national identity database arrives in 2008, entry on to which will make it a criminal offence, for the first time not to inform the “authorities” when you move home.
Again, for the first time, your medical records (if you still have any !) and most personal and intimate information will be available on a national data “spine”, rather than kept within the confines of your own family doctors surgery. Details of children will be placed on another database, with no obvious limit to how long the information will be kept so a minor classroom transgression may pop out of the system 20 years hence to scupper your major first job application.
Just last month a major new and quite frightening announcement was issued from Whitehall , an “information-sharing vision statement”, quality “New Speak” if ever one heard it ! The Government proposes to reverse the presumptions of confidentiality under which Whitehall has, until now, conducted its relationships with businesses and individuals. Departments will now be able to share personal information obtained for one purpose with other departments that might want it for an entirely different reason. In effect, they will be able to gather all this data in one place, something we were always assured would not happen. What a great blessing has The War on Terror been to the jobsworths and munchkins running our lives.
There is even more and worse to come ! The Government is about to enact the controversial part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – bet you never heard of that one – or RIPA for short. This has been held back for six years but the Terrorism Bill has opened the floodgate. Support has now been given to this by the Mandarins on the grounds that it is crucial to the fight against terrorism and crime. If it was so important, why the delay ? It will now make it an offence not to give the police or any other regulated body, the key to an encrypted computer entry, should they request it. Failure to do so will mean a long prison sentence. “So what”, you may say, this will all be for our own good: to stop bad driving, track down criminals, save children from abuse, ensure prompt medical treatment, identify illegal immigrants and deter terrorists. The fact that there has been so little comment about RIPA, after such a huge fuss was made six years ago suggests that the population have become inured to such intrusions and hardly notice them.
The country has now been bludgeoned into accepting the end of privacy. We now take it for granted that if someone refuses to hand over their data encryption key to the police, they must have something to hide. Perhaps they have, but it doesn’t make it the business of the state unless it is illegal. There are plenty of people who want to keep things secret simply because they do not want others to see them. Samuel Pepys wrote his diaries in shorthand (though the first transcribers thought they were encoded). If he were writing today on a computer, he would almost certainly have encrypted his entries, not because he was doing anything unlawful but because he did not want his wife to find out what he had been up to with other women, nor certain notables to discover what he thought of them – neither of which were criminal offences. Now the assumption is that we are all potential criminals and the new law will render all such attempts at secrecy illegal. Heaven help you if you forget your Password !
This Act is very widely drawn and can be invoked on the grounds of “national security”, for the purpose of preventing crime and “in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK”, the scope that this last statement provides is enormous and the possibility for misuse colossal – just think about it !
The worst is last. Just a few weeks ago, foreign ministers or their underlings from all the EU country’s met quietly in Finland to ratify certain sections of the Maastract Treaty, and in particular reference to the UK, European Law will now take precedence over the 1000 year old presumption of Habeas Corpus a right that was bought at great cost and is unique to Britain. You may have shuddered at the tales of British delinquents languishing in Spanish or Greek jails for up to two years or more before even being charged with an offence. This privilege is now coming to Budleigh Salterton.