Skip to main content
My Left Foot

“Why” said Jeremy Paxman, “should we be bothered by this RIP Act? After all, unless you’ve something to hide, you’re not going to be worried by the prospect of government reading your email”.

It was a Wednesday night, ‘Newsnight’ in fact and the BBC had invited me to take part in the programme’s lead story, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. All of a sudden and prompted by the Guardian’s front page revelation, the media had woken-up to the news that the infamous RIPA was to be extended, perhaps even to traffic wardens, a tongue in cheek comment, that Newsnight picked-up.

Mr. Paxman needed some convincing and at first, he didn’t recognize the legislation as a gross invasion of privacy and violation of our civil rights. My own role that evening, other than offering him a brief, was to take part in a three way discussion with a Home Office Minister but time and the Minister’s reluctance to participate in such a very public and live debate, left me spectating from the sideline and the politician exposed to Paxman’s tender mercies. Under pressure from the inimitable Jeremy, the Minister was made to look like a Stalinist goon with two left feet, who just couldn’t avoid kicking the ball into the back of the Home Office net every couple of minutes. I’m sure the Home Secretary will think twice before sending one of his deputies to depend the indefensible in future.

If the cynical Paxman could be persuaded that RIPA is an unbelievably stupid piece of legislation then there’s always hope that someone nearer the top of the political tree might wonder why on earth we’ve got this far in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. As one expert on the legislation suggested to me, ‘RIPA is an example of a ‘catch-all’ piece of legislation. The Government is attempting to rush through an Act which sweeps up any conceivable evolution in communications technology. They tried this with CCTV to reduce crime and it failed miserably and they’ll do the same thing with the Internet, which will fail equally miserably”.

If Government is going to obsess about the Internet, there are other, equally pressing areas, which I believe, should be attracting more attention. The other day, while reading a story on terrorism, I followed a link to a page on how the FBI had forced one popular US website to remove a video of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The hyperlink sent me to a site which broadcasts the darkest and most disgusting images of human misery and depravity. Foolishly, my own curiosity encouraged me to open the MPEG file of the ‘execution’; the decapitation of a young Russian soldier by a Chechen guerilla with a kitchen knife. It’s an image of bloody horror that will haunt me and yet it’s one that your child or mine can just as easily find and share in seconds.

Where should our priorities be I wonder? Snooping on every citizen’s email or wondering whether the ‘right’ to leverage the Internet as a medium for free speech and free expression has gone too far?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…