Proposed changes to internet regulation could be bad for business and personal freedom
Before I start, for clarity, this isn’t a partisan rant but a concern about online freedom and the way the web works.
Pawing through the fine print of the Conservative election manifesto journalists have uncovered a deeply worrying statement of intent regarding their intention to radically overhaul the way the web is policed. It seems the government would like to regulate the online world in a way unprecedented in the developed world, to take control of the results displayed by search engines, what can be posted on social media and they would like to access the individual web browsing habits of individuals. This approach is deeply worrying for all sorts of reasons and, if pursued, could stunt innovation, personal freedom and potentially turn the web into a more dangerous place.
Killing encryption will force the web to be less secure.
A particular motivation for the government is to get access to messages sent via encrypted services like WhatsApp. When you send a message through one of these platforms it gets encrypted so that the only person who can read it is you and the person you’re sending it to. No one else, not a hacker or a spy or even the CEO of WhatsApp can see it because of the way encryption works. Our government is pushing for a “back door” to be built into these systems so if for example, a criminal was communicating with an accomplice using an encrypted app, the government could use this secret back door to spy on them. You may think this seems fair enough, we all want to be safe and on the surface, this is what the policy is striving for but the fact that the “back door” exists makes the whole system vulnerable. Your communications will just as likely be intercepted by bedroom hackers or unsavoury foreign intelligence agencies, removing the safety of encryption will inevitably lead to a less secure internet.
The proposals will target people who aren’t computer savvy
Do you know what a VPN is? Do you ever use TOR? If the answer is yes you are probably fairly clued up about the online world. Knowledge of these technologies would see the tech savvy easily access blocked content and use the web anonymously, side-stepping any potential barriers thrown up by the proposed rules. Those who are less clued up will find themselves operating within a “safe zone” of the internet, where the government have the means to tell you what you can and can’t read, it’s a scary, Orwellian prospect.
Out of touch
Overall the proposed measures paint a picture of a government who are either desperately naive or willfully reckless when it come to the details of how the online world works. Like Donald Trumps campaign to sidestep net neutrality they show a worrying lack of understanding of the principles the web has adopted, that it should be a free and open place, and worse than that it may actually lead to a more dangerous web overall. Furthermore, in the post-Brexit landscape, the tech world is a great candidate for UK growth in the years to come. If we pursue these proposals we risk scaring international tech companies and investment away.
What should we do?
At the moment these are manifesto pledges and so we could always cross our fingers and hope they don’t see the light of day, but I think the best thing we can do is educate our officials, write to our MP’s and generally make it known that these laws are not wanted, not helpful and counter productive.