Security Minister Seeks to ID Net Users
You know, like Russia, Syria and China have tried repeatedly to do. Should we be more like them?
People are flawed. Sometimes it can seem like for every polite, law abiding and well-mannered person there is another individual who seems intent upon highlighting the very worst of humanity. In our personal off-line lives we can often avoid such people, but in the online world you are bound to cross a few of them eventually or see their impact upon others and much of the time they do this anonymously. But you can still avoid most of them, if you so choose.
Equally we can all have our off-moments, when we let down our guard and say something that we probably should not have. In keeping with that, some topics are more likely to divide and ignite argument than they are to unite and those tend to be the biggest sparks. This is one area where Politicians are perhaps more of a target than most due to the impact they can have upon our everyday lives (e.g. Brexit). Anger quickly turns into abuse.
In this context it is easier to understand Ben Wallaces otherwise odd claim of mob rule, since you would only see that if you were deliberately exposing yourself to it and that is something which politicians open the floodgates to (some of them thrive on the divisions they create). Sadly for them the easy option of simply avoiding social media altogether does not work, especially when so many of the electorate use it.
Admittedly Wallace does make a fair point about the level of trolling and abuse online, although attempting to solve that via compulsory Digital IDs and then applying it only in the UK (while excluding other countries) could be rather challenging and may even be impossible, without turning the entire internet into a walled garden. Totalitarian states also happen to love walled gardens that only they and the thought police control.
The logical progression of such an approach may also result in the banning of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which are often legitimately used as a privacy or security tool and also for remote working or avoiding unfair geographic restrictions. Equally civil rights campaigners in non-democratic countries have been able to use such tools to campaign for freedom etc.
However, VPNs and Proxy Servers can also be used to mask a persons identity for more nefarious purposes, but stopping this would be hard. Russia has tried to clamp down on them and doing so caused plenty of problems for businesses, as well as popular internet services. Meanwhile clever internet users can still find a way to circumvent such restrictions, and that is pretty much impossible to prevent due to the very nature of how the decentralised internet works. We also wonder whether such a ban might fall foul of the Net Neutrality rules.
On top of that there may be other concerns with the costs of such a system, as well as questions over who maintains it, who must implement it (i.e. just the big social networks or all websites down to the smallest blog?) and whether there would be a punishment for those that do not or can not implement it.
Likewise does it then follow that people would also face punishment for not correctly identifying themselves online?
Personally speaking, I rather like the fact that online websites, whether in the UK or elsewhere, do not force me to exchange lots of my real personal details just to access their services. I rarely trust them to handle such data, especially with all the hacking.
This brings us to the complex issue of trust.
Do you trust the government to control such a system?
Well do not fret because, knowing our politicians, they would be just as likely to shop it all out to a commercial company in order to avoid having any responsibility for it, which would then promptly get hacked. Yay.
Finally, we can not always assume that we will be governed by a truly democratic system that protects our freedoms and privacy in the future. Giving a future anti-democratic government such control over what we can access and how we communicate would seem to be unwise.
Equally we should say one persons troll is anothers civil rights campaigner. Context can be a difficult thing to get right online and no matter what the government does, criminals will still find a way to abuse the internet and probably just as easily as they so often abuse the off-line world too.
On top of that Wallace also echoed calls for a clampdown on end-to-end encryption, which is often seen by certain politicians as public enemy number one due to the way in which it makes it possible to secure a private conversion from prying eyes.
A closing thought or two on the issue of banning end-to-end encryption. This is used all over the place, for everything from securing your credit card transactions to keeping your messages private. It is an essential tool and one that only works if the decryption keys are kept hidden, often even from the service owner.
As security experts so often warn, you can not allow one state or group to have special access and then expect that not to be abused by others (e.g. hackers or less democratic countries). On this point the Government are perhaps guilty of not being very worldly, since weakening the encryption supplied by British firms will do little to stop its use by criminals or terrorists and make it hard for the UK to sell secure software.
Encryption is not Apple, Facebook or Twitter. Encryption is a method that anybody or any country can setup and use themselves. A clever terrorist probably has better ways to keep in touch with their fellow nut-jobs than to post a message on Twitter or Facebook, although the latter do make for useful promotional tools.