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If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear

Posted by on February 26, 2016.

If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. I have often expressed surprise and dismay at the apathy of the British voter. It’s almost as if we have a built-in desire to believe our politicians – we assume they tell the truth and we never question their motives.

I take the opposite view. My first assumption is that all politicians are lying; either to protect their career or promote their own brand of dogma – or out of simple fear.

So it is with huge sadness but no surprise that I see the results of a new survey (by OnePoll for Comparitech):

A survey has shown that an overwhelming majority of the UK population (60%) believe that, when it comes to national security, the Government should be able to monitor mass communications… the study found that 49 percent of the 1000 people questioned from the UK (nationally representative) cite national security as having more importance than an individual’s right to privacy.
(from Comparitech’s press release)

The current danger is that this support from the people will make it easy for the government to convert the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill into a real life Investigatory Powers Act. It won’t change the reality of UK surveillance very much, but it will eliminate the existing illegality of what the government already does, and make spying on anyone and everyone almost automatic.

If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear

My problem is, how on earth did we get to this state of apathy. There are historical and geo-political reasons of course, but I largely blame that oft-repeated government mantra (tell a lie often enough and everyone will believe it): “If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”

Experts don’t help. They tend to focus on side issues.

Bob Tarzey, analyst and director, Quocirca said that the results did not surprise him that much. “First, that almost half the respondents are probably overestimating the amount of interest the government is already taking in their communications; it has currently far more limited access than they might imagine, both legally and practically,” he said.

Well technology will change the first, giving the government total access to everything; and the IP Bill will overcome the latter; giving them legal access to everything. What the government does today is irrelevant. It is what they will be able to do tomorrow that should worry us.

Amar Singh, chair of ISACA UK, commented,

Let’s not forget that no government has a stellar record in protecting their own information and if technologies are updated to allow “free access” for the government, then criminals will no doubt be able to obtain the same.

This is true, but it still misses the point: no government should have the right to spy on innocent people. Full stop.

Let’s go back to that government mantra: If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. It’s dangerous because it’s seductive – almost believable. But we need to ask ourselves, who defines ‘wrong’? We don’t, the government does. And governments believe that ‘wrong’ is anything that challenges their authority. If you organize protests against the government, is that ‘wrong’? Maybe. If you organize successful protests against the government, is that wrong? Yes it is, and you need to be watched in the interests of national security.

If you advocate for unilateral nuclear disarmament, and your voice is being heard, is that wrong? If you come across proof of corruption in high places and believe you need to go public, is that wrong? Yes it is, and you need to be watched in the interests of national security.

Privacy and freedom of speech are our primary defences against a police state. We must not surrender them to the false promise of impossible security.


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Submitted in: Expert Views, Kevin Townsend's opinions, News, News_politics, News_privacy | Tags: