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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Why are the Government so inept when it comes to the internet?

First a good bit of news: Carphone Warehouse say they will not cut internet access for alleged music sharers as “it’s not our job to police the internet”. Bravo! Indeed it isn’t, and expecting an ISP to do so is stupid and naive. They are a service provider (like your telephone supplier), not law enforcement.

Now some bad news: The Government is claiming to ban sex offenders from social networks by providing social networks with offenders e-mail address. I’m sorry, but who thinks up these policies? And have they ever actually been on a computer, because it sounds like they are as qualified for the job as I am for bomb disposal (I once watched a Bruce Willis movie).

I suppose they have a tiny bit of common sense in that they also propose this:

Under government proposals, offenders who do not give police their address - or give a false one - would face up to five years in jail. Websites would be expected to monitor the e-mail address usage or block them accessing the sites.

The Home Office - BBC News

But really, how effective is this likely to be? And what’s to stop them giving a legitimate email and then creating a new one. Email addresses are free, require no authorisation, no details, and can be set up in under a couple of minutes. The internet is a very anonymous place, and the idea that you can simply track someone (or get them to promise not to do anything on it anonymously) is such a powerful example of ignorance that I can’t think of anything more suited to illustrate the inadequacy of the people in charge of internet related law in this country.

Also, what’s this going to do for Facebook, or MySpace, or any number of the largest and most popular social networks, given that they are not based in the UK and not subject to UK law?

The idea of policing the internet ‘like we do the real world’ is flawed in such a fundamental way as to be not worth bothering with except in special cases where there is sufficient evidence of a crime. Certainly people can be traced, but the effort required (and thus tax money spent so-doing) is gargantuan, especially if the person being traced knows how to avoid normal methods of finding their real identity (like; use a proxy, never use real names, use an online e-mail address, disable cookies, get a hardware firewall, use only public wifi. Not to mention using TOR networks or other secured anonymous methods). Which is why ‘policing like we do the real world’ simply isn’t viable.

I’d far rather see the time and money being wasted on such futile efforts of ‘policing’ instead spent on educating children about what to be wary of when they are on the internet, and why they should be wary at all. It would be a hell of a lot more effective.

Here’s another example of the ‘policing the net’ actually infringing on your liberties (hey, you might be a child molester, see?):

[We want to] Make it more difficult for people registered over the age of 18 to search for users under the age of 18

The Home Office - BBC News

Because you couldn’t have a legitimate reason for wanting to do that. Say, to see if your kid had a social networking account they hadn’t told you about? Or to check up on one you know they have? Or because you have a few friends a couple of years younger than you? Or you’re a relative?

The government and the media are ‘potential threat’ mad. Can we please just get on with living life without imagined bogeymen making it a pain for the rest of us to go about normality?


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  1. Matt Wilcox posted 1hrs, 26min, 52sec after the entry and said:

    And on the topic of 'potential threat' and our weird way of over-stating seeing danger: http://www.nysun.com/news/why-i-let-my-9-year-old-ride-subway-alone

  2. Little Bro posted 1 days, 8hrs, 23mins after the entry and said:

    When did we switch governments with America? I thought that they were "potential threat" mad.

    The internet is to vast to be "policed" and not all of the internet belongs to the UK, actually I suppose very little of it does.

    And yay for Carphone Warehouse.

    Is that link you gave supposed to say "You are not authorized to access this page."?

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