On privacy, terrorism, other matters (humor)

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From the Eelctronic Telegraph (London):


In My Opinion: Why government is bad for you

If something gets popular, the government will be sure to try to ban it, increasingly desperate to exert control. Michael Bywater on how they're losing it

LITTLE Mr Blair knows how "I" am going to end up. Oh yes. You'll have seen all those Toulouse Lautrec pictures of absinthe drinkers sunk in their degenerate hopelessness, eyes unfocused, heads bowed, glued by the vile force of their hideous addiction to the scummy, sloppy table-tops of some cheap cafe? Well, that's me.

It's come back, absinthe has, and very nice it is too. It's not banned yet, but little Mr Blair has let it be known that he is keeping a close eye on the matter and if it becomes popular, he will ban it.

"If it becomes popular, he will ban it." That little remark tells us more than we might wish to know about little Mr Blair's "government". There are only two reasons any government ever bans anything. The first is that it's bad for us, and the second is that it's bad for them. The first reason, while patronising and usually done out of expediency, can at least be justified on the grounds of Looking After The Public Interest. But if - if - absinthe is objectively bad for us, then its banning should be immediate. And if it's bad for "them", they should make little Mr Blair explain why.

What has this got to do with computers? The answer is: a lot. The urge to invade private behaviour is a pestilential infection among the political class. For some years now, the Government has been scratching its little head about how to invade our privacy. It has fretted about weak encryption, strong encryption, email tracking, key escrow. It has wrung its hands over the Internet, and colluded with the US Department of Defense's absurd insistence that software offering strong encryption is to be classified as an Instrument of War (much like the bagpipes) and banned from export.

It is, in short, scared that people can have private conversations upon which it cannot eavesdrop. In theory, terrorists and malcontents might use the Internet and strong encryption to plot insurrection, or burglars to hide their loot. But this is not something that enshrining the Right to Snoop will obviate.

Criminals are already using computers, not to hide their loot but to acquire it in the first place, and are rewarded with knighthoods. As for terrorists, their activities cannot be much altered by silly laws about encryption and snooping. Any copper will tell you there's no substitute for the snitch, the grass, the ear to the ground; and, as one copper reminded me, (a) most terrorism is planned outside little Mr Blair's jurisdiction and (b) the law is not much of a deterrent to terrorists or criminals.

What it comes down to, once again, is politicians and civil servants behaving like a horse's ass. As a group, they thrive on secrecy and constraint. I heard a splendid phrase from a lawyer the other day: that, in a just society, "everyone has the right to whisper in another person's ear"; and yet it is precisely that right that little Mr Blair is anxious to obliterate.

And what that comes down to is our lack of a written constitution. If our right to whisper in another's ear were constitutionally enshrined, then the Government's pre-emptive right to invade our private conversations would have to be justified as carefully and convincingly as if it suddenly wanted to plant microphones in our bedrooms and steam open our letters. And now, if you'll excuse me, my club will be open; I'm off for another absinthe, before they ban it.

-- Paranoid Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), February 26, 1999


Geez, Old Git;I think you're on to something, but certainly not paranoid.

-- KoFE (InbizzaroAmerica@wash.DC), February 26, 1999.



------> (click on "new conspiracies")

In the Spirit of Greybear:

Got Echelon?

-- (Lancelot @ tavern link.com), February 26, 1999.

KoFE, when I was a long-haired, tie-dyed, bell-bottomed git, we used to say: "In Moscow it's normal to be paranoid." Far out.

-- Normal Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), February 26, 1999.

I fear that even a written constitution doesn't help anymore.

-- Framer (spinning@grave.com), February 26, 1999.

Absinthe, bugged by pestilential infection.

Got Y2K?


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), February 26, 1999.

Hey, THANKS, Diane! Absinthelutely perfect.

-- Tickled Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), February 27, 1999.

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