August 30, 2012
The Left Central Writer
As Professor Noam Chomsky points out, the internet is capable of liberating oppressed people while having the potential to be utilised for surveillance and for controlling opposition to state oppression. It is the latter observation that the pressure group Open Rights Group believe relevant, considering our civil liberties to be at risk due to the draft Communications Data Bill pointing out:
It marks a serious increase in the powers the state has to order any communications provider – whether it is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like BT or an Internet company like Google – to collect, store and provide access to our information about our emails, online conversations and texts.
The Orwellian feature of the legislation is outlined by Open Rights Group arguing it grants the technical ability to identify the political orientations of protestors who blog or write for radical websites. An issue relevant to whistle blowers or investigative journalists who might find themselves subject to the measures outlined in this draft legislation under the guise of ‘public interest’ or their journalistic work compromised by a vague requirement of the state to investigate a crime.
Professor Andy Phippen agreed to talk about the proposed legislation:
AP: Government’s respond to social problems by avoiding the issue and focusing instead on the internet, a knee jerk reaction motivated by ‘legislative hyper-activity.’ The internet mirrors society. We need to focus on the actual social problem and criminal activity rather than focusing on the internet.
LC: What’s the motivation behind the Bill?
AP: Technological advancement brings fears for governments; even the invention of the printing press produced a hysterical reaction. Biblical scholars were concerned that they were going to lose social control over the ‘common man.’ The availability of books meant those in power lost control.
Yet from history we learn that the printing press empowered humanity and in the same way the internet democratizes information. The government today fear a loss of control in much the same way as the biblical scholars did. Knowledge is power and the internet has empowered. To take one example, look at academic research. It is becoming more freely available and as a result it has enriched the knowledge base. Academic research and other information, once available only to elites, is now widely available.
LC: Do you think the internet enhances our democracy?