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by John Waghorn on 5th April 2012
Most of us access the Internet on a daily basis. Whether it’s during our own free time or for business related purposes, we can access the web and obtain a substantial amount of information in just a few clicks.
However, who is actually watching our Internet habits? Well this week in particular, attention in the news has turned to government proposals on this exact issue. It has been reported that the government are set to give security officials the power to monitor people’s Internet and email usage online.
Those in favour of the move are saying that this is much needed, whereas those on the opposing side of the argument believe it is unnecessary and an infringement on people’s civil liberties. The government believe that the move would help in the fight against terrorism and although we are unclear as to what exactly they would be monitoring, the understanding is that there would be an ability to monitor Internet activity in real-time.
So what does this mean for Internet users?
On one side of the argument, the Home Office has taken the stance that this data will help when investigating serious crimes and help to prevent terrorism. As technology and the data that we are exposed to moves forward, in some degree there should be a way to monitor what people are viewing. However, this is only likely to pose a threat to a certain section of people within society – if you have nothing to hide, it won’t affect you.
However, this doesn’t necessarily make it right. You might not want people to access your information as you feel this is an invasion of your privacy. It really depends on what your feelings are on the issue and how you would feel knowing that security officials could access your information at any given time.
Previous recommendations, from the former Labour government which were never put into action, were asking for a single body to collate the data. The proposals now however, concern the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as they would be the ones to store user data. This procedure in itself will be fairly complicated. The problem here is that the ISPs keep information for billing purposes, but they do not keep information on the sites that users have accessed or information for the emails that they have sent. As a result, money and storage space are the main two limitations if these plans are set to go ahead.
The estimated amount to run a similar project under the Labour government for a ten year period was near to 2 billion which gives us some indication of the costs involved to make this possible.
The backlash of this move could result in criminals finding other ways to engage in communication. For example, sites like Hotmail and Facebook have their own security measures in place, users can also send private messages on Facebook and there is no access availability unless the government have a court order. In this instance, officials would be able to tell that a user logged onto Facebook at a certain time, but not the exact message that was sent. Proxy servers can also be used to make the process of tracking more complex.
If these proposals are introduced it would certainly change the way users are monitored online, although as previously mentioned, if you have nothing to hide you are probably less likely to mind, unless of course you have strong views on privacy and human rights. Criminals and hackers will always find alternative ways to game the system and so the operation could cost thousands of pounds, yet the levels of crime may not be affected to a greater extent.
In any case, these plans are only in the proposal stages at present and nothing is set in stone. In the meantime Internet users should carry on as normal until the government decides to present us with the conclusions of their debate.