Why do governments get Internet surveillance so wrong?

The UK Open Rights Group has just published "Why the Snoopers’ Charter is the wrong approach: A call for targeted and accountable investigatory powers," a digital paper on why and how governments go terribly wrong with Internet surveillance proposals, and what a reasonable and accountable form of surveillance would look like. Jim Killock from ORG sez,

After the Snoopers' Charter debacle, the Open Rights Group asks why intrusive new laws are being suggested, if they are needed at all and what the alternatives are. Some of the UK's most prominent surveillance experts examine the history of UK surveillance law and the challenges posed by the explosion of digital datasets. Contributors include journalist Duncan Campbell, legal expert Angela Patrick from Justice, Richard Clayton of Cambridge University Computer Labs and Peter Sommer, Visiting Professor at De Montfort University.

Digital Surveillance (Thanks, Jim!)

(Disclaimer: I am proud to have co-founded the Open Rights Group, and to volunteer on its advisory council)


  1. Because governments are made up primarily of old men who at best don’t understand technology or the internet, or at worst are frightened of it. They’re used to TV and movies and letters, not youtube and bittorrent and twitter – the chattering crowd is a world-changing revelation if you’re not used to a universe where it has power.

    The solution is term limits, and electing younger people.

    1. Damn straight. Ignorance and fear are behind a lot of the terrible network legislation coming out these days. There are also those that are openly hostile to the new powers networked computers give individuals and groups to be heard, to self-organize, and to freely share information. The internet is a political game-changer barely out of its infancy, and the old boys clubs that do have an understanding of its potential want to squash it. 

  2. Elected or electable politicians will advocate whatever policy mashes best with their potential voter demographics to maximise votes.  And they’ll adopt whatever stance on pushing those measures through that maximises those potential votes.

    They don’t really care or need to care about policies / measures that annoy us because we’re a minority votes-wise.  They appeal to the frightened blue-rinse pearl-clutching Daily Mail readers (in the UK).  Frightened people vote.

    They don’t understand tech in the slightest.  They don’t care, unless it wins votes.  Here in the UK, they don’t seem to have paid much attention to how Obama won two terms – they just don’t get it.

    All that, plus they’re cheating thieves who buy duck shelters with taxpayer money.

  3. They are merely projecting their own fears and unpleasant behaviours onto the population at large. They expect us to behave as badly as they know they do, so they seek to curb that behaviour in the strictest fashion that they can get away with.

    In short, they are worried that we might be just as big a bunch of bastards as they are, and that we might rise up and nick all the neat stuff they already nicked off someone else.

  4. Because maybe governments don’t want a “reasonable and accountable” form of surveillance?

    I don’t want to sound paranoid here, but having watched so many approaches get it so consistently wrong in precisely the same ways, you have to suspect that something more than mere stupidity is at work.

    1. i think they may have a different definition of “reasonable” from the rest of us. when you are as detatched  from those you govern as many politicians are today (as jefferson put it “Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single
      government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their
      constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and
      overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same
      circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite public
      agents to corruption, plunder and waste.”) now i don’t believe going back to a weak central government will solve the problem, but those in office need to be made aware of whom they serve and of the will of the served. they must be transparent at all levels so as to not hide from the light of inquiry, and if such a government should find itself unwilling, or so thoroughly corrupted as to be unable, to do this, then that government should be replaced with one that can and will.

      when a government is as removed from it’s constituency as this government is, they no longer see themselves as servants of the people’s will but instead as servants of their own will, they believe themselves right and incorruptible, even those most corrupt, and the people as ignorant, myopic, and selfish(a stereotype im afraid many live up to,but most vitally one they live up to as well) and when you govern from such a position of course you are going to make laws which benefit you, the right and enlightened ruler, and not us, the unwashed ignorant masses.

      tl;dr: if you believe you know best and everyone else should shut up and let you do your job, you get these kinds of legislation.

  5. Because people who like to make obscene amounts of money tell them all of these horror stories about what will happen if they don’t buy the newest snake oil.  The newest snake oil is spying on everyone, its the only way to stop terrorism!

    The failing is these old men (and few women) who can’t make 1 logical leap, how would they feel if they were the target.  They feel safe and secure in their little bubble where this new snake oil would only ever be used on the ‘Bad People” ™.  Because they are ‘Good People’ ™ it will never be used on them.  They ignore the abuses in the systems that have come before, feeling the ‘result’ is better than any destruction of rights or liberties in citizens.  They see the citizens rise up and fought back by the police and worry that this happened while they were spying, so we need more spying to stop it… ignoring the spying is what has caused them to be angry in the first place.

    Its an endless cycle, the rich and powerful quake in fear of the ‘little people’ and ignore the reason they are coming to the castle with torches and pitchforks is because you treated them like shit.

    Once again my idea of making these laws apply to the government for at least a year before they can be applied to the little people would make them stop and think about what they are doing.

  6. Was just looking at the ACLU website. Our FBI Terrorist Watch-list Database comprises 1 Million Americans. Our total population is 308 Million. Presuming 1/3 are too young or to feeble to be involved, That means that 1 out of every 200 Americans are on that list?

    How absurd. No wonder they missed the Boston Bombers.

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