UK Government Plan to Monitor Internet Usage Protects Public Safety


The British public and media have been kicking up a storm over proposed plans to introduce a law to monitor e-mails and web usage. The policy plans have opened debate on rights to privacy and the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens from large-scale crimes such as terrorism. It is unlikely that such a law will be passed given the widespread criticism.

In the age of Facebook and the changing nature of crime, the breach of privacy is something that seems to lose its weight. We may be one step closer towards having a surveillance state becoming a reality and we may be expected to embrace it. As long is it prevents more crime, then I will would gladly welcome it.

The policy proposal wants to extend the ability to monitor phone calls, e-mails, and internet use in the UK. It will also allow the government’s listening agency GCHQ (Government Communication Headquarters) to monitor information in “real-time” as opposed to so-called “historic data.”

We are part of the social media age where many details of our lives are broadcasted across the web. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly aware of the capacity of social networking sites for purposes both good and bad, the latter of which was especially highlighted in the 2011 London riots.

It does seem unlikely that the bill will be passed, given the widespread opposition it has received. Quite naturally, the blame has been laid with the British press for stirring up this scare campaign, citing infringement of civil liberties and highlighting  the state's ability to pinpoint exactly where we are at any given moment, once again inflaming a human right and entitlement to privacy. But it will also be able to pinpoint criminals or potential terrorists at any given moment. If it’s a question of an innocent citizen’s safety, that should be welcomed.

If the London riots were to happen at a time when such a law had been enacted, would the public feel safer if police were monitoring the real-time communications of the people involved? I know I would.

I have no objections to the state monitoring my internet activity. Indeed the plans don’t specifically state that police would be monitoring the contents of your most personal Facebook conversations – police will still need to obtain a court order to access the contents (and even so my emails are full of drivel — no one wants to read that).

Critics have contended that internet freedoms in the UK will be comparable to that of countries such as China and Iran and that such legislation will turn the concept of “all are innocent until proven guilty” into “all are suspects until proven innocent” may be taking it a bit too far. The plans do not state that they will monitor information outright.

We already post online mind-numbing details about what we eat for breakfast each morning, and if that constitutes 90% of our airtime online, then why worry?