Daily Archives: 2006-07-22

Powers, Powers, and yet more Powers …

Our beloved government is once again Taking Powers in the fight against computer crime. The Home Office proposes to create cyber-asbos that would enable the police to ban suspects from using such dangerous tools as computers and bank accounts. This would be done in a civil court against a low evidence standard; there are squeals from the usual suspects such as zdnet.

The Home Office proposals will also undermine existing data protection law; for example by allowing the banks to process sensitive data obtained from the public sector (medical record privacy, anyone?) and ‘dispelling misconceptions about consent’. I suppose some might welcome the proposed extension of ASBOs to companies. Thus, a company with repeated convictions for antitrust violations might be saddled with a list of harm-prevention conditions, for example against designing proprietary server-side protocols or destroying emails. I wonder what sort of responses the computer industry will make to this consultation 🙂

A cynic might point out that the ‘new powers’ seem in inverse proportion to the ability, or will, to use the existing ones. Ever since the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century, Britain has been notoriously lax in prosecuting bent bankers; city folk are now outraged when a Texas court dares to move from talk to action. Or take spam; although it’s now illegal to send unsolicited commercial emails to individuals in the UK, complaints don’t seem to result in action. Now trade and industry minister ‘Enver’ Hodge explains this is because there’s a loophole – it’s not illegal to spam businesses. So rather than prosecuting a spammer for spamming individuals, our beloved government will grab a headline or two by blocking this loophole. I don’t suppose Enver ever stopped to wonder how many spam runs are so well managed as to not send a single item to a single private email address – cheap headlines are more attractive than expensive, mesy implementation.

This pattern of behaviour – taking new powers rather than using the existing ones – is getting too well entrenched. In cyberspace we don’t have law enforcement any more – we have the illusion of law enforcement.