RIP memes

There was a discussion a little while back on the UKCrypto mailing list about how the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act came to be so specifically associated in the media with terrorism, when it is far more general than that ( see for example: “Anti-terrorism laws used to spy on noisy children” ).

I suggested that this “meme” might well be traced back to the Home Office website’s quick overview text which used to say (presumably before they thought better of it):

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using various methods of surveillance and information gathering for the prevention of crime including terrorism.

Well, I’ve just noticed another source of memes (which may be new, since Google are continually experimenting with their system. or which may have been there for simply ages, unnoticed by me at least).

If you do a Google search for the RIP Act such as this one, then the top hit is

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/ukpga_20000023_en_1

Huzzah! that’s where I’d like to go…

… but just wait a moment before clicking! Look at the text under the clickable link where you usually see an extract from the web page (so that you can determine which of the links is the best one to head off for).

This text currently says:

Provides for the interception of user logs and e-mails of suspected criminals by the security and intelligence services.

which is almost entirely, but not quite, wrong!

Where does this text come from? because it’s not on the OPSI page! Turns out it comes from the “dmoz” “Open Directory Project” where amateur editors can recall the glory days of Yahoo!

The dmoz directory is also rebranded as the Google Directory. Hence, one assumes, this makes it easier to incorporate into search results.

The relevant dmoz category is Regional : Europe : United Kingdom : Government : Intelligence Services : Legislation.

The entries (to save you looking) are:

  • Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
    Provides for the interception of user logs and e-mails of
    suspected criminals by the security and intelligence services.
  • Terrorism Act 2000
    Act detailing the legal measures that are available in the
    prevention of terrorism.
  • Interception of Communications Act 1985
    Report presented to parliament that deals with the Secretary of State’s power to issue interception warrants at the request of the intelligence and security agencies.
  • Security Service Act 1989
    Report by the Security Service Commissioner, which examines the Secretary of State’s powers to issue, renew, and cancel warrants. In addition, too investigating cases referred to the Commissioner by the Security Service Tribunal.

So the titles of the third and fourth entries are wrong (these are reports made under the Act, not the Acts themselves), and the descriptions are only approximately correct (and only vaguely the English as she is written).

The dmoz people have a link so that you can volunteer to edit this part of the Directory. Given the way in which my words would end up at the top of the Google ranking, I am very tempted to chip in and help!

I expect I could write something just as approximately correct, and that Ambrose Bierce would have been entirely proud of !

6 thoughts on “RIP memes

  1. @ Richard,

    “Given the way in which my words would end up at the top of the Google ranking, I am very tempted to chip in and help!”

    So what as they say “is stopping you”?

    After all in theory “We the British People” are paying for your time 😉

    As for dear old Ambrose, and his later emulators the Devil is indeed in the details…

  2. “December 4th, 2009 at 21:28 UTC by Richard Clayton

    There was a discussion a little while back on the UKCrypto mailing list about how the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act came to be so specifically associated in the media with terrorism, when it is far more general than that ( see for example: “Anti-terrorism laws used to spy on noisy children” ).

    I suggested that this “meme” might well be traced back to the Home Office website’s quick overview text which used to say (presumably before they thought better of it):

    Richard, you and the ML forget that jack straw originally created this so called Meme, theres an old jack straw RIPA pdf somewere, i think referenced off UKCrypto nut alas i cant seem to find it as my google fu is not strong ;(

    i know it existed though, as i read it at the time, and while i might have misremembered the contents, im pritty sure it make it clear there were to be no mission creep or diversion from the terrorism and related high stakes.

    infact im sure thats why it was placed in the public domain crypto or where ever archives to show it did infact creep…

    perhaps somone here with a better memory and good google fu or access to the ML can find that original jack straw RIPA pdf reference and retreve the file and repost it here to clarify terrorism Meme or not…. as Originally stated and intended….

  3. PS and while the current
    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-communication-data/cons-2009-comms-data-responses?view=Binary
    “Neither the current legislation relating to the use of communications data, nor the Government’s proposals for the future, are limited to terrorism.

    RIPA, which sets out the main framework through which public authorities access communications data, is not terrorism legislation.

    Instead, it regulates a number of investigatory techniques which are used by a wide range of public authorities to protect the public.

    It provides that a public authority may only acquire communications data for purposes such as preventing and detecting crime, and protecting public health or public safety….”

    seems to also imply RIPA is everything they Now want it to mean, and backs up your Meme Point, i currently stand by my other post, Meme though it may turn out to be if i ever find that referenced older jack straw PDF directly from his mouth at the time. IF memory serves me well!

    id be glad to find it if just to know for sure, i cant seem to find the for personal reference copy i downloaded on my local drives eather as it was so long ago now…

  4. All Acts of Parliament have 2 titles. The Short Title and the Long Title. The Short Title is the commonly used name of the Act but the Long Title is a summary of what an Act’s purpose is.

    The Long Title of RIPA says:

    “An Act to make provision for and about the interception of communications, the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the carrying out of surveillance, the use of covert human intelligence sources and the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected by encryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed; to provide for Commissioners and a tribunal with functions and jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to entries on and interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy and to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; and for connected purposes.”

    So no mention of terrorism there.

    The Long Title only explicity mentions MI5/6/GCHQ but, as with most Acts, the Long Title ends with the phrase “and for connected purposes” which can cover practically anything.

  5. You don’t need to become an editor at http://www.dmoz.org/ to suggest changes to listings there. Just use the “update URL” link on the category page, and suggest a better description.

    It might be worth considering that the current description was probably written in the context of the category, ie to describe how the act applies to the security services, rather than as a description of the act as a whole.

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