Jacqui Smith, the British Home Secretary, appears to misunderstand the Internet at every turn. It seems she now wants to monitor everything – yes everything – you do online. Whether it’s a simple email message, a search on Google, a Tweet in Twitter or a posting on a social networking site – Jacqui wants to know about it.
Apparently it’s because we are now communicating more online so the security services need to know about it so they can prevent terrorism. When will the Home Office take some basic lessons in using the Internet? Even if they want to monitor everything, anonymising software and encryption together make it virtually impossible for the security services to find out anything if someone is determined to hide it.
Most of us couldn’t care less whether Jacqui Smith knows what web sites we visit, but the people she is trying to catch do care – and they will use every available tool to prevent her from finding out. The result will be millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money being spent on a fool’s errand. Worthless information will be obtained, bringing the security services no nearer to defeating terrorism than they are at the moment.
In fact, one of the principal reasons for the existence of terrorism is the fact that people feel controlled by the state they live in or they feel that another state is trying to control their way of life. In other words, all that Jacqui Smith is doing is adding fuel to the fire by her latest suggestion. Not only is the Home Office showing its ignorance of the way the Internet works, it is demonstrating a lack of understanding of the psychology of terrorists.
Quite apart from the ever-increasing state control over our lives the British Government appears to want to take, it is yet another example of how our leaders fail to understand the basics of the technology that runs the country. At every twist and turn they show a failure to even attempt to understand the Internet. In the end, that will be their downfall.
Why? You only have to look at the BAFTAs, which were aired last night on UK television. These are the annual television awards and the “viewer’s choice” award went to a programme about teenagers, called Skins. This gets a viewing figure of around 1.5m. Yet it was up against X-Factor and Coronation Street, both of which have audiences of around 12m. So how come the less popular programme received the most votes from the public? Easy. The public had to vote via the web or via text message. The teenage viewers could easily vote for their favourite, whereas the grannies who love Corrie or X-Factor would have had a much tougher time.
Come the next election in a year’s time, the youth vote will evaporate from the Labour Party as the younger generations will be able to mount online campaigns and motivate people much more easily to vote against them. Combine that with an apathetic older generation who simply feel politics has let them down and you have a looming disaster for Gordon Brown. Many people will tell you that the state of the economy determines an election result. This time around, it will be the Internet. And since the Government has shown again today with its call for monitoring all online activities that it consistently fails to understand this technology, they are doomed.
And Jacqui Smith thought her only problem was her husband watching porn movies.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+