Back in the dark days of my first year at university, the courses I actually got my teeth into most (and did best in) were not really computer related at all. Oh, they were definite Computer Science courses (CS119 and CS122, if memory serves), but they were there to try and give us scientists a real world skill. CS119, you see, was titled Writing for Computer Scientists, and CS122 was Professional Aspects of Computing.
For 119, I wrote about Pratchett. Which was fun.
And for 122, I wrote 2,500 words on The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is probably the most controversial piece of computer related legislation enacted in the UK. Discuss its likely impact on society.
Which meant that I could spend a lot of time reading, researching and generally getting worked up about invasive statism, and get marks for it.
Back then, I wasn’t really much bothered by the whole concept, but by fuck, at the end of that essay I was the paranoid, anti-big-government loon you know and mock. I ended that essay with the following summation:
In summary, the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act will have many wide-ranging effects on British society, most of which are questionable at best. There are benefits, in the form of increased security and legal redress, but the disadvantages, in my opinion, outweigh them. We are losing some of our civil rights under this act, which allow the government and itâ€™s agents to spy on us without our knowledge, and on the flimsiest of excuses. We may lose business and the respect of other nations. As a society, Britain has always allowed considerable invasion of privacy by the government; many would say that this is the result of the strength of our democratic system and military, which has always prevented any real threat getting into place (e.g. dictatorships or invasion). However, RIPA plays on this, and may well be the straw that broke the camels back. We will see if this happens when it is challenged in court.
Now, I wrote that back in 2001, before 9/11 and before the further massive grasps of powers that have taken place using 9/11 as an excuse. And I thought, then, that I was being stupidly paranoid, but that the essay topic warranted it.
Turns out that I may not have been quite paranoid enough.
Councils in England have been urged to review the way they use surveillance powers to investigate suspected crime.
Under laws brought in to help fight terrorism, councils can access phone and e-mail records and use surveillance to detect or stop a criminal offence.
But Local Government Association chairman Sir Simon Milton has written to councils warning overzealous use of the powers could alienate the public.
They should not be used for “trivial offences” such as dog fouling, he adds.
These powers, that were brought in with the specified purpose of fighting serious international crime and terrorism have instead been widely used to target people applying for schools and those who let their dog shit on the pavement.
And you wonder why I’m quite so worked up about 42-day detention and ID cards?
My problem isn’t my paranoia; it’s the way that my paranoia has been too mild…