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GPS ankle-bracelets for all UK residents

15 June 2012

Imagine the outcry that would take place if the government of a nation ordered the fitting of compulsory GPS-equipped tracking anklets to all its citizens.

I'm pretty sure the outrage would persist, even if those citizens were given outright assurances that the data stored on those anklets would only be examined if they were under suspicion of having committed or were conspiring to commit a serious crime.

Only those with something to hide?

Well this is effectively what's about to happen in the UK, as a result of the proposed "online snooping" bill currently being passed through the British parliament.

And let's face it -- once the precedent has been set, it's only a matter of time before Kiwis start to walk the streets of cyberspace with an uneven gait due to the presence of their own virtual anklets.

While the mere fact that their government doesn't trust them or their activities in cyberspace must in itself be maddening, UK citizens must be further infuriated that, in times of severe austerity, their government intends to spend over US$2.8 billion to create this omnipresent surveillance capability.

It appears that the paranoia which has made the British the most monitored population in the world (by virtue of ubiquitous CCTV cameras) seems about to be extended into cyberspace.

The question that has to be asked of course is "What has this government done to make so many enemies that it treats all of its citizens as a threat?"

And of course this level of online surveillance is ultimately all but futile.

As witnessed by reports hitting the wires earlier this week, all that people have to do is turn to services such as Tor and they can effectively mask and anonymize their online activities anyway.

While this overt surveillance system might catch the really stupid petty online fraudster, it's unlikely to have any effect on those who might be plotting to blow up parliament buildings or commit some other act of terror against the UK.

As I've mentioned in an earlier column, it seems that all the freedoms our grandfathers and their fathers fought so hard to protect in previous world-wars, are now being stolen from us -- by politicians whose motives are little different to those of Hitler and his cronies.

Sure, we don't have concentration camps filled with those deemed to be ethnically unsuitable but we do have nations like the USA incarcerating "prisoners of war" and torturing them in ways the SS would have been proud of. We're also being stopped on the roads and in the streets (real and virtual) with demands for "papers please!".

No government can win the hearts and minds of its peoples by treating them as traitors and enemies -- something that has clearly been forgotten in recent times.

What these administrations forget is that, for all their taxpayer-sourced money and almost limitless resources, they will always be a step behind those who are driven by resentment that they are not trusted and a desire for freedom.

And, all surveillance becomes useless when hard encryption and anonymizing tools are used.

The technology is rapidly becoming available to allow those who do not wish to be monitored 24/7 to set up their own private, highly encrypted, "invisible" networks which operate completely outside the data-capture nets thrown by the state.

Now I will never give my support to those who seek to inflict terror on others but I will stand 100% behind those who believe they have a right to privacy and to be considered of crimes until proven otherwise.

That is why, the moment my Raspberry Pi arrives, I will be working hard on creating the first node of a "citizens' alternet". I hope others will join me -- not because we have anything to hide but "because we can".

The day the Prime Minister installs a webcam in his bedroom is the day I'll accept ubiquitous surveillance.

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