Friday, October 17, 2008

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Ah, the UK...just like us in so many ways. Sure we have our differences: they drive on the left, call elevators "lifts" and insist on measuring things in meters. But when it comes to the important things like domestic spying and data mining, we're on the same page. This from the BBC: "Proposals for a central database of all mobile phone and internet traffic have been condemned as 'Orwellian.'"

Yes, indeed. The plan is to organize and store the details of all the times, dates, locations and duration, numbers called, websites visited and addresses e-mailed within the UK. Oh but never fear, there are "no plans for an enormous database which will contain the content" of all those emails. Plus, local governments won't even be allowed to access this database! It'll just be for the central government...and the EU government...and EU investigators...and UK police and special services...but other than that, nobody!

What's really adorable is that they don't even try to make the distinction that President Bush and Alberto Gonzales (seen here applauding his own "resignation") did with the NSA electronic surveillance program (nicknamed the Terrorist Surveillance Program). Bush justified this plan, which illegally and unconstitutionally allowed the CIA, FBI and NSA to wiretap electronic communications without a warrant, by claiming that the only communications being intercepted were those which involved 1) so-called "transit traffic" - foreign powers communicating with foreign powers, which just happened to come through the US; and 2) communications between a foreign entity and a US entity, at least one of which had connections to terrorist groups. Oh, well, Mr. Bush, if you're only spying on foreigners here in the US, that's's not like they share the same Constitutional rights that we citizens do. Oh wait, they do. Nuts.

Even more interesting, did you know that the United States had(s?) this exact type of database in place for a few years? It was called the Multistate Anti-terrorism Information Exchange but was hilariously nicknamed MATRIX. Destroying privacy rights is funny, right? Well, MATRIX was "shut down" in 2005. What's interesting, though, is that, clearly, that information had to go somewhere. It obviously wasn't destroyed or dispersed. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that the NSA still accessed such a database routinely.

It will be interesting to see how the UK learns from our precedent. As I mentioned, we did install such a database, but the public outcry was too much and it forced our government to destroy it...or just push it underground. Already, the Liberal Democrats have spoken out against the new database. They are calling for the government to present a "convincing justification" for this "exponential increase of the power of the state." Can we expect an answer other than "to stop terrorism" or "to decrease the risk of violent crimes?" Such assertions are broad enough to cover the bases and ambiguous and scary enough to be surprisingly, forcefully persuasive. But it's like EJB said in the last post...crisis is the health of the nation.