The Real Life Watchmen

“Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty.” Benjamin Franklin.

The Internet has raised some interesting questions regarding privacy and freedom and I am left, once more, considering what these words mean. We are all up for a government who protects us from terrorism, but recent plans to monitor data collected from social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Bebo seems to highlight an escalating problem.

Do we prioritise security or privacy? Do we monitor the public or do we trust them with liberty?

The Data Retention Directive, proposed under a European Union statutory order, is asking for Internet service providers to store and monitor emails and usage, which can, they argue, be used to track terror plots. Social networking sites are a loophole in this directive however, and result in people still having the freedom to say what they like to who they like without being watched…but not for much longer it seems.

The Government has proposed that information and communication via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace should be retained and stored on a central database as part of the Intercept Modernisation Program.

Vernon Coaker, the Minister of State, for policing, crime and security, admitted: “This is an extremely difficult area. The interface between retaining data, private security and all such issues of privacy is extremely important.

“It is absolutely right to point out the difficulty of ensuring we maintain a capability and a capacity to deal with crime and issues of national security – and where that butts up against issues of privacy.”

But the questions being posed by civil rights organisations go far deeper. Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “The widescale use of social networking websites highlights the enormity of government ambitions for a centralised communications database for the surveillance of the entire population…technological development is used as an excuse for centralised snooping of a kind that ought never to be acceptable in the oldest unbroken democracy on earth.”

A home office spokesman protested that: “What we want to monitor is that so-and-so is logged on to that site and spoke to so-and-so. It’s the who, when and where, not the content.” However, according to the BBC, the spokesman later conceded that in “high-profile cases” the police would want to examine the content of social network chatter. “The security service would want the ability to capture information that could lead to conviction,” he said.

Now these are merely my musings, but in the modern world choices are now being made between security and privacy on our behalf. Who is making those choices? Granville Hicks, Marxist novelist and literary critic, once wrote: “A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to.” It seems that the Government are patronising the public once more and comforting us with the idea that they are monitoring us, retracting very basic human rights to privacy, in the name of safety and security.”

They listen to our telephone calls, survey us with their CCTV, they take stock of everything we buy and what books we get out from the library. Where do we draw the line and how long will it be before the thought police get here?! These latest proposals to retain information on social networking sites and store it on a central database as part of the Intercept Modernisation Program feels a bit too Brave New World for my liking.

And the savage said: “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

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