Wales: We’ll encrypt Wikipedia if reborn gov net-snoop plan goes live
Jimmy Wales, talking in a purely personal capacity, has lambasted Britain’s Home Office for its plans to massively increase online surveillance of all UK citizens. The Maximum Leader says that such a draconian measure would prevent him from plonking Wikipedia servers on Blighty’s soil.
Talking in Westminster last night to a committee of MPs and peers, however, Jimbo omitted to mention that his online encyclopedia outfit has never operated from the UK – and has no intention of ever doing so – because of the nation’s strict laws on defamatory material.
Wales has already launched stinging attacks on the UK’s tight libel legislation. Last night he sneered at what he described as a “technologically incompetent” draft communications data bill, dubbed colloquially as a “snoopers charter”, that is currently being perused by politicos.
Wales told them:
We don’t have servers in the UK, we would be highly disinclined to collect more data than we actually do, which is very, very little for a variety of reasons including our views on freedom of expression, human rights and what people are reading. But if we find that UK ISPs are mandated to keep track of every single web page that you read on Wikipedia, I’m almost certain – err, I shouldn’t speak for our technical staff – we would immediately move to a default of encrypting all our connections in the UK.
During the same session, Wales also played the think-of-the-children card: he mentioned British startups in – yes – Silicon Roundabout, who could find their innovative app, website or digital toaster stifled by such legislation, if it works its way through Parliament in its current form.
He also described Wikipedia as a “gift” for its users as opposed to other unnamed websites that function by “surveilling you”.
Meanwhile, two key figures in the telco debate relating to mass surveillance of the internet were also speaking to the committee.
Malcolm Hutty of the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and Nicholas Lansman of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) were both on hand to offer up rather less shouty perspectives on the contentious bill.
Both questioned the Home Office’s £1.8bn costing estimate, the majority of which apparently relates to data retention. Over 50 per cent of that cash is set aside for storage, according to previous evidence offered to the committee by the man in charge of the plan, Richard Alcock, whose official title is Director of the Communications Capability Directorate.
Lansman and Hutty also characterised the Home Office’s proposed system as a “profiling engine” to be used by spooks and police but which would probably be maintained by private companies.
And, when quizzed, they both professed themselves to have no idea what the Home Office meant by saying that spooks and cops are currently unable to access 25 per cent of the online data they need to do their work.
Lansman said the figure must have been based on “best guesses”, and Hutty added “25 per cent of what?”
Jimbo simply claimed that the number had been plucked out of “thin air”.
What is now starkly obvious from the Westminster sessions The Register has attended is that the Home Office has so far failed to supply any real technical details on its desired Communications Capability to anyone in the UK internet industry. The bureaucrats of the ministry seem to have learned to be opaque after being carpet-bombed by privacy advocates when they first attempted to introduce the Capability under its old name, the Interception Modernisation Programme. ®