Despite Theresa May’s election day disaster at the polls, in which she lost her majority, she remains unabashedly unflinching in her quixotic quest to regulate the internet. She said as much just the other day in remarks that echoed her position of the previous week. Her CV – remember that as Home Secretary she introduced the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), which is often referred to as the Snooper’s Charter – suggests that she is a person not be taken lightly when she is hell-bent on internet surveillance or regulation.
May thinks she is treading on safe ground in calling for more internet security as the way to thwart terrorist attacks. The attacks certainly impacted her embarrassment at the polls, and are fueling her offensive. But what is ironic about her strident stance is that, while she was clamoring for more government surveillance powers (and actually introducing them), she was taking a wrecking ball to the police force – reducing its numbers by some 20,000 officers.
This is relevant because in some of the terrorist attacks the perpetrators were already on law enforcement’s radar. Apparently, there was not enough police manpower to do the job, or it was badly employed, or both, as the case may be.
You may recall that just last week May accused the big internet companies of giving terrorist ideology “the safe space it needs to breed” online. She is determined to bring them to heel, and make them comply with draconian demands about allowing things like encryption access, ignoring the fact that companies can’t crack end-to-end encryption themselves, even if they wanted to.
No worries, it makes for good headlines. Not to be deterred, the prime minister announced once again that she would establish a new commission for countering extremism.
The IPA has already forced internet providers to store browser histories and has asked technology companies to build backdoors into their messaging platforms. May’s Conservative manifesto merely continues the assault on an open and free Internet. The manifesto promises to “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy.”
But this would be accomplished at what cost? There are two parts to the equation, because allowing backdoors into private data will only make us and our data more unsafe – and will be making us more vulnerable to opportunistic criminals.
This proposal is untenable when, as a result, we will be at risk of hacking – which in turn will lead to more terrorism and cyber criminality. And in another bit of irony, just as Brexiteer May angles for more repressive security measures and weakening users’ internet security, the EU is going in the opposite direction. On the continent, which has arguably been the scene of more and greater terrorist attacks, a European parliamentary committee has just recently put forward draft legislation that would ban backdoors into end-to-end encryption and protect personal data from government surveillance.
In her attempts to portray herself as a committed leader who is in charge of a stable government, May would give hackers and criminals the keys to the kingdom, in a massive knee-jerk overreaction not only to the terrorist attacks, but to her election day debacle. And with it she will, perhaps unwittingly, usher in a new era of government repression, which can easily spill over to other segments of society.
In that case, the government, in attempting to eradicate what it perceives as a cancer (lack of internet company accountability), will become cancerous itself, and unaccountable to the people it purports to represent.