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Christopher Cooper

What is wrong with mass data surveillance and storage

Christopher Cooper - 5 Sep 2016

What is wrong with mass data surveillance and storage?

Every day we are confronted with imagery and reports from all over the world concerning terrorist attacks and atrocities. It doesn’t matter if you are drinking a hot chocolate in Sydney or running a marathon in Boston, extremists can strike anywhere they wish. However, it is clear to me that the British are used to this sort of threat, as previouslyit was Northern Ireland (which as a child I didn’t understand) and prior to that the various wars which have been fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.

When I see these images and I listen to the people affected, one can only feel outrage that extremists perpetrate such acts on the innocent. It leads me to always ask the same question, to what end? Whilst having these thoughts, I can only agree that we need to give our authorities every resource to catch these individuals and bring them to justice.

Then, as with all things in life, you begin to question these thoughts and if you are like me, challenge them. On one hand you have the right and wrong and the need for justice, but on the other, you have to ask if we want to live in a society where everything we do is tracked, traced and recorded?

Not so long ago, I had an interesting discussion with a Metropolitan Police Officer. I challenged him on mass surveillance and explained that from some people’s point of view, if government agencies can simply collect massive amounts of data with no oversight, what prevents that data from being used nefariously. He explained that society has changed a great deal and with the laws we have in place this couldn’t happen. I then counter challenged with my thoughts that this is all very well when considered in the context of today. However, we have seen societies change throughout the world and would give great concern if this data ended up in the wrong hands.

Only recently, changes to laws in Russia concerning the promotion of homosexuality and the slow but sure erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, preventing free speech. If our government changed, what protection would we have to stop those from becoming discriminated against or worse?

What is also clear to me, is that overtime, things become acceptable as society gets used to the new norms. Take CCTV for instance, we are watched and tracked everywhere. If someone in the 1970s told all car drivers in London that they would be tracked throughout the City and charged for entry, there would have been outrage. 30 years later, that is exactly what has happened and now it is accepted. Perhaps in another 30 years’ time, due to facial recognition and the new technologies being rolled out, will it be standard to auto track people as if we were traffic on the roads?

I for one agree that powers need to be given to authorities, I also feel that authorities should be able to see certain information from the myriad of digital footprints we leave. However this should be controlled by the courts, where due process can be followed so everyone’s liberties are protected.



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