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Committed crime-fighters or just plain clueless? Why UK's law makers are the real threat to our security

How bluster ruled the day at the London conference on computer crime...

For all the talk about tackling online crime at this week's London Conference on Cyberspace, what UK politicians really proved is how little they get the digital world, says silicon.com's Nick Heath.

"The biggest threat to the internet is from misguided and overreaching government policy," Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, told an international computer crime conference in London this week.

Lucky, then, that UK politicians at the event - from prime minister David Cameron to foreign secretary William Hague - were falling over themselves to pledge their commitment to safeguarding the free flow of information online.

When it comes to online regulation, Cameron said, "We cannot go down the heavy-handed route. Do that and we'll crush all that's good about the internet." While Hague opined, "We will always champion freedom of expression on the internet".

Sadly, the rhetoric doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Cameron and Hague may have sworn fealty to an unfettered internet but the UK government continues to back laws that will make it easier for corporations and states to monitor online activity and cut off internet access.

David Cameron

The rhetoric of politicians such as UK prime minister David Cameron doesn't stand up to scrutinyCreative Commons: World Economic Forum

One such law is the UK's Digital Economy Act - legislation drawn up under the Labour government but supported by the present coalition. The Act paves the way for people to be disconnected from the internet if they are suspected of downloading copyrighted material, and compels ISPs to collect more data on how subscribers use the internet.

ISPs BT and TalkTalk have mounted a legal challenge to the legislation, which they say infringes the "basic rights and freedoms" of their customers and doesn't acknowledge the technical difficulty of establishing that the appropriate person or household is being cut off.

And UK law doesn't only lay the groundwork for individuals to be cut off from the internet. It is also being used to block access to a wider range of websites than ever before. A precedent for blocking sites accused of illegal file-sharing was set recently, when the High Court ordered BT to prevent its subscribers from accessing the file-sharing website Newzbin2, as well as any other sites it points to.

Nor can the UK government claim an unblemished record on internet censorship and online snooping. Yesterday's speech by Hague criticised foreign powers "for incorporating surveillance tools into their internet infrastructure".

Yet the coalition government is continuing to implement a programme of work aimed at giving police and security agencies the ability to obtain and intercept data flowing over the internet - in the continuation of a multibillion-pound programme of work started under Labour.

Meanwhile, UK police are reportedly already using technology that allows for large-scale surveillance of mobile internet comms. According to The Guardian, the Metropolitan Police recently purchased technology that can...

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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