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)net.wars: A nation of suspects
by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 20 April 2012
Bad policies are like counterfeit money: they never quite go away and they ensnare the innocent.
Wendy M GrossmanIt's about a month since the coalition government admitted its plans for the Communications Capabilities Development Programme, and while most details are still unknown it's pretty clear that it's the Interception Modernisation Programme Redux. The goal is the same: to collect and monitor the nation's communications data. What's changed since 2009 is the scope, which takes in vast quantities of data that have never been kept before and the conditions of storage, which site the data at ISPs rather than GCHQ.
The security policy analyst Susan Landau has written in various places about the fundamental threat to security created by opening a hole (aka, a back door) for law enforcement. A hole is a hole, no matter who it's for, and once it's there it can be used by people it's not intended for. You'd think this would be blatantly obvious. It's like requiring everyone to give the police a copy of the key to their house and/or car.
Here, I'd like to pursue an analogy to drug testing in sports. The University of Aberystwyth's Mark Burnley did a good presentation last week for London Skeptics in the Pub; you can hear it at The Pod Delusion. When it comes to drug testing, athletes are presumed guilty. They must repeatedly prove their innocence by passing drug tests that examine their urine and blood for any of a lengthy list of substances and methods that are banned under rules set down by the World Anti-Doping Agency and that cover all Olympic sports. The result is an arms race between athletes (or more properly, Burnley argues, their coaches and doctors) and the testing authorities. When steroids became detectable they were replaced with new substances and techniques: EPO, insulin, designer steroids, HGH, latterly microdosing. It's the stupid athletes who get caught
All, doping or not, submit to substantial invasions of privacy. Under the "whereabouts" rule, they must identify an hour every day where they can be found; they are held responsible for every substance found in their bodies; missed tests add up to failed tests. You may lack sympathy on the basis that a) they choose to be professional athletes, b) they are rewarded with lots of money and glamor, and c) they're all cheaters anyway. To counter: for many their choice of specialization was made very young; many athletes who live under these rules are largely invisible and struggling to break even; and the system is failing to catch the cheaters who matter. (That said, what *is* interesting is the exercise of keeping athletes' submitted samples and testing them again years later in the light of improved technical knowledge.) Meanwhile, the huge sums of money in the sports business make it worthwhile to fund research into new, less detectable techniques and the morality plays that surround athletes who do get caught could hardly be bettered as a method for convincing kids that doping is what you need to do to become a winner.