When IT Meets Politics

Jan 22 2012   8:24AM GMT

The end of innocence: the erosion of innocent carrier status

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

Tags:
deep packet inspection
Eurim
scrambls

On monday I plan to attend a workshop on the current state of play with the Digital Single Market and the need to join up scrutiny of the many parallel reviews now under way – from data protection through consumer protection and disputes resolution to public procurement. Do click on the link. It is too late to try to attend but you will find ongoing links to supporting documentation which summarises most of what is going on. About the only relevant Directive intended to be left unchanged is the e-Commerce Directive – covering the “innocent carrier” status of Telcos and Internet Service Providers. But is that directive still meaningful – if it ever was?

The near impossibility of doing efficient cross border transactions within the EU means that nearly all on-line business is within a member state or via the US – except in the case of financial services when it is via London. Traffic between the US and other nations is routinely monitored by Federal Agencies. They only need a warrant to monitor intra-US traffic. And US law enforcement will seek to extradite those who do that which violates their laws, whether or not it is illegal in their own country. And US lawyers will seek to enforce that which is unenforceable in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it is time to burn down Washington again – remembering that in 1812 the British took care to destroy only government buildings. [see P.S. below for my response to comments on this]

In the UK the Leveson enquiry has finally moved from phone-hacking to e-mail hacking. In doing so it has raised awareness of the vulnerability of e-mail content to demands for access by a slew of regulators and under a wide range of legislation. Meanwhile the fuss about deep-packet inspection appears to have faded away as it becomes the start point of many of the security products and services we will all need in a world of zero day attacks. And those serious about privacy are beginning to try out products like scrambls so that only their real friends can read what they put on Facebook.

The world has moved on and the pace of change is accelerating. .

The workshop on monday is the first major event organised by Dr Edward Phelps, my successor as Secretary General of EURIM. The attendence list is impressive and I look forward to watching Ed succeed where I failed. EURIM originally stood for “European Informatics Market” – the mythical digital single market. Ed has negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the European Internet Foundation, adding co-operation on joined up scrutiny to the programme of policy studies being launched over the next couple of months.

For that scrutiny to succeed it needs to be joined up across industry sectors, including with the Banks and Retailers suffering the increased costs and vulnerabilities of having their transactions routed via the US and India, Asia or wherever the call centres have moved to. That process is also gathering pace. The time has come for those who saw me as part of the problem, not the solution, to join EURIM and help the new team scrutinise the possible solutions of the future.

I have agreed to stay on as a consultant for as long as I am needed – but am only a consultant. I now have to watch as my recommendations are turned through 45 degrees – or 90 or disregarded as being out of touch with where the world is going.

I am not sure whether I am being flattered and side-tracked when asked to write a book on how political decisions are made – based on my scripts (and past blog entries), using examples from the liberalisation and privatisation of telecoms, through the micros in schools programme, the computerisation of PAYE, the extension of copyright to cover computer software, RIPA, Y2K and the National Plan for NHS IT to our evolving Broadband and communications policies, the implementation of the Universal Credit and the fights to control/exploit our personal identities and access to on-line information. Some-one whose judgement I greatly respect has, however, said I should focus on the present and future – what should be rather than what has been or is. 

What is certain is that the time has come for me to let go, before I start doing more damage than I do good. Those taking over want me to focus on helping educate the generation below them, Therefore I will have to think about getting the youngsters ready to help fight the next war, not just the current one, let alone the last one or the one before. 

Any help from my readers – if you have got this far, would be most helpful.

[P.S. I have asked if I meant burning down only Federal Government buildings and a physical or electronic burn. My answer is: whichever will command the greatest support among those Americans who share the view expressed in a retirement speach by one of Reagan’s ambassadors that – “one of the few things that unites this great nation of ours, which I am proud to have served as Ambassador, is contempt for the Federal Government in Washington” and/or who agree with President Truman’s alleged (I recall it from my grandfather’s copy of “Plain Speaking“) comment “There are few things wrong with this great nation of ours that could not be made a great deal better by taking a hundred lawyers and hanging them all”.
              

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