Once more our glorious leaders have demonstrated to the world that they are what was once known as cluebait. Sadly this is an all to common occurrence, which is a problem given how much they bang on about wanting the UK to be a technological power house.
Just last month our glorious leader wanted to ban WhatsApp and SnapChat because it’s difficult for spooks to spy on them. Obviously no one had bothered to tell him that unless you also ban the technology that makes online banking, shopping, b2b and the entire internet secure it would take about 30 seconds for someone to work round this. Way back in the day the US also tried to ban encryption and that didn’t work so well for them, so trying to visit that again does make you look a bit thick, mind you that doesn’t stop the puritans hankering after prohibition. So assuming that you don’t ban encryption, vital for all of the actually useful and taxable bits of the internet, setting up a spook proof chat system merely requires some cheap server hosting, free software, a free security certificate and to turn off logging. Of course if the spooks hack your system then they can spy on you, but the same is true of things like WhatsApp and such. Alternatively if you ban encryption (really not going to happen) then you’ve killed all online commerce, so maybe you just need to license it and keep a list of all the sites that are allowed it and block any import of such naughty technology which can be in digital or printed form. If somehow you manage that people might have to revert to using pen and paper to set up the initial security and there are loads of historically proven ways of doing that. So really to suggest that you might want to ban such things merely serves to demonstrate that you are a clueless maroon of the first water.
That though was last month and even a week they tell me is a short time in politics. Not wanting to be left out of the clueless cabaret an all party group of MP’s want’s to ban internet trolls. The politicians do at least on this occasion note “that such policing will be tricky, both for law enforcement and the social media websites in question.”. This is as they say an understatement. Let us for the moment assume that the ability to block and ignore people isn’t enough and that some additional powers are needed beyond all of the existing laws against hate speech and the like. If that’s the case are we talking about actually tracking down the individual who’s trolling/doing nasty things? If so I believe we already have the laws needed and of course then you can monitor the person concerned, but if we’re talking about short circuiting that process what can we actually do?
Consider our hypothetical troll, someone has made a complaint about them and suitable people in authority have considered this report and found it valid; then what? Well tell the people who control the social media site (Twitter, Facebook, whatever) that they must block the person, and ban them for so many months obviously. Hold your horses though even assuming that the site is happy to cooperate – is the user subject to your jurisdiction, or are we now all subject to every jurisdiction in the world? If our troll has set up an account where they say they are in the right jurisdiction we can maybe do something, and the troll will go away and create a new account, only this time they may lie! They may say they’re in some other jurisdiction and carry on largely inconvenienced. Not a problem we can say to the site, is this person connecting from somewhere in our jurisdiction (the site might need a bit more persuasion to tell us this), if yes then hoorah we block our troll again. If not well then on they troll. So we’ve blocked our troll again, how many minutes do you think it will take them to create a new account? How much more complex do you think it would be for them to this time not only lie about their location but to also maybe hide where they connect from? None of this is rocket science, though our lazy troll may be quite happy to just go through numerous throw away accounts, it worked for Old Holborn. Ultimately we may block the most idle and uncommitted of trolls and haters, but for the ones that are a real problem we’ve just been a minor inconvenience. The price of causing this minor inconvenience could be that we’re all subject to the jurisdiction of every country in the world, or simply that we can all be taken off-line at the merest hint of a complaint as companies decide that blocking first and asking questions later (if at all) is a lot less risky than waiting to be told. Oh and it may just have the tiniest barely perceptible bit of a chilling effect on free speech and open debate – but hey who cares about that?