I’m sure we all recall the unique interpretation of the Joint Enterprise law as practiced by teachers back in the day. One pupil has broken one of the school rules, but won’t confess to it, despite Sir or Miss’s entreaties for him or her to come forward. The teacher’s solution is to keep the entire class entombed in the classroom until the guilty pupil speaks up; the knowledge that others are aware of the criminal’s identity is paramount, but the teacher expecting these others to break the code against grassing is futile. Nobody will admit anything, so every child is punished for one child’s misdemeanours because there’s always somebody spoiling it for everyone else.
If we take this collective memory from ‘the happiest days of our lives’ and use it as a metaphor for the Government’s attitude towards online security, then Amber Rudd is the teacher and we – an estimated 4 billion global users – are the class. A few of us have been very naughty indeed, posting terrorist propaganda and Hate Speech (surely that’s for the Wiltshire Constabulary to deal with?); and Mrs Rudd’s solution is to apply the tried and tested school version of Joint Enterprise as a means of dealing with it. According to the Home Secretary, ‘Real People’ don’t want secure encryption on their messaging mediums. As she declared in the Telegraph – ‘Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?’
On the eve of her visit to Silicon Valley, the Home Secretary has been making it clear her predecessor in the post taught her well when it comes to the subject of cyber civil liberties. In her Telegraph piece, she referred more than once to that exalted demographic, ‘Real People’, a new twist perhaps on David Cameron’s more favoured ‘Hard-Working People’. One presumes these are the same Real People who reside in Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain; and in Alarm Clock Britain as perceived by Amber Rudd, those of us who don’t mind those nice chaps at GCHQ acting as internet traffic cops are Real People; those of us who do are obviously hate-fuelled ISIS sympathisers who have something to hide.
Rudd intends to challenge the most popular online services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft and Google, to up their game in ‘removing extremist content’. However, one man’s extremist content is another man’s democratic expression of freedom. Outside of gruesome ritual beheadings, the definition of extremist content can vary depending on our individual perspective. Naked breasts are viewed by some as a feminist statement; to others, they’re just a pair of knockers to drool over; and to others, they’re virtually pornographic and should never be seen in public. Context is vital, of course, but tits are tits. You either have a problem with them being exposed or you don’t. Twitter and Facebook often do and censure the mammary offenders whilst being a little more lenient on things most of us would regard as not quite so benign.
Rudd evidently doesn’t have the same kind of problem with the business practices of Google and Facebook as she does with some of their content. Were her justification of the nosey parker principle to be applied to some of the internet’s multi-billion dollar corporations, we’d all be able to see how they masterfully evade the paying of taxes and maybe we could have a crack at it too once we’re shown the way it works. The Government she’ll be representing in San Francisco at the inaugural gathering of ‘The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’ also doesn’t have a problem with selling arms to the very country from which the current nihilistic strand of Islam originated as it bombs Yemen into bloody submission. That some of those Great British Weapons occasionally find their way into the hands of those same nasty people (not Real ones) who are prone to aiming them back at us is quite ‘extremist’, isn’t it?
A preview of Rudd’s expected lecture…sorry, speech reads ‘Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages’ (unlike the Tory press recycling Jeremy Corbyn’s past ‘association’ with the IRA, then?). She will then go on to say ‘This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide. The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry…we have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love.’ In her Telegraph piece, she claimed ‘This is not about asking the companies to break encryption…Real People often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security.’ Perfect and unbreakable to all but governments and their snooping secret services, lest we forget.
The Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, Renate Samson, reacted to Rudd’s self-justifying waffle by calling it ‘at best naive, at worst dangerous’. He added ‘Suggesting that people don’t really want security from their online services is frankly insulting….once again, the Government are attempting to undermine the security of all in response to the actions of the few. We are all digital citizens; we all deserve security in the digital space.’
As part of the Home Secretary’s showy bragging about how the Government is dealing with this problem, she’s also expected to highlight how one police unit in Blightly has removed 28,000 examples of ‘terrorist content’ along with securing the closure of millions of online accounts over the past seven years. Rudd may well believe dredging up facts and figures of this nature supports her argument, but imagining any government can play at being a cyber Sgt Dixon giving mischievous Jihadists a clip round the ear-hole without stooping to snooping on everyone is pure Cloud Cuckoo Land. The only way any government can curb the antisocial tendencies of the badly-behaved internet is to apply the Joint Enterprise rule to all of us who use it. If we want to be ‘safe’, we have to sacrifice our privacy. Just be honest, Amber – or let us have a read of your emails.
© The Editor