We all know the good that technology can do, and the benefits it brings for the way we work, live and play. The future growth of the UK economy will be built on IT. Consumers are embracing technology in their everyday lives like never before.
Yet residual fear and ignorance is still driving much of government policy when it comes to the impact of technology.
That can be the only explanation for the continuous desire of government after government to want to store and monitor the daily electronic interactions of its citizens. The Data Communications Bill – the government’s “snooper’s charter” to store all our web, telephone and social media activity – is based entirely on fear – and its justification tries little more than to instil that same fear in us.
Yes, the threats we face have changed. Of course bad people are going to look to exploit the internet, every bit as much as good people do. But casually throwing around the “terrorists and paedophiles” line to convince us that an institutionalised attack on our individual privacy is in any way warranted by the new Bill is nothing more than ignorance and technophobia in action.
David Cameron promised to “roll back the surveillance state” when he was Leader of the Opposition. To now resurrect the Labour snooping plans in all but name is an act of gross hypocrisy.
The government will tell us that the Data Communications Bill is different – that Labour wanted a giant database with all our interactions stored within, and the Tories still don’t want that. It’s nothing more than a technicality. The same information will be stored, just in distributed databases managed by the private sector – the telecoms and internet providers who want nothing to do with it but have no choice to comply.
In the coming years, we face perhaps the most important turning point in the development of the digital revolution. Governments and other institutions will try to control and monitor the internet, to hang on to 20th century thinking and practices as citizens embrace the possibilities of 21st century technologies. IT professionals will find themselves in the centre of a storm.
As a profession and a community, it will be increasingly incumbent on all of us in IT to champion the benefits of technology, to overcome fear and distil ignorance. There will be few more crucial times to do what we do, than now.