It used to be a battle for the Radio/TV stations, then it was the telephone exchanges (the last Communist government of Poland government cut the power to these in a vain attempt to hold on. Today the Egyptian Government shut down Twitter, Facebook, Google and Hotmail . Is that a sign of weakness or strength, of sophistication or ignorance? The Ayatolahs of Iran successfully followed the opposite appraoch – they back-tracked on the posts and throttled the tweeters – forcing dissent back to traditional rooftop communications.
Perhaps we should remember that the Islamic fundamentalists have long been more sophisticated than western revolutionaries in their use of technology – they have long been early adopters – from the use of cassete tapes of sermons in the run up to the overthrow of the Shah to their use of the Internet from the early 1990s.
We should not be surprised that they are also more sophisticated in their use of IT to hold onto power. By comparison our attempts to throw £billions at surveillance without addressing the “rules of evidence” so that it can be used show a mix of political naivety and cowardice – unless the “objective” really is to undo the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and revert to the “Leviathon” state.
We have to be able to use “proven extracts” from surveillance and material to take effective action through the courts against organised criminals (not just terrorists) without having to give petabytes of intercept material to the defence team to analyse (charged to the legal aid budget). Not only will that reduce time and cost, it will also cut the opportunities for those analysing the material for the defence team to identify who was involved in the surveillance operations: the first step in enabling their clients to add them to the list of current and potential witnesses to be tracked, traced and “removed”.
It we wish to preserve the rule of law and of democratic accountability into the Internet Age we need to find ways to prevent our Justice system from drowning in data at the same time as enabling Judges and Juries to see the “evidence” and understand its provenance. I would also argue that at least half of those involved in any exercise to look at the issues in this spave should have done Jury service.
My views on the rules of evidence were transformed by my experiences as a juror. We spent most of our time learning about each other while the lawyers argued over which bits of a grotty CCTV tape we could see and what we could be told about the defendents. My fellow jurors were far more rational and responsible in their approach than the “system” around them allowed – that is if you believed that the objective was to find out whether the defendents were guilty as charged, let alone what happened and that justice was done.
Without such action it may only be a matter of time before we too have to re-learn the rules of revolution and counter-revolution – albeit updated for an Internet Age.