Thought for the day:Freedom of information works both ways

Research wizard Peet Morris gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.So, the Government's plans to pass effective...

Research wizard Peet Morris gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.So, the Government's plans to pass effective monitoring legislation with RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) lie in tatters. That's a shame.

If RIPA were in place, the police could, with due cause, have installed monitoring equipment in a suspect's ISP. So the police could have watched whatever the suspect was watching or downloading.

However, for the moment at least, it's only the Web server you hit that has a chance of watching and catching criminals, and that's a rarity.

When you hit a Web server, certain bits of information about you can be gathered from your browser. I've known this for ages, of course - but I didn't know just how much could be gathered in this way until I looked into it a bit more. For more information, take a look at

In summary, Anonymizer offers cyber-surfers the ability to disappear - it offers anonymous Internet surfing. Anonymizer's site even provides a nice little Internet Explorer add-in. So, you can use this facility with a single click. Cool, eh? Or is it?

Well, since I saw the BBC's programmes on the Paedophile Investigation Unit, I don't know if it is cool to be able to do this anymore.

Until very recently, when I've thought about what freedom of information means, I've understood it to mean that I should be able to find out what, if anything, the Government's got on me. However, why should that be a one-way street?

Why shouldn't freedom of some information at least - also flow in the other direction? In other words, why shouldn't the Government have the freedom to watch what Web sites I browse, e-mails I send or mobile phone calls I make?

Well, with the postponement of RIPA, that's not going to happen for a while and the likes of Anonymizer offer anonymity for one and all.

So why not allow, or even encourage, a government agency to monitor our Internet activity? Is it that we don't trust our own government?

Well, call me gullible but I think that I do trust the Government - and, we did, as a democracy, elect them to act for, and protect us, did we not?

I don't know why it is, that we would probably never allow the Government to do this kind of thing easily - although, I for one would welcome it. If it would help catch terrorists and people who enjoy abusing children, well, they can monitor away as far as I'm concerned.

For more views on the Internet and privacy, visit Your Shout!

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Peet Morris
has been a software developer since the 1970s. He is a D.Phil (PhD) student at Oxford University, where he's researching Software Engineering, Computational Linguistics and Computer Science.

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