Thought for the day:Government's woolly Web policy

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.I take my hat off to Paul Wey and I hope that he...

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.I take my hat off to Paul Wey and I hope that he doesn't end up in jail soon. Wey has hit the headlines for publishing "sensitive" information on the Internet, attracting the attention of our security services.

According to BBC reports, readers of his newsgroup are privy to transcripts of purported radio conversations between members of the Special Branch and other agencies, apparently intercepted by Paul through the simple medium of a radio "scanner" - a device that anybody can find and buy openly in London's Tottenham Court Road in less than five minutes.

Mind you, having bought your scanner, you cannot legally use it in this country because of the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949. The fact that legally you can buy a scanner but not use it is yet another great example of the absence of joined-up thinking in our legislation.

Why is it that so many of our laws seem to conflict with each other and fail to pass even the rudimentary scrutiny of common sense? No wonder so many lawyers enter politics - it's good for trade.

The irony of the present furore has not escaped me. Especially after the home secretary's embarrassing U-turn, postponing the introduction of controversial changes to the RIP (Regulation if Investigatory Powers) Act - the so-called snooper's charter - which would have allowed all sorts of unlikely bodies to access our routine voice and data conversations; all in the cause of national security.

It brought a wry smile to my face, therefore, when I realised that Government agencies have now become the victims of intrusive technology wielded by a member of the public. The biter has been bitten.

Of course, some of the details published on the Internet by Paul Wey are, undoubtedly, extremely sensitive, such as security arrangements for members of the royal family and Government ministers, and may well constitute a real security threat.

I regard that as a serious matter - but not quite as serious as the fact that our allegedly security-conscious Government has failed to eliminate the source of the threat in the first place - by using secure communication networks that are not susceptible to interception with freely available hardware.

For sure, we can also question Paul Wey's judgement in running his newsgroup on the Web and the apparent impotence of the security services to prevent such publication.

Quite simply, they claim, the Internet is outside their control - the British government has no jurisdiction over Internet newsgroups based in the US.

I would be more inclined to accept that argument, however, if I had not just received a VAT bill from a US-based supplier for goods ordered over the Internet.

A short time ago, the EU imposed its authority to make American companies levy British value-added tax directly on all Web transactions with British consumers - which just seems to prove my suspicions that when it comes to Internet governance, national security has a much, much lower priority than collecting VAT.

Has the Government got its priorities wrong? Tell us with an email >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge is an interim executive who has held top-level roles in IT strategy, development services and support. His travels along the blue-chip highway have taken him to a clutch of leading corporations, including Shell, BP, ICI, DHL and Powergen.

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