Saturday, January 21, 2006

I’m well and truly Googled!!

We learn from a variety of sources, including The Telegraph that the US Justice Department is demanding from Google (and other search engine providers) data about every search conducted on its site during a one-week period.

This will include records about the behaviour of millions of people around the world who use internet search engine, the Justice Department claiming the information is vital for its attempt to restore online child protection laws struck down by the US Supreme Court.

Quite unreasonably, some will say, Google is resisting this demand, claiming that, to comply would give the impression that it is willing to disclose personal information about those who use its services. This is, "not a perception that Google can accept", it says.

But in the battle against child molesters, pornographers and the like – who use the internet widely in the pursuit of their loathsome activities – assessing the extent of related traffic is surely a logical step in devising and implementing an effective enforcement regime.

After all, it is not as if us law-abiding citizens have anything to hide. We can sleep easily in our beds while the Justice Department – and like-minded guardians around the world - protect us and our children from the depredations of what are, in fact, some very evil people, chasing down the wrong-doers and bringing them to book.

But hang on a sec… Not long ago, I wrote a story which included references to the Ruth Kelly debacle, and the sex offenders register. Perhaps unwisely, in retrospect, to pull up the background stories to inform my writing, I googled the string: "Ruth Kelly", "schools" and "sex". That's me done-for.

Come to think about it, I have done a lot of Googling on terrorists and explosives, and I did a lot of searching on artillery shells for a recent story. There's me now, with red flags all over my file.

Well, at least I can say it's research (don't they all?). Even though I may occasionally have a look at the BNP site, it is not as if I frequent porn sites, is it? Er… well, actually I do – at least, according to the "internet history" on my computer.

One of the less savoury aspects of running this blog and its associated forum is that I check-out web links of applicants to join the forum and the sites that link to this blog – the latter on the basis of normal "netiquette" of returning the favour. One of the more devious tricks of the pornographers is to secrete their site URLs into apparently innocent links, in the hope of attracting unsuspecting net users onto their sites.

These links, of course, get zapped in nano-seconds. Readers and forum users are never troubled. But the site details are faithfully stored, for some wandering plod to find when they come to seize my computers.

Then there was that time when I let a so-called "friend" use my computer to send faxes from my machine because his had broken down. One day I lent him the house key because I was going to be out, and he had a whole batch to send. When I returned, I found he had spent the day in my house, surfing the net for the most indescribable porn – the details of which, again, are faithfully recorded in my computer memory. He had even, "obligingly", downloaded some material and left the files on the computer desktop.

Never mind, I have perfectly innocent explanations for all of this, so they'll be quite understanding and send me on my way… won't they… er…?

And, as they say, there's the rub. None of us have anything to fear, until they come to get us. This is "big government" at its worst and, whether it is the US government or the British government - with the aid of the EU, they are all the same.

There are still some people – too many - stupid enough to believe that government is benign and, when that "benign government" professes to be pursuing such noble causes as hunting down child pornographers, they are gulled into believing that giving it access to personal information is "a good thing". Repeat after me... "we have nothing to hide...".

But, all governments – of whatever ilk - abuse their powers. They just do it for different reasons - or so they claim. Your totalitarian state will do it for reasons of "state security", the "benign" democracy will do it to counter child pornographers.

Either way, the more information they have, the greater the chance of, and temptation for, abuse. Of course Google is right to resist the Justice Department, just as the campaigners are right to resist this government's plans for ID cards and why we should now be resisting any plans for electronic road charging based on the Galileo system - which will record details of every car journey we make.

Meanwhile, does anyone know how to wipe a computer hard disk… I mean really wipe it? Otherwise, I'm well and truly Googled.

See also, this post from ShrinkWrapped blog


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