First it was terrorism, now it's child pornography.
Law makers of every nationality and every political hue appear to have ready-made excuse for restrictions of civil liberty and monitoring of perfectly legal activities. In the 80s and 90s, we in the UK had the threat of IRA, in the Noughties, we had Al Qaeda as the bogeyman.
Now, while mindful of the fact that terrorism is still very much used as an excuse for clampdowns on personal liberty, a new excuse has been found: child pornography. This works perfectly, who could possible object to measures taken to protect children from an evil array of pornographers and child abusers?
The European Parliament certainly thinks that no-one can possibly object. A number of MEPs have signed a written declaration and have set up a website, rather tastelessly, called Smile.eu (complete with picture of wide-eyed child) as a statement of their intent to set up an "early warning system" to detect paedophiles.
All well and good but the real devil is in the detail, this written declaration calls for Directive 2006/24/EC to be extended to search engines - this is better known as the Data Retention Directive. Even more sinisterly, as Swedish MEP Christian EngstrÃ¶m has pointed out, there has been a sleight of hand by the drafters of the directive, and the calls for retention of Google (and other search engine records) was not mentioned - or rather was mentioned only by an esoteric reference to the directive number. Now, MEPs are asking to remove their names from the declaration (although it doesn't say much for their abilities that they're prepared to sign a document without knowing its implications).
If this gets passed - and it's just a few signatures away from snagging the requisite numbers - it's yet another blow against privacy. I think it's true to say that 99.99 percent of us are against child abuse and paedophilia but do lawmakers really think that even more computer legislation is the answer to prevent this happening? It won't but it does add another level of compliance for organisations to worry about and it's yet another blow against personal privacy.
We worry about Facebook and that organisation's attitude to privacy but seemingly are happy to allow governments to collect as much data as they want about us. But it's all right - it's all in the name of protecting children so it's OK... isn't it?
Follow Maxwell on Twitter on @maxcooter
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