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Technical Nightmare as UK Security Minister Seeks to ID Net Users

Monday, June 11th, 2018 (5:04 pm) - Score 1,292
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The UK Government’s Security Minister, Ben Wallace, has called for a new system of Digital IDs in order to end “mob rule” on the internet by preventing people from being able to “hide behind anonymity” online. You know, like Russia, Syria and China have tried repeatedly to do. Should we be more like them?

People are flawed. Sometimes it can seem like for every polite, law abiding and well-mannered person there is another individual who seems intent upon highlighting the very worst of humanity. In our personal off-line lives we can often avoid such people, but in the online world you’re bound to cross a few of them eventually or see their impact upon others and much of the time they do this anonymously. But you can still avoid most of them, if you so choose.

Equally we can all have our off-moments, when we let down our guard and say something that we probably shouldn’t have. In keeping with that, some topics are more likely to divide and ignite argument than they are to unite and those tend to be the biggest sparks. This is one area where Politicians are perhaps more of a target than most due to the impact they can have upon our everyday lives (e.g. Brexit.. oh boy). Anger quickly turns into abuse.

In this context it’s easier to understand Ben Wallace’s otherwise odd claim of “mob rule“, since you’d only see that if you were deliberately exposing yourself to it and that’s something which politicians open the floodgates to (some of them thrive on the divisions they create). Sadly for them the easy option of simply avoiding social media altogether doesn’t work, especially when so many of the electorate use it.

Ben Wallace said:

“It is mob rule on the internet. You shouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity as much as you can now.

I remember going to see an undercover online investigation into child sex exploitation. There was a children’s chat room with a 45-year-old pretending to be a 12-year-old. It was like blood in the water with a shark.

If we’re going to make the internet safer, we’re going to have to do something more about digital identification.”

Admittedly Wallace does make a fair point about the level of trolling and abuse online, although attempting to solve that via compulsory Digital IDs and then applying it only in the UK (while excluding other countries) could be rather challenging and may even be impossible, without turning the entire internet into a walled garden. Totalitarian states also happen to love walled gardens that only they and the thought police control.

The logical progression of such an approach may also result in the banning of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which are often legitimately used as a privacy or security tool and also for remote working or avoiding unfair geographic restrictions. Equally civil rights campaigners in non-democratic countries have been able to use such tools to campaign for freedom etc.

However, VPNs and Proxy Servers can also be used to mask a person’s identity for more nefarious purposes, but stopping this would be hard. Russia has tried to clamp down on them and doing so caused plenty of problems for businesses, as well as popular internet services. Meanwhile clever internet users can still find a way to circumvent such restrictions and that’s pretty much impossible to prevent due to the very nature of how the decentralised internet works. We also wonder whether such a ban might fall foul of the Net Neutrality rules.

On top of that there may be other concerns with the costs of such a system, as well as questions over who maintains it, who must implement it (i.e. just the big social networks or all websites down to the smallest blog?) and whether there would be a punishment for those that don’t or can’t implement it.

Likewise does it then follow that people would also face punishment for not correctly identifying themselves online? Personally speaking, I rather like the fact that online websites, whether in the UK or elsewhere, don’t force me to exchange lots of my real personal details just to access their services. I rarely trust them to handle such data, especially with all the hacking.

This brings us to the complex issue of trust. Do you trust the government to control such a system? Well don’t fret because, knowing our politicians, they’d be just as likely shop it all out to a commercial company in order to avoid having any responsibility for it, which would then promptly get hacked. Yay.

Finally, we can’t always assume that we will be governed by a truly democratic system that protects our freedoms and privacy in the future. Giving a future anti-democratic government such control over what we can access and how we communicate would seem to be unwise.

Equally we should say one person’s troll is another’s civil rights campaigner. Context can be a difficult thing to get right online and no matter what the government does, criminals will still find a way to abuse the internet and probably just as easily as they so often abuse the off-line world too.

Encryption

On top of that Wallace also echoed calls for a clampdown on end-to-end encryption, which is often seen by certain politicians as public enemy number one due to the way in which it makes it possible to secure a private conversion from prying eyes.

A closing thought or two on the issue of banning end-to-end encryption. This is used all over the place, for everything from securing your credit card transactions to keeping your messages private. It is an essential tool and one that only works if the decryption keys are kept hidden, often even from the service owner.

As security experts so often warn, you can’t allow one state or group to have special access and then expect that not to be abused by others (e.g. hackers or less democratic countries). On this point the Government are perhaps guilty of not being very worldly, since weakening the encryption supplied by British firms will do little to stop its use by criminals or terrorists and make it hard for the UK to sell “secure” software.

Encryption is not Apple, Facebook or Twitter. Encryption is a method that anybody or country can setup and use themselves. A clever terrorist probably has better ways to keep in touch with their fellow nut-jobs than to post a message on Twitter or Facebook, although the latter do make for useful promotional tools.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Steve Jones

    Whilst I don’t think positive IDs should be compulsory, it would be nice to have a method of blocking anonymous posters. I can see why anonymous users must be allowed for whistle-blowing and the like, but I see no reason why we should not be able to decide whether or not to allow replies from unidentified sources if we so choose. Context is everything. Even if they do appear, then some way of marking accredited identities would be nice, just as Twitter does with official accounts.

    I don’t run a website, but I suspect that many that do see the evidence of sock-puppets and trolls is obvious in some cases.

    • peter

      “I don’t run a website, but I suspect that many that do see the evidence of sock-puppets and trolls is obvious in some cases.”

      If it is obvious who trolls are you do not need to differentiate between those that are and those that are not. You just ignore those who or rid/delete the comments of those who are and leave the comments of those who are not

      Knowing who someone is and their written opinion on something gives it no more credence than something written by a person who is unidentified.

      The Sun newspaper has lots of tales to read all complete with an identified author of them at the beginning or end of each written piece. That still does not mean Elvis is alive and living on the moon though.

      Government ministers stand up each day and give their ill-informed opinion on matters also, just because i have a name and face to put to the remarks does not mean i believe what they have to say or make it any more true.

      The real reason they want things like this introduced is for nothing more than control and more monitoring of people. What the government do not like they want the power to censor.

      It is nothing to do with saving children from abuse, or preventing feelings being hurt by a nasty persons comments on the internet…. But hey if that is the line what it takes from our oh so trusted government to get what they and only they want (you can trust them you have a name and face) then so be it right?

      Do you really want to become like some parts of the world where if you say something that is taken as unfavourably of your countries leaders/authorities they can come get you and throw away the key? That is ultimately what they want and what happens elsewhere.

  2. Mr J

    From what I have seen police do not want to tackle low level digital crime when they know who the people are, so knowing more about those people will not really do anything.

    We need end to end encryption. Getting rid of it would be like saying we should get rid of cars because criminals use cars.

    So far smart meters have cost £28 million each. SomeCompany has to be loving it.
    My kids schools have all moved to let SameCompany manage communications between teachers and parents, plus all school money being spent (trips, lunch, anything really).

    I know where this “Scheme” is going and it may highlight a criminal, but not in the way they are selling it to us.

    It is just something that some large company has sold to someone in the name of security, safety, and social responsibility. It will turn out to be insecure, unsafe, and costly for all of Society.

  3. Steve Jones

    @Mr J

    “So far smart meters have cost £28 million each.”

    Wow – I’m sure that they are cheaper on eBay, but maybe those are cheap Chinese knock-offs.

  4. Billy

    The government keep having bright ideas about controlling the tubez and the webz, maybe they should start with something small and work up, say stopping spam for instance. Once everyone’s inbox is spam free, they could move up to stopping botnets etc…

  5. TheFacts

    Tesco know when your MoT is due. Know how?

    • Steve Jones

      Anybody can find out if a car is taxed of MOT’d (just how they know it belongs to you is another matter). This is what anybody with my registration number can find out from a government website. I assume if the MOT is due it provides a date.

      Vehicle make: FORD
      Date of first registration: September 2008
      Year of manufacture: 2008
      Cylinder capacity (cc): 1560 cc
      CO₂Emissions: 119 g/km
      Fuel type: DIESEL
      Export marker: No
      Vehicle status: Tax not due
      Vehicle colour: GREY
      Vehicle type approval: M1
      Wheelplan: 2-AXLE-RIGID BODY
      Revenue weight: Not available

    • Steve Jones

      I didn’t explore all the options – it tells you exactly when the MOT is due :-

      MOT valid until 12 September 2018

      Get an MOT reminderwhen the vehicle’s MOT is near its time for renewal. (Opens in a new Window) by email or text.

    • Steve Jones

      And some more details on previous tests (must replace those brake discs before September…)

      Date tested 18 August 2017
      Pass
      Mileage 62,588 miles
      MOT test number 1061 2823 3596
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2018
      Advisory notice item(s)

      Front Inner brake disc worn, pitted or scored, but not seriously weakened both (3.5.1i)
      Nearside Front Tyre worn close to the legal limit (4.1.E.1)

      What are advisories?
      Date tested 8 September 2016
      Pass
      Mileage 52,047 miles
      MOT test number 1168 9109 1125
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2017
      Date tested 18 August 2015
      Pass
      Mileage 42,079 miles
      MOT test number 3351 4033 5290
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2016
      Date tested 26 August 2014
      Pass
      Mileage 38,555 miles
      MOT test number 8059 4883 4207
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2015
      Advisory notice item(s)

      Nearside Inner Front brake disc worn, pitted or scored, but not seriously weakened (3.5.1i)
      Offside Inner Front brake disc worn, pitted or scored, but not seriously weakened (3.5.1i)
      Front Brake pad(s) wearing thin (3.5.1g)

      What are advisories?
      Date tested 21 August 2013
      Pass
      Mileage 35,822 miles
      MOT test number 6176 8393 3255
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2014
      Date tested 10 September 2012
      Pass
      Mileage 33,226 miles
      MOT test number 9162 2405 2249
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2013
      Date tested 16 August 2011
      Pass
      Mileage 29,360 miles
      MOT test number 5471 8832 1221
      Test location unavailable until further notice
      Expiry date 12 September 2012
      Advisory notice item(s)

      Nail in offside rear tyre

      What are advisories?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “Tesco know when your MoT is due. Know how?”

      Given Tesco also own a bank which sells among other things car insurance and their Supermarkets film your number plate when you enter/leave many of their own car parks the answer to that would be self explanatory.

      Anyone can run a car number plate and check a cars MOT periods (as already detailed).

      When you have a whole Banking division that also deals with car insurance im sure they also have no problem knowing which individual owns the car from something like a number plate. Have both and put the resources together and they could if they wanted probably send MOT, insurance and other such reminders to a pretty large chunk of the population.

      Sainsbury is another example of the same thing (owning a banking division). Infact, it becomes even more Orwellian with them to a degree. Some of the private car parking companies they use to film when you enter and/or leave have full on ANPR and will alert an operator of such cameras if a wanted person (or rather vehicle) turns up on the premises. Whether the old bill bother to turn up to apprehend said wanted individual is another matter entirely.

  6. dragoneast

    We are all too lazy. That’s why politicians were invented.

    The answer, as always, is to take the time and patience to look after yourself properly. And don’t say you don’t have it, you create it.

    And no I’m not going to tell the previous poster what an advisory is. They can find out for themselves. Unless they’re too lazy of course . . . and that is no-one else’s responsibility.

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