New data-retention policies went into effect in the UK this week, forcing ISPs to store details of all user emails and VoIP calls for a year, just in case law enforcement or the security services want to thumb through them. The government's intent is to mine the data to try and recognize patterns in relationships and contacts that will help them find terrorists and criminals. The idea that all of this data is being stored by ISPs makes privacy activists shudder, and their worry is not unfounded. But it's also important to understand that the idea, that by capturing all this data, the government can easily root out terrorists, is bunk. More data doesn't equal better data; it just makes it a hell of a lot more work to dig out useful information. It also raises the possibility of discovering false patterns that waste law enforcement's time and suck in innocent people. Recently, a guy in Wales found himself in the middle of an armed anti-terror raid on his home after somebody told police that they thought he might be a terrorist because he had soundproofing gear and wiring. He wasn't a terrorist, but rather a musician with a home recording studio. If police will go to such lengths based on unverified, anonymous tips, the thoughts of the conclusions they'll draw from having an entire country's email and VoIP records at their fingers should raise a few eyebrows.
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