Jimmy Wales Threatens To Stymie UK Snooping Plans By Encrypting Wikipedia Connections
from the take-that dept
The draft bill of the UK’s “Snooper’s Charter“, which would require ISPs to record key information about every email sent and Web site visited by UK citizens, and mobile phone companies to log all their calls, was published back in July. Before it is debated by politicians, a Joint Committee from both the House of Commons and House of Lords is conducting “pre-legislative scrutiny.”
As the list of questions on the Joint Committee’s Web page makes clear, it seems to be doing a thorough job, exploring every aspect of the proposed legislation. As well as a public consultation (now closed), it is also taking oral evidence from a wide range of interested parties, both for and against the plans. Yesterday, one of the people who spoke before the Committee was Jimmy Wales, who did not mince his words:
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has sharply criticised the government’s “snooper’s charter”, designed to track internet, text and email use of all British citizens, as “technologically incompetent”.
He said Wikipedia would move to encrypt all its connections with Britain if UK internet companies, such as Vodafone and Virgin Media, were mandated by the government to keep track of every single page accessed by UK citizens.
He went on to suggest that other Internet companies would do the same, forcing the UK authorities to resort to what he called “black arts” to break the encryption. As he pointed out: “It is not the sort of thing I’d expect from a western democracy. It is the kind of thing I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese.”
To a certain extent, this is just bluster: Wales has no formal power to instruct Wikipedia to encrypt its connections, and even assuming that happened, it’s not certain that companies like Google and Facebook would risk fines or imprisonment for their staff by refusing to hand over encryption keys. But Wales’ intervention had a big symbolic importance: he’s not only the co-founder of Wikipedia — which even politicians have heard of and probably use — he’s also one of the UK government’s own special tech advisers, appointed back in March.
His comments are, therefore, a real slap in the face, and a useful reminder that by pushing for this kind of total surveillance the UK government is not only making itself look oppressive, but stupid too.