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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “Jimmy Wales Threatens To Stymie UK Snooping Plans By Encrypting Wikipedia Connections”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This should be universal

I know the majority of sites that are popular have HTTPS, but they haven’t switched over to it yet by default. So they still go by HTTP.

For those wanting it to be done for them just Google (gasp!) “https everywhere”. Which will take you to the EFF (double gasp!) page where you can get the add-on that will automatically load the HTTPS version of sites for you. Available for either Firefox or Chrome.

Note: Gasps placed in comment for bob and a few ACs’ sakes. Because we all know Google and the EFF are evil. /s

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wales is a grandstanding douchenozzle who will have people laughing at him over this empty threat.

Whether or not he’s grandstanding (or a “douchenozzle” which is a perfectly useless ad hom, which suggests the level of discourse you’re seeking), looking over the coverage and discussion of Wales testimony suggests that no one seems to be “laughing” at his claims. For whatever reason, as much as you may dislike it, people tend to take Wales fairly seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


Sir Tim warned that plans to monitor individuals’ use of the internet would result in Britain losing its reputation as an upholder of web freedom

The plans, by Theresa May, would force service providers to keep records of every phone call, email and website visit in Britain.

Sir Tim told the Times: “?In Britain, like in the US, there has been a series of Bills that would give government very strong powers to, for example, collect data. I am worried about that.”

Is he also a grandstanding douchenozzle? Would it be Sir Grandstanding Douchenozzle?

Anonymous Coward says:

>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

Can someone explain to me what Moody means here? I’m assuming that Wales’ argument is that Wikipedia over SSL. Which, by my understanding, means that whenever someone requests a page from Wikipedia, they first obtain Wikipedia’s public key, encrypt their page request, and send it to Wikipedia. Only Wikipedia can decrypt this request, because only Wikipedia has the corresponding private key.

At what point does it matter what Google and Facebook do? They shouldn’t be able to interfere in this process.

Nic Stevens says:

While Wales may be grandstanding I have a hard time with the idea that people call him a “douchenozzle” for wanting to keep the internet free of snooping. Does anyone actually believe unfettered access to everything everyone does is a good thing?

If we allow governments to have their way with the internet it will become sesame street. Safe for kids and mildly entertaining but hardly useful for an adult.

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