Search Something, Say Something: David Cameron Asks Google, Yahoo To Be 'Good Citizens' And Report Users Searching For 'Terrorist' Subject Matter
from the so,-why-is-the-GCHQ-still-collecting-paychecks? dept
UK Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t ask for much from the world’s tech companies. All he wants is for them to proactively police the web for child pornography, piracy and extremist content. He’s not offering to pay for these services. He just expects Google et al to do this on their own time and own dime to make the world a better place.
Now, he’s enlisting Google and Yahoo into the counterterrorism battle. As if the GCHQ and its stateside partner didn’t have enough tendrils intertwined with every cable and backbone between here and the UK, Cameron now wants the two search companies to be a part of an informal “search something, say something” program… all for free and all because it would be the neighborly thing to do.
Internet companies like Google and Yahoo should tell the police if possible terrorists are searching for tips to make bombs on the internet, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to apply to the internet the “principles of common sense, decency, moral responsibility as we do to real life”.
It’s simply not enough to index the web for searchability. Now, search engines need to act as unpaid informants for the world’s law enforcement agencies, turning over information on questionable searches to the proper authorities.
Of course, Google and Yahoo have no way of knowing whether searches for bomb-making tips are originating from terrorism suspects or screenplay writers or bored youths using search engines as an Anarchist’s Cookbook proxy. These prickly issues have likely never troubled Cameron’s grey matter. If so, these inane soundbites never would have escaped his lips. The more he talks, the more inane his platitudes-masquerading-as-solutions sound.
Mr Cameron said he wanted internet companies to take the same moral responsibility as if someone overheard a group planning a bombing in a pub.
“See something, say something” has done little more than tie up limited resources with a mass of false positives. Putting Google and Yahoo in this position is just asking for more of the same. What Cameron is asking for is the compilation of useless information that will only snag the innocent and the inept. If these are the sorts of “terrorists” Cameron wants removed from circulation, he should just ask his local law enforcement to follow the FBI’s lead. Busting handcrafted terrorists is far easier than hunting down actual threats, but it still sounds like real “wins” in press releases or politicians’ mouths.
Any would-be terrorist who doesn’t want to end up behind bars knows better than to plan violent acts in public, unlike the metaphorical extremists in Cameron’s fantasy. Using the two largest search engines isn’t much different than mapping out a bombing over a few pints at the local pub, but asking Google and Yahoo to treat their search engines like overheard conversations is guaranteed to end in futility.
Cameron compares it to child porn (because of course he does) even though there’s a big difference between searching out plainly illegal content and searches that may seem ominous when observed without context. Search engines track searches to provide relevant results to users, so there’s little doubt this information is retained somewhere. But it isn’t something that should be turned over to law enforcement just because certain terms were used. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for researching topics that are “terrorist-related” but Cameron’s request doesn’t leave any room for essential nuances like these.
We expect our search providers to return search results, not subject us to additional government scrutiny simply because our searches contain a few arbitrarily-flagged terms. If search engines become just another form of direct government surveillance, more and more users will take their business elsewhere. Terrorists — at least those with any instinct for self-preservation — already have.