A nice coincidence last Tuesday. As the joint select committee of peers and MPs met to hear evidence on the draft Communications Data Bill, which will give police and intelligence services the power to access all your email data and internet connections, the hacking group AntiSecpublished a sample of 12 million unique Apple device identifiers.
These device identifiers may have included details of President Obama’s iPad and almost certainly came from an FBI agent’s laptop, which goes to prove that wherever you have a big database, someone will find a way into it, even when the information is trusted to one of the most sophisticated intelligence agencies on Earth.
The point was not lost on the committee chairman, Lord Blencathra, formerly the Conservative chief whip David Maclean, who called it “fatalistic”. Not that you heard much of this last week in the coverage of the rituals of a tribe of pygmies, otherwise known as the cabinet reshuffle.
However, two of the most respected figures in the history of the web – its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales – were vehemently against the proposals, not just because they were anti-democratic and represented a mass breach of privacy but, in Wales’s view, because they are unworkable.
Just about everyone from the London Internet Exchange (Linx) to the Law Society is opposed to the “snooper’s charter” on the grounds of privacy. But let’s forget that core issue for a moment and focus on the bill’s origin, which happens to be the seething breast of a man named Charles Farr, formerly of MI6, now the head of the office for security and counterterrorism at the Home Office.
The home secretary, Theresa May, promoted the bill, but it is Farr’s baby and, in effect, is simply a version of the vast data-gathering machine that he conceived in the interception modernisation programme under Labour. That this anonymous, unelected agency man persists with the creepy agenda should be enough to alert even the most complacent to its dangers.