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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Attacking responsible journalists will only lead to more irresponsible disclosures

It's hard to see the detention of David Miranda and seizure of his data or the arrival of GCHQ spooks at a national newspaper's offices to witness the destruction of hard disks as anything other than a warning shot across the bows of anyone daring enough to handle leaked classified data in future.

Anti-terror laws are broad enough to get anyone or anything we want.  We can and we will get you.

Of course this won't stop the leaks.  History is littered with examples of people willing to put themselves on the line for government transparency.

Pioneers of political journalism such as William Cobbett served a prison term for objecting in print to actions of the government; others risked the Tower for standing up for public scrutiny of Parliament.

What it will do is make responsible journalists wary of dealing with leaked sensitive information, leaving the leakers with few options other than dump the whole lot on the internet; with no opportunity to redact or withhold highly sensitive sections that are not directly relevant to the issue at stake.

Of course the intelligence agencies of Britain and her allies with their tentacles seemingly into every corner of the internet  may well have a plan to wipe any such site off the face of the net.

But with quite a few well-motivated transparency fanatics out there willing to replicate and retransmit leaked data and I wouldn't bet my money on this plan being successful.

Each additional measure security agencies are forced to take to guard against leaks by renegade staff adds to the data handling burden, which in turn makes our security agencies less effective in their primary aim of defending us against truly evil forces.

So it really is in everyone's interests to see the leaks stopped... But not by force!


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Equip children to deal with the web, threats and all

When a teenager takes their own life it's bloody awful... Noteworthy is that the bullying allegedly happened not on Twitter - a company in the press at the moment for their "lack of action" over abuse - but on ask.fm. 

No sooner is one platform sanitised than the kids move to other places to interact.

Instead of the sole focus being on platforms to deal with abuse we have to do more to equip young people to deal with the web.

That involves prevention, ie avoid getting into all-out flame wars in the first place; handling threats and negative comments; teaching how to hit the off or ignore button and take a break in the real world; and, in the case of substantive threats to life, taking up the issue with police.

It's easy to make a noise and say that social media platforms and web companies "must do more" but it's a rich and complex problem which cuts through the whole of modern society.

There is not one simple solution - like censoring/blocking sites that don't take a duty of care - as others will pop up.

I'm not defending the abusers in any way but part of the solution has to be to help the victims deal with abuse and ignore unsubstantiated threats; this goes against the current noise being made of late in the mainstream press - looking for the platforms, police and censorship to fix the problem - but the web as it is there will always be a way to upset someone online.

If we want to prevent the level of despair that leads to suicide we need to teach young people how to (a) limit their exposure to threats by the platforms they choose to use and the way they interact; and, (b) deal with them when they happen.