I'd like to start today's blog with a big hello to the British Government. I say a big hello although they won't be watching everything I type just yet, that's going to be a little later. They're trying to pass laws over here that mean they'll be allowed to monitor every mobile phone call and every e-mail everyone makes.
It's all to stop terrorism, of course, and they won't be interested in anything else. I can't help but wonder whether they're missing the point, though. First, I know you in the US think of the UK as a little island off the European mainland (mainly because it's factually correct) but there are still 58 million or so of us over here. If we allow a per centage of children and a per centage of elderly people who won't use mails or mobiles that probably leaves us with, oh, 40 million people who could be using those media.
But it isn't just 40 million mail accounts or 40 million phone numbers they'll be monitoring now. Let's take a typical case - we'll call her Cindy. She has an e-mail account at home and a Hotmail account as backup in case her main mail goes down. That means she's not only one source of mail for the Government to watch, she's two. Oh hang on, make that three - naturally she has a work e-mail. Inevitably she also has two mobile numbers, the one she uses most of the time in her private life and the one her office has given to her.
OK, Cindy is fictional but that's not an unlikely scenario. That's five accounts of sorts for the Government to watch. 40 million times five sounds kind of like 200 million to me. And what's the Government going to find when it monitors this stuff? If most people's lives are like mine then there will be a lot of texts asking if someone's partner could pick up some milk because the house is running short. There will be a lot of daft teenage picture messages flying around. Monitoring this lot is going to cost a lot.
What's going to be tricky is actually trapping any terrorists through this sort of surveillance. Most sophisticated wrongdoers - and let's not assume they're stupid - will have worked out that a call made using an Internet phone service through a hotspot is going to be much more difficult to track down and intercept than one made with a mobile. So that's what they'll do. And Pay As You Go phones can be disposed of really easily if they're likely to constitute evidence of terrorism.
Don't get me wrong, if there were a real chance this was going to make a difference the Government - mine and yours - would be welcome to eavesdrop on my discussions with the vet about my dog's cough this last couple of days. I just think it's so easy to circumnavigate it's laughable.
The nuts and bolts of the story can be found here.