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Safety in cyberspace

In recent times the dangers of surfing online and communicating via the web have become more evident. While many people would welcome some sort of monitoring system, guest columnist Suleman Nagdi MBE DL insists we must be cautious and ensure proposed new measures do not infringe civil liberties. 

The government’s proposals for increased monitoring of people’s web and email usage are on the move, threatening to undermine our jealously guarded freedom. Before these proposals are passed into law, full and complete consideration needs to be taken of the public’s views on this issue through a comprehensive consultation. The undoubted need for vigilance in security must be balanced with the need to preserve basic civil liberties. There must be a public debate on the issue, and there must be a public consultation.

As technology moves forward the web is now the primary, if not the only portal of communication for many people in Britain. The issue of implementing security measures is far from straightforward. As an example, misidentification is an area of great concern.

A criminal can easily disguise him or herself within cyberspace – and it is crucial to ask how innocent people will be protected from such identity theft especially when the thief then goes on to commit greater crimes. A person can be active and disguised on the web in a way that is impossible in real life. How can we be assured that the innocent will truly be protected?

Many politicians and campaigners for civil liberties have expressed deep concerns about the potential for infringement of basic rights and these cannot be ignored. Our liberal democracy was established over many decades and we are policed by consent in Britain. This should be the starting point when considering infringing privacy in such an all- encompassing way.

These added security measures must be proportionate with no danger of stepping beyond the intended objective of any legislation. The government is seeking to clarify that this move will not be used to create new databases, nor will it give the police new powers to interfere with personal emails. However, the obvious fact is that this is the first step in this proposed legislation. Will ordinary people in Britain ever regain their privacy if it is allowed to pass?

Britain has led the way where crime and justice is concerned for many centuries. We are now in a new and unprecedented era of security threats and there is a need to respond. However, it would do us well to remember that in leading the way we ensure we uphold the values by which we live, one of the fundamentals of which are our civil liberties.




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