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Cartoon: Big data, c’est moi!


© Matthew Buck Hack cartoons

The speedy passage of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act last week significantly moved the battle for control of storage of digital information in the United Kingdom.

It is impossible to understand the (disputed) extension of powers the act enabled without reference to the highly controversial information disclosed by the former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden in the past 18 months. This revealed the wide extent of digital surveillance undertaken by the security services withou an obvious accountability to parliament.

Equally significant are the disputes over the jurisdictional control of ‘data’ and the location of the servers (repositories for storage). These involve consumer and advertising companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox and Cisco, plus the national governments and the supranational organisations such as the EU and the many regulators of trade and industry.

In this contentious area of public and private policy there are many dissenting voices some of which I recorded at a recent meeting at the Law Society. (That event had a specific focus on the activities of the agents of the state).

That said, it is useful to remember than private enterprises play quite as large a role as governments in this and some of Snowden’s more interesting revelations concerned the previously undisclosed collusion between the corporates and the government particularly in the provision of back doors in consumer technologies that allowed the (until this week) unwarranted surveillance activity of the security services.

Underlying the politicking and rock-throwing is the ongoing disruption of the digital communications revolution and its effect on our working lives. If you are curious about this I recommend three pieces of reading – here, here and here. The first two concern themselves with the expansion of surveillance powers in the  new bill in the UK and the last with the big picture of what technology and particularly the vast new repositories of data are doing with our lives.

The drawing above reflects my view of the speed at which the new bill was passed and is a piece of traditional handmade agitprop. It features the PM but it quite as easily have been the leaders of any of our national political parties. The reference (for the truly keen) is to King Louis XIV of France to whom the quote ‘The state, it is me’ is attributed. This has long been taken an an exemplar of absolutist power and data presently, seems to be the preferred method to achieving this for our leaders.

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