Tia Sharpe and April Jones are more important than Edward Snowden
A lot of people I know, work with, respect and revere are alarmed at the revelation by Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency is routinely storing information on everyone about who they call, e-mail and so on.
The only thing that surprises me about this is that anyone is actually surprised. What makes me stop and think is the contrast between the outpouring of anguish over the NSA activity from the Web community compared with the total silence over recent murders in Britain of two young girls.
My phone company, Virgin Media, knows the details of every call everyone in my household makes or receives. As that company also provides our cable TV they also know every programme we watch, whether live or on catch up. They know every Web site everyone of us visits, every e-mail we send and receive and so on. The mobile phone companies we use know not only who we have called and who has called us but where they and we were at the time, and of course the content of all our SMS messages. They know this because we send and receive all those bytes through their network.
Social media knows everything you choose to share, like, upload and shout about. That's content that they now own and can do with whatever they like. You agreed to this when you signed up.
There are laws and policies in place - rightly - that allow citizens to ask for data held about them by anyone. And there are laws, at least in this country, about only using data for the purpose for which it was collected. The European Commission is pushing hard for a Right to be Forgotten. All good.
But is anyone really surprised that the intelligence services just Hoover this stuff up? I'm not. After all, that's their job isn't it? Maybe I should be surprised but I've long assumed that this happens. Once you use an electronic system, be it Web, phone, TV or whatever's coming next, you automatically lose control of what you have said. That's the way of the world.
The internet freedom advocates are crying foul but I'm sorry, I can't in all honesty join in.
In contrast, the names of Tia Sharpe and April Jones are ones we should not know. Those two girls, aged 12 and 5 years old, were murdered for no reason other than the sexual gratification of two men. The perpetrators' addiction to sexual violence was fed through access to child abuse material found with relative ease online.
Identifying that material is technically very hard. An image of one or more adults violently abusing a young child contains the same ratio of skin tones, body sizes and backgrounds as a lot of other images. Removing or blocking access to that material which everyone agrees only belongs in a court of law as evidence against the perpetrators, risks infringing people's rights. The border between legal and illegal images is as tricky to navigate as the border between rights and responsibilities.
Personally, I think we should put more effort into finding solutions to detecting and removing evidence of violent sexual abuse and less on complaining that the government knows what your phone company knows already.