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Technology, terror and total nonsense. Why our government hasn't a clue.

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Why do they bother? Politicians, I mean - and specifically their ideas concerning technology. Because each and every time they open their mouths on the subject, they make utter fools of themselves.

A shining example of this idiocy appeared last week, in the wake of the dreadful attacks in Paris. Naturally, being self-serving types, governments of all hues like to seize on a big international story, manipulating it for their own ends. And so it was with the Charlie Hebdo incident. Once the assurances of an absolute commitment to freedom were out of the way, the Tory-led coalition began to explain exactly how they would go about restricting our freedom by sneaking around in our electronic communications. Only this time, their plan involved wrecking the whole of the UK's IT industry, by insisting all the nation's software would require to a 'backdoor' in its code. This, they figured, would allow security services to pop in, have a look round and pop out again; thereby keeping us safe.

I'm certainly no software developer, but this immediately struck me as being hopelessly flawed and dangerously ignorant. Indeed, the gap between the actuality of software design and the understanding displayed by policy-makers is so vast, I'm surprised they're not building luxury apartments in it.

"It gets worse. Much worse."

First of all, there is no way to make this retrospective. So even if this legislation was introduced tomorrow, it wouldn't apply to any laptop, desktop, phone or tablet in current use. Nor any of the immense stock sitting in shipping containers or warehouses. Given most hardware has a lifespan of about ten years, this 'backdoor' notion suddenly seems massively futile. But it gets worse, much worse.

Any programmer will tell you, it is just not possible to create a 'backdoor' which allows 'good guys' in and keeps 'villains' out. Such a facility is in fact, an open invitation to hackers and crazies.

No other country is proposing this approach, which means anyone coming to the UK - including, business people and tourists - would be unable to use their devices here, as they wouldn't comply with the 'must spy' laws. Then there's the issue of 'open source' software. Although many mistakenly believe this phrase means the product is free, it actually means the code is available to any developer who wishes to improve it; and that work can take place anywhere in the world, often simultaneously. There is simply no way the UK government can police this process. Therefore, masses of 'open source' kit would continue to be deployed in Britain, without the back-door.

For the record, the UK would also have to persuade Apple, Microsoft, Google and a few hundred others, to write operating systems specifically for us. How would that work? Would we pay them millions of pounds to do it? Even if the manufacturers were vaguely tempted by the money, they'd balk at the stranglehold this would put on the commercial market here. It's no exaggeration to say this tampering would deal a lethal blow to Britain's IT and digital sectors. I trust that's something the politicians would be keen to factor into their financial planning.

Of course, I haven't even touched on the moral and civil rights issues raised by the concept of a government demanding invisible access to the back-end of all our devices and platforms. It's worth noting that only regimes as repressive as those in China, Syria and Iran indulge in this level of intrusion. Do we really wish to join such a dubious roll-call?

Actually, I don't believe our rulers push for this sort of legislation out of a sharpened desire to compromise us all. No, this is all about knee-jerk reaction and an all-consuming unawareness of technology's nuance and structure. However, the 'I don't know what I'm talking about' factor can be just as pernicious as anything more conspiratorial.

Undoubtedly, resisting terrorism takes us rapidly into the technological realm. But if we look to the political class for the answers, we'll clearly be waiting a very long time.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter and blogger.

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