Editorial: Internet can be a force for good

Despite privacy fears, most people recognise that the benefits outweigh the costs

Related Topics

Every now and again, opinion polls offer a window on the wisdom and pragmatism of the British people. So it is with our ComRes poll today, which reports that only 20 per cent of the population trust the Government to protect people's privacy on the internet from snooping by American intelligence agencies, while 57 per cent disagree. This is a healthy and democratic instinct. When the US National Security Agency's Prism programme was revealed, our nerves should have been jangled by the idea that the British and American governments are trawling through our private emails and family photos in "the cloud". When Edward Snowden, the leaker, was interviewed, his account of a cavalier attitude in the CIA towards laws supposedly safeguarding privacy should have reinforced our scepticism about governments' defence of civil liberties.

Since the initial shock, the Prism story has appeared to be slightly less alarming. If the internet companies are to be believed, the only times they have supplied government agencies with confidential material has been in response to specific legal requests, as we report on page 34. All the same, the story has been a valuable reminder of something of which most people were aware, fuzzily and intermittently, namely that much of their lives is on the internet and it is all traceable. Privacy is not what it used to be.

On the whole we don't mind this change. Or we positively welcome it. Indeed, if the CIA could remind us of our password for that little-used online savings account, we would be happier still. Generally, the internet, mobile telephony and the miniaturisation of electronics have vastly improved the quality of life. What technology has not done, however, is change human nature, which is why one of the most popular uses of the internet is for pornography.

Hence the more pressing concern most people have about the internet is not CIA snooping but the uses to which it can be put by paedophiles. The evidence that the easier access to indecent images of children leads to more assaults on children is inconclusive, but what is important is to harness the "snoopability" of the internet to crack down on child sexual abuse.

Thus Google, which was one of the companies named in the Prism story and which was already under fire for avoiding taxes, should be praised unequivocally for its contribution to the fight against child sexual abuse images on the internet. Last week, the company donated £1m to the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation, which works in this field, and we report that today the company is donating a further £2m to two US foundations. The company also announced it was stepping up its "hashing" effort to identify images of child sexual abuse and root out copies made anywhere on the internet.

John Carr, the UK government adviser on child internet safety, is unstinting: "In all my time working in this space, no company has ever devoted anything like this level of resources to working with civil society organisations to attack online child abuse images." As he says, "This is an important moment."

One other finding of our poll is notable. Despite the fears about privacy and about the uses of the internet by criminals, most people recognise that the benefits of new technology outweigh the costs. ComRes found that only 23 per cent agree that the "internet is bad for family life", while 61 per cent disagree. We salute the good sense of the British people and say: don't forget tonight's internet shopping order.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album