Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said today that an unintended consequence of the UK’s Communications Data Bill, which proposes to expand the government’s power to inspect communications data, would be to drive adoption of the https secure Internet protocol.
“Ironically, if it passes, it’s going to be a positive impact because it will be a completely useless bill that pushes everybody to https faster,” he said, adding that the bill was “incredibly vague” about what data would be collected.
The https protocol encrypts all data sent between the website operator and the browser. This means that government and law enforcement organisations, who access data via Internet service providers, would not be able to inspect that data.
Speaking at the RSA Conference in London, Wales said that the BIll nevertheless concerns him, as it obliges companies to retain more data than they otherwise would have kept. "Archiving of all this data will be completely useless, and quite dangerous, because we’re asking everybody, including little startups, to hang onto data that we wouldn’t hang onto otherwise."
Wales also spoke of the importance of free and open Internet communications for a functioning democracy. “We’ve seen from the Arab Spring that communication tools are important,” said Wales. “An informed and well-educated citizenry is a necessary condition for any serious positive institutional change.”
According to Wales, even in Western democracies, which he calls “best cases” of freedom of speech, there is “unevenness and complicated issues”.
Wales highlighted Wikipedia’s role in opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill in January, when members of its community voted in favour of a 24-hour blackout in protest of the US government being awarded controversial powers to block websites involved in allegations of copyright violation.
“Too much power given to governments to shutdown websites would have been dangerous for the health of the internet,” said Wales.
However, Wales said that it is important for Wikipedia not to become too politically active. “We think we probably just speak loosely for the community on things that are specifically about freedom of speech and openness on the internet that would impact our ability to do our job,” he said.