The government’s ideal – competition

by David Moss

March 2009


Spy chiefs fear Chinese cyber attack.

Do they?

Yes. At least that’s what it says in the Sunday Times:

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.

They have told ministers of their fears that equipment installed by Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, in BT’s new communications network could be used to halt critical services such as power, food and water supplies ...

Ministers expressed concern that replacing the Chinese components with British parts would clash with government policy on competition.

Security considerations, it seems, dictate that the Chinese components in the UK telecommunications system should be replaced. Competition considerations dictate that they shouldn’t be replaced. Either you replace these components or you don’t, it’s one or the other, exclusive or, you have to choose. Given a choice between the two, the government chose competition over security. That’s the kind of guy the government is.

Which is a surprise because in his famous speech on liberty the Prime Minister said:

… This will only be possible if we face up to the hard choices that have to be made in government. Precious as it is, liberty is not the only value we prize and not the only priority for government. The test for any government will be how it makes those hard choices, how it strikes the balance. To claim that we should ignore the claims of liberty when faced with the needs of security would be to embark down an authoritarian path that I believe would be unacceptable to the British people. But to ignore the duty of government to protect its people - and to be unwilling to face up to hard choices - is the politics of gesture and irresponsibility.

In that speech, first he gave equality the chop. Then he flushed liberty down the pan. The only principle left standing was security.

Love it or hate it, at least his words seemed to be consistent with his actions. Security is (one of) the government’s reasons for the National Identity Scheme. And eBorders. And 28 days detention without charge. And the Intercept Modernisation Plan. That’s the kind of guy the government seemed to be, a security kind of a guy, Raytheon Man.

But now it seems that even security isn’t the undisputed champion in this division. Security itself can be KO’d by ... competition.

According to the Sunday Times article, the security services warned the government against using Chinese components in the BT network. And the US blocked the purchase of Chinese components specifically on security grounds. Despite that advice and despite that example, the UK government went ahead and bought Chinese, all in the name of competition, security can go hang:

… to ignore the duty of government to protect competition - and to be unwilling to face up to hard choices - is the politics of gesture and irresponsibility.

David Moss has spent six years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

2009 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd