The spooks are not stupid. There are two ways they can respond to this in a manner consistent with their current objectives. They can try to shut down the press — a distinct possibility within the UK, but still incredibly dangerous — or they can shut down the open internet, in order to stop the information leakage over that channel and, more ambitiously, to stop the public reading undesirable news.
I think they’re going for the latter option, although I doubt they can make it stick. Let me walk you through the early stages of what I think is going to happen.
In the UK it’s fairly obvious what the mechanism will be. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his weight behind mandatory opt-out porn filtering at an ISP level, to protect our children from a torrent of filth on the internet. (He’s turned to Chinese corporation Huawei for the tool in question.) All new domestic ISP customer accounts in the UK will be filtered by default, unless the owner opts out. There’s also the already-extant UK-wide child pornography filter operated by the Internet Watch Foundation, although its remit is limited to items that are probably illegal to possess (“probably” because that’s a determination for a court of law to make). And an existing mechanism — the Official Secrets Act — makes it an offense to possess, distribute, or publish state secrets. Traditionally newspapers were warned off certain state secrets by a process known as a Defense Advisory Notice, warning that publication would result in prosecution. It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to foresee the creation of a law allowing for items subject to a DA-Notice to be filtered out of the internet via a national-level porn filter to protect the precious eyeballs of the citizenry from secrets that might trouble their little heads.
On the other hand, the UK may not have a First Amendment but it does have a strong tradition of press freedom, and there are signs that the government has already overreached itself. We’ll know things are really going to hell in a handbasket when The Guardian moves its editorial offices to Brazil …