The increased use of mobile phone tracking technology is not helping to keep children safer, according to former spy chief Sir John Scarlett, who says that GPS may actually put them at greater risk.

The ex-head of MI6 said:

“You’ve got to know what your children are doing, it’s very difficult to know exactly what they’re doing in particular when they’re on a tablet or something they’ve got and you’ve got to have some kind of idea.

They are extremely vulnerable, everybody is, to a whole range of things. Clearly when they’re young children they’re particularly vulnerable to predators.”

And by predators Sir John was obviously referring to the sort every parent worries about rather than the more pervasive sort Mr Snowden has recently warned us about.

That said Scarlett, perhaps predictably, suggested that people in general should be worried about snooping, but not from the government. No sir. It’s the terrorists and criminals we have to worry about.

Speaking before a speech at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) annual meeting in Newport, south Wales, Sir John suggested that abuse of tracking devices and too much self-disclosure online were a far greater risk to personal security than anything the state may be up to.

Echoing my own personal view that technological advancement has gotten too far ahead of the appropriate security considerations, he said that the tech environment changes rapidly and that later generations are becoming increasingly relaxed about tracking and the sharing of data online.

Sir John warned that there is no such thing as “absolute protection” against a determined attacker but the public could protect themselves to a great extent by using passwords and other methods to thwart 80% of intrusions (source please Mr Scarlett), though he failed to mention that the key to good password security is complexity and uniqueness which is something a huge number of users still fail to grasp.

It’s the younger generation and trackable devices that concern the ex-spy chief the most though with him saying:

“Personally what worries me most are the tracking devices. The way in which locational apps, for example, are now quite freely available. Of course, you can start off by consciously giving out information about yourself and once you’ve done that you’ve lost control of it. There is a need for everyone to be aware that once information is shared online, for example through using a search engine, it can be used by different firms.”

Sir John added that the “best advice” for parents is to teach their children some common sense; to be aware of the type of information they give out online and to also be aware of the way in which they express themselves.

He also highlighted how people of a certain age have become far more relaxed about the tech they’ve grown up with, suggesting that those aged 30 and under were far more likely to share more than they ought to, despite being more savvy than their elders.

While I think Sir John’s ideas are sound, his advice is rather wishy-washy in my opinion and not overly helpful. That said, I hope that any parent who reads his comments will be prompted to go away and consider what exactly their children are up to, who they are talking with online and what information they are sharing, especially with people they don’t already know on a personal basis – there really is no substitute for a little parental responsibility imho.

As for his comments about government snooping and his assertion that the UK is “a law-based state operating very tightly within a legal framework and a cultural environment and that is where your protection must lie,” I’ll leave you to make your own minds up as to their relative accuracy and merit.

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