THE UK GOVERNMENT has detailed some its plans to snoop on citizens online, explaining that it is necessary because so many of them are criminals.
Criminals like pitchfork inducing paedophiles and terrorists are using new technology, warns Home Secretary Theresa May, and must be stopped.
The best way to do that, she says, is to store records about everything people do on social networking web sites, who and what they email, where and with whom they chat online, where they play online games, and who they speak with over the internet. So, everything, basically.
This, the draft Communications Data Bill, is a big ramp up from present rules that require that internet service providers (ISPs) to keep basic, but quite frankly, enough, information about their users so that law enforcement and other agencies can access it.
This sounds Orwellian, but really it is not, apparently. Rather than oppressing UK citizens it actually respects them, and looks to protect them from bad actors.
"Communications data saves lives. It is a vital tool for the police to catch criminals and to protect children. If we stand by as technology changes we will leave police officers fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs," said May.
"Checking communication records, not content, is a crucial part of day-to-day policing and the fingerprinting of the modern age - we are determined to ensure its continued availability in cracking down on crime."
Communications data covered in the bill includes the time and duration of a communication, the number or email address of the originator and recipient and "sometimes" the location of the device from which the communication was made. The Home Office says that the powers are "vital", adding that they will "catch criminals, save lives and protect children", and says this with a straight face.
The Home Office said that this communications data should be viewed as different from communications content and explained that four agencies would be allowed to access the information. These agencies are the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) National Crime Agency (NCA), Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and of course MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
We count more than four too, but the latter three are lumped together under an "intelligence agencies" banner.
"Any significant reduction in the capability of law enforcement agencies to acquire and exploit intercept intelligence and evidential communications data would lead to more unsolved murders, more firearms on our streets, more successful robberies, more unresolved kidnaps, more harm from the use of class A drugs, more illegal immigration and more unsolved serious crime overall," chimed SOCA director general Trevor Pearce by way of thanks.
The Snoopers Charter, as the proposed Communications Bill is otherwise known, already has opponents, and the Pirate Party UK called it an about face for the government.
"In '09 Tories promised to halt the rise of the surveillance state. Today the Home Sec argues for a #snooperscharter," it said in a tweet. "The #snooperscharter directly contradicts the coalition agreement promises to restore rights of individuals in face of state power."
Perhaps because it realises what a massive task this is, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which will have some hand in making sure that individuals' rights are protected, cautiously welcomed its own involvement in the plans.
"Ultimately, it is for Parliament to determine whether or not the proposals contained in the draft Bill are a proportionate response to the perceived problem of communications data capability," said a spokesperson, reflecting the ICO's determination not to express an opinion.
"If the Information Commissioner is to be in a position to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act, in respect of security of retained personal information and its destruction after 12 months, the ICO will need appropriately enhanced powers and the necessary additional resources."
"There's been a lot of scaremongering, a lot of myths about in the media over the last couple of days," he said. "Any measures will be proportionate. They will not sacrifice people's civil liberties, we will not create a new government database and we will not give police new powers to look into people's emails. Let's be clear, we aren't simply going to ram some legislation through Parliament."
But that was despite, not to mention just two days after, the Home Office told us that it was necessary to "obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public," and added, "We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes."
Which is just what it is doing. µ
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