FORGET WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD. Home secretary Theresa May does not intend to spend the winter months going through your internet history, and her Investigatory Powers Bill is not going to be quite as bad as we thought it would be.
May, a lady who probably cracks eggs with a sledgehammer and chisel, won't drop the idea of an omnipresent internet eye and has ridden into the House of Commons on the back of the snooping donkey many times before. She's back at it now, and has already met the slings and arrows of opposition.
No wonder, really. The list of things that she wants is of concern. May's surveillance letter to Santa asks for the moon on a stick and the real ability to protect the public safety. This rarely works out well for citizens.
There are three elements to the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, according to the Home Office, and they are concerned with change, oversight and the collection of data.
May said that the UK is in a digital age and that the internet brings with it good and bad. Terrorists use it for their arrangements, and hackers for their indulgence and bad things happen through it.
May said on introducing the powers and the bill to Parliament that it will not be as bad as people think. She started by denying pretty much all the aspects of the plans that raised controversy, including that the data retention and ban on encryption are not happening, at least not quite as we might have thought.
"We live in a digital age. Technology is having a profound effect on society. Computers are central to our everyday lives. Big data is reshaping the way we live and work. The internet has brought us tremendous opportunities to prosper and interact with others," she said in a statement of the bleeding obvious.
"But a digital society also presents us with challenges. The same benefits enjoyed by us all are being exploited by serious and organised criminals, online fraudsters and terrorists."
The promise is that the laws will embrace rights gently and work in such a way that people are safe and their data remains reasonably private.
"The task of law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies has become vastly more demanding in this digital age. It is right, therefore, that those who are charged with protecting us should have the powers they need to do so. But it is the role of government and Parliament to ensure that there are limits to those powers," said May.
However, the police and army and others will have access to "internet connection records", which are not a record of an entire history but the "modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill".
There will be strict limits on the access to such data, but there will be no limit on the scale of data harvesting. Here May talked about data in terms of "bulk".
May said that she wants "the ability to intercept the contents of communications in order to acquire sensitive intelligence to tackle terrorist plots and serious and organised crimes" and the "use of equipment interference powers to obtain data covertly from computers".
She also wants the "use of these powers by the security and intelligence agencies in bulk to identify the most serious threats to the UK from overseas and to rapidly establish links between suspects in the UK".
The issuing of surveillance or data warrants will come under increased control, and May made a particular point of saying that local authorities will not get a sniff of your information. Which is some consolation.
The House of Commons made approving noises during May's introduction, but this was not the case everywhere. Braying from the nay corner are a range of opponents with several concerns and warnings.
"This bill will redefine the relationship between the state and the public for a generation. The government needs to get it right and make sure that the UK's law enforcement and security agencies can fight serious crime while upholding all of our human rights," said Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock.
"However, at first glance, it appears that this bill is an attempt to grab even more intrusive surveillance powers, and does not do enough to restrain the bulk collection of our personal data by the secret services.
"It proposes an increase in the blanket retention of our personal communications data, giving the police the power to access web logs. It also gives the state intrusive hacking powers that can carry risks for everyone's internet security."
The Guardian reported that personal browsing history will be retained and made available for 12 months, while reports yesterday had us stockpiling tinned foods and printing swathes of internet content for future reference.
Mobile phones may become our closest enemies, according to The Guardian, and will be used to whisper information about us and what we are doing into the ears of the authorities.
This kind of thing leads to comparisons with a fictional work by George Orwell that you may have encountered. µ
But the search giant has now squashed the bug
But it's not yet available here in Blighty
We're not sure this is what The Maybot had in mind
Typical politicians - meme, meme, me