THE SNOOPERS' CHARTER will give UK police the same powers of surveillance over web use and telephone communications that are currently available to GCHQ, according to Mozilla.
Raegan MacDonald, senior policy manager and EU principal at Mozilla, made the claim during a Mozilla Privacy Lab event in London yesterday.
Rather than clarifying surveillance powers, the real effect of the Snoopers' Charter, or Investigatory Powers Bill, is to legitimise current practice and bring in ideas from other areas, such as a police database.
"It's about legally justifying the previously secret practices of GCHQ and allowing those powers to go to all levels of law enforcement," she said.
The bill requires telecoms companies and ISPs to store records of telephone and internet communications for one year.
This data will be searchable by the police and other authorities using something called 'request filter', a sort of search engine, in effect. These queries will be subject to oversight (filtering) by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, in order that the police see only information pertinent to the search. Or at least that's the pitch.
"The request filter, when used, acts as an additional safeguard for communications data requests made by public authorities to ensure that the data they acquire is limited only to that which is absolutely necessary," said the government in a fact sheet.
However, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, questioned how this will work in practice, pointing out that the bill is woefully short on mechanisms to ensure that such oversight is effective.
"Request filter is being sold as a privacy enhancing measure because the police will only see the information they need," he said.
"That sounds plausible at first but let's say the police say: 'Someone in Shoreditch has been looking at this dodgy website but we don't know who.' Where is the search going to start? They're going to look at all the people in Shoreditch and all of the people who have accessed that website and narrow it down."
Requests are likely to be waved through by those supposed to scrutinise them, and because it's an "easy and cheap way to gather intelligence" it will be used for "fishing trips and profiling people", Killock suggested.
In this conclusion he is joined by Conservative MP Stephen McPartland, who has tabled a series of amendments designed to constrain the power of the bill, including putting it on the statute book as a formal Regulation so that it is subjected to the normal transparency and processes of judicial review.
MacDonald recognised the value of analytics to law enforcement agencies, but said that "the powers are too broad, they are not defined and they are not proportionate". μ
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