Draft proposals have been published today outlining plans to give police and intelligence agencies increased access to the public’s internet records.
Initial reports suggest the plans amount to a blank cheque from the government for ISPs to keep records of emails, instant messaging and social media usage for a year.
It is hoped the records will aid police in the fight against crime and terrorism.
Given the government’s recent u-turn record on everything from charity donations to pasties, let’s hope Home Secretary Theresa May has written the document in soft pencil – particularly as it now faces criticism from civil rights groups and senior Tory Party members.
Former shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the bill amounts to a ‘snoopers’ charter’ that will turn Britain into a ‘nation of suspects.’
Meanwhile Lib Dems are expected to tow the line, offering little more than a mutter of dissent as the bill goes through parliament, whilst the plans so closely mirror the surveillance plans unveiled by Labour near the end of their term, that any criticism from opposition would be hypocritical to say the least.
In an attempt to placate critics the new powers are balanced with a series of checks and balances.
Organisations like town halls and The Office of Fair Trading will be stripped of their existing rights to access such data, which itself is restricted to information about who we talk to, where and when we talk, but crucially not what we’re talking about.
For illegal data brokers like those featured on Channel Four’s Watching the Detectives Dispatches documentary recently, the existence of such records could amount to a license to print money.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of having to contact their internet service provider (ISP) may have been put through to call centres located anywhere from the Yorkshire Dales to Sri Lanka or Mumbai, where an army of poorly paid advisers work within bloated corporate machines whose attempt to provide anything even resembling decent customer service is laughable.
If the Tories go ahead, these organisations will become the official custodians of our innermost secrets.
Quite apart from the precarious security of entrusting our data to enormous corporations that often don’t know their backside from their elbow, there is a second, even bigger flaw in Theresa May’s plans.
Her assertion that it will help in the fight against paedophiles and terrorists, is plain nonsense.
If paedophiles are in fact using unsecure email and social networks to organise (and I find this very difficult to believe) they need only begin giving more consideration to encrypting correspondence or taking it to the badlands of the ‘dark web’ where detection is close to impossible.
Alternatively, they might consider taking their activities to the physical universe. (This mythical land does, believe it or not, still exist.)
A result far more likely than the prompt and effective rounding up of the UK’s worst terrorists, paedophiles and other assorted miscreants is a sharp increase in cases like that of Paul Chambers, who now faces a drawn out legal battle following a comment about bombing Cardiff airport made on Twitter which, although rather tasteless was obviously lacking in any malicious intent.
Theresa May has already defended the bill, accusing dissenting voices of making the lives of criminals easier. The usual argument that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to worry about will also be trotted out over coming days.
Try telling that to Paul Chambers and anyone who’s had private information stolen or blagged from businesses with poor data protection policies.
Campaign Group 38 Degrees has set up an online petition against the proposals which readers can sign online here.