Privacy groups claim Communications Bill breaches human rights

Theresa May’s justification of the Communications Bill has angered privacy groups, which have said the plans will tarnish everyone with the same “guilty” brush.

The Home Secretary is expected today to push ahead with a draft of the bill, which proposes to allow police and other intelligence services access to citizen’s social networking and internet activity as well as emails, online gaming and internet phone calls.

Outlining plans to store this information for a year, Ms May claimed that this was essential to help keep up and target criminals including terrorists and sex offenders.

However, privacy groups have said the Bill could breach human rights laws and tarnish everyone in the UK with the same “guilty” brush.

Jim Killock, Director at the Open Rights Group, told TechEye that more consideration was needed to ensure that the bill was in line with human rights.
“The question here is, are these proposals in balance with human rights considerations?” he said. “So not to trespass into a surveillance nation the law should only target those who are deemed to be guilty, not the blanket nation, which is what they are doing.” 
He added that as a result of this, the legislation could be challenged in a human rights court and pushed back. The human rights law are in place to protect the public, he said.

“What is at risk here is that the police will be able to identify whistleblowers, celebrities and also journalists and their sources,” KIllock warned.  “Given this will all be through police will, we could be moving into dangerous territory.”

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, shared the same concerns. Speaking with TechEye, Pickles said: “In a free society it is not for innocent people to justify why the government should not spy on them.

“This policy goes against the Coalition Agreement, against Conservative pre-election policy and is fundamentally an illiberal, intrusive scheme that will do little to improve national security and do everything to turn us into a nation of suspects.

“A pathetic compromise on council snooping is not going to fool the public, so the Home Office are resorting to the same scaremongering the last government used to justify ID Cards, 90 day detention without charge and countless other authoritarian policies.”

A spokesperson for Privacy International told TechEye: “In the UK we’ve historically operated under the presumption that the government has no business peering into the lives of citizens unless there is good reason to – that people are innocent until proven guilty.

“This legislation would reverse that presumption and fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state.

“Yet there are still big question marks over whether Facebook and Google will be brought under RIPA, and how far the government is willing to go in undermining Internet security in order to fulfil its insatiable desire for data.”

Currently, police and security services can access details of internet visits and other communications data only if it is stored by phone companies and internet companies.

The new bill will, however, give automatic access to the police, security officials, the new National Crime Agency and HMRC, while other organisations, such as NHS trusts and the Environment Agency, will have to make a case before Parliament if they want to access this information.