Top web profs urge Cameron to scrap web snooping

A group of professors and web experts have penned an open letter to British prime minister David Cameron, urging the Coalition to abandon its plans to legislate for monitoring internet activity through the Communications Data Bill.

The letter claims the plans to monitor internet activity are as “naive and technically dangerous as when they were floated by the last Government”.

It goes on to argue that Parliament’s track record with internet legislation has been questionable – pushing ahead with, for example, the Digital Economy Act and ignoring contrary evidence.

“It seems that government has not learned the lessons of that ill fated legislation and is intent on trying to foist onto the internet a surveillance system designed for landline telephones,” the letter reads. “Many of the technical experts consulted are people that will profit from the plans, whether they succeed or fail”.

Even if the Communications Data Bill goes ahead, the letter posits that consumers are increasingly leaning towards encrypted communications, and the legislation will not be able to do “anything effective about this shift”. It says forcing ISPs into monitoring consumers will be expensive and will also threaten to undermine the privacy of people visiting websites about sensitive matters – like HIV or pregnancy advice.

The proposed British model will actually serve as a benchmark for less democratic regimes worldwide, it is argued, effectively undermining British foreign policy.

The Government was urged to scrap the bill, and to instead engage in active conversation with the technical community and legal authorities to figure out other ways forward.

The signatories are:  Professor Ross Anderson, Cambridge University, Dr Ian Brown, University of Oxford, Dr Richard Clayton, University of Cambridge, Professor Jonathan Crowcroft, Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, Professor David J Farber, Carnegie Mellon, Dr Brian Gladwell, director for Defence Acquisition, Professor Douwe Korff, professor of international law, London Met, Professor Peter Sommer, de Montford and Open Universities, Professor Angela Sasse, UCL professor of human-centred technology, UCL Department of Computer Science, and Judith Rauhofer, University of Edinburgh.

The full letter is available here.