Tag: communications bill

Snooper's Charter blasted by MPs, Nick Clegg

Plans to introduce a “Snooper’s Charter” have received a wave of criticism, with MPs, public bodies and even the deputy Prime Minister attacking the Draft Communications Data Bill. 

A Joint Select Committee rejected initial plans to allow law enforcement agencies to access currently obtainable data such as in email communications, with proposed powers to monitor online data scaled back.

The scope of plans to monitor data should be significantly decreased, committee chair Lord Blencathra said, with major changes required to the Bill.

“There needs to be some substantial re-writing of the Bill before it is brought before Parliament as we feel that there is a case for legislation, but only if it strikes a better balance between the needs of law enforcement and other agencies and the right to privacy,”  Blencathra said.

The Lord added that there is “a fine but crucial line” between giving law enforcement and security agencies access to the information necessary for national security, and allowing UK citizens to go about their daily business “without a fear, however unjustified, that the state is monitoring their every move”.

Home Secretary Theresa May previously put forward plans which she claimed would protect against terrorism, for example, handing police and other agencies improved powers to monitor electronic communications.  However, the committee argued that May should not be given “carte blanche” to order the retention of all types of data.   The committee also rejected claims that it is necessary to put in stricter measures to ensure that plans are ‘future proofed’.

According to the committee recommendations, the types of data that are accessible should be reduced, with MPs able to vote on whether service providers should have to collect IP address data from subscribers for example.  The number of public bodies able to access the data should lowered, the committee recommended.

In addition, MPs said that there should be more consultation with privacy groups to avoid the gung-ho approach that has drawn widespread criticism from external bodies.

However, the committee indicated that it would be happy to pass proposals if they are changed to meet the recommendations.

The plans also received criticism from deputy PM Nick Clegg, who said that plans to increase powers to monitor online communications need to go “back to the drawing board”.

“It is for those reasons that I believe the coalition Government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation,” Clegg said.  “We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board.”

The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham also took aim at the recommendations, highlighting the problems it would cause in regulating the strict rules initially proposed by the government.   Withholding more data, and for longer periods of time would also be a drain on public finances, Graham said.

“My concern is around the adequacy of the proposed safeguards that the ICO would be responsible for regulating,” Graham said. 

“Ensuring the security of retained personal information and its destruction after 12 months would require increased powers and resources, and as it stands today we’ve not been given clear advice on where that will come from,” he said.

The Home Secretary defended the bill in a newspaper column today, stating that she is “determined” to see through the web monitoring plans.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told TechEye:

“The committee has exposed weak evidence, misleading statements and fanciful figures and unanimously rejected this draft Bill’s proposal to monitor everyone’s emails, web visits and social media messages.

“The complexity and sensitivity of the subject required a radically different process and a totally different bill. There are challenges, but they can be solved in a proportionate way that protects privacy, is based on what is technically possible and focuses on maximising the effectiveness of data already held.

“After such a damming report, Parliament cannot support the draft Bill and it is now essential that if proposals are brought forward, they are comprehensively re-written and based upon the clear evidence and proper consultation that this draft Bill fundamentally lacked.” 

Jimmy Wales thumbs nose at Snooper's Charter

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has vowed to contravene attempts by the UK government to enforce a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ which would ask internet service providers to record each page visited by UK citizens.

In a joint committee meeting on the Draft Communications Bill Wales told MPs that he would not seek to comply with proposed rules to ensure that all data is stored by ISPs.  

Wales, who has a history of web activism involving stopping access to his site in protest at proposed SOPA legislation in the US, said that he would take measures to block attempts by ISPs to track data of Wikipedia readers.

In the committee meeting yesterday Wales said that he would not assist in the gathering of data.

“We don’t have servers in the UK,” Wales told MPs. “We would be highly disinclined to collect more data than we already do, which is very very little.”

Wales also warned that it would be “trivially easy” for sites to evade detection of its users by encrypting data.

“If we find that UK ISPs are mandated to keep track of every single page that you read at Wikipedia,” he said, “I am almost certain we immediately move to a default of encrypting all of the communications to the UK, so the local ISP would only be able to see that you are connecting to Wikipedia not what you reading.”

“It is something we would do, absolutely,” Wales insisted.

Under the proposed legislation, authorities such as GCHQ would be able to access data without a warrant to look up information on individuals.  The controversial bill has been dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ since it was put forward by Home Secretary Theresa May earlier this year. 

UK government wants to scan envelopes and postcards

The UK’s Communications Data Bill, which has been designed for electronics, could be used to monitor your snail mail too.

The law means that ISPs have to store data on all letters and postcards passing through its system.

However the fear is that the way it is worded it could force the Royal Mail to do the same thing.

This will remove the age old belief that an English man’s post is sacrosanct at least without a court order.

According to the BBC, the Home Office knows the law covers this but that it has “no current plans” to force the Royal Mail to monitor mail.

But really that is a little worrying. After all it might have some plans later on, after the dust has settled.

If the Communications Bill does get through, it will be under some bogus pretext that it is trying to save the world from terrorists.

The Home Office said the draft bill would just maintain existing powers relating to postal data and only data about mail, not its actual contents, would be retained if the law was ever enacted.

In other words the Post Office would need to scan a snap of every envelop and store it for up to a year.

Under the draft bill, the Royal Mail and other postal services could be asked to retain “anything written on the outside” of items for up to 12 months so they can be accessed by the police, security services and HM Revenue and Customs.

Quite how that will help anyone even in the spying market is totally unclear. It assumes that each letter will have information on the outside about who and where it comes from.

It would work if each letter was signed Blofeld, C/- Volcanic Island lair, Scotland. But too often criminal capers do not involve such wholesale give aways.  Rarely does a paedophile mark their post “contains snaps of children being raped” on the envelope and none of the parcels containing anthrax warned about their contents or had the pode code of the terriorist who sent them.

The law has been dubbed a “snooper’s charter” by civil liberties groups but strangely it is also a bankruptcy charter too. The Bill includes provision to help postal services and other communications providers with the cost of installing new equipment to comply with any laws, estimated to be £1.8 billion over the next decade. 

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.