Government promises “strict safeguards” for web snooping

The Communications Data Bill has been officially unveiled by the Government in the Queen’s Speech, alongside a host of other planned legislation.

Government promises

Leaked earlier this year, the plans look to force ISPs and other service providers to capture data on email, browsing sessions and social networks, and make that available to the security services and police. The data will include information about who an email was sent to, but not the message content.

Via the Queen’s Speech, the Government promised “strict safeguards to protect the public”.

At the moment, the draft bill will limit data to being held for a year, and will include measures to prevent “unauthorised access or disclosure”. The Information Commissioner will be tasked with ensuring the data is deleted after 12 months, while the Interception of Communications Commissioner will be expected to oversee the data collection.

We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes

As the bill is still a draft, many of the plans could change. A Home Office spokesman said there was no timeline as to when it would be placed before Parliament.

The Government has offered little detail on how the proposals would work, but the Home Office claimed that communications data has “played a role” in every counter-terror operation and 95% of serious crime investigations over the past decade.

“It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,” the Home Office said in a statement. “We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.”

According to a report from The Guardian, the new legislation was initially intended to be part of the Crime and Courts Bill, but was moved out to avoid delays to that wider-ranging bill. Tim Farrow, the president of the Liberal Democrats party, has said the coalition partners would be willing to “kill” the bill if it went too far.

Backlash continues

The bill brought with it instant condemnation from privacy campaigners, with the Open Rights Group calling for it to be scrapped immediately, as it would be “wide open to abuse”.

“This is a direct attack on the Coalition’s promise to end the storage of email data without good reason,” said executive director Jim Killock. “Gaining access to your Facebook and Google data without court supervision is not preserving powers, it is a massive extension of the ability of a police officer to see what you are doing.”

“The interception powers open a whole new can of worms,” he added. “No law has ever previously claimed that people’s communications data should be collected by third parties just in case. This data has never been previously collected.”

That view was echoed by Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch, who called the plans “a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy”.

“The proposals will rightly be closely scrutinised in Parliament and I hope the Conservatives fulfill their commitment to immediately give the plans to the Information Commissioner for pre-legislative scrutiny,” he said. “A draft bill will not offer the same wide-ranging consultation as an ordinary white paper, but there is still a long way to go before this becomes law, if indeed it does.”

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