Given fresh impetus by the horrors of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the Government’s proposed ‘snoopers’ charter’ is back on the agenda.
It’s been around for some time now – at least a decade – these plans to eavesdrop on private emails, phone records and use of the net. The security services and police have had the powers to listen in for years. They can apply to a judge for permission, or go straight ahead to monitor specific suspects.
New Far-Reaching Powers
GCHQ, the Government’s listening post in Cheltenham, constantly scans internet chatter for keywords that alert them to terrorist acts being planned. But the measures proposed in the Communications Data Bill go way beyond that.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be obliged to keep all records of customers’ online activities for a year and provide them to anybody with a warrant to access them. That includes potentially every single email, every single posting to a social networking site and every single phone call made over the net.
The Government line is that the law is vital in the ceaseless fight against terrorism, paedophiles and villains generally. It’s harder to argue against that than against what Conservative MP Dominic Raab labelled as an ‘Orwellian scheme enabling jobsworths and council busybodies to snoop into the private lives of ordinary citizens.’
Ministers are keen to stress that their plans do not include reading the content of websites, email or social networks. It’s about checking records of communication, not content. Of course, few believe that. If they do, they think it’s only a matter of time and a tweak of legal words, and everything will be subject to unaccountable scrutiny.
Society is already familiar, and presumably now at ease, with the powers to report anything deemed ‘suspicious abuse’ by teachers and medical staff, the encouragement of neighbours to shop benefit cheats and other abuses of public money?
Is this merely another step in the same direction, or does it go too far? In 2012 it was estimated that the measure would cost taxpayers at least £2.5 billion. Is that another price worth paying?
The Right to Follow You
It has emerged in recent months, before the Woolwich murder, that a long line of 36 public bodies are queuing up to be granted to right to know what you are up to online. These are organisations with very questionable claim to ‘the need to know.’
The staff of local authorities from a range of departments, health and safety inspectors, nine Whitehall departments, NHS trusts, fire authorities, the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, the Environment Agency, the Charity Commission, the Pensions Regulator and even the Royal Mail!
Big Brother Watch, a campaigning group against intrusion into people’s private lives, submitted a Freedom of Information request and was told of the scale of bodies who have made ‘a business case’ to be granted the new powers.
Can there really be any justification for so many bodies to know where and when you communicated electronically?
Let us know. Before the Bill becomes law.
Other posts to listen to:
Personal Data: Government Plans a Rich Harvest, 9 April 2012
Policing the Internet: Everybody Wants to Do It, Nobody Will, 10 October 2012
Image: US Navy