On Thursday June 14th. 2012, Theresa May, the UK Secretary Of State published the draft Communications Data Bill. If you’ve been reading or watching the UK media you might well be aware of this. The bill is hugely controversial, not least because it requires all UK internet service providers to track and store for 12 months the details of every email sent within the UK, every website visited from within the UK and every use of a mobile phone within the UK. This is a huge undertaking and will gather an equally huge amount of data. It’s also a costly undertaking, one that is ill conceived and impractical, one that is a massive invasion of our personal privacy and right to communicate with each other and one that is fundamentally undemocratic.
It’s costly because the estimated price tag is £1.8bn over 10 years, a price tag that the country cannot afford given the current economic climate and the austerity measures which are being applied across all aspects of the United Kingdom. The estimated price tag is also just that, an estimate and the UK Home Office has already stated that the final figure is likely to be much higher.
It’s ill conceived and impractical because the data collection and monitoring will be bypassed by those that the bill seeks to target; the terrorist, the paedophile and the organised criminal. As Conservative MP David Davis said recently
“The only people who will avoid this, avoid being covered by this, are the actual criminals because they are always around this. You use a pre-paid phone, you use an internet cafe to hack into somebody’s wi-fi. You use what is (sic) called proxy servers, and those are just the easy ways. There are harder ways too and you know, actually, the 7/7 bombers went round it. Organised criminals go round it. Organised pedophile rings go round it. What this will catch is the innocent and the incompetent”
It’s an invasion of privacy because the much maligned Human Rights act dictates that our right to a private life must be respected by the Government. Though Theresa May has been clear to point out that what will be recorded and monitored is the end points of our communications, email address, phone numbers, web URLs, not the content of those communications, you can build up an incredibly accurate picture of an individual’s life, activities and movements without the need to see the content of communications. It’s also an invasion of privacy because examination of this data would be able to be undertaken without the need for a warrant and thus for fair and impartial scrutiny.
It’s undemocratic because already Theresa May has branded anyone who criticises this bill as a “conspiracy theorist“, using the justification of “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear“. This criticism is not only offensive to those who would hold our government to scrutiny, but it flies in the face of existing evidence of leaks and abuse of personal data that the government and its agencies already hold on us. It also is a direct reversal of the coalition government’s pre-election stance, when David Cameron, now the UK Prime Minister said “If we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state”.
I’m not alone in thinking this. The UK’s Guardian calls it an “online snooping scheme“, InfoSecurity notes that the bill is “more intrusive than anything anywhere outside of China“. Big Brother Watch says “we are all suspects now” and Big Brother Watch and Liberty comments that “it won’t matter if you have never got so much as a speeding fine, personal information about you will be stored just in case it may prove useful one day“.
What you can do and what you should do is protest against this bill. Let your MP know that you’re deeply concerned about this bill. Sign the 38 Degrees online petition against the bill. I don’t consider myself politically active but I’ve done just this because I value my freedoms and my privacy. I think you should too. You can also draw attention to this through your website as I’ve done here on my blog and I’ve knocked up a quick and dirty WordPress plugin to do just that.