Let’s be clear. Right now – without any new powers – the police and security services can read your emails, tap your phone, plant hidden cameras and microphones in your house and intercept your internet use. All of which can be done without any approval of a judge.
Aside from the blatant spin of announcing unprecedented spying powers during the Prime Minister’s testimony to the Leveson enquiry, the Home Office is trying to hide an unprecedented level of surveillance of the entire population behind a miniscule concession of removing the ability to access Communications Data from local councils.
Since 2005, there have been more than 2.7 million requests by police and other public bodies for the communications data belonging to private individuals. Of these, fewer than 10,000 requests have come from local authorities.
If the Government wants to have a serious review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, I’d be delighted. Sadly, this isn’t a serious effort to reform one of New Labour’s most authoritarian pieces of legislation – it’s a last ditch attempt to try sell a policy that was rejected in 2008 and has been dressed up in new clothing by the same officials that convinced Labour to go along with 90 day detention and ID cards.
To start with, logging every email/ website visit/ social media message is unprecedented in Western society. No other democracy does this. (And that is if it even works – the Oxford Internet Institute, LSE and Cambridge Computer Lab have all seriously questioned whether it can.)
We don’t know if there will be a system to exempt some people from the surveillance. For example, MPs, foreign diplomats, indeed security services staff will all have perfectly legitimate concerns about private companies holding huge databases about their communications.
Those concerns are quite rightly shared by many of the public. Despite it being on the statute book, the Coalition has refused to enact custodial sentences for breaching the Data Protection Act. So were the data held by communications providers to end up in the wrong hands – or the media – the guilty party couldn’t be sent to jail. Sound familiar? It’s Leveson 2.0.
This policy goes against the Coalition Agreement, against Conservative pre-election policy and is fundamentally an illiberal, intrusive boondoggle that will do little to improve national security and do everything to turn us into a nation of suspects.
Before the election, the Prime Minister said that “If we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state.”
He was absolutely right.
> For the Government's perspective read Theresa May in the Sun: Online tracking isn’t a snoopers’ charter…it is a crooks’ nightmare