Thursday, 12 April 2012

UK Internet Privacy - A Bridge to Far

The UK Internet snooping law would give the UK Home Office sweeping powers to snoop on email and other online communications.  Although, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) would require a warrant to access content of the communications, it would have authority to trace who people are in touch with and how often and how long they are in contact.  This is all done in the name of fighting crime and terrorism.  The majority of Western governments are attempting to move into the same direction.

The Canadian Conservative Government attempted to introduce a similar law. Under the Canadian proposal, the government would give sweeping powers under"exceptional circumstances" under which "any police officer" can request an internet service provider turn over customer information without a warrant.  This although the government has assured the public several times that nothing contained in the legislation gives officers further powers to access any sort of communication without a warrant.

In Canada the legislation created a firestorm, with a twitter campaign that flooded Public Safety Minister Vic Toews with tweets.  There were also messages from "Anomymous."  The Canadian government eventually withdrew the legislation, despite having a majority.

In the UK the legislation would go a step further, the  proposal would likely force all UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install “black boxes” on their systems that use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology, which would give authorities access to all communications data without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

The bill would give law enforcement access to IP addresses and e-mail addresses, text messages, describing who you are in contact with and how often.  The Home Office substantiated this requirement by stating that the changes were needed to fight serious crime and terrorism.

"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. We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. We will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the Government's approach to civil liberties."

The Washington Post reported April 2nd:

"Although the plan is yet to be fully outlined by the Conservative-led government, observers say parts of it may go beyond even the ability of officials in the United States to quickly access private data. Critics say the sheer breadth and scope of the plan also could put Britain out in front of other European countries such as Germany, where the government acts to block some Web sites deemed objectionable, and Sweden, where a law passed in 2008 allows the government to intercept international communications conducted via phones or the Internet.
“I’m afraid that if this program gets introduced, the U.K. will be leapfrogging Iran in the business of surveilling its citizens,” said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International. “This program is so broad that no other country has even yet to try it, and I am dumbfounded they are even considering it here.”

 While home grown terrorism may be real and some e-mail accounts and other internet communication may require monitoring, this legislation is a "Bridge to Far."  Current laws make it possible in most Western nations to obtain a warrant in a timely fashion.   It would be wrong to give up liberties, especially privacy to give governments carte blanche authority to monitor everything. 

How much of our freedoms should we concede to our governments in the name of public safety? 

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