Next week, in the Queen's Speech,
legislation is expected to be announced which would enable GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) to
access UK residents' calls, texts, emails and web browsing in real time.
The Home Office claims this communications data is vital to fight
serious crime and terrorists. The period of data that would be stored
is understood to be two years. Communications companies will have to
install new hardware to help track voice, text and internet
In 2006 a similar Big Brother law was abandoned by the then incumbent Labour party after fierce Conservative and Liberal criticism. Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said "Whoever is in government, the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don't change. Proposals to stockpile our web, phone and texting records were shelved by Labour. Now we see plans to recycle this chilling proposal leaking into the press."
Just as before, however, objections to this Big Brother behaviour span party divisions. Senior Tory MP David Davis is a well known opponent of Government snooping on innocent citizens; "It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals. It is absolutely everybody. Historically governments have been kept out of our private lives," said Mr Davis.
"Our freedom and
privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying 'If you want
to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a
terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you'll get your
approval'. You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society
but that is what is being proposed."
In reaction to the news, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has been seeking assurances, limitations and safeguards to protect privacy. He wants to limit the scope of what is monitored and stored. Under pressure Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted that "All we are doing is updating the rules which currently apply to mobile telephone calls to allow the police and security services to go after terrorists and serious criminals and updating that to apply to technology like Skype which is increasingly being used by people who want to make those calls and send those emails." Downing Street concurred that "...only data - times, dates, numbers and addresses - not content would be accessible."
There is still a way to go before this legislation can have any effect. The laws to make it happen will have to go through Parliament and then the House of Lords. Businesses represented by the Internet Service Providers Association are also obviously not happy with having to spend time and money on adding capability to monitor and store all this information.
Do you mind that all your communications data will be stored by various companies and government agencies or do you think that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear from this legislation?