As you know there has been various different opinions that have been vividly expressed since the Woolwich attack this week in the UK. It appears that every home secretary, be it current or past, are in agreement and are calling for the snoopers charter, sorry the Communications Data Bill, to be reintroduced and passed in Parliament.
The bill would allow for police and the security services access to all online communication details including the time, duration, originator, recipient and the location of the device from where it was sent without the need for a warrant. It would also include browsing history and details of messages sent on social media. I should emphasize that the police or security services would need a warrant from the home secretary in order to access the actual content of the conversations or messages.
Preventing the attack?
The argument for such legislation is that this could have possibly prevented the attack and so for that reason alone it is worth it. I don’t agree. There is a chance that it might have prevented it but there is also a possibility that it wouldn’t have made any difference at all. So are we fine with the government intruding in our lives even further just in case it might prevent an attack? I’m not! I have not seen any evidence so far that shows it would have been worthwhile to have such a regressive bill on our statute books. It seems to be just scare tactics whilst taking away our privacy rights in one fell swoop.
Lack of oversight
I notice that there doesn’t appear to be oversight by the judiciary but by the home secretary? If the legislative are confident with their bill then why not allow the judiciary at least provide the oversight? There seems to be far too much power being given to the executive for my liking. Whilst I am not suggesting that these powers would be misused by the government there is certainly a suggestion that it could be, much like RIPA was with local councils.
Those who argue that it’s not content that’s being monitored so if you have nothing to hide what’s the issue? The issue is there is still something called innocent until proven guilty – a foundation that our society and country was built on. Why should the police have the right to know exactly who I am communicating with and when, and if it’s on my phone then where?! If you suspect me then go through the proper channels.
All of this data would have to be stored somewhere which would be no easy task. Even if it is held by each of the ISP’s who is going to fund this? Will it be forced on the ISP’s in which case there will obviously be an increase in costs for us all or will it be funded centrally by government which we will still end up paying for in the form of taxes. Time and time again we have seen breaches of data security from many different groups with reasons ranging from sociopolitical to criminal intensions. Such private information would have to be held in an extremely secure manner which would take time to set up.
IP address matching
What was in the Queen’s speech was the ability to improve IP address matching between people. This is an idea that has some merit but in reality is a lot harder to implement. Whilst users are assigned an IP address from the ISP and they will have a record there are ways around that. Using a proxy address to go through which disguises your real IP address. Bouncing your IP address from one server to another so that it can’t be tracked is another option. Going through certain networks such as Tor which is basically untraceable would prevent tracking as well. How do you ascertain who the USER is at the time? Whilst you can say which house it might be, there is no way that you can detect which person actually went ahead and used the computer at the time.
Driving criminals underground
Another issue, amongst the many others already covered, is that those who will want to cause harm and suffering to citizens may just find ways to better cover their tracks. If they are that determined then they will find a way around it. It will then cause criminal activity to be driven further underground that would thus lose the meaning and purpose of the bill in the first place. I admit however that there may well be those who don’t do their research and are careless which results in the security services and police to apprehend them.
Whilst I am not against giving the police and security services the tools that they need to keep us safe I think any solution has to be proportionate, fair, have safeguards in place, balance the needs of the security services with the people of the country and have legitimate oversight. Currently I don’t think any of those points have been met with the proposed legislation. I do hope that the politicians don’t assume they know best. I hope they will bring in various different advocacy groups to discuss it to try and come to some compromise. Right now I think the Liberal Democrats are correct in blocking the legislation from passing and I agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee. Lets hope that the Conservatives and Labour don’t ride roughshod over the concerns and push it through. If they did it would be a sad day for all concerned.