Industry hits out at Gov's new internet snooping laws

News 2 Apr, 2012

Government-led shake up of UK's data monitoring laws prompts privacy concerns from industry.

Government plans to obtain greater access to people’s emails, phone calls and internet browsing history have come under fire from industry bodies and privacy campaigners.

The Home Office is planning to expand the data monitoring powers of the GCHQ intelligence agency.

The changes would provide GCHQ, in certain circumstances, with real-time access to UK residents’ web- and phone-based communications.

We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.

In a press statement, the Home Office said the move would help the police and security services clamp down on serious crime and terrorist offences.

“We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes,” the statement read.

It went on to stress that the content of phone calls and emails would not be covered by the legislation, which the Home Office hopes to push through as “soon as parliamentary time allows.”

“It is not the intention of the [the] Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications,” the missive added.

Industry watchers

Despite these assurances, the proposals have caused several industry onlookers to raise concerns over the impact they could have on people’s freedom of expression and right to privacy.

In a statement sent to IT Pro, a representative from the Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) Association, said: “It is important that proposals to update [the] government’s capabilities to intercept and retain data in the new communications environment are proportionate and are widely consulted upon in an open and transparent manner.”

Meanwhile, Kathryn Wynn, senior associate at tech-focused law firm Pinsent Masons, said the legislation could have dire consequences for some internet and mobile network providers.

“ISPs and carriers are already required to give GCHQ access to information on request. What’s new is that this legislation means it could be demanded in real-time, rather than simply asking for historic data,” explained Wynn.

“Whether this is feasible or not depends on whether there is the technology available to deliver that information quickly. Otherwise, ISPs will struggle to comply through no fault of their own.”