Government to push ahead with "internet snooping" Bill

News 10 May, 2012

The Queen's Speech confirms Communications Data Bill is still in the offing, despite reservations from privacy campaigners.

The Government has come under fire for not being open enough about the exact contents of its Communications Data Bill.

The legislation would provide law enforcement agencies with access to communications data, including texts and emails, to help detect criminal activity.

It’s essential that the whole Bill, not just clauses, are subject to rigorous scrutiny

The bill has been a source of contention for industry onlookers, who claim it could breach people’s right to privacy.

Despite these concerns, the Government’s commitment to pushing through the legislation was reaffirmed yesterday during the Queen’s Speech.

“My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses,” her Majesty said.

Work in progress

A draft of the Bill was released yesterday, to coincide with the Queen’s Speech. In it the Government stressed that the content of emails and texts would not be monitored.

“[The] data includes the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and sometimes the location of the originator of the communication,” the document stated.

In order for the Bill to become a reality, the document said several frameworks must be established to manage the “collection and retention” of data from communications service providers, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

It also advised that service providers should be allowed to hold on to data for no longer than 12 months.

The draft Bill has been criticised by privacy campaigners who claim it is not detailed enough.

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the Government needs to open up about the technical details of the Bill.

“It’s essential that the whole Bill, not just clauses, are subject to rigorous scrutiny,” said Pickles. “Given how little detail has been offered, is it any wonder the public are scared by a proposal for [a level] of online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy?”

Meanwhile, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it is unsure about the role it will play in the Bill’s enforcement.

“We are waiting to see the detail of what is proposed. We shall then judge whether the Commissioner’s current powers are adequate for the task or whether additional powers and resources will be needed,” said the ICO in a statement.

“It remains our position that the case for this proposal still has to be made and we shall expect to see strong and convincing safeguards and limitations to accompany the Bill,” it added.