Thursday, 21 June 2012


    On Thursday 14th June, the Home Secretary announced a Draft Communications Data Bill (not available other than as a locked pdf) to widen surveillance in Britain. The move had been expected for some time (see earlier newsletters), and was immediately labelled by some press and campaign groups a 'Snoopers' Charter'. It is much more than that. the provisions are complicated with a lot of consequences. We will be producing a full briefing as soon as possible, and making it available to supporters and the public, but there are a few things we can say in the interim:

1. It *weakens* the existing oversight mechanisms

     We had expected a new Bill to leave existing Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act controls in place, and concentrate on defining powers to gather data from telephone and internet companies. That is why we have always emphasised RIPA must change, so that there is NO SURVEILLANCE WITHOUT A WARRANT. But the Draft Bill (in passages that read like a software manual, not legislation) is trying to remove some of the authority of human authorising officers and shift the determination of what is lawful to software. Because the actual surveillance would be done using 'black boxes' built into service-providers' networks, what was being done might never be disclosed to any outsider.

2. It centralises power in the Home Office and/or intelligence services

     Current surveillance powers are used by a wide range of bodies, each of which may apply separately under RIPA to get communications data for its limited purposes. But the real-time filtering of data envisioned by the Draft Bill would mean limiting access to a specialised staff nominally within the Home Office. There's an echo of the Whitehall power-grab in the Identity Cards Act that would have made all government departments dependent on the Home Office for information about citizens.

3. It could be arbitrarily expanded

     The Bill expects all the details of what information is required to be kept, by whom, and how it will be structured and marshalled, to be set out in regulations. Parliament would notionally approve these, but could not amend or challenge them. The Home Office would get almost infinite discretion to extend the tentacles of the database state, not just in cyberspace, but into the physical world as well. Powers are included that would require postal services and couriers to record who sent what to whom; and others could be used to force hotels, guest-houses, libraries or cafés to identify and record everyone who
uses their telephone and internet. 
      This is a Bill that should not be allowed to pass in anything like its present form. If the power-fantasies implied in it are realised, Britain would be as (or more) effectively under surveillance than China, and a single government department would exercise all that power in secret. We will be asking all supporters to lobby their MPs when the time comes. Look out for further information.


  1. And you don't think they already do?


  2. Yes I do think they already read what they want, but this is a blanket approach, not a selective attitude. all and everybody's business, and private/intimate chat will be stored in their keeping to be trawled over and handed round as they see fit. The state is an unacceptable institution, that doesn't mean that we can't attempt to limit what power it has, rather than shrug our shoulders and say "So what".