14 Jun 2012

Home secretary unveils ‘snooper’s charter’ to parliament

Despite vocal opposition, the Home Secretary Theresa May has unveiled plans to require records of internet use to be stored for a year to allow police and the security services to access them.

In addition to internet usage, records of using gaming sites, social networks and internet phone calls will have to be kept.

The draft form of the Communications Bill was published on Thursday, although MPs on both sides of the chamber are opposed to the move.

Tory MP David Davis has labelled the bill ‘intrusive.’

He said the fact that there were already half a million requests each year from the police and intelligence services showed just how intrusive it was.

“This is exactly the same thing that Labour proposed in 2009. They went from a central database to this and we attacked it fiercely. In fact, David Cameron attacked it,” said Davis.”

However, the new details will not be available to local authorities and councils will also be stripped of their current powers to access information about phone calls, the Home Secretary will announce.

Reapply for powers

Public bodies will have to apply for the new powers at a later date.

The move comes after Mrs May’s initial proposals to extend internet surveillance were greeted with widespread criticism from civil liberties campaigners earlier this year.

Mrs May said: “Communications data is vital for the police in their fight against crime, including serious offences such as child abuse, drug dealing and terrorism.

“These measures are necessary to protect the public and investigate crime – and that is the only reason for which they should be used.

“That is why I think it is right that we look again and ask whether local authorities really need access to communications data.”

Activists for the campaogn group 38 Degrees have gathered more than 150,000 signatures opposing the plans.

Online petition

David Babbs, executive director at 38 Degrees, said: “The government’s plans to invade our privacy are as bad as we feared.
“That’s why over 150,000 38 Degrees members have already signed the petition against them.

“Collecting data on real criminals is important of course, but these new plans give the government powers to snoop on all of us, without any reason or proper warrant. They should focus on catching real criminals, and not treat every single one of us as a suspect whenever we use our computer.”

In April, Chris Soghoian, graduate fellow at the Center for Applied Cyber Security Research at the University of Indiana, told Channel 4 News the plan could scupper the government’s plans to encourage cyber start-up companies to operate in the UK.

A spokesman for the campaign group Liberty said: “Liberty doesn’t therefore object to properly regulated state surveillance where suspicion of criminality exists. However the snoopers’ charter would allow for the stockpiling of personal information on everyone instead of those suspected of crime.”

The government tries to argue that this proposal does not unnecessarily invade our privacy – because it is not content of our emails and the websites we’re visiting, just a record of the communication that will be stored.

“However your “communications data” trail can build up a frighteningly detailed picture of your life: who you have texted, emailed and telephoned on any given day; where you were when the contact was made and for how long; which websites you have visited in the privacy of your own home and more.

“In particular, web addresses can tell you an awful lot about a person – the state of their health, their hobbies or political interests.”