by Christopher Williams
09 May 2012
The Queen has formally announced plans
to greatly increase surveillance of the internet by intelligence
agencies and the police, in plans that are being labeled a
by civil liberties groups.
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She said the government would introduce,
“measures to maintain the ability of the law
enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications
data under strict safeguards to protect the public”.
The plans were “subject to scrutiny of draft
clauses”, the Queen added, caveat understood to have been inserted in her
speech at the insistence of Libs Dems.
They are concerned by the impact
Communications Data Bill will have on individual freedom and privacy, and
feared detailed debate would be steamrollered in Parliament.
The Government did not reveal any technical details about its plans, which
are designed to make it easier to discover who has contact whom, when and
where, via internet services such as Facebook, Gmail and Skype.
document released alongside the Queen’s Speech
makes it clear that internet and mobile providers will be expected to
intercept and store the relevant data for 12 months.
The Bill will establish,
“an updated framework for the collection and
retention of communications data by communication service providers”,
the document said.
Opponents complained that the Government had not
revealed any new information about its plans.
The Information Commissioner, who the Home
Office said will "continue to keep under review" the storage of personal
data by communications providers, said he was also awaiting more detail.
"We are waiting to see the detail of what is
proposed, including any role envisaged for the Information
Commissioner," a spokesman said.
"We shall then have to judge whether the Commissioner's current powers
are adequate for the task or whether additional powers and resources
will be needed. 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.”
Liberty, the human rights group, said it would
campaign against the proposals, which it branded a “snooper's charter”.
To store data from “third party” internet services such as websites,
broadband providers would have to build major new infrastructure, according
to technical experts. It is claimed this would include large data centers
and “black box” devices, which would need to be constantly reconfigured to
intercept relevant traffic as it flows over their networks.
The technology allows network operators to open up packets of data as they
pass to extract information, but can be foiled by encryption, which is
increasingly used by major web firms.
The Government emphasized that the system would merely “maintain the
ability” that authorities currently have to access basic information about
phone calls and web browsing without a warrant.
Opponents argued that people now conduct much of
their private lives online and extending the rules to the entire internet
represented a significant invasion of privacy.
“Gaining access to your Facebook and Google
data without court supervision is not preserving powers, it is a massive
extension of the ability of a police officer to see what you are doing,”
said Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns on online
"It would be wide open to abuse, endangering whistleblowers and
"The interception powers open a whole new can of worms. No law has ever
previously claimed that people's communications data should be collected
by third parties just in case. This data has never been previously
The measures are expected to provoke fierce
debate when the Bill comes before Parliament.
They are opposed by many Liberal Democrats, as
well as prominent Tory backbenchers such as David Davis, who recently
said they would create a “nation of suspects”.
The Bill has been announced despite a failed attempt by the Labour
government to introduce a similar scheme and a pledge in the Coalition
“end the storage of internet and email
records without good reason”.
The Home Office said that the new system would
offer “a proper avenue of complaint” for those who think they have been
unlawfully spied upon.