03 April 2012

I woke up yesterday and found myself in North Korea

Yesterday Theresa May announced plans to give police and security services the power to monitor the email traffic and internet use of every person in Britain.Today quite rightly she woke up to a barrage of criticism from across the political spectrum and from civil liberties groups.

According to the Independent the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who has previously made clear he does not believe such plans are justified - warned the Home Secretary that he would press for safeguards to protect privacy.

Amid criticism that the scheme runs counter to coalition parties opposition to the "Big Brother" scheme,  May has been summoned before MPs to justify her proposals. Under legislation in next month's Queen's Speech, law enforcement agencies will gain extra powers to access information about contacts through Skype and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Internet companies will also reportedly be told to install hardware allowing GCHQ to examine "on demand" any phone call made, text message or email sent and website accessed, in "real time" and without a warrant.

Downing Street said yesterday that any moves would cover details of when messages were sent and who the recipients were, but stressed it would not include the contents of calls and emails. The Prime Minister's spokesman also said the plans would be "consistent" with his commitment to civil liberties. But Ms May, in an article in The Sun today, launches a fierce defence of the plans, arguing that such data helps to catch killers and paedophiles.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs demanded a rethink. Dominic Raab, the Tory MP for Esher and Walton, predicted: "There will be a groundswell of opinion, both about the privacy aspects and the value of this as a law-enforcement measure. I'm sure that will spread to Conservative members, as well as Liberal Democrats."  Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, said: "The Government ought to remember why it favoured liberty in opposition." Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, said: "We didn't scrap identity cards to back creeping surveillance by other means. The state must not be able to trace citizens at will."

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he would call Ms May and Charles Farr, head of security and counter-terrorism at the Home Office. They would be asked "how information-sharing in real time between internet service providers and GCHQ will operate". and how it is different from what Labour suggested.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said he "totally opposed" governments reading people's emails at will, but added: "All we are doing is updating the rules which currently apply to mobile telephone calls to allow the police and security services to go after terrorists and serious criminals and updating that to apply to technology like Skype."

If Labour Home Secs were not bad on civil liberties then this one is a sight worse. This move goes far beyond the needs of national security or organised crime. If there is a case gainst someone then it should be the subject of a warrant and not the whims of an authoritarian politician


Anonymous said...

I think you are getting over-excited. My understanding is the plans would indeed require the "warrant" you request in your final line, just as can already be done for phone calls and letters and everything else. It's not really the police and security services I worry about, because ANYBODY can access all my online communications if they try hard enough. Treat all such things as postcards or notices left stuck to someone's front door, I'd suggest. And I know the US authorities can already do it without any warrant, incidentally, and thus the Chinese, Iranian, North Koreans... (all lovely people, by the way. hello lovely people).

jams o donnell said...

But this is a big move. My view is if there is good cause to view a message, text etc then get a warrant before any form of investigation. This is a step too far.

I am with you on the other people who snoop too

Steve Bates said...

"And I know the US authorities can already do it without any warrant, ..." - Andrew S.

Not legally, they can't. The FBI may choose to ignore the Constitution (specifically the Fourth Amendment) but I do not recognize their right to do so. That opinion, together with $5.00, will get me a large frappuccino in Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

I am reassured Steve and I withdraw my unfounded slur on the fine US authorities. (You hear that lads? I am so reassured that you are not really listening to everybody and everything, even if all you would ever hear from me of course is the most fullsome of praise).

Anonymous said...

And I think that was my point Jams. What I heard of the plan was that they would indeed need to get a warrant before viewing a message, text, etc. It was not to sanction random "fishing" (officially at least). If they are prepared to do things unofficially well... they'll be doing it already anyway. I may have heard wrong, of course, or been misled.

susan said...

The threat to civil liberty was once perceived as 'international communism'...now it's us. Damn!

Bryan said...

OK, Andrew, here's the deal -

If you are not a US citizen you can assume the US is listening to you and reading everything you write on the 'Net. Warrants are only required when they do it to US citizens, everyone else is fair game.

Of course, if the Canadians or UK are feeling helpful, they don't need warrants to monitor US citizens, and if they share it with US authorities, well that's all part of the game.

As a former member of the US intel community I can say that this is a total waste of time because wholesale vacuuming of the type they want to do makes it harder to actually develop real intelligence. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack while someone keeps dumping more straw on top.

These people have bought into the concept of 'data mining' as a shortcut to success in locating 'bad people' without realizing that they don't actually know what they looking for in all of the data.

To see what I mean, go to Google, or any search engine, and search for 'criminal' and look at the number of pages returned. Not terribly useful, is it?

The point being, if you know enough to search for relevant information, you already know enough to get a warrant to start watching specific targets.

No one ever claimed that politicians were especially bright.

Claude said...

You can all move to Canada. We've just been chosen as the fifth happiest country in the world. Go and google the facts. No snooping in my country. No need for it. We're all so decent and patriotic. I'm serious!

Steve Hayes said...

The evil empire is dead -- long live the evil empire!

Agnes said...

Not very good news. And (I'm afraid) as long as people have bread and circus they won't care too much at the end of the day. (Be worried when you see in the comments: Ïf I am a law abiding citizen why would I care about interception?") That freaked me out -- shit is shit, but when poeple willingly and happily eat it, now that is catastrophic. And it might happen.

jams o donnell said...

Mercifully the government is backtracking but I bet it will be back. Meanwhile most people will bend over and take an other inch without demur