Tuesday, 11 December 2012

£1.8bn Snoopers' Charter Cannot Become Law - Julian Huppert MP

Controversial plans for a £1.8 billion plus snoopers’ charter giving the government powers to access all private data through secret notices cannot be allowed to become law says MP Julian Huppert.

He been part of the largest ever piece of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Communications Data Bill as a cross-party member of a panel of MPs and Peers and the proposals are “damning” and the Bill in its present format cannot proceed, he says.

“It was shocking to me just how little effort the Home Office made to work through their proposals with the mobile phone companies and the Facebooks and the Googles,” he said. “They didn’t bother to consult properly, assuming that discussions they’d had in 2009 on similar proposals by the Labour government would suffice. And they failed to talk through the details with the Commissioners here in the UK who would have to supervise the system.

“The Home Office proposals go way beyond the current rules with virtually no safeguards, asking for powers for the Home Secretary to insist on any information about any communications being kept, via secret notices.

“Our committee has looked into this, and concludes ‘the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should’.

“The Police and a huge range of other bodies already have access to information for 12 months about every call you make, every text message you send and the websites you visit. It’s the ‘who, what and where’ of your call, not what you actually said.

“They use this power a lot – each year sees around 500,000 requests for this data, for everything from serious crimes to minor investigations. There are some benefits from the existing approach – communications data is undoubtedly useful; knowing who a terrorist sent Facebook messages to can be vital.”

But under the Bill everyone becomes a suspect as the new powers could be used for speeding offences, fly tipping and for vague reasons such as being in “the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

The Home Office estimates the cost of the new powers would be £1.8 billion but the committee feared that the cost could be greater given the experience of other government IT projects.

“It beggars belief that this amount of money was being committed with so little evidence at a time like this,” said Julian. “This Bill has been put to the test, and failed.”

Andrew Watson, Cambridge coordinator of NO2ID, the campaign against the database state, said: "With the Internet and mobile phones now so much a part of everyone's daily lives, what's being proposed is nothing less than permanent, minute-by-minute, blanket surveillance of the entire country.

"We all want the police to be able to detect crime, but just as they need a warrant from a magistrate to search a suspect's house, so they should have to get a judicial warrant to investigate suspicious internet use."

"This Communications Data Bill is the most dangerous long-term threat to a free society ever proposed by a democratic government; Parliament must reject it in its entirety.”