New Government plans to increase the power of security services to monitor private emails, social media accounts and other internet and electronic communication has sparked grave concerns from several MP’s, backbenchers and civil liberty campaigners.
The proposals, which are still rather sketchy in detail, are expected to be a part of the Queen’s Speech on May 9th. It is believed that they will give police and other government security organisations greater power to monitor who is talking to whom and when these conversations take place, but will NOT give them the power to monitor the content of the messages.
The Home Office have said that these amendments to the law are essential for public safety, to aid in the fight against crime and terrorism, especially in the run up to the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
The Labour government tried to introduce similar changes to the privacy law in 2009 but the move was shot down after strong disapproval from Liberal Democrats and Conservative MP’s. Under the legislation of a 2009 EU directive internet service providers have to retain their users web access, email and internet calls for a period of 12 months, this includes geographical location, recipient and sender details and the time that the messages were sent.
This new move would allow government agencies access to this information in real time as opposed to retrospectively.
Former shadow home secretary, Tory MP David Davis has criticised the new initiative, quoted in a Guardian article on the subject, he said:
“What is proposed is completely unfettered access to every single communication you make. This argument it doesn’t cover content – it doesn’t cover content for telephone calls, but your web address is content. If you access a [website], that is content.
“I’m afraid it is a very, very big widening of powers, which I’m afraid will be very much resented by many, many citizens who do not like the idea… It’s going to cause enormous resentment. Already thousands of people on the web are objecting to it. It was dropped by the last government … if it was so important, they should have kept going last time.”
But a Home Office spokesperson reiterated the importance of the proposals for public safety, stating that;
“It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.
“We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications.”
One thing is very clear about this new motion – it is going to cause a lot of controversy! MPs across the country are divided in their opinions, with many agreeing that it is a necessary step to protect the public from organised crime and terrorism, whilst others argue that it is an excuse for the government to ‘snoop’ around the lives of its citizens and claim that the British State is in danger of becoming far too authoritarian.
Personally, I can see both sides of what I think, are valid arguments. On one hand, I look at the situation and think; well I’m not doing anything wrong so I don’t care what the government sees of my communications – and if access to that information means that they have a better chance of stopping any potential terror attacks, then so be it.
On the other side though I can also see a very compelling argument, letting the country become too intrusive and controlling can be a very bad thing for our civil liberties and right to freedom of speech. I wouldn’t want to see people punished or put on ‘watch-lists’ for looking at the wrong website or sharing the ‘wrong’ belief.
If legislation like this is to be introduced, the general public need to be assured that it will be closely regulated and need to be given much more information about the motion than we have been so far!
What do you think about the government having access to all your web activity? Do you think it is necessary to protect the innocent from terrorism, or is it just an excuse for the government to go digging around our private affairs? Leave a comment and let us know…