Coffee House

The government will not snoop on your every move

18 September 2012

11:00 AM

18 September 2012

11:00 AM

Nick Cohen (‘Nowhere to hide’, 15 September) raises some interesting points about the double-edged nature of the internet. I agree with this sentiment, although not for the same reasons.

Yes, the World Wide Web has brought about massive benefits, allowing people to communicate and connect in ways never before imagined. However it also has a down side. And this is that it affords criminals and those who wish to do us harm the same new ways to communicate and connect. It is this that concerns me, rather than Mr Cohen’s claim that it will allow, through our Communications Data Bill, the government to monitor your every move. This argument is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bill.

Firstly, the primary purpose of the Bill is to update the powers law enforcement bodies already have, to make them relevant to the 21st Century. It cannot make sense to enable the police to investigate crimes planned using a mobile phone but to say we should simply accept that their ability to respond to crimes planned or conducted over the internet will get less and less. And we are still only talking about who a criminal emailed and when – nothing about the content of that email.

Secondly, the Home Office does not want automatic access to every service people use to communicate. Under our proposals, the police and other authorities will only be able to access communications data in the course of an investigation, when it is necessary and proportionate to help solve crime and terrorism cases – to save lives and protect the public.

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Thirdly, criminals cannot simply circumvent detection. We are confident that the measures we are proposing would make it far less likely that this could happen. Without them there will indeed be large and growing gaps in our ability to prevent criminals going undetected. Some commentators claim that evading detection online is easy so the measures we are proposing are pointless. No government is going to comment on whether the methods such experts suggest criminals use actually work.

And finally, the Bill contains clear safeguards around our proposals. Any public servant who misuses information will not go unpunished. A number of offences already exist on the statute books to address situations where public officials, and other individuals, abuse access to personal data.

Misuse of communications data is likely to be part of criminal activity such as misuse of computer systems and hacking, all of which are offences and carrying heavy repercussions. Knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data, for example, carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, while misconduct in public office can lead to life imprisonment.

More broadly, oversight of the use of the powers will be provided by the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Information Commissioner, both of whom will report to Parliament each year on the use of the powers. These senior figures have shown in the past their independence and their willingness to hold public authorities to account.

The internet is indeed a mixed blessing, and it is right there is a debate about the proposals contained within the Bill.

But it is not the intrusion of the state into our private lives that people should be worried about here – this government has already abolished the intrusive ID cards scheme and scrapped the hugely disproportionate ContactPoint database – it is the prospect that, without taking action, we give paedophiles, terrorists and other criminals increasing scope to use this new technology to do us harm. And this is precisely what the Communications Data Bill is designed to stop.

James Brokenshire is Security Minister in the Home Office.

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Show comments
  • http://twitter.com/tommy5d Tommy Long

    The measures suggested by the bill will not work. Take that as my word as a web developer. You cannot intercept a secure communication without either infiltrating the PC used to initiate the connection or without the blessing of the communication’s recipient.

    The only way this bill could ever work is if the UK government had data feeds from Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Gmail, etc.

    And that completely ignores the point about the liberty implications of the bill…

  • http://twitter.com/ianwalkeruk Ian Walker

    “Under our proposals, the police and other authorities will only be able
    to access communications data in the course of an investigation, when it
    is necessary and proportionate to help solve crime and terrorism cases –
    to save lives and protect the public.”

    Remind me again, how well did that pan out with RIPA?

  • http://twitter.com/dangroveruk Dan Grover

    It’s the government’s responsibility to try to keep us safe, but it should do so *around* our liberties, not through them. The reason people have a problem with you accessing that data is because, umm, it’s not yours.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    And Mr. Pitt promised income tax was a temporary measure to raise funds to fight Boney…

  • R_Gtx

    I would guess that GCHQ is now producing so little intelligence of any real value, and being in fear of drastic budgetary cuts, is in the process of redefining itself. Home Office ministers and Civil servants having no real comprehension of modern cryptographic techniques, have been suckered in maintaining this behemoth, rather than relegating its role, to that of advising government and industry on IT security.

    • Noa

      GCHQ will become a centre of EU internal surveillance excellence and in consequence will be the recipient of massive EU funding.

  • Justathought

    So the government has decided to join China ,Russia and Syria in its quest to have complete surveillance of the population of the country. Congratulations in another vote losing initiative.

  • In2minds

    Do
    we really want to join the select group of nations having such mass
    surveillance powers such as China, Iran and Kazakhstan? Apart from
    the Many people will use encryption and evidently our government
    intends to break encryption in these cases! Just think of the
    repercussions for banks and business! By the way my MP took two
    months to reply to my queries and then said he dodn’t know the
    answers but would ask!

  • Frank P

    Never mind this shit! Just contemplate that an Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester has a sort time ago reported on TV that “in a ROUTINE incident of a report that shots were being fired in Abbey Road, two unarmed female police officers attending the call have been shot; one of them is dead and one critically injured”.

    Either the ACC’s phraseology needs tidying up, or he and the rest of GMP command structure should be sacked and the the troops in Afghanistan recalled to defend the citizens of Greater Manchester, rather than wasting their time trying to protect savages who despise and hate Britain and wish us, as infidels, to be dead.

  • IvanD

    This week alone we have had:

    – the Hillsborough cover-up exposed

    – more on the Simon Harwood G20 affair

    – Greater Manchester police harvesting DNA from 2,000 people who were convicted up to 40 years ago

    The State should have less power, not more.

  • 2trueblue

    When someone from government tells me they are doing their best for me I worry.

  • 2trueblue

    When someone from government tells me they are doing their best for me I worry.

  • Publius

    What a sickeningly complacent piece this is.

    As for the safeguards and penalties you mention, you only need consider the hopeless inadequacy of these safeguards and penalties in relation to personal data already taken from us and supposedly securely held.

    You might also factor in the mission-creep of what is deemed to be “criminal”.

  • ttreen

    This is very worrying.

    Once something is officially denied, I KNOW it must be true…

  • salieri

    “…the police and other authorities will only be able to access communications data in the course of an investigation, when it is necessary and proportionate to help solve crime and terrorism cases”
    Sincerely meant, no doubt, as the thin end of the wedge always is. But we have heard it all before. We heard it before people taking photographs of Big Ben were frogmarched off as ‘suspected terrorists’ by overzealous coppers. We heard it before local authorities started secretly filming residents using the wrong dustbin. And we heard all about the ‘clear safeguards’, and the penalties for misuse, and the expensive quangos set up to oversee and report to Parliament.
    With due respect to the Minister, it is not the government’s misusing of private data that is really in issue, but having it at all – even if the justification were not so slender and tendentious.

  • TomTom

    This is complete BS. If you think the Plods can track steganopgraphy think again. Looking for a file hidden in a picture or a porno video is going to take them ages, but flooding themselves with useless data makes it harder. The FBI had so much data to service before 9/11 that they simply could not get round to anything relevant.

    They really think they are going to find out messages in Arabic, Urdu, or Farsi by tracking Viagra spam or using Menwith Hill to scan for words like “bomb” ? This is pathetic and we are going to be much less safe than before because the idiots had no idea that the Middle East would explode yet they track their telephone traffic and have listening stations in Cyprus and Turkey plus a few ELINT stations in Israel and at sea. So why is the Us in the pickle it is with dead ambassador and China trying to bring Japan to heel as German Muslims threaten street violence.

    • Nicholas

      It’s a classic case of wanting to do something because they can and thinking they might miss something if they can’t. Classic OTT risk averse hysteria and as you point out if it makes any difference it will be to make investigators less able to sort wheat from chaff and more complacent.

    • telemachus

      I think you underestimate the wit of GCHQ.
      Remember we cracked the unfathomable enigma code.
      I have faith in our security folk that does not extend to the FBI/CIA etc
      Only Mossad approaches our competence in this area.

      • TomTom

        WE did not crack the Enigma code – the Poles did – Rejewski did in 1932 before passing on the machine to the French who delivered it to Waterllo Station. It was Rejewski with Zygalski and Rozycki that cracked the whole system by 1938 having access to a stolen machine from the diplomatic pouch.

    • ButcombeMan

      Actually you make the point without understanding. One identified fanatical terrorist accessing a website and examining or uploading pictures of Britney Spears tits, is maybe just prurient interest. Three already identified terrorist groups doing it. from Bradford, Peshawar and Dubai is something.

  • In2minds

    Promises from Brokenshire, which the police will ignore. Apart from being violent Simon Harwood illegally used the police database. Expect this new plan to be abused too.

  • Jelly Jim

    I got to the part of the article that said “James Brokenshire” before realising that no further reading was required.

  • Nicholas

    You have simply not done enough to reverse the authoritarian trend demonstrated by New Labour and which you undertook to do in the Coalition Agreement:-

    “3. CIVIL LIBERTIES
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.
    We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.
    We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”
    There might be justifiable reason for what you are proposing but the message is inconsistent with the one expressed in the agreement and once again a draconian measure is being proposed for the whole population because of “terrorists” and “paedophiles”. You are not talking just about “who a criminal emailed and when” but rather who any person emailed and when. There are weasel words here which cover an exploitation of technology and an exaggeration of its threat. Back in the day criminals might have communicated by letter but the government didn’t propose that a copy of every letter posted should be copied and the copy kept in case it might prove useful in a criminal investigation. There was always a balance between the need to prevent and investigate crime effectively and the need to allow the public privacy and freedom. That balance was tipped by New Labour and I find it extraordinary that despite the assurances of the Coalition Agreement you are proposing something worthy of New Labour.
    “We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.”
    Where and what is that then? Pity it was not rolled out with half the enthusiasm for this dreadful Bill.

    • dalai guevara

      The Draft Communications Data Bill makes a shocking read.

      http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm83/8359/8359.pdf

    • Alexsandr

      I don’t understand why plod cant be made to apply to a judge or magistrate to access this data rather than some bureaucrat. Could be the same procedure as for search warrants.

      • Alexsandr

        and we need to ensure councils cant use this for tracking dogshit.

    • telemachus

      Much as I would like to see the finish of this Coaltion experiment, I hope the measures proposed by James Brokenshire are enshrined in law before they go.
      It makes no sense to me in these days of mass communication by email, the web, landline and mobile fully exploited by terrorists, paedophiles and other assorted scum not to use every electronic trick in the book to prevent and keep me and mine safe.
      I am surprised to see those I thought of as sound establishment thinking individuals siding with namby pamby libertarians.
      Backbone required.

      • Nicholas

        I’ll take no lectures on backbone from an invertebrate pond life who is an apologist for the rape and murder of innocent people.

        • telemachus

          I detest the violence of the terrorists and the violence of the Paedophiles on our children.
          I cannot fathom why (apparently) reasonable people cannot see that everything that could possibly be done to prevent and catch these creatures also should be done.
          PS to Bluesman. I think you may find that Labour would sing the tune of Nicholas on this one.

        • ButcombeMan

          Agreed telemachus is surely pond life but on this issue he is right, as is James Brokenshire. The issue of electronic contact (Not content) data retention for (possible) use in crime investigation is an obvious need. It has existed for years in fixed line communications, it existed before automatic exchanges, it existed in the written records of operators and exchange clerks, it exists in mobile communications for billing purposes.

          Retention of such contact data for all electronic communications for a fixed period and by the service provider is nothing more than common sense. Setting a legal framework for that, for retention and for access in appropriate circumstances, rather than ad hoc measures, is just good governance.

          The UK has an admirable record in proportionate use of such data, with controlled access. Of course such retained data could be misused. The UK record is as good as anywhere in the world on this.

          Imagine for a moment being a French detective faced with the awful recent shootings, how would one begin to investigate without access to electronic contact data. If the case is cracked it will probably be through that.

          Those who rail against these measures have been taken in by the ” snoopers charter” type nonsense.

          • Nicholas

            Have you actually read the Bill? There is a little more to it than just retaining contact data for access. If that were all it could fit on the back of a postcard. As far as I can see the Bill does not define exactly who “relevant public authorities” are but the list of purposes goes beyond just criminal activity, Sub-section 6:-

            (a) in the interests of national security,(b) for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventingdisorder,(c) for the purpose of preventing or detecting any conduct in respect of which a penalty may be imposed under section 123 or 129 of theFinancial Services and Markets Act 2000 (civil penalties for marketabuse),(d) in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom,(e) in the interests of public safety,(f) for the purpose of protecting public health,(g) for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a governmentdepartment,(h) for the purpose, in an emergency, of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health, or of mitigating any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health,(i) to assist investigations into alleged miscarriages of justice, or(j) where a person (“P”) has died or is unable to identify themselvesbecause of a physical or mental condition—(i) to assist in identifying P, or(ii) to obtain information about P’s next of kin or other personsconnected with P or about the reason for P’s death or condition
            If this were not broad enough it also provides that “The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (6) so as to add to orrestrict the permitted purposes.”
            The problem basically is that this could be used for anything by anyone in a position of power or authority over us. The state is incrementally extending surveillance over us whether or not that data is actually used for anything. You might be comfortable with that. I am not because the drift is towards ever more powers and ever more control. And that is something the Coalition Agreement specifically undertook to reverse. So there is also a matter of principle here.

            • ButcombeMan

              Retention of the data for a fixed period in a codified way is, as I have said just good governance. Much of it already exists and is already accessed or could be, in a variety of irregular ways. Regulating access and having a method for proportionate access-and regularly testing/inspecting that system-as is done now for warranted intercepts-is again just good governance.

              I suggest you read the Case of Malone and pay regard to the history. Before the Interception of Communications Act there was no proper law. There should be.

              Having laws that govern these things and inspection of the regime, with a public reporting system, is what distinguishes the UK from totalitarian states. Think about that before you use your phone or laptop.

              • Nicholas

                All well and good but you are looking at this from justified specifics rather than consequences and principle. That has always been the justification and it is often couched as “tidying up” and/or “safeguards”. Brokenshire as usual, tries to sell the case on worst case scenarios (paedophiles and terrorists) whilst it is clear that the Bill has a much wider and more ambiguous scope than that.

                Also, I really don’t appreciate the veiled threat/warning in your last sentence. Unpleasant and unnecessary but probably typical of the way this is being over-egged. In my humble opinion the distinction between the UK and totalitarian states is diminishing incrementally day by day not helped by the lobbying agenda of various vested agencies which now seek to extend their remit rather than just servicing it.

                • ButcombeMan

                  Au contraire, I am absolutely looking at it from a point of principle and the consequences of not having something like is proposed.

                  I was not making threats, do not be silly. If you use your phone/laptop in Zimbabwe and have become of interest to any arm of the state, do you think there are any protections, codes of behavior or enforced laws to protect you? Do you think there is a realistic chance of any misbehaviour by agencies of the state in respect of your communications, being identified-ever? Do you think there ANY constraints at all? There most certainly are in the UK.

                  The very having of laws and time limits about such things and an inspection/check on proportionality system, is for all our protection. It is a distingushing feature of our society, it puts us further from a totalitarian state, not nearer. Brokenshire (or Charles Farr, if he drafted the article) are correct.

                • Nicholas

                  That is absolute rubbish. The line that we are protected because intrusions into our privacy are governed by stricter controls than in Zimbabwe is fallacious and offers no comfort at all. That is the same logic as saying we needn’t be concerned by crime because there are laws to prevent it. Absolute rank nonsense. If you read the categories of “crime” for which surveillance is proposed they go well beyond the high profile headline grabbers and include, for example, “for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department”, and include some ambiguities as well as the rider that the Secretary of State can add to them, presumably without parliamentary scrutiny. Miscarriages of justice already abound and even the Spectator ran an article about a man with no criminal record who was given one thanks to the way the government stores and manages electronic data. There is also the serious question of the deliberate planting of electronic evidence to discredit or criminalise those seen as political threats.

                  But frankly what worries me more than useful idiots or those with a vested interest in supporting this Bill, is the fact that its ramifications for the centuries old common law of the free English will probably not be taken up and challenged by any parliamentary representative. We have already gone too far. The governing with consent has already passed without serious debate to governing by control and this puts us closer to, not further from, a totalitarian state where that state, on a whole range of justifiable pretexts can scrutinise every single aspect of the private lives of every citizen. Not acceptable. Never acceptable.

                • Nicholas

                  That is absolute rubbish. The line that we are protected because intrusions into our privacy are governed by stricter controls than in Zimbabwe is fallacious and offers no comfort at all. That is the same logic as saying we needn’t be concerned by crime because there are laws to prevent it. Absolute rank nonsense. If you read the categories of “crime” for which surveillance is proposed they go well beyond the high profile headline grabbers and include, for example, “for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department”, and include some ambiguities as well as the rider that the Secretary of State can add to them, presumably without parliamentary scrutiny. Miscarriages of justice already abound and even the Spectator ran an article about a man with no criminal record who was given one thanks to the way the government stores and manages electronic data. There is also the serious question of the deliberate planting of electronic evidence to discredit or criminalise those seen as political threats.

                  But frankly what worries me more than useful idiots or those with a vested interest in supporting this Bill, is the fact that its ramifications for the centuries old common law of the free English will probably not be taken up and challenged by any parliamentary representative. We have already gone too far. The governing with consent has already passed without serious debate to governing by control and this puts us closer to, not further from, a totalitarian state where that state, on a whole range of justifiable pretexts can scrutinise every single aspect of the private lives of every citizen. Not acceptable. Never acceptable.

            • Publius

              Quite, Nicholas. And I note that ButcombeMan fails to address these chillingly wide-ranging clauses, other than to say it’s happening anyway and so what’s the big deal.

              In fact all these arguments were trotted out with the ID database proposal.

      • Bluesman

        As with so much else – Always Labour, Always Wrong. As usual total balls.

  • Bruce, UK

    “the Home Office does not want automatic access to every service people use to communicate.”

    Someone call an ambulance! I fear my sides have just split!

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