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Snooping: guest blog from Liberty’s Rachel Robinson

August 23rd, 2012 by

Rachel Robinson is Policy Officer for one of the UK’s leading civil liberties organisations Liberty. In this guest blog, she explains some of the major problems with the government’s plans for more snooping online – the Draft Comunications Data Bill. 

Imagine how you’d feel if the police popped round your house tomorrow and installed a CCTV camera in your bedroom – just in case they might one day suspect you of committing a crime. Chances are you’d probably have something to say about it. This might sound pretty far-fetched, but in an internet age the government’s plans to record huge amounts of information about our online habits are not so far removed. For those of us who use the internet as an important way of communicating with friends, relatives or business associates, the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill will act like a window to our souls.

The Coalition has dusted off and revived its predecessor’s plans for a Snoopers’ Charter that’ll result in the mass collection and storage of the entire population’s “communications data”. That’s records of everyone’s e-mails, texts and phonecalls – even the websites we visit – all gathered and retained by private firms. Rather than addressing already problematic powers which allow mass surveillance, ministers are now going even further.

Thankfully the government has at least established a Joint Committee, made up of MPs and peers, to scrutinise the Draft Bill. The Committee has asked for written evidence, the deadline for which is today. Liberty and our members are fighting hard against the plans via our No Snoopers’ Charter campaign and we’ve sent over our submission stating exactly why we oppose the proposals.

In the drive to defend the Snoopers’ Charter against rising public opposition, a number of myths have emerged. For example there’s the classic “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”. Why is it always about what we’ve got to hide? What about what we have to protect – personal privacy, perhaps? We’re also assured this isn’t about the actual “content” of communications. But you can still learn an awful lot about someone from their online habits – who they text and telephone, not to mention the websites they visit.

The government claims that nothing will really change, as some data is already stored. But these proposals are much graver. For the first time companies will be instructed to collect information on billions of communications – for no other reason than the authorities’ future demands for access. We’re also promised this is just about tackling criminals and thwarting terrorists. But the plans will allow data to be collected about everyone; not just suspects. With methods that evade the state’s reach readily available, it’s likely that serious criminals will avoid detection.

If the Draft Bill gets the green light, blunders and even abuse will surely follow – haven’t the privacy debacles of recent years taught us anything? It’s a truly chilling prospect, and flimsy crime prevention arguments can’t be allowed to usurp the privacy of innocent, law-abiding Britons. We’re a nation of citizens, not suspects – and that’s precisely how it should stay.

UPDATE: You can read Liberty’s submission to the consultation here.

What do you think of Rachel’s blog and the threat to our right to privacy? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

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  • Isaac

    UK Draft Communications Bill :: Smart Meter Communications + Privacy = Overlooked

    The following is from the Stop Smart Meters! (UK) website:

    The Draft Communications Bill fails to
    adequately address privacy issues related to ‘Smart’ Meter
    communications data. The UK Government presently wishes to introduce
    ‘Smart’ Metering into all UK homes by 2019 and wishes to access all ‘Smart’ Metering information. This highly intrusive plan would allow it access to highly detailed information on all individuals’ lifestyles and whatever they are doing in their homes in real time
    (as well as through historical data collected with such systems).

    Unlike conventional meters that measure total energy use through day
    and night tariffs (which are normally read four times every year),
    ‘Smart’ Meters allow energy use to be read with far finer granularity.
    The UK industry’s draft technical specifications for ‘Smart’ Meters
    state a requirement for real time information every 5 seconds for electricity and every 30 minutes for gas (SMDG 2011).

    The intended access to, and retention of, such data by the UK Government appears to be in direct contravention of EU Privacy Law and Human Rights legislation (Anderson & Fuloria 2010).

    Every electrical appliance has its own energy fingerprint readable by
    ‘Smart’ Meters. Those accessing such information from ‘Smart’ Meter
    data, either legally or illegally, have indications of the appliances
    individuals have and how often they use them.

    “We … have the technology to record … (energy consumption) every
    minute, second, microsecond, more or less live… From that we can infer
    how many people are in the house, what they do, whether they’re
    upstairs, downstairs, do you have a dog, when do you habitually get up,
    when did you get up this morning, when do you have a shower: masses of
    private data. … We think the regulator needs to send a strong
    signal to say that the data belongs to consumers and consumers alone. We
    believe that’s a blocker to people adopting the technology,” Martin Pollock of Siemens Energy.

    Where we go from here is up to you. If you wish to make your voice
    heard on this issue, you need to act TODAY. If you do, please make
    special mention in your note via the 38 Degrees campaign page of the
    above concerns with regards to the serious – and overlooked – ‘Smart’
    Meter aspect.

  • Andrew Marlow

    It is RIPA that needs to be fought. RIPA is the law that gives the government the power to force your decryption keys from you. Not even China has a law like RIPA, only the UK. Email is inherently insecure unless cryptography is used. Unencrypted email is like sending info on a postcard rather than in a sealed envelope. It is easily intercepted and read. The answer (unless you live in the UK) is to use a sealed envelope.

  • anonymous

    According to Section 25 of the Draft Communications Data Bill, the Bill would also apply to postal operators and services as well as telecommunications operators and services. This is something that I think might be worth emphasising, especially since it seems to contradict the often made claims that the Bill would only maintain existing capabilities.

    What do people think of having all their post’s communications data logged?

  • Suetorius

    Have you seen the video below published in the New York Times?
    You can expect that UK citizens will be subjected to the same sort of
    surveillance courtesy of the USA /UK share. Our politicians have ceded the UK to
    be the 52th vassal state of the USA both under Blair and now Cameron.
    without putting too fine a point on it, we need to put a stop to it
    before it is too late to stop the momentum.



    i looked into so called law,,,,,,it uses all pagan laws from before bible,,beasties laws…..,even the state is in fact roman saturni laws in disguise……the criminal laws….,don’t beleive the hype….ken clarke is a mason,,free mason watch.org they follow tubal caine,satan bloodline and # god too,mad..,,they use conatantine cross from vatican,tubal caines cross….the first pope was seated by constantine….,they are they real rulers of earth along with crown,,,,,,divine illegal right to rule secretly…proscuecting..people…,there is lots more…….people are born put on rolls,name in latin means no men,a slave…,they arrest you that way to,or the bar temple,the bar ! ruled by templars who sacrificed and abducted people..,they built the thing….,then there is lots of other rubbish like sea of souls you as cargo on ship admiralty and maritime laws,,,,,,,,alll of it is secular…not of bible,even bible is false,,,,,,en.wikibooks/torah/obsrbance…………,,talmud moses,noah is exact copy of law system today……police/judges…. remember moses worshiped calves and goats,ie goats are satanic…,noah is based on moses,,, john 10.7 Therefore jesus said again,”I tell you the truth,i am the gate for the sheep. he also forgave all sins,known as laws today when he died………yet moses is fake ,ie the sins,laws exact match today,go figure! history is pure rubbish…,the whole sys is secular..and illegal m ade to look legal,,clever stuff…


    the gate is the old courts of law…..,,,,yet there never was any laws was there? someone has rewrote the bible fact….


    they are spying for a reason,they hate us all…..


    when caine killed abel the good bloodline,there rule has been our governments ever since back 200,000 years…..

  • Guy Ropes

    Reference Issaac’s post on ‘smart metering’; it could also give the authorities an indication of when you left your dwelling. Furher tracking could then occur. Fantasy? Un fortunately not. View the case of Ian Puddick at ‘policexpenses.com’. The City of London police utilised satellite cameras to track his every move outside his home in their efforts to slander him. Remarkably he won ! – but The City Of London Police wasted £1.5 miillion in their efforts.

  • Danny Afzal

    Love your work, keep it up. :)


  • melanie

    Is this campaign going to be revived in the light of new efforts to bring in the bill?

  • Malcolm Thomas

    Apparently there is about 300 odd Companies that wish to have this Information..One of them is Royal Mail,If they take on this what will happen when Royal Mail is sold off Next year to another Company in another Country? Have they Not Learned the Mistakes of the Past when Millions of Names/Addresses were Stolen out of some one`s car…Misuse Will Happen and Criminals will try even Harder to Steal this Data…I Do NOT TRUST this Government or Any Government with My Confidential information..This is Going Way Too Far…You can Near Guarantee that Some Politicians,Bankers and Wealthy people will Not be on Any list…