For several years we at GOS have been staunch supporters of the No2ID Campaign. It originally started to fight against Labour's proposed ID cards. That battle seems to have been won, though we shouldn't be surprised if we don't have to do it all again, especially if Labour ever get elected while Harriet Harperson, The Unthinking Man's Strumpet, is still active.
In the meantime, No2ID have found a new threat. We think they're right, and we think their new campaign deserves all the publicity we can give it ...
THE STATE ISN'T GOING TO READ ALL YOUR EMAIL - IT'S WORSE THAN THAT
The last few weeks have seen the government officially acknowledge plans to monitor the online activities of every UK resident, as part of something now called the 'Communications Data Development Programme'. We have been here before: Jacqui Smith was promoting something similar, the 'Intercept Modernisation Programme' back in 2009.
The idea is to make all internet and telecoms providers monitor and store more details of mobile and internet use by their customers, and install ‘black boxes' in their datacentres to allow direct access by government departments to the records.
What does this mean?
This is popularly called 'the government reading everyone's emails' - and dramatised by strange protests such as copying all mail to the Home Secretary, or putting the word 'bomb' in every message. But that's a misunderstanding. Traffic data tells a different story to reading mail. And a much more detailed one: who you contact, how, where from, for how long, what you read and watch, what games you play, what you search for; all your online and telephone habits and most of the technical details of your equipment and software.
As Sir Tim Berners-Lee put it talking to the Guardian: "The amount of control you have over somebody if you can monitor internet activity is amazing. You get to know every detail, you get to know, in a way, more intimate details about their life than any person that they talk to because often people will confide in the internet as they find their way through medical websites … “ (see the full article here)
And, because officially it is not message content, then, like the more limited set of information already retained, all such data could be obtained and used without a warrant. There are already over 500,000 data requests a year. All of them are self-authorised by the investigating organisations.
What can be done?
We think the Home Office has been surprised by the public backlash. MPs other than the usual dissidents from both the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative parties have criticised the proposals, with a group of 150 Liberal Democrat activists signing a letter to Nick Clegg suggesting a rebellion within the party.
No2ID urges caution. The government has not dropped the plans. It is now saying that there will be a draft bill and ‘widespread consultation' rather than immediate legislation. There is no sign of any real contrition from the Home Office. This is after all not a new plan. (And we all know that “consultation” can mean anything they want it to. Remember how the Post Office “consulted” us before ignoring our views and closing our post offices?)
What you can do
To stall these plans would be something. But a permanent gain for privacy would involve proper oversight of the process. Some interception is inevitable, but it should be part of a clear investigation with good reason. So our response is simple: NO DATA WITHOUT A WARRANT
The existing law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001, should be altered so that communications data may be obtained or monitored where a judge or magistrate accepts there is a case for it and grants a warrant. Please take the time to write to your MP individually and ask them to press for this straightforward safeguard. Your individual letter to your representative is far more powerful than signing a petition or addressing ministers or departments of state (who cannot directly listen - they are employed to defend policy).
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