The Communication Data Bill Sparks Vociferous Privacy v Policing Debate

Email, social media, internet history, gaming websites and phone calls all set to stay on file for a year.

On the 4th April I blogged about how the Home Secretary Theresa May’s proposed Communication Data Bill had met with venom from civil liberties groups and discussed the whole issue of privacy versus policing.

Yesterday the Home Secretary published the Bill in draft form and the fireworks started once more, with the BBC’s article on the story already attracting over 1,000 user comments and a mention on Question Time.

At 123 pages it isn’t a light read, but the upshot is that it wants details of internet use in the UK stored for up to a year.

In her introduction to the draft Bill, Theresa May states:

 “The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is to protect the public and bring offenders to justice by ensuring that communications data is available to the police and security and intelligence agencies.”

The key points of the bill are:

  • The range of data telecommunications companies store will increase to include details of messages sent on social media, email, gaming websites and phone calls
  • Data will include the time, date, duration, location, sender and the recipient
  • Four institutes will have access to the data: Police, Serious & Organised Crime Agency, HM Revenue & Customs and the intelligence services
  • Local authorities will have some access to some data
  • Officers will need a warrant to access content of messages, but not the permission of a Judge to see the time and place of messages provided they are investigating a crime or protecting national security

The debate on this Bill is incredibly divisive. On one side you have those saying if you have done no wrong you should have nothing to fear and that the Police should be provided with as much help as possible to catch criminals. On the other side are those who state that privacy is being eroded and this is another step towards an Orwellian society.

On one side the plan to collect all this data will apparently cost £1.8 billion over 10 years, but on the other that £6.2 billion could be saved through more efficient investigations and greater criminal asset seizures.

Then there’s everyone else, in the middle, which see valid points on both sides of the argument. Although I lean to the left on this one, there are two issues that resonate with me:

  1. It’s easy enough already to go undetected on the ‘dark side’ of the internet. Is this proposed Bill actually going to pose any threat to real criminals, who are already operating out of reach? Jim Killock director of the civil liberty group Open Rights commented “It will cost billions of pounds and will end up only catching the stupid or the innocent. Terrorists will circumvent it.”
  2. We constantly see local councils, government bodies and businesses leaking and losing personal information. Given the additional volume of data that is expected to be stored, doesn’t this just increase the risk of a data breach or leak?

This Bill has a long way to go before becoming law. But if the Government really do want to store all this information about us, shouldn’t they first prove that they can keep it safe?

Source: BBC, www.direct.gov.uk