On Wednesday the 27th of May the Queen’s Speech officially welcomed the Conservative party into power and outlined to the Houses of Parliament, as well as the UK as a whole, exactly what her government intends to do over the next term. For the first time in its history, the Queen’s Speech referred to ‘cyber-security’ and how data collection rules will be amended by David Cameron to modernise how we deal with communications data.
The Draft Communications Data Bill comprises of a number of features geared towards protection against terrorist and cyber-attacks, by closely monitoring interaction online. One of the key changes will be that security forces will now be able to monitor email and internet connections. They will be restricted from viewing the content of the emails that they source, but are able to identify who is being contacted, how often there is contact and for how long. They can also be given access to browsing history.
The Draft Communications Data Bill will come under the Investigatory Powers Bill, the way in which the government proposes to modernise the laws already in place. What this bill enables is intelligence agencies to receive new tools that can target data, in an attempt to secure the safety of those being monitored. It is this grey area that has bought about debate, as to whether we are being protected or scrutinised.
Ultimately what the government has is access as and when requested to the communications data of its people. UK based ISP’s will be forced to retain data up to 12 months in an attempt to combat threats. It has inevitably been tagged as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ by critics, who believe that it undermines the civil liberties of the country in an almost Orwellian fashion.
Security vs Privacy
So are measures such as these essential or intrusive? After the horrific event of the Charlie Hebdo attack we looked in detail at how new internet surveillance measures could affect business in France. With strict online surveillance laws in place were we protecting people against the internet or controlling them through it?
For the positive side, tighter measures are a step towards finding people intent on doing harm and stopping them. If you take the proposals at face value then keeping Britain safe and those on the front line against terrorism free from danger is the ultimate goal. As it stands police and intelligence agencies do struggle to bridge the gap necessary to fully take on cyber terrorists, something these measures would be used to confront.
There are of course negatives too. Although some dangerous people may be found, the serious terrorists may actually be driven further underground to the ‘dark side’ of the internet when threatened. With monitoring so widely publicised, terrorists will dive deeper and deeper into the network, making it difficult to pinpoint individuals in the face of mass communication data.
Poor handling of the monitoring is another factor. By mentioning ‘bombs’ or ‘hijacking’ in a private message to a friend will I then be tagged as a threat? Could the wealth of information collected be compromised by the very people we are trying to monitor, meaning UK citizens are sacrificing their privacy only to see the information collected fall into the hands of the ‘enemy’? Lastly is abuse of power. Can we trust the government not to use the stored data for commercial benefit? There are a number of ways this could be done, so should we worry?
Whether called The Draft Communications Data Bill, The Investigatory Powers Bill or the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, there is a lot of questions that surround the proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech. What the law changes mean is heightened security, with intelligence forces given the power to track and monitor potential threats. What it also means is another hit to privacy for UK citizens. A fair trade? We’ll let you decide.